Mastering Your To-Do List: A Beginner’s Guide to Getting Things Done with the GTD Method.

This month is all about time management. This is the second of four articles on different techniques one can use to improve productivity, stay focused, and allow more time for other things.

Are you tired of constantly feeling overwhelmed and like you can never get anything done? The GTD (Getting Things Done) method may be just what you need to finally take control of your life and your to-do list.

The GTD method was created by David Allen and is based on the idea that your brain is great at thinking but terrible at remembering things. By writing everything down, you’re closing the loop and freeing up your mind to focus on the task at hand.

Here’s how the GTD method works:

  1. Capture: Write down everything. I mean everything – work, personal, kids, etc. If it needs to be done, you need to write it down. Don’t worry about sorting or classifying immediately. Have an inbox to dump your tasks into.
  2. Clarify: Clarify what each item is and what you can do with it.
  3. Organize: Organize the outcomes into a structure of lists.
  4. Reflect: Reflect on what is important to you and review the items in your system.
  5. Engage: Pick which action you wish to undertake at this time and do it.

Of course, we all know it’s not quite that simple so here are a few tips and tricks to help you in your journey.

  • Maintain a calendar and next actions list. It’s great to have everything written down, but having a sense of priority is also important.
  • Have a ‘waiting for’ list. Some things are out of your control and that’s okay. Just knowing what you’re waiting on is very beneficial and allows you to follow up when necessary.
  • Have a ‘someday’ file. Things that you want to accomplish eventually but simply aren’t a priority right now or aren’t relevant right now.
  • Take things moment by moment. It sometimes makes more sense to do a lower-priority task alongside a higher-priority task if they’re related. Don’t fixate on accomplishing all the high-priority items causing you to jump around.
  • Review your tasks daily and prioritize. You’ll find yourself thinking of things that you can add and better ways to break down existing tasks into smaller pieces.
  • Get very small tasks done immediately if they are on task with what you’re currently doing. That is to say, if it would take longer to write it down than to actually do it, then just do it.

As a general rule, you want to avoid multitasking. Our brains simply aren’t built for it. Switching focus constantly is never a great option. That said, there are some times that would simply be downtime if you’re not willing to at least somewhat change tracks. 

Here are a few examples from my own work:

  • Downloads or transfers – Sometimes there are tasks that simply take time and there’s nothing you can do. Try to schedule this time to line up with the end of a 25-minute block of work so that you can take a break while it’s ongoing or switch to a related task (one that won’t completely break your focus) that can be completed in the estimated time frame required.
  • Travel – This is a great time for passive productivity. Listen to podcasts related to your field or audiobooks. There are lots of books out there that are useful for entrepreneurs. Blinkist is also a great app that offers both ebooks and audiobooks shortened to around the 15-minute mark so you can get the gist of it in a very short period.

Conclusion

We’re only scratching the surface here of the intricacies of GTD. The book by David Allen is available in print, eBook, or Audiobook. I personally listened to the entire audiobook while travelling which was a great use of what is otherwise downtime.

The GTD method can be a game changer for anyone struggling to stay on top of their to-do list. If you only have one takeaway from reading this post, make it this: Write everything you need to do down. Your brain functions best when it’s not jumping all over the place. You can’t function if you have open loops. For example, if you keep thinking “I have to pay the power bill” while in the middle of working on a project, you lose focus on the project. By writing everything down, you’re closing the loop. You know it’s under control.

By capturing all your tasks and organizing them into lists, you can free up your mind to focus on what’s important. And by implementing the tips we’ve discussed, you can increase your productivity and get more done in less time. Why not give the GTD method a try and see what a difference it can make in your life?

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