Getting Things Done — GTD & Me


Monday morning, 7.34am, singing under the shower. And suddenly: “Oh fuck. I completely forgot to ask Katja about the new blog strategy and tomorrow is the next Advisory Board meeting and we are for sure going to discuss this and OH MY GOD when did my brain stop working???”

I’m sure it has happened to you before as well, right? I needed to change something, urgently. I stumbled across “Getting Things Done”, a comprehensive approach of how to tackle exactly these situations — and decided to give it a go. Today, I’ll be sharing my personal experience with GTD. For those of you who know the feeling above all too well, I hope it provides some insights as to whether or not GTD might be interesting for you as well!

What is GTD?

“Getting Things Done” (or GTD) is a concept that was developed by David Allen about 15 years ago. It’s the “mother” of most of the productivity tips that have popped up over the last two, three years (let’s face it — yes, I also click on “Top 7 things that highly successful people do every Monday morning”).

GTD is an approach to managing all of your professional and private “open loops” within one system. An “open loop” is everything that takes up mental space — be it getting your bike repaired or preparing the next investor update. The more open loops you have, the more time your mind spends remembering them and the less time it has to actually be creative! Allen’s approach says simply that you need one system in which you put all your open loops — a system that you revisit regularly so that you know that nothing will be lost.

David Allen himself can explain that a lot better than I can (and in only 20 seconds!):

GTD consists of a set of simple rules and lists that you use to manage all your incoming to dos and thoughts.

This flow chart shows you the exact process:

Lifehacker also has an .

Implementation

I decided to give this approach a try after reading the Getting Things Done book (very quick read, btw). I put aside one day to get through his 1st time setup.

I looked into different tools for managing the lists and settled on a combination of iCal (for the calendar) and Evernote (for all other lists). There are GTD-targeted SaaS solutions out there (Omnifocus, for example), but I wanted a low-risk (aka cheap & easy to understand) solution as I wasn’t sure at that point whether I would stick with GTD in the long term.

On the setup day, I worked through all of the open loops in my professional and private life. “Working” in this case meant capturing them, deciding if & what to do about them, and then storing them accordingly. It does NOT mean you have to actually act on a lot of these things! Nevertheless, the setup day was not always pleasant as it takes a lot of mental energy to work through everything — but it was very worth going through the pain.

Results

Immediately after the setup day, I felt relieved. I’m not sure if it was just the relief of the setup day being over or of actually having emptied my brain, but I felt as if I could take on the whole world. Even my tax declaration didn’t seem that daunting anymore.

Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I noticed these benefits:

1# I felt more comfortable responding to ad-hoc requests

I had an overview of all the open things I could possibly do and knew if I had time to tackle something new right now or not.

2# Big projects seemed more manageable

Breaking them down into smaller steps (Allen always has you ask “What is the next physical action required?”) made them seem so much easier.

3# My decisions on what to do became easier, more intuitive, and better

When you have some time to spare, you look at your lists and then decide what’s the most important thing to do given

  1. the context in which you find yourself (At the laptop? Commuting without internet access? At home?),
  2. how much time you have and
  3. how much energy you have.

Making this decision process explicit was a huge benefit for me — it made me feel more at ease as I was sure that I was doing the best thing I could be doing.

4# I made huge steps forward on private projects that I had neglected

I’m sure you can relate — work sometimes (or, let’s face it, a lot of times) takes up so much of our time that we simply don’t have the energy anymore to tackle anything big outside of it.

Implementing GTD gave the private stuff the same importance as the work stuff. I did my tax declaration, I planned a vacation, and we started looking for an apartment to buy– all of those things that had been lying around for a long time.

5# Much faster back on track after vacation

We took a glorious three week vacation in Iceland in the summer and I was completely off the grid. When I came back, it was a huge pain in the neck to work through all my things and get them back into the GTD lists, but once that was done (after 2 days), I was able to get back to work. Much earlier than usual — previously, it took me up to a week to get back on track.

Criticism

Overall, I’m very happy that I gave GTD a try, and I will definitely continue to use it. Nevertheless, there are a couple of things to watch out for:

  • Don’t become a list freak. It’s easy to get carried away and take out your phone and put everything on your lists — even when you’re eating dinner with your partner or watching a football match with your friends. Don’t. Not socially acceptable.
  • Figure out the right system for you. GTD is a framework, not a religion. You can use Evernote with lists (like I do), you can put everything into Omnifocus, or use something else altogether. You can use Allen’s proposed lists, or not. Find out which system is fun and easy to stick to for you.

I hope this short overview about my experience with GTD helps you to decide whether or not you’d want to give it a try!


This post originally appeared on the blog of my old company Erento .


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Hanna Lisa Haferkamp

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Be silly, be honest, be kind. On a journey to figuring out how I can change the world. Ex-COO with focus on Product, Marketing and HR.