Getting Things Done

David Allen Also available in audiobook: Download our app for free listening.

Few books are capable of changing people's lives. David Allen's Getting Things Done is one of the books which most transformed and helped us become more productive here at 12min. We were always a team that took many projects, many tasks but many times we ended up getting involved because we did not know the fundamentals of productivity. This book has taught us and will teach you how to keep life organized and become someone 10x more productive. More than a book, GTD is a method, and in this summary, we will help you put it into practice.

Zeigar What?

In the 1920s, Bluma Zeigarnik set out to observe a restaurant and understand how it works. In her remarks, the Russian psychologist realized that the waiters could remember complex orders, which allowed them to deliver the right food to the right tables with high efficiency. In addition, they were able to close the accounts with speed, soon after the clients finished their meals. However, she observed an interesting phenomenon, later called the Zeigarnik effect. Soon after a table was closed and the bill was paid, it was as if she had left the waiter's head. If a customer came back with a question about their meal, the waiters had to go to great lengths to remember and, most of the time, missed greatly. From this observation, Zeigarnik has developed a theory: our mental energy is drawn to incomplete tasks, and once a task is completed, it leaves our heads. Years later, several researchers confirmed Zeigarnik's thesis in several experiments.

Habemus GTD

David Allen, in developing his famous method, called this "open circuit" effect, which he defines as "anything attracting our attention that is not in its proper place as it is." Complex things like "putting an end to hunger in Africa" or as small as "putting an envelope in the mail". The point of the book is that even people who are not consciously "stressed" will always be more relaxed, focused and productive if they learn to deal with their open circuits efficiently. To do this, he proposed a method, which he called GTD, or Getting Things Done (Free Translation, "Leaving Things Done" or "Completing Tasks"). GTD is a system for controlling these open circuits so that you can focus on your current task at all times without distractions. According to David Allen, every open circuit in your life must have its own place, organized and filed, so you can temporarily take it out of your head, with the peace of mind that when you need to revisit it, it will be properly cataloged. Also, GTD also features a task prioritization system to ensure that you are always working on the most important activity at the time. The system is broken in steps. Get to know them below:

Stage 1: Collecting Information

The first step to adopting GTD is to bring together the tasks that are taking away your focus. You can use paper, a tool like Evernote or even an email client to do this (our favorite is Google's Inbox). The tasks that you need to collect on this list will come from your day-to-day activities, but also from requests from co-workers, friends, and family. To succeed in this step, it is important that: Every planned task should go to your collection system and thus get out of your head; This list needs to be constantly and cleanly revisited when you perform or cancel a task. Having this list is essential, and if a task is open in your head, it is important that you take note. Otherwise, it will end up becoming a distraction that takes your focus every moment.

Stage 2: Processing Information

It is impossible to finish all your tasks and close all your circuits. It is human nature that new open circuits always appear. But if you cannot do all the tasks you wrote down, how can you keep your list empty? For this, there is a simple but extremely efficient cleaning process that keeps you organized.

Step 1: Identify the item: Before starting a new task, we must identify what is contained in it and make a careful analysis. Ask yourself "What is this?" And understand in depth what that task represents. This is very important especially when tasks are demands that come from other people such as emails. Understanding the item will help you decide what tasks need to be done to close the open circuit.

Step 2: Ask yourself, "Do I need to do something about it?" This question is interesting because not all tasks really need to be performed, after all, some demands may have no meaning, or it may be that you or someone on your team is not necessarily the best person to do it. If you identify a task that you do not need to take action, do one of the following: Put it in the trash. Archive it as "one day / maybe" (this is for anything you may want to do in the future but cannot do or do not want to do now). Archive it as a "reference" (you do not need to do anything about it, but you may need this information later; it's a good idea to have an organized system for storing reference items, either in your bookmark system, in an email folder Or even on paper on your desk). [PRO TIP: Use Evernote] If the task requires your attention, but not immediate, it is best to mark it as such. It is essential to put it on a list to be revisited in the future. A good idea would be to put an automatic reminder on your calendar for when action needs to be taken. [Pro Tip: Use Google Calendar or Google Inbox!] In the cases above, you have solved the item and can remove it from your collection system and thus close (although temporarily, in the case of future attention) the open circuit. Most items in your collection buckets probably will not go beyond this stage. This step is essential to ensure that we have our heads free to start producing and focusing on the tasks that require our immediate attention. If your list only has tasks that require immediate attention, now is the time to go to the next step

Step 3: Ask yourself, "From my list, what is the next activity I should execute?" Now that you have a free mind to produce, you have to be smart in choosing what to focus on first. If it is a simple task, you can go straight to the next step. But in our lives, many tasks are complex and require several small activities to achieve the desired goal. If the task is simple, skip to the next step. If the task is more complex and will require it to be broken into several smaller tasks, you need to add it to a new list called Projects. In the Projects list, you must break this item across all its sub-items. With the sub-items set, return the most important ones to your main list. The list of projects is a list of all open circuits that require more than one task to complete. A good example would be to have a "Rent apartment" project, and its subtasks would be "Visit real estate", "Choose apartments to visit", "Visit apartments", "Make an offer to real estate". The projects list is a tool for tracking the open circuits you are still working on. When you complete all the sub-tasks of a project, you can take it out of the project list. When new tasks appear in the project, such as "Find cosigner for the contract", add it to the project list.

Step 4: Work on small tasks. This step is to ask yourself, "Can I complete this task in a single action and in less than two minutes?" Simple tasks like the examples below can be executed immediately. Answer a question from a co-worker; Fill out a short survey form; Schedule a meeting; And if you can complete it right away, why not finish it now and clear your brain of that open circuit?

Step 5: Delegate what is not your job / It is not the best use of your time. After the immediate tasks, the easy and fast, it is time to know how to handle the tasks a little more complex, it is time to prioritize them. The first question should be: Am I the best person to carry out this activity or can I delegate it to someone on my team (family, friends, etc.)? If it makes sense to delegate this activity, go ahead and do it. Once you have delegated a task, you must schedule the date on which you want to check the progress of the task. If you choose to perform the task, put it on your list of upcoming actions. The list of upcoming actions is timely planning, which ideally should be closed early in the day so you can be productive and do the most you can.

Step 6: Organizing your list of upcoming tasks. You should constantly revisit your list of upcoming tasks. The two most common ways of organizing it are by context and by priority. To organize your list by context, ask yourself, "Where do I need to be to accomplish this task?" Contexts can be physical locations such as your office, your home or the supermarket, but they can also be specific situations, already pre-occupied daily or weekly in your schedule. A good example of situation context would be to have a fixed time in your agenda, from 8am to 9am called "email management", or "internal meetings." For each context, you must create a task list. Organizing by context helps you, regardless of what you're doing, to look at your list of upcoming actions and see what you need to do where you are. Priority organization, however, must be done differently. It is necessary to ask yourself, "Given my context, time and energy available, what will bring the most reward?" Another important point is to consider the tasks according to your long-term goals. Allen also suggests that you familiarize yourself with the Eisenhower Matrix of prioritization, which is based on the urgency and importance of the tasks (google this or read the article above!).

Stage 3: Performing - Get Shit Done!

Now that you've created your list of upcoming actions and organized them by context and priority, you're ready to get started. Roll up your sleeves to perform the most complex and hairy tasks. Still, you'll have tasks popping up in your calendar (the ones you delegated and checked to check in Step 5), so plan to have time for them as well. If during an execution time some new task begins to distract you or disrupt your focus, put it on your list of open circuits so that you can return to it later.

Stage 4: Analyzing and Reviewing your Routine

The last step is the constant review of our lists and there are three essential analyzes that should become a habit so that we can keep our circuits constantly in the tracks. Here they are:

  • New context review: Whenever you are in a new context (example, in the company board that you were asked to attend monthly.), Check your list of upcoming actions. This creates the habit of working on your priorities in any context.
  • Daily agenda review: Every morning, check your calendar and see what tasks you need to complete that day. Analyze, evaluate and if necessary, make adjustments.
  • Weekly Review of Upcoming Task Lists and Open Circuits: Weekly review is essential to boost your productivity using GTD. It works like this:
    • Empty your list of open circuits: Review your main list weekly and try to get as many activities as possible.
    • Review your project list: Finalize completed projects, evaluate which projects are becoming less important and whether new projects have come up.
    • Clear your list of upcoming actions: Rearrange your list by transferring the tasks from last week that still need to be completed and adding new items to your list of open circuits. The weekly review allows you to stay organized and constantly evolving.

Final Notes:

GTD is not as easy a method as it sounds. GTD is a set of habits and habits that take time to form. Instead of trying to do it all at once, we suggest that you improve each of your steps gradually and create one habit at a time, always going to the next. The purpose of the method is to make you focus on the work that matters and end your procrastination. When in doubt, always rethink if that activity you are doing is really important to achieve your goals. This is Get Things Done!

12min tip: If you liked this microbook, how about checking our Productivity microbooks? You will like! ;)

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