My Interpretation of Getting Things Done (GTD)
‘GTD’, is David Allen’s formalised method to ‘Get Things Done’. Essentially, it’s a way to clear up space in your head so that you can concentrate on whatever is important.
As a conceptual framework, David’s ideas are sound and as relevant today as they were when he first formulated them in the ‘90s. I recommend the book. The trouble that I had was in translating his ideas into practical, everyday use. One of the great features of his book is that he does not advocate any specific tool. In fact, David wrote the book before the modern Internet and mobile computers (a.k.a ‘phones’). This was, however, also a source of frustration because I needed to experiment with a lot of ways of doing things to try to implement a GTD system that made sense to me.
Like any intellectual framework, it is unlikely that you will have a direct, 1:1 relationship between the concepts and your requirements. Instead, it’s best to pick out the parts that work the best for you and disregard the rest.
The components of GTD that work for me are
- The question: “What’s the Next Action ?”
- The 2 minute rule
- The Inbox
- The concept of a Tickler file (Although it’s not called this)
- A Trusted library
- The Review
In isolation, the above components are not useful unless you apply them in the context of the GTD workflow (Image shown for clarification only, use the linked PDF)
The ‘2 Minute Rule’ and ‘The Next Action’
These two ideas alone are worth paying for the book. Essentially, the 2 minute rule states that if a task will take less than two minutes, then just do it as soon as it crops up. Note that two minutes is an arbitrary value. For me, I see it more as a “How much is this going to distract me” rule. If, say, an email arrives that needs a response, then I can choose to deal with it at the point in time that I notice it, or I can put it into my system to classify and deal with as a task.
Which brings us to the Next Action. This is an incredibly powerful concept. For any task or project that needs to be completed, the best way to keep making progress is to ask “What’s the next action that we need to do?”. The question forces you to think about what has to be done, which removes a large part of the resistance to actually doing.
David explains this critical part of the system in detail in his book.
An Inbox is a place (physical or virtual) where you store ‘stuff’ until such a time as you can classify it. It is a way that you can collect things and not worry about losing anything. You get it out of your mind, and into your system.
I maintain two primary and several secondary inboxes. My primary inboxes are in Evernote and Todoist. My secondary inboxes include my email, social media feeds, RSS reader feed, SMS messages on my phone, phone calls, my strategic plan documents and my physical mail.
The difference between the primary and secondary inboxes is where the important processing takes place. In my secondary inboxes, I simply apply the two minute rule. If it requires action, and I can complete the action quickly with minimum distraction, then it is finished with. If it requires more thought or time, then I send it to a primary inbox.
My primary inboxes require a little more processing. I classify the task, assign it to a project and, if required, schedule it for completion at a later date.
A ‘Tickler’ File
In an earlier version of the book, David referred to a tickler file. This is a physical file that holds date related information. For example, if a gas bill is due next month, you would file the bill in the appropriate chronological location so that you could forget about it until it is due.
This is completely irrelevant now. I use Todoist and set a date on the task. That way, the system ‘remembers’ what I have to do, when, and prompts me on the appropriate day.
As a concept though, it is still useful. It is important to get the information out of your head and into your system.
A Trusted Library
Your trusted library is simply a way to store all of the information that you need as reference, but is not, in itself, a task.
David seems to love paper and physical things. I abhor them. I digitise everything that can be, and have my correspondence emailed to me instead of receiving paper based mail. Everything goes into Evernote.
This part of the GTD system took me the longest to understand and get going. I now realise that it is just as powerful as the Next Action concept, and I wish that I had worked it out earlier!
My implementation is a bit different to David’s. I use a concept of ‘Strategic Plans’, which are word processing documents that list themes that I want to investigate within certain timeframes. Actual tasks that I want to complete are in my Todoist list. The review incorporates looking at current tasks that require action, and reading the strategic plan notes to keep my mind focused on the overall direction.
As a side note, there is a vast difference between a ‘strategy’ and a ‘tactic’. Business jargon has appropriated these terms from the military. Both are often misused (especially in marketing). Essentially, a strategy is a general direction, whereas a tactic is what you do to implement the strategy. I’ll write more about this.
Questions / Comments?
Feel free to contact Damian.