How to Use the 'Getting Things Done' Technique

March 15, 2016

Getting Things Done, or GTD is the name of a productivity technique or time-management method. It's also something most of us want to know how to do effectively every day. Get things done. 

GTD was created by a man called David Allen, who sells a book titled Getting Things Done. If you feel like you need to read more than a hundred pages on the concept to really feel motivated enough to pick up a fairly simple method, by all means, check out his book. Otherwise stick around and we'll have you up and running in no time.

Do not get me wrong. This technique is not as easy as it sounds, nor is it as simple as the Pomodoro Technique we previously outlined. But if you like the idea of learning a detailed system to organizing your to-do lists and start accomplishing more in life, strap in.

The Process

GTD consists of five "pillars", because it sounds fancy in a book. Let's call them five basic rules, shall we?

1. Capture

GTD is all about taking ideas for goals and projects out of your head and making them tangible, clearing your mind to focus on each individually without worrying about forgetting one.

So the first step in the process here is going to be writing down or typing out all of your tasks and goals. The big thing is choosing something you feel you'll stick with. If you're on your phone or computer often, get software to help, or if you prefer something tactile get yourself a nice travel sized notebook or journal. For a list of tools you can use, check out this Top 5 at Lifehacker.

From now on, every time you acquire a new task, put it in this same location. It's important that you are never actively needing to keep a task in mind until it actually needs accomplishing.

2. Clarify

This step is going to take place for every item on that list you just described. In this step you want to break the vague goals into individual tasks.

So "Clean the House" is going to become something more like:

  • Clean the House
    • Vacuum
    • Dust
    • Wash Dishes
    • Clean Refrigerator
      • throw out moldy stuff
      • scrub surfaces

What you are doing here is continuing to eliminate any ambiguity to your tasks. You won't have to remember all the tasks within "clean the house" because they're there on the list ready for you when you have the time.

If the task on the list doesn't have smaller sub-tasks like the example above, and it takes two minutes or less, do it immediately.

That rule is going to apply nearly all the time. If you get a task that takes less than two minutes, don't waste your time writing it down or doing any of these other steps. Just do it. Take out the trash. The benefits of being reactive to tasks like that can be found in our post on Constructive Autopilot.

Why do you clarify? Watch the video below. 


3. Organize

Now that you have a truly broken down representation of your tasks, you need to figure out your priorities. Start giving due dates to tasks. If some tasks can be delegated to someone else, make a note of that. For tasks you aren't handling right away, make reminders for the future so you know when to come back to them.

This is basically taking the madness that is your list of "everything I need to do in my life" and organizing it into tasks that might fit into categories like "every day", "someday", "this month", "this year", or whatever makes sense for you. 

Here is an image from Wikipedia that may help you organize your thoughts via a logic tree:

4. Reflect

This is just a period of time in which to make sure you've done your due diligence and think over your list again. You should do this somewhat regularly, as your personal motivations may change. Something from "someday" maybe become something you want to turn into something for "tomorrow". Make sure it's all set up and easy to choose what tasks are most important and most time sensitive.

5. Engage

Now devour that list. You've already done the hardest part, which is putting it all on paper. Now it's all about letting your brain take down one at a time.

Your confidence will go up with each task you accomplish.

Don't get distracted, if someone hits you with a new task, write it down or take care of it immediately, and remember to check back in and reflect on your list every few days.

That's a basic rundown. For a bit more detail, check out Lifehacker's primer, where I learned about the technique years ago. 

That's it folks, thank you for reading! Find out if you are one of the first to read by using limited-use coupon code GETTHINGSDONE for 20% off your one-time order of NeuroGum.


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