David Allen’s book Getting Things Done is one of the most successful productivity books in history. (If you’re not familiar, I’ve interviewed David a few times – on – the – podcast, and also did an interview with him for his own community about how I use the system.)
GTD is a system for organizing and acting on the work that matters most. There are a lot of nuances to the system, and as a result many people get lost in the weeds and intricate details and get off track and stop utilizing it altogether. That’s unfortunate, because there are many principles that can be borrowed from GTD and acted upon, even if you don’t use the entire system.
While tips and tricks don’t matter if you don’t have a clear sense of why you’re working and what you’re trying to accomplish, they can help you gain a clearer head and more precision in your daily work. Here are a few that I use every day and that have drastically changed my productivity:
The Two Minute Rule
We’ve all been there. You’re glancing down a list of tasks that need to be accomplished in the next few days, and you keep skipping over that little administrative thing that you really don’t want to do. Therefore, it stays on your list for days (or even weeks) simply because you’re loathe to do it.
The two minute rule says this: if the task will take less than two minutes, and you have the time to do it, then do it now. Don’t defer it. If you allow these little tasks to accumulate, you’ll soon be suffocating in little, seemingly insignificant list items that crowd out your more important work. Just taking a minute or two now to check something off your list can create momentum for your more important work.
Next Action For Every Project
One of the reasons that we get stuck is that we don’t have a clearly defined path. GTD suggests reviewing each project regularly, and ensuring that you know the next action you need to take in order to move it forward. Do you need to make a call? Research something? Develop an outline? Whatever it is, make sure that it’s on your list so that you don’t allow your projects to stall.
Look at all of your existing projects and ask, “what’s the very next thing I need to do to move this forward?”, then put it on your task list.
Capture Every Thought
A final concept from GTD that I use every day is the notion of capturing every single idea or thought that crosses my mind. I carry a small notebook (or an index card) with me everywhere, and I record every insight, observation, potential task, or project as they pass through my mind. (I also use my Apple Watch to capture reminders, if they are time or location sensitive.) You gain nothing by trying to keep these ideas in your head. In truth, you’re likely to forget a lot of them, and simply create undue stress.
Principle: Carry a note card or notebook with you and capture every single thought or idea that crosses your mind, even if it seems irrelevant in the moment. You never know what it might lead to later. When you are reviewing these notes, ask if there is a next action you can add to your list to help you make progress on any of them.
I’ve been using GTD for well over a decade now, and it’s one of the core reasons I’ve been able to stay focused and productive. I encourage you to implement these three principles over the coming week, and see if it helps you gain increased clarity and feel more momentum in your work.
Do you use GTD, or do you have tactics that help you be more productive? Feel free to share your ideas in The Collective.