Getting “stuff” done, and getting it done quickly, is the ultimate goal of productivity. We’re limited to our 24 hour days, and all desire on some level to get more done during that amount of time. But with commitments, work, classes, friends, family, and everything else than can come up and get in the way, we frequently don’t get done everything that we want, and our long term goals suffer.
Getting Things Done by David Allen is one of the most well-regarded and frequently recommended books on productivity. It’s based on a system from before smartphones, but the philosophy behind how it works is still entirely applicable and the system lends itself to a number of habits that can help you get a lot more done in your day. These habits for getting things done will work with whatever productivity system you use, and will help make it much more efficient.
1. Write it Down
Most productivity systems will have you write down your tasks, and maybe your goals (like in the Rule of Three) but Getting Things Done (GTD) says you should write everything down. This means not only tasks and appointments, but ideas for the future, people you miss, things that are bothering you, foods you want to try, write all of it down. Anything that comes across our minds should be instantly written out of it, for deliberation or reminder later.
The idea behind this is that we only have a certain amount of mental bandwidth, and that bandwidth quickly gets eaten up trying to remember things, worrying about things, or thinking about that next appointment. If we get bogged down in little thoughts like these, then our mind isn’t free to be fully engaged in the task at hand and our work quality and efficiency suffers. We can only be fully “present” if we dump out every thing that crosses our mind that doesn’t need to be there at that moment, and a quick way to do this every day is…
2. The Mind Sweep
What Allen recommends as a way of quickly dealing with a lot of the little thoughts that plague our mind is to do a daily mind sweep. Simply sit down with a piece of paper and pen (or Word document, Evernote note, etc. if you prefer) and for a few minutes write down everything that crosses your mind. Every dream, worry, fear, appointment, assignment, annoyance, gratitude, whatever crosses your mind write it down. Doing this every morning before you start your day, or at the end to finish off your day, can help you easily clear your mind of all the little worries that you’re probably accustomed to at this point. But a list of ideas is useless, if you don’t have…
3. A Work Flow
Everything that comes to mind and goes into your notes should have a place. You don’t need to file it immediately, but maybe record the little thoughts throughout the day and every few hours take a few minutes to file them appropriately. You can use any method you like, but this is the one that I use:
- Are any of these things irrelevant or not actionable? Cross them out
- Are these worries about things I’ve already planned for? Cross them out
- Are any of these appointments I need to make or record? Calendar it
- Are any of these conversations I need to have? Email, or better, call them
- Are these tasks? Add them to Wunderlist
- Are these notes or ideas? Add them to Evernote
And that covers just about anything that could come up. You don’t need 10 or 20 places to put everything, you’ll notice I only use 3 things (Calendar, Wunderlist, Evernote) for recording and then email and telephone for communicating. It’s a very simple system that quickly takes care of anything that comes my way.
But sometimes it doesn’t make sense to file it for later. Instead, you should…
4. Do if Less Than 2
“Do if less than 2” means that if a task takes less than 2 minutes (roughly) to complete, then just do it. This might be adding a small task to your to-do list, drafting an email (to be sent later, if you go to your email then you’ll notice you have a bunch of emails that will distract you), or sending a quick text message. Whatever it is, it’s better to just get the 2 minute tasks over with than to let them fill up your inbox with a bunch of minutia. And last but not least…
5. Plan for Your Goals
It’s important to keep the bigger picture in mind, and not just check off one task or another with no greater purpose. Whatever your goals and projects are, write them down somewhere so you’re always aware of them and being reminded. More importantly, though, also write down the first thing you could do that would support that goal and that can be done in less than 20-30 minutes. Want to run a marathon? Sign up for an account on Runkeeper. Want to start an online business? Order a book about them on Amazon. Whatever simple first step you can make, write it down, and once you complete it keep adding subsequent actions that will support your goals. This will make it much easier to continue working towards them.
Bonus: A Special Offer
Lou Franco (his website) recently reached out to me about his new app “Habits.” It’s a companion app for the Getting Things Done method, but it’s for iPhone and I’m unfortunately an Android user. He was kind enough to give me a number of free promo codes though, so if you’re interested in trying out his app please sign up for my weekly digest, and then send me an email (email@example.com) letting me know you’re interested and I’ll give you one.
If you’re already on my email list, just shoot me an email and I’ll set you up.
I only have a limited number! Once they’re gone I’ll update this post to reflect that.
photo credit to Todd Stocker’s Blog