My Experiments with David Allen’s GTD

By Shirish Deodhar No Comments
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During David Allen’s visit to India, we managed to steal a few moments from the busy productivity guru’s schedule. In a small session that we organized for some of the leading CXOs of the city of Bengaluru, we got to interact with the man himself and gain insights into his productivity methodology of Getting Things Done (GTD). Now, I have always been a believer of the adage that ‘done is better than perfect’ and the discussions with Mr. Allen too seemed to take us in that direction . After all, running after perfection only adds to the stress of our everyday life and by now it has been well-established that stress and productivity are inversely proportional to one another. Throughout the session, Allen reiterated a number of times that clear minds lead to organized thoughts which lead to more productivity. Perfect work then becomes an automatic by-product… a natural consequence of our organized actions. The session threw light on some important aspects of self-improvement and productivity that we normally overlook.

Getting Things Done, or GTD is more about organization than anything else. It’s a system that helps you understand how you work, how you should ideally work and how you should prioritize. Now there’s enough that has been written about the GTD methodology. What I want to share in this article is how I implemented this into my daily schedule and benefited immensely from it.

Capture – Create an exhaustive to-do list

While I always created a to-do list and captured everything that was related to work, according to Allen’s method one needs to create a to-do list that is exhaustive and comprehensive. This means, adding all the little so-called ‘non-essential’ items to that list as well. So I saw that my to-do list became lengthier and captured all my ideas – the little things that I needed to do during the day that couldn’t really be categorized as work as well as the recurring tasks. I added the downtime I needed, the breaks I planned, the emails I needed to answer… basically, everything that was anything went into this to do list. Along with this, I made sure that my to-do list was always accessible so that I didn’t have reason to push adding something to the list to later.

Clarify – break down to do list into actionable items

Now that the to-do list was done, it was time to ‘clarify’ the to-do list. Obviously, everything that goes on to the list is not a top priority. Some of the work listed could be ticked off right away. Some had to be delegated while some jobs needed a little time to figure out where it stood on the priority metrics. So that’s what I did and in that order. By writing down what needed to be done, by breaking the task down into actionable steps, the job of prioritization became much simpler and made my time management more effective.

Organize – organize by category and priority and assign timelines

Now that the clarification step was complete, I got a clear insight into the little details that my daily tasks required. The next step was to organize the action items on this list according to category and priority. I assigned categories to tasks (calls to be made, emails to be sent, meetings to be held, reviews to be conducted etc.) and added due dates and set reminders to them so that they would be completed in a timely manner. Since I was not looking at completing any of the tasks at that very moment, I could mindfully place them in the right buckets and set appropriate reminders for the same. I also assessed which of my systems needed organization. In my case, since I always have an overflowing inbox, it was a no-brainer to get my inbox into the ‘organize’ mode.

Reflect – Thoughts on your to-do list

A to-do list requires reflection. I understood the importance of this step after the session with David Allen. We need to reflect periodically on our to-do lists to determine what we need to do next. The clarify step comes in handy here. I sometimes see that a particular task that I estimated would take ‘X’ time gets done in ‘X minus 1’. What do you do with the additional time in hand? I would earlier just move on to the next item on my to-do list. Post the session, instead of doing that, I reflect on my list for a minute and determine if I can tick off any task that can be completed within that extra time that I have. Surprisingly, I saw my to-do list shrink much faster when I adopted this approach.

Engage – Figure out what you need to do next and get to it

I found that with an actionable system in place, the problem of where to start was well resolved. Since I had prioritized and categorized everything into designated buckets it was easy to just pick one thing and get to work on that. While in the beginning, breaking tasks down to such a micro level seemed like a daunting task, I realized that many of these pillars were an integral part of my everyday workflow anyway. It was just about fine-tuning the workflow, making it more exhaustive and making sure that I listed down ‘everything’ that I needed to do and remember. Once the basic organization was done, every new task that landed on my plate just needed to get dumped into the right bucket.

On adopting this strategy, I realized that my work got done in an efficient and organized manner. Now all I need to do in terms of organization is set aside a little time every day (I spend about five minutes) to glance through my to-do list, take a look at my priorities and shift them if required and just get working without wasting time on worrying about the big picture.

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