Fall off the GTD Bandwagon? Here’s how to get back on!

Brain ThoughtsEveryone who tries to practice GTD at one time or another “falls off the bandwagon” and this is usually do to not doing a Weekly Review for a few weeks in a row. Subconsciously, your brain knows you do not have a complete list of your commitments in your trusted system so it not longer trusts your system. So, your brain starts trying to remember your commitments and as a result, it all comes off the rails.

In GTD the vital first stage is Collection. Whenever we lose steam in our GTD flow, I feel like the most powerful collection exercise is what David Allen calls “the mind-sweep.” Whenever I feel “out of control” with everything going on in my life and I have fallen off the GTD bandwagon, I try to step back and do a mind-sweep to regain control. It works every time.

The idea behind the mind-sweep is to identify and gather everything that is making claims on your attention or is likely to affect the larger areas of responsibility in your life – everything that’s quietly burning cycles, stealing focus, and whittling away at your attention – so that you can then decide what (if anything) must be done about each of those things. David says “put your attention on what has your attention.”

If it’s not being directly managed in a trusted external system, then it’s resident somewhere in your psyche and that is a bad thing. The point is you need to make sure that everything you need is collected somewhere other than in your head. So, just as you learned Collection as the first step in implementing GTD (and to subsequently maintain your system), it’s precisely the place to start when you’re trying to properly get back into it.

By doing a mind-sweep you’ll discover your head is flooded with stuff that you aren’t or haven’t been doing anything about. Not coincidentally, this is almost always stuff that represents some kind of incompletion, functional fuzziness, or procrastination on your part.

The Mind-Sweep

What you need to do to get your GTD mojo back is to do a mind-sweep. It is really simple. Start with a single sheet of printer paper and a pencil, set a timer for 15 minutes, and just begin scraping every conceivable commitment, anxiety and “open loop” from the corners of your brain. Review this list of “triggers” to help you identify all your stuff. Try it, it works!

  • Anything that’s on your mind now?
  • What do you have to do today?
  • What happened yesterday or the last couple of days, voicemails, emails?
  • Glance at your calendar back 1-2 weeks, events, presentation, family events
  • Glance at calendar next 2 weeks
  • Need to do anything to prepare for the season (vacation, planning, family, social events)
  • Anything for work projects or things that should be project that you haven’t identified as such?
  • Any “problems” that you may need to turn into a project
  • Do a sight walk around in your mind’s eye (look around your office, home, etc)
  • Meetings, people, projects, opportunities
  • All the people in your life right now
  • Conversations you need to have/want to have
  • Are your job responsibilities clear?
  • Fun/things to do with the family
  • Personal/professional development…anything you want to get better at
  • Personal/direct family relationships, good friends, network, pets
  • Anything around creativity or creative expression?
  • All my gear/tools okay?
  • Any medical open loops?

Begin with the hopelessly-behind project that’s making you insane right now, then proceed methodically through every thought that makes you cringe, groan, pause, ponder, or exclaim; these are the runaway background processes that are responsible for subconscious stress and you need them out of your head.

Think about it like brainstorming. Don’t judge the items or think about them in any way, just get them on paper. Remember, this is your opportunity to convert the fuel for subconscious stress into items that can later be made actionable (or deferred or delegated or killed etc). But you can’t do anything about it until it’s been captured and evaluated in your trusted system.

For the sweep to really do its best work, you must call upon extraordinary willpower to stay in collection mode. Remember the day you finally “got” how GTD worked by firewalling your planning time (Weekly Review) from your doing (Processing) time? Same idea here. No straying or switching back and forth between the two. Remember, your brain is smarter than you, and it can’t be tricked into thinking that things are taken care of when they actually aren’t. I would even suggest eliminating use of the two-minute rule during your mid-sweep.

Now that your 15 minutes is up, look at the list and process it. Most of the items on it will be projects of some sort. Get them into your trusted system and you will immediately feel the joy of getting them out of your head – guaranteed.

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About Michael Keithley
Digital Transformation CIO and Public Speaker. Previously, CIO at Creative Artists Agency

One Response to Fall off the GTD Bandwagon? Here’s how to get back on!

  1. david_h says:

    Reblogged this on Getting Things Done accountant and commented:
    Some good ideas…

    My problem is usually I fall behind is my processing of the inbox or I don’t go into my task list to knock off my to do items.

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