Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity — Summary

Learn from the Bible of business and personal productivity

The GTD system focuses on a simple yet effective philosophy by asking the question: “What’s the next concrete action which brings me closer to my goal?”

By keeping every task small enough so that it can be done in a short amount of time, you can just take care of it the moment you think of it without needing to write it down. This way you also avoid excuses to procrastinate.

The brilliance of GTD is that it keeps your tasks simple enough so that you don’t postpone the next step and instead just take care of it. “What’s the next action?” forms the basic operation query. It provides clarity and focus.

Process instead of storage

Our modern work environments have an increasing complexity and variety of tasks. It is easy to lose oneself the large amount of things to do. So many of us end up using our brain as a storage device, remembering all pending tasks.

But our brains are bad at multitasking. By stuffing our heads with information about unfinished obligations we are squandering our brain’s resources and prevent it from concentrating on action and getting things done fully.

Once our brain has all those pending tasks in memory, it reminds us of them in the most inopportune moments, while we try to concentrate on the solution of a problem for example.

In order to work efficiently, we need to use 100% of our brains capacity to the task at hand, without dwelling on unrelated things.

Storage or queue outside your head

To prevent clutter of information in our brain, we should have a collection bucket, where we can pile up any information or ideas which are important for you but and thus are bound to distract you.

With a bucket, you will have a place where you can find all important information once you have time to deal with it. The bucket doesn’t need to be a physical box. It can be anything from a computer, notebook, or app. It just needs to be close enough so that you have easy access to it.

If for example, you remember to pay a major bill, instead of letting that thought reside in your head and distract you all the time, you’d just put it into your collection bucket so that you can deal with it later.

Having and an external queue of important things will let you rest assured that any important tasks will be taken care of in time.

Cleaning out the trash

The collection bucket is incredibly efficient, but it only maintains it’s efficiency while it contains useful information. You have to clean out the content on a regular basis.

Your brain needs to trust the collection box. If it contains unreliable information, you will stop trusting it. And then once again your brain will start remembering you of important and distracting things while you work.

You should, therefore, clean your bucket at least once a week, reordering the content by priority and discharging any items which become irrelevant.

If while reviewing you encounter an item which hasn’t been taken care of, and you can take care of it quickly (less than 2 minutes) then do it immediately.

Projects and daily to-do lists

Often to-do lists become suboptimal because they become cluttered with too many details about projects, appointments, and bits of information which make it hard to distinguish between actionable tasks.

The solution is, if it’s a complex activity, turn it into a project and transfer it to the Projects List. Everything else comes to the Next Actions List.

Projects List for complex activities

Projects are defined as something complex, requiring more than one action step to be completed.

Examples of projects: Planning an event, organizing vacations, organizing a meeting.

You should be able to describe the outcome of the project in one sentence. For example, “When this meeting is done, this pending problem will be taken care of.”

What thinking about the outcome does is it enables you to easily formulate concrete tasks which bring your closer to the achievement of the project.

Next Actions List instead of to-do lists

Daily to-do lists are not always optimal due to the reason that you cannot know in advance how much you will accomplish on a given day.

It is a good idea to use a calendar in combination with Next Actions lists. The calendar makes sure you are aware of deadlines. The calendar is much more suited to remind you of meetings and appointments too.

Everything which isn’t bound to a certain day or hour should be transferred to your Next Actions list. The Next Actions list lets you room to decide which task is most urgent at any moment.

“Waiting for” lists for delayed input

Whenever you are working with other people and depend on their input, it is useful to have a “waiting for” list. In that list, you write down everything you are waiting for from other people. That way you can easily spot whenever a person hasn’t kept his or her promise and remind them of it.

The “Someday/Maybe” list for potential future tasks

On this list comes everything which hasn’t been condensed to a concrete idea or task yet. The items are not necessarily less important. It’s just that they are not yet very concrete.

For example, it could be used to keep track of project ideas which could be very important in the future. You could also put down personal interests there.

A structured workplace is important for productivity

In addition to emptying your collection buckets once a week, you should set up a workplace where all relevant materials are available. It is important to feel comfortable while working, that way you will focus better on the task at hand.

Use natural planning to find concrete steps

Project planning is often an unnatural non-structured process. Natural planning is a quick and fun way to find concrete steps which will lead you closer to the accomplishment of the project.

You start out with the accomplished goal in mind. Then you start brainstorming. It can be helpful to brainstorm externally, for example by writing down your ideas and drawing mind maps.

Once your ideas are organized, you start finding concrete steps to accomplish them and getting closer to your goal.

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