Why read this
- To improve your productivity;
- To start using a well thought-out method to take full advantage of to-do lists.
Why listen to the author
- He is the CEO of a company that specializes in training executives in the method of Getting Things Done and distributes productivity software;
- He has written plenty of articles and books on productivity and is considered by many one of the most influential thinkers in this subject.
Getting Things Done – Book Notes
Reading time: ~10min.
Create and Maintain a Reliable To-Do List
Use organized reliable lists. Here’s the method to create, organize and maintain those lists.
- Collect incoming things — The process starts when something catches your attention, that your may want to act upon at some point in the future. When you’re short on time, or if you’re outdoors with only your cellphone with you, you put that into a “bucket list” — a kind of unorganized list you put things that pop into your head throughout the day. If you carry the app you use for all the to-do lists with you and you have some time, then of course you can put it in it’s correct category right away. It is important to quickly save that idea outside your mind and in written form because your memory is fallible, and it takes energy to maintain that idea or to-do action in the back of your mind for hours.
- Process them — Organize (correct category) if you haven’t already and transform them into small actionable tasks. For example the task “Meet with my friend X” is not actionable. Instead change that to “Phone my friend X to meet” and type a due date. “Know more about my country’s history” is not actionable or small. This one may be in fact so big to be what we’re going to call it a “project.” (more on that later). Make every task small enough so that you can complete it in a short period of time. This way neither lack of time nor lack of motivation will prevent you from doing it.
- Do them — Act and cross the things of the list.
- Regularly review the system — to make sure the action items and project lists are up to date, basically to re-organize/re-prioritize/delete old things and put things that are in the bucket list that weren’t still processed.
Review The List Regularly to Keep It Trustworthy
This system only works when you regularly clean out and re-organize the contents. If you don’t regularly organize and sweep the list of tasks and objectives it becomes unreliable, so you begin to distrust it, or feel unconsciously unmotivated to use it, and you go back to your methods before using the list. Going through this procedure regularly (once a week seems to work the best) is a good way to guarantee a reliable, trusted to-do list. To form a habit you may even go as far as setting a specific day per week where you always do this clean up and organizing.
Here’s a few guidelines for the reviewing process (the step 4 of the process above):
- If the item is unimportant, take it off the list immediately – you don’t want to feel like the list is filled with unimportant things, which makes it an unimportant list.
- If it would take an instant to take care of it (e.g., 2 min. or less), do it now.
- If it’s important information, file it away in the correct place.
- If it’s an appointment, project or concrete task, transfer it to the appropriate list (see next ideas for details).
- If it’s an activity that requires a few concrete tasks you may want it to become a “project” with a clear goal. Project lists are slightly different that other lists, as we’ll see below.
- Appointments and deadlines should go to your calendar.
- Other tasks go to the next actions list.
You need to make sure that the system stays functional:
- Each current project should be associated with at least one “Next Action”;
- The system should be as up-to-date as you find necessary. The amount of time spent on reviewing it depends on how much time you need in order to feel safe and trust the system.
Reviewing also enables you to have a bird’s-eye view of all the things you want to do but still be able to go to the extremely detailed next actions for each project.
Use a “Projects” List
You can define a project as a desired outcome that needs for its completion that we take more than one action/step. Learning how to make sushi is a project, but learning how to make the rice for sushi is a small task. Watching a movie is a task. Making a website about movies is a project.
The best way to define a project is thinking about its goal, about results: How will the world look when the project is finished? How can the intended result be described in one sentence? This way of thinking makes it easier to formulate the concrete tasks needed to bring those specific results come true.
The author suggests that projects be put on a separate list specifically for them, the projects list. The reason they need to be separated is because of their high complexity. They won’t be crossed the list for a long time, and will need sub-tasks that will appear somewhat sequentially, and which you will add to the “Next Actions” list. Once you’ve clearly outlined a project’s desired result, you store it there and just like everything else you review and update it regularly.
During the weekly review of the list, you should make sure that every project has a next task that will go to the “Next Actions” list. By crossing those off each week, you’ll slowly get closer to complete the project.
Use a “Next Actions” Lists.
Daily to-do lists are inefficient because, among other reasons, they provide a warped view of time. It’s hard to know in advance what you’re capable of doing in a given day. They lead to unreliable and unrealistic planning. Moreover, when people do a to-do lists (either daily, weekly or timeless to-do lists) they tend not to work because they become a jumble of tasks, information and thoughts. The lists should include only concrete, practicable small quick to do tasks on these lists, but in reality people tend to write down whole projects, thoughts, actions and other information without distinguishing between them – making it hard to keep track of the individual actionable tasks.
Another, more effective way, is to work with a calendar and have one or more “Next Actions” lists. The point of the calendar is to keep track of appointments. It’s non negotiable. It provides a fixed structure for planning the rest of the activities.
Every other task should be put onto the “Next Actions” list. Regardless of where you are, you should carry around with you a “Next Actions” list so that at any time you can chose and pick the most urgent/most appropriate task to do at any moment.
Advanced: If you want to take this one step further, and if you have a lot of actions it might make make sense to have multiple “Next Actions” lists and organize them according to the context (e.g., “on the phone” or “on the computer”). By sorting out your tasks by place, you can know what to everywhere you are.
“Waiting For” Lists for When You Work With Other People.
So projects should be listed on the “Projects” list and the “Next Actions” lists ensures that you’re consistently working on tasks that are taking your projects closer to their conclusion one at a time. But what happens when there are tasks whose completion rely on other people doing something? They can’t go on the “Next actions” list because those are for you to do next, and it can’t simply go under “Projects” otherwise you may even forget that that project is on hold because of someone.
This way whenever you’re dependent on someone doing something – to make tracking those down more easily – it may be worth keeping a “Waiting For” list. Here we note everything that we’re waiting for other people to do, and the deadlines. Then we also review this list at the same time as the others. This review allows us to notice when someone hasn’t taken care of a certain task and kindly remind them. Reminding is in itself a new task which you can a) do it immediately if it takes < 5 minutes or add it to the “Next Actions” list if not.
Use a Calendar
Along with managing the tasks that are time-dependent like appointments there are other uses for a calendar. Although you can plan a whole lot in advance, sometimes you have to wait on certain information before you can turn items in your collection bucket into concrete tasks or appointments. For example, when there’s a concert but not all bands are confirmed to go, you might want to wait to see who’s actually going to perform before you know whether it’s worth it to go or not. So for cases when you have no choice but to plan things at the last minute write reminders on certain days on your calendar, in order to delay a decision / task for a more appropriate time.
Put Ideas With Future Relevance in a “Someday/Maybe” List.
Another important part of the GTD method is the “Someday/Maybe” list. The “Someday/Maybe” list contains all things you haven’t decided whether you really have the time, ability, or made the decision to pursue them. They may be interesting for you to maybe do them some day. This doesn’t mean they aren’t important. They may still be important, but not right now, or depend on several factors coming together. For example countries you’d like to visit, skills you’d like to have. You won’t do them know because your hands are full, but it’s something you’d definitely like to do at some point in the future. So they may still be important, and for this reason you type them down to help you keep track of all those plans and ideias you’d still like to do sometime.
Myself I use the free application “Wunderlist” as it enables me to do pretty much everything described here. You can create a pseudo “Next Actions” list with the “starred” function. For projects you create a folder containing all the current tasks to be done to achieve the results. As we’ve said that results need to be very clear so that you can more clearly define tasks and know when to cross that project of the list, you can create a task to describe the results. As for the Someday/Maybe list you can order the projects by priority, so you can put those that are less important at the end. So there wouldn’t be a someday/maybe list but basically all the projects/tasks at the end are low priority. Some other people also vouch for todoist, so I suppose that would be another good option with slightly different features.
To keep track of the things I accomplished during the day I then write them down on another free app called Easy Diary. Very simple and lightweight, and good enough for this purpose.
Do you know any other useful apps or software? Have you tried using the GTD method? How’s it worked?