Effectiveness : Getting Things Done

2017 is almost over.  Did it go as well as you hoped?  Did you do the things you wanted to do?  How did you measure up on your goals?

For me, 2017 was a mixed bag.  Some things went really well and others not so.  The biggest “failure” for me was losing too much time for procrastination.  Time after time, I would find that my available hours would be sucked away by the deepest depths of the internet.  I tell myself that I’m feeding my curiosity, my burning desire to gain more information, but know I now that it’s really an excuse.  An excuse for me to create something worthwhile.

Looking back, I realise that my downfall has not been following a system.  When I followed a system, when I planned, I did and got things done.  My natural tendancy is to be distracted and jump between things.  The endless choice is overwhelming and I feel lost.  I never know what the best use of my time should be so when pressure comes, I default to the path of least resistance: consumption.

In a bid to make 2011 the best year ever, and moving to creation from a place of consumption,  I’m going back to basics and modifying my GTD system to make it more workable.



GTD is short for “Getting Things Done” a productivity system first introduced by David Allen’s book.  Essentially the system is based on the assumption that your brain is better at problem solving then it is at storing information.  Stress comes from a place where you have something on your mind that you are unable to solve at that point in time.  By capturing the things on your mind that are unsolveable (open loops) you eliminate stress, gain clarity and what needs to be done and then proceed to do it.

There are other systems to “Get Things Done” and no system is complete.  If it seems like your life is a blur and nothing is ever achieved, try following a productivity system.  For me, a GTD system changes my defaults.  Instead of turning on my computer and aimlessly browsing, I know what needs to be done and go and do it.  Any GTD system should be holistic and flexible.  This is mine.


To achieve maximum effectiveness you need to get a handle on all the information that passess through your lives and process this into actionable items that align with your longer term goals and vision.  The system I will be implementing will involve some core principles:

  • Capture Everything
  • Process to provide Context
  • Use strategic reviews
  • Do by batching and eliminating distractions.

Capture Everything in a Trusted System

photo credit: to01

Stress stems from something on your mind that you are unable to solve.  Once we remove the offending item from our mind, stress will cease provided that we can provide assurance to our subconscious that it has not been forgotten about, that we can revisit the problem again once we have better resources.  Whether it’s ideas, things to read or bills to pay, all the information in our lives needs to be captured and organised.

In GTD, we capture these things in an Inbox.  These can be physical or digital – email, notebooks, paper trays, Evernote.  The purpose of an Inbox is to be a default place to dump information that is later processed.  Try to limit the sources of your inbox and train yourself to capture your thoughts in the right place.

The capture process really needs to become a habit.  Don’t rely on your brain to remember.

I capture items using Evernote on my computer and phone, a small Notepad and my email inbox.  I try to default everything to Evernote.

Process to Provide Context


Once information is in your trusted system, it’s time to process the information to provide context.  Basically this is just telling you to decide what to do with the information you have.  Start building rules so you can instantly recognise what to do with the information.

First ask yourself if the information (regardless of what it is) is actionable, i.e. do you have to do something about it?  If you have time to do it and it takes less then two minutes, do it.  Is it an email that only needs a quick reply?  If so, reply – you waste more time, energy and attention reading it again next time then you will by just answering it now.  If you can’t complete the item, add it to a Next Actions list.  Even if the action is something you might do, identify the next action and add it to the list (this might be “think about how this article can be applied to my business”.  The Next Actions list will become your day to day map to productivity paradise.

When adding items to your next action list provide context.  Is it an email? Is it a phone call?  A creative task or a maintenance task?  Provide context so that things can be grouped – you’ll use this to make your “doing” more effective.

Next, ask yourself is there is any date associated with the information.  Is it an event that you might want to go visit or a deadline that needs to be met?  Add this information to your calendar and include some notes to reference.  I recommend Google Calendar.

The item in your inbox may be just a random thought or idea that you’d like to pursue in the future.  These get added to a Someday Maybe list to be reconsidered at a later date when you have better resources.

Finally , if the information is not actionable or date bound and is useful, then it becomes a resource.  If you need to read it, add it to the To Read list, otherwise file it with the rest of your Resources.

If you are following, the power of this system is in building these lists and making sure that everything important is on some form of list.  I use the following lists…

  • Next Actions – split by project and organised by context.  This is the list which tells you what you could be doing at any given point.
  • Wait – A list of “Next Actions” that cannot be progressed as you are waiting for a third party.
  • Calendar – Details of time sensitive information.
  • Someday Maybe – A list of ideas or things to do that I’d like to try at some point
  • To Read – Things to read
  • Reference – Useful things which

Everything that comes in your inbox should either be Done, Deleted or placed on one of the above lists.

Use Strategic Reviews


GTD works because it separates the planning phase from the doing phase.  It is a way of consciously choosing what you want you want to do before you actually decide to do it.  The system that I am writing about allows you to decide what you are doing day-to-day and also ensure that these actions align with your longer term goals.  The review also allows you to look back and to see how to be better going forward.

Reviews should be completed at regular intervals with review sessions being more detailed when looking at a longer range.  Remember:  Long term greatness is built through daily action.

  • Overall vision and Yearly Review.  Decide what you stand for.  Decide what mark you want to make in this life and what legacy you want to build.  This provides you with your destination and a place for your compass to point too.  The big things you want out of life take time and you should spend some time each year to clarify what this means to you.  Ask yourself what you really want and then define the specific things you can do this coming year to move you closer to the vision.  Be detailed as you can and spend at least a day on this process.
  • 90 Day Review (Quarterly Review).  Ask yourself what things you can do in the next 90 days to reach the goals you set in your yearly review.  90 days is the magic number as it’s long enough to make significant progress whilst being short enough to grasp on a daily level.  1-2 hours.
  • Monthly Review.  Again, ask what specific milestones can you to reach the 90 day goals.  What projects should you work on in these next 4 weeks to make your 90 day goals more of a reality?  Ask yourself if your longer term plan is still relevant – don’t be afraid to change the plan – it’s your life. 1 hour
  • Weekly Review.  Now we begin getting into the operational details.  The weekly review helps you plan what is upcoming. You decide what the priority is to achieve your monthly goal. 1/2 hour.
  • Daily Review.  At the end of your workday make a habit of planning your next.  Look at the projects identified in the weekly review and ask which of the items in your Next Actions list will bring you closer to that goal.  Pick the 3 Most Important Tasks [MIT] and note them down.

At each review, always look to your calendar to determine what time bound commitments you have for that period.  Be aware of these commitments and if they are important, work them into the relevant review cycle.  For example, each week look at your calendar commitments and include them in your daily review if needed.  Check the calendar often and use it as a means to prioritize.

The review is powerful and often overlooked.  Every thing you do on a day-to-day basis is directly traceable to your long term vision.  Long term greatness is achieved by daily action.  The review prevents you getting caught up in the daily operational issues you face and allow you to take a step back to see how it all fits to the bigger picture.  When you feel stuck or down or lost, the review will help provide clarity.

Batch and Eliminate Distractions

photo credit: ginnerobot

Finally we come to the details of the system.  The nitty gritty, the place where we get our hands dirty. On a daily level we look at energy and batching.  Get to know your body and understand when you are most energetic.  Use this time to complete your MITs.  The time when you are most energetic is the time when you are able to contribute the most.  Leverage this and do the most important work that will help you achieve your long term goals.  Try to have a solid 2 hour block (minimum), eliminate ALL distractions and work on your MITs in bursts of around 25 mins (set a timer).

Spend the rest of your time how you like – whether it’s browsing the web, catching up on your reading or connecting via social networks.  As long as you have completed your MITs, the rest of your time is yours to spend.  Batch activities together (sending email, paying bills, phoning people) to become more effective (it takes energy and time to shift between different types of tasks and mindsets).

Closing Thoughts

A GTD system is a framework that let’s you make effective use of your time.  Having a great system doesn’t mean that you become an effective super productivity machine.  You need to be disciplined and use the system properly.  Remember to capture everything and process your inboxes regularly.  Ensure that the daily action is aligned to a longer term goal and when you’ve identified the most important thing you should be doing every day, eliminate all distractions and get it done when your energy levels are peaking.

Be disciplined and organised.  I’m sure 2018 will be a fruitful year.


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