The improvement of productivity is a battle many people keep struggling with.
This battle isn’t won in a single day but needs constant effort. Every day there will be new challenges testing your resilience to outside forces that may distract you.
In my personal life, private and professional, I’m also struggling to be my productive best, not always winning the challenge.
I noticed recurring bad behaviors of mine like:
Trying to keep all tasks in my head
Not prioritize tasks efficiently
Not saying “no” enough
Not delegating tasks which are out of my responsibilities
Checking my smartphone too often
Constant checking and reacting to emails
Overall, there was much room for altering my behavior to become more productive. So I started researching and implementing techniques to strive for a more productive life, which in retrospect, also reduced stress levels by a considerable amount.
I discovered the “getting things done method”, or short GTD, developed by David Allen during my quest for an effective productivity system.
In the course of this article, I’d like to explain how GTD works and give brief examples of how to apply it.
The GTD system consists of five distinct steps which, when followed correctly, will help you get more done with less stress.
Step 1: Capture
To develop trust in your system, you need to capture every task on your mind, be it personal or business-related, and store it in a trusted way. Your storage system may consist of a physical notebook or some useful app on your smartphone, this actually depends on personal preferences.
However, for the system to work effectively, it is essential that you capture every loose end floating around in your head.
For me, my smartphone works best, since there are only a few occasions when it’s not to hand. I use Evernote to capture and store tasks, as well as make them accessible from every device.
Step 2: Clarify
Before you tackle the most pressing tasks, you have to clarify what it is exactly. By asking yourself: “Is this item actionable or not?” you sort tasks in two categories “actionable” and “not actionable”.
The latter category is easy because unactionable items go either in the trash bin or are stored and reviewed later, in-kind they may be of use someday.
The actionable items are the ones you want to focus on!
In case, the item is a project, consisting of many actionable steps over a longer period of time, you put it on the “projects list” and decide on the next physical actions to come closer to its completion.
Simple single tasks may be “write an email to a business partner” or “gather data for your financial model”.
After labeling items as projects or tasks, you have to decide on the time horizon and your ability to complete them.
So you can:
- Do it yourself, if you are the right person for the job and able to complete it in less than two minutes
- Delegate it, if you think someone is more suited to complete it
- Defer it, which include scheduling the task in your calendar for later completion
Step 3: Organize
After getting clear about what tasks you have at hand, you can organize them. As I mentioned before, non-actionable items go to the trash bin or the storage system for later review.
To organize the actionable items you need a “projects list”, which consists of multi-action processes and is used to derive the next actions.
In addition, you need a “next actions list” where you collect all physical actions you need to complete to move ahead.
Lastly, a “waiting for list” is needed where you store all actions you are waiting for to be done by others. All these lists can now be used to schedule tasks in your calendar and process them one at a time.
Step 4: Reflect
Frequent reflection of your workflow management system is essential to keep it clean and up to date. The daily review of tasks on your calendar can be supplemented by weekly reviews of your overall system to see whether it is still working.
Step 5: Engage
The fifth stage is essential for pushing projects and next actions forward. You actually need to decide which task to tackle first and which to postpone for late completion. In his book, David Allen suggests you can take at least three different perspectives on your tasks.
a) The four-criteria model to choose actions in the moment:
Is it possible to complete the items in the current set-up? Are you at work or at home?
Is there enough time available to complete it? In case you have an important call in 15 minutes, you don’t need to start a time-consuming task now.
Do you have enough energy available to complete it? After crunching complex models for several hours, starting a new complex project may not be the best idea.
Which of your tasks would give you the highest pay-off if completed?
b) The threefold-model for identifying your daily work:
For me, it is helpful to clarify what kind of work I am doing.
Doing pre-defined work:
Solving tasks which were previously clarified and scheduled fall in this category. Doing pre-defined work helps you push things forward.
Doing work as it shows up:
It is inevitable to deal with important ad-hoc tasks, which show up during the day but are not directly contributing to the progress of your projects.
Defining your work:
In case you are not working on some scheduled or ad-hoc tasks, you may define what you have at hand during the “clarify” step.
c) The six-level Model for reviewing your own work:
There are different altitudes from which you can view your next actions. The higher the altitude, the more it impacts every decision you make.
Horizon 5: Purpose and Principles
What are your core beliefs and principles? This category tends to drive all decisions in other categories.
Horizon 4: Vision
What is your plan for the next 5 years? What is your long term vision regarding personal, business and financial matters?
Horizon 3: Goals
What are the goals you want to achieve in the next one to two years? These define the areas you want to focus on most.
Horizon 2: Areas of focus and accountabilities
Balancing all your areas of focus and accountabilities towards your family and business partners is important to sustain long term performance.
Horizon 1: Current Projects
The current projects are derived from your areas of focus and are responsible for the majority of the tasks on your “next actions” list.
Ground: Current Actions
This level consists of all the next actions you have to take (e.g. write the sales proposal or feed the data into your financial model) to push the items on higher altitudes forward.
When you are able to be aware of the three perspectives I just mentioned, you just leaped a step forward to being more in control of your “next actions” list.
Hopefully, you can implement some of the principles mentioned above in your life and increase productivity by a vast amount.
I will keep you up to date regarding my daily struggle of increased productivity.
Below you’ll find five additional tips, which may be useful for your daily life!