Getting things done - the art of stressfree productivity

GTD can help to boost your productivity and reduces your stress level. This post shows you how.

Getting things done - the art of stressfree productivity

David Allen wrote in his book Getting Things Done (GTD) about a way to work in a relaxed and planned system instead of a stressful & chaotic work environment. The idea behind GTD is to reach a state of mind which is like water. Water always reacts the same - you do not overreact to new requests. You just put all new request and ideas into your task management system to work on them systematically.

The most significant benefit you'll get from GTD is to release the full power of your brain. The human mind is excellent at thinking - but it's not that great at remembering. As soon as you establish a productivity system like GTD you can focus on thinking and solving tasks instead of memorizing them.

Besides that, there is one additional side note: In the self-organizing framework Holacracy, it's mandatory to have a task management system in place which is outside of your head. This constraint takes care of the necessary fundamentals to work in a self-organized way:
first, you have to organize yourself before you can work in a self-organized team context.

Now, let's start into the idea of GTD!

What is Getting Things Done?

GTD is a task management system to help you organize your tasks and todos. It's a five-step process:

  1. Capture all your thoughts!
  2. Clarify what each item is and what you can do with it!
  3. Organize the outcome in structured lists!
  4. Reflect on what is important to you!
  5. Engage in your tasks and do them!

Let's dive into each step in more detail. But before we start learning about GTD: take care of your workplace! None of the GTD practices will help you if your workplace is a mess. Your workplace should be prepared and equipped with everything necessary to succeed. Otherwise, no system will rescue you.

Step 1: Capture all your thoughts!

Instead of using your brain as a task remembering system, in GTD you put every idea, thought or request into your task management system outside of your mind. A task management system can be a paper-based notebook, a post-it board or a todo list app. It's crucial that you can put everything at any time in your system to reduce your necessary brainpower to remembering things. You can use one inbox list to capture everything, or you can distribute it into specific lists right at the start.

Step 2: Get clarity about your thoughts!

Check every new thought or task in your inbox todo list regularly. This should be a daily activity in your productivity system.

Ask yourself for each item: Is this item actionable?

If the answer is yes: do it immediately if it's less effort than 2 minutes, otherwise, ask yourself if you should do it or someone else can do it for you. If this is a task for you, then put it in your next todos. Maybe it's a bigger task with more than one action then create a new project and plan at least the next step in it to push the project forward.

If the answer is no, it's not actionable: then delete it or keep it for later reference if it can become important in the future. If you wait for some input, you could put the item on a specific waiting list.

You could do this at the end of each day. You finish the small things directly and plan the more significant next steps for the next day.

Step 3: Organize in structured lists!

Having only one todo list can potentially overwhelm you. So organize every todo into different systematic lists. If you have several things you like to remember: then put them in a particular topic list. If you have a project containing several steps to achieve the goal: excellent, another separate list. But remember, every project needs its next actionable step. Each step should be as atomic as possible. A atomic task contains only one action necessary to achieve it. Too complicated steps can hold you back from doing it.

You could also have a waiting-for list to keep track of everything you are waiting for some input from others.

Potentially you have some crazy ideas for things you can do someday in the future: create a someday-maybe-list for that. Remember: the idea is to keep your head free of items you can store in your system as well.

For more significant projects it makes sense to use natural project planning as a support system to help you achieve your goals. You always have to have the next step for each project in your task management system.

Step 4: Reflect

Your productivity system needs to be up to date and meaningful; otherwise it will become useless. So you should do a weekly reflection session about your lists, tasks, and priorities. Friday afternoon is a good time to do it. Then you can have a clean start into the weekend and the next week.

In your reflection session you should do:

  • Clean your lists and mark everything as done which is done or delete unnecessary items
  • Make sure each project has a next actionable item
  • Check all your lists (even the less important ones) and decide on your priorities what to do next

Once a month it also makes sense to use this timeslot to reflect on your longtime goals. Make sure you are still running in the right direction.

This cleaning and reflection session is weekly. Additional we have our daily planning which we did in step 2.

Step 5: Engage in your tasks!

After all of this planning: don't forget to work on your goals and tasks! Everything is ready to achieve your goals. Your todos are prioritized, structured and it's clear what to do next. Let's go!

Tools for GTD

As you could read, GTD is not that complicated. So don't overcomplicate your setup. Your goal should be: be more productive and successful. I guess your goal is not to create the best productivity system and then do nothing with it. So start with a paper notebook or a free todo app. Just make sure you can use it everywhere. Then smash your ideas in your inbox and kick off the process. After a few weeks of doing the reflection session, you will automatically start to optimize the system step by step based on your learnings.

Happy, productive working :)