Getting Things Done (GTD)

200px-Getting_Things_Done GTDHave you ever procrastinated doing something because you were afraid it might take a long time,  or lead to even more work, or make your brain hurt? And then, when you finally did it, it was easier and faster than you thought it would be, and you wondered, “Why didn’t I do that sooner?”

I just read Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (affectionately known as GTD by legions of followers), by David Allen. No, I hadn’t read it before, although I had certainly heard about it and seen his flow chart. When clients ask me what I think of it I say, “Um… it’s very popular…and it’s compatible with what I am going to teach you.” And then I hope I’m right.

Well, now I know for sure that I’m right. What a relief!  I had resisted reading the book primarily because I already had a system that worked for me. What if I learned I was doing it all wrong and had to not only change my ways, but un-do what I’ve taught my clients?!

I would describe my Time Management style as equal parts:

  • GTD (now I know that what I do naturally is pretty much what David Allen does) – This method helps you get stuff done, but (as he admits) doesn’t help you decide what’s worth doing.
  • Time Management from the Inside Out, by Julie Morgenstern – This method starts where I do, by helping you define your goals and priorities.
  • Other people’s stuff, including the Steven Covey Urgent/Important Matrix, Planner Pad, inspirational and motivational stories, and The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson.
  • My own techniques, including Sooner or Later, Getting Stuff Done, and generic concepts (or I don’t know the origin) such as to-do lists, calendaring, time blocking, routines and checklists, planning binder, and action file.

The trick for someone like me, who coaches others to better manage how they spend their time, is to present all this information in a palatable, yet effective way. Most of my clients want to get the things they have to do done, and create more guilt-free time for the things they want to do. Very few of them have the interest (and attention span) required to read a whole book on time management, much less several of them.

So, here are a few observations about David Allen and GTD: He doesn’t seem nearly as anal as some of his devotees are (I actually listened to the audio book, which he read himself, so felt like I got to know him a little); his system is flexible enough to accommodate different styles and tools; I was surprised, but glad, to hear him use the word “intuition” several times; the book is slightly dated in terms of technology (e.g. PDAs vs. smart phones), and is geared towards business, but he incorporates one’s personal life to a satisfying degree. I particularly liked his sections on keeping and renegotiating agreements with oneself, and on why it’s the smartest people who procrastinate the most.

We differ on only a few points, really: He advocates hundreds of alphabetical reference files, and single sheets of paper per file, if necessary, and I prefer a different filing system; he’s all for multitasking (see Organizing Myth #3) and I’m not (e.g. cleaning out your email inbox while on a call…although, I suppose he means the type of business conference call where you are required to attend, but are not a major participant, rather than a one-on-one personal conversation); I don’t use a tickler file, per se, with 43 folders, but I do use something similar.

Here is one change I am personally making as a result of reading GTD: I now have a word for the things I put back into my inbox on purpose because I am not yet ready to make a decision about them: Incubating. I’m going to start putting them in an Incubating file, not back into the inbox. (David Allen agrees with me that “touching each piece of paper only once” really only refers to making a decision about the “next action”, and moving it through your system. It is not to be taken literally. See Organizing Myth #9.) And I will review the file weekly, along with all the other parts of my system. I am thrilled to find that incubating is a legitimate GTD strategy!

Are you a fan of GTD? What tips do you have for us?

What have you resisted doing because you thought it might force you to change your ways?

Please share in the comment section below!

Copyright 2013 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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