How does GTD differ from “To-Do Lists?”

To-do2The biggest difference between GTD and keeping a “To-Do List” is defining what being “done” looks like. Most of the tasks people keep on their to-do lists are “amorphous blobs of undoability” – commitments without any clear vision of what being “done” looks like. That’s a huge problem – your brain is naturally designed to help you figure out how to do things, but only if you know what the end point looks like.  Everything you’re working on should have a very clear stopping point – a point where you know you’re done and where you can check it off or delete it.  If you don’t know what that point looks like, you’ll find it very difficult to make any progress at all.  It is critical that you clarify what being done looks like.

Most people that have tried to-do lists combine several different types of items on those lists.  They include things that are specific – get hamburger from Ralphs, clean garage, email Fred about proposal, with things that are not specific – lose weight, Grandma’s situation, staff meeting presentation, get healthy, improve work/life balance, etc.  When tasks are grouped this way it is impossible to complete some of these things and therefore they are never crossed off or deleted.  This causes procrastination and ultimately a loss of interest in the to-do list.

GTD forces you to break down your “to-do list” into the appropriate next actions to complete the tasks and check them off or delete them.  It also defines the context of how, when, and where you will perform the next action.  For example, tasks on your “Home” list are next actions that physically must happen at home or calls are tasks that need to be performed when you have a few minutes available and access to your phone.

While there is no difference between “work stuff” and “home stuff” in GTD, some next actions can only be accomplished at your home.  These are things that physically must happen at home.  Some examples: Replace lights in backyard, install baby proof fixtures in living room, Dispose of hazardous waste in the garage at Sun Valley disposal center Saturdays 10-3, Paint kitchen with Dunn Edwards eggshell white paint.

Another example of GTD’s context is your calls list.  Do you have a few minutes and access to a phone or your cell phone?  If so, just check your calls list and you can start processing your calls and delete them once you successfully connect with the person you need to talk with.  This “pre-thinking” about  the  context of when and where you need to do your stuff allows you to easily complete your tasks when your in that context.

About Michael Keithley

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