Getting Things Done

For those struggling with overload at the moment a you tube video called Getting Things Done by David Allen (author of a book by the same name and a website at ) may hold some ideas on how best to deal with the volume of issues and actions facing you. At a high level he advocates improving productivity by writing things down in a system that the brain is confident will work. This stops the brain from worrying about the item and whether we will forget about it (think of the diary as a reasonably effective system for handling appointments and how we relax once we have it in the diary).

The challenge is often not the emails, memo’s or articles we get but the potential meaning of each of those in terms of what they may need of us and what actions may be required. The thinking process determines the meaning.

Getting Things Done (GTD) asks what do we need to clarify to stay on top of things. He also notes that it is easy to fall off the GTD wagon and easy to get back on.

Of course when we are being very productive many people don’t know what they did to get on top of their work and then what happened to get off that feeling.

He asks the question – when you have felt stressed and then you wrote a list – did it help you feel better. The nub of the solution called “distributed cognition” simply means writing it down distributes it from your brain to an external space as well. There is value in getting things out of the psyche and writing it down. David Allen validates the importance of writing things down but has taken the requirement to a much higher level – framed as a martial art of work & life.  He claims that it facilitates the ability to enhance the 2 aspects of managing yourself – control and perspective.

He use the analogy of a pond of water as pebbles and boulders are thrown into it – the pond just absorbs and gets back to its relaxed state. Can we make our mind like water – respond to what is present, rather than taking work to home, one meeting to the next etc.  Not being fully present to what is in front of you detracts from your productivity.

Your ability to be effective is related to your ability to concentrate. Distraction is a key culprit – and we are our own worst enemies when looking at the source of our distractions.

Our productivity and ability to get things done relates to 2 dimensions – Control and Perspective. If we look at a 2 by 2 matrix of these we get 4 types.

Control and Perspective

Perspective – High Crazy Makers, No consciousness of restraints or resources, don’t like lists Master Commander, Structure and freedom balanced. They see where resources and time should be spent
    • to Low
Reactive to events and issues, poor planning Micro Manager – over-structuring, anal, control from a sense of insecurity

Control – Low to                        High

In Mastering workflow GTD suggests there are 5 keys to gaining control

1. Collect· Capture anything and everything that has your attention in leak proof external “buckets” (your in-baskets, email, notebooks, voice mail etc.) – get them out of your short-term memory.

2. Process· Process the items you have collected (decide what each thing means, specifically).· If it is not actionable – toss it, “tickle” it for possible later action, or file it as reference.· If it is actionable – decide the very next physical action, which you do (if less than two minutes), delegate (and track on “waiting for” list), or defer (put on an action reminder list or in an action folder). If one action will not close the loop, then identify the commitment as a “project” and put it on a reminder list of projects.

3. Organise· Group the results of processing your input into appropriately retrievable and reviewable categories. The four key action categories are:
Projects – (projects you have a commitment to finish) Calendar – (actions that must occur on a specific day or time) Next Actions – (actions to be done as soon as possible) Waiting For – (projects and actions others are supposed to be doing, which you care about)

4. Review· Review calendar and action lists daily (or whenever you could possibly do any of them).· Conduct a customized weekly review to get clean, get current, and get creative (see Weekly Review).· Review the longer-horizon lists of goals, values, and visions as often as required to keep your project list complete and current.

5. Do· Make choices about your actions based upon what you can do (context), how much time you have, how much energy you have, and then your priorities.· Stay flexible by maintaining a “total life” action reminder system, always accessible for review, trusting your intuition in moment-to-moment decision-making.

Choose to:
1- do work you have previously defined or 2- do ad hoc work as it appears or 3- take time to define your work (You must sufficiently process and organize to trust your evaluation of the priority of the ad hoc.) To prioritise work we need to relate it to the “Horizons” we have set – the goals over different time horizons that we set for ourselves and which keep us on track.

Horizons of Focus – the 6 levels of work

Runway – current actions (daily)
· 10,000 level – current projects (weekly)
· 20,000 level – current responsibilities (monthly)
· 30,000 level – 1-2 year goals (quarterly)
· 40,000 level – 3-5 year goals (annually)
· 50,000 level – career, purpose, lifestyle (annually +)

e.g. If your reading material is out of control – box all the information to be read and review and then check for perspective against your horizons – what should you be reading, what subscriptions should you have vs actually have.

There are some interesting concepts here but the most important is developing a system that works for you and that you trust and ensure you use that system to prioritise your time and focus.


About Curious and Interested

Former Leader and Manager now writer and coach. Enquiring, Curious, Buys more books than can ever read but still reads a lot. A sucker for gadgets...Ipad, Kindle, Chromecast, apple watch. I aim to improve understanding and cause reflection. Not claiming to be the expert.
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