How GTD Changed My Life
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Here's the main takeaway so you can get on with your day.
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Getting Things Done (GTD) is a great tool that can help a lot of people. It's a great tool because great tools are the ones that can be used in a lot of different ways for different reasons by different people with different needs. Some use it religiously every day as a multi-step process to achieve peak-human productivity. Others just use the one or two pieces that serve the most benefit with the least amount of stress. Either way, GTD can give you the tools you need to help you be more productive and reliable personally and professionally.
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Nearly five years ago, I attended my very first class on Getting Things Done (GTD), the personal productivity methodology that has swept around the globe, especially in the workplace. Many organizational systems like Holacracy have even integrated GTD concepts into their very foundation because of its proven track record. Numerous people whom I believed to be very successful swore by it and I was notoriously unorganized with my responsibilities. So, although skeptical, I attended a workshop to see what all the hype was about.
My takeaway? The concept was great, but I knew I would never do it. Everything I do is centered around convenience, and while this surely would maximize anyone's productivity, it was too many steps and required too much time out of each day for me to ever consider doing it. So, I mentioned that to the class instructor. While not an exact quote, his response summed up to:
"You don't have to use this entire process in this exact way. If there were any pieces at all that resonated with you which you think you're able to do, just do that. Something is better than nothing."
There was, in fact, one piece that stuck out to me. Taking notes of stuff I want to remember for later instead of telling myself, "I'll remember!" I never remembered. While I wouldn't discover this about myself for years after taking this GTD, I would later discover I have not one, but two different neurological conditions which cause me to have poor memory. Still, even at that time, I knew that every time I told myself I would remember something, I would forget it. I can't tell you the amount of times I forgot to follow-up with someone or showed up late to a meeting because I told myself I would remember and then promptly forgot.
So, that day, I tried something new which turned out to be one of the greatest decisions I have ever made ...
I committed to always telling myself I would not remember.
I had proven time and time again that no matter how big or small, near or far, I would forget. So no matter what it was, I told myself I would not remember. Of course, if you know will forget everything, you need to figure out how to make yourself remember. I achieved that with three simple steps that took virtually no time or effort (because, let's be honest, if it wasn't entirely convenient I wouldn't have done anything at all):
1. Write it down
First and foremost, I went with the literal first step of the GTD process: write it down. I never have pen and paper on me, but I always have my phone. So, I cleared the home screen of my phone and replaced all my games and widgets with a giant sticky note. I then committed to writing everything down which I wanted to remember throughout the day: appointments I needed to schedule, people I needed to get back to, blog ideas, cool videos friends recommended - everything. Then, I simply check items off that list whenever I have the time and energy to get to them.
2. Schedule it
Not everything can be scheduled, but for everything that can be, I put it on my calendar. I truly have no idea who I am meeting with each day this week at what times, nor how many meetings I have in general. What I do know is that every appointment I have is on that calendar, because I have gotten into that habit. If a new appointment comes up, I schedule it immediately. In the rare cases where I can't put it on my calendar right then, I backtrack to the aforementioned step and I write it down on my to-do list, knowing that as soon as I have the time, I will then add it to my calendar and delete it from my to-do list.
3. Set an alarm
For years at my corporate job, I had a work calendar with every meeting on it, yet I still managed to forget about countless meetings. So, why does scheduling things work for me now? Again, because I told myself I would not remember the meetings I have that day. To get around that, I set alarms for everything.
Before I go to bed each night, I look at the meetings I have the next day. I then set a separate alarm for 5 minutes before the start of every individual meeting. Do I have a dozen meetings tomorrow? You bet I set a dozen alarms, each timed for 5 minutes before the meeting starts, which gives me just enough time to get back to my computer even if I was outside or playing video games because I forgot about the meeting. But it isn't just meetings. If I know I need to pull something out of the oven, let tea steep, or have to leave the house by a certain time, I set an alarm.
These 3 simple steps changed my life. No hyperbole, these tiny changes revolutionized how I lived and worked. It made me exponentially more productive in literally every way. Every time I told someone I would do something for them, I did. Every time I needed to schedule an appointment, I did. Every time I had a meeting, I was there on time. Every time I had a fleeting thought about telling a friend I appreciated what they did for me, I actually reached out to them to tell them. All because I wrote it down.
Improving technology makes this even easier. We rarely have pen and paper on us, but we all always have our phones. I am not always able to type, but I am always able to shout into the ether where at least one device in the room can somehow understand my request to add something to my grocery list or set an alarm.
I now pause conversations all the time with people to say, "One moment. I have to write this down or I'll forget." While saying that out loud seems rude, not a single person has ever been annoyed that I am actively ensuring I will do the thing we are currently talking about me doing. I am making sure I remember and they appreciate that. It makes them feel important and heard.
In addition, this new process has reduced the vast majority of my anxiety. I no longer panic throughout the day trying to remember what I probably forgot and hoping it isn't important. After years of building this habit, I now feel confident knowing that I have written down everything I might need to remember. Now, I always know I can check my list later and I'll remember.
This is normally where the conclusion would be.
Replacing tradition with efficiency is kind of our thing.