Use GTD to facilitate Work-Life Integration

Mind Like WaterMost people today have so many demands on their time that there is literally not enough time in a day to get it all done. We all strive for some kind of work-life balance but the reality of todays always-on world is there is no true separation between work and the rest of your life. Everything is integrated together such that what we really strive for is successful work-life integration.

I have found an extremely effective way to balance all of the commitments in my life and it is called Getting Things Done or GTD for short. What’s the essence of Getting Things Done? GTD provides the most systematic and effective way to manage all the commitments you have to yourself and others. GTD’s key benefit is freedom – freedom from the sources of distraction and stress in your life.

David Allen’s first book “Getting Things Done – The Art of Stress Free Productivity” is the basis for my work-life management system that has evolved over the years. I do not literally practice David Allan’s version of GTD but rather use the basic concepts and modify or adapt them to the reality of my life.

What is GTD Exactly?

There are 5 steps to GTD that I’ll go into more detail with upcoming posts, but here’s a quick overview:

1) Capture – When a thought or action comes to mind that you need or want to do something with – “stuff” – then you need to capture it in a place that your mind will trust that it won’t get lost.
2) Clarify – Go through the “stuff” that you collected in step one and give it meaning.
3) Organize – Defined your “stuff” and get it into lists optimized for later use.
4) Reflect – Look over your lists to do any clean up and decide what comes next.
5) Engage – Now that you have everything in place, do something about it.

Reducing Stress – “Mind Like Water”

The main goal behind GTD is to free up your mind. As David Allen likes to say, “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” If you get things out of your head and into your trusted system, you can focus your mind on the task at hand or the person in front of you as opposed to remembering what you need to do next. It’s a way of bringing yourself back to the present because you’re not worrying about all the things you have to do and this relieves subconscious stress.

If you throw a rock into a calm pond, you see a splash and then some ripples start to form. The water reacts to forces around it in that moment and then slowly returns to its original state. GTD is a way to give your mind that ability. Getting things out of your mind and into a trusted system allows you to react to the new things coming at you and then return to your original state.

In coming posts I will detail what the 5 phases of GTD are and how you can get started on your journey to achieve “mind like water” to reduce stress and be more productive in everything that you do.

What to do in 2014 to achieve “Mind Like Water”

Mind Like WaterAs the year winds down and we look towards 2014, we look forward to what we can do better ourselves in the coming year. For anyone who has experienced the stress-free productivity that GTD produces but for one reason or another has stopped practicing GTD then now is the time to commit to making GTD a lifelong habit.

Year-end is the perfect time to get back on the GTD bandwagon because we are in a reflective mode of self-improvement.  We know it works and know the stress reduction it can provide.  We also know when practiced diligently it can provide what David Allen calls “Mind Like Water.”  When you are in this state you feel great about where you are, what you are doing, and ironically what you are not doing.  For anyone who has experienced this feeling it is amazing and you want to get back there.

So many people ask me how they can “really do GTD right this time?”  Like a diet or a new year’s resolution, they really want to be successful, but deep down fear they will fail over the long-term.  The want a magic bullet or trick that will help them to succeed with GTD over the long-term. Well, like anything there is no magic bullet that will do it for them.

Fortunately, there is one way to succeed with GTD over the long-term and that is to do a Weekly Review every week.  This is the single most important thing that determines success or failure over the long-term.  If you really want to succeed you need to commit to spending one hour a week doing a Weekly Review – without fail, no exceptions.

Think about the payback – one hour a week to improved productivity and reduced stress.  A bargain from my perspective.  I do my Weekly Reviews on Sunday evenings with my wife and bottle of wine or Monday mornings in the office.  Either way, I’m ready for the week. Here is how I break down the hour:

1 – Review My Calendar (5 min)

It is important to understand what you have ahead of you to set the context for how much available time you will have to work on projects and next actions in the future.  Start with looking at your calendar in month view to look at the big picture.  Travel and all day events like birthdays, vacations, trips and holidays will pop out at you.  This gives you  a sense of is this a “normal month” or not and will alert you to any big items on the horizon.  Review the next three months.

After you look at the big picture by month, focus on the week view to get a sense of is this a “normal week” or not.  As Peter Drucker stated “the week is the unit of measure to connect daily tasks to their strategic priorities.”  Review the next two to three weeks to get a sense of what is immediately ahead of you.

2 – Review my Projects (40 min)

This is the bulk of your Weekly Review and if you do nothing else in the hour you need to review your projects.  Start at the top of your list and move down one by one and do the following:

Is the project written in a way that it can be checked off as “done” when the description is true?  If not, describe the project to denote “what does done look like?” and be sure to include the desired outcome as the first word in the description of the project.  Use words like draft, finalize, implement, research, publish, distribute, maximize, learn, set up, organize, create, design, install, repair, submit, handle, resolve, think about.

Once you are comfortable with the description of the project, you need to break down the project into the discrete tasks needed to complete the project.  I use the notes section of the Evernote note to do this.  I am not a stickler for breaking down every project into it’s related tasks.  I usually ask  ”Do I have the bandwidth and resources to do this project?”  If not, I tend to go on to the next one.

For the ones I do have the bandwidth and resources to pursue I ask “What do I want to accomplish this to move this project closer to completion?” and “When do I need to accomplish it by?” I add any items that come to mind in a more or less free-form manor with each task or idea on a separate line.  Do not worry about formatting as that will only slow you down during this critical process.

Finally, and this is critical, put the next action to move the project closer to completion to the next actions list.

3 – Review my Waiting For items (5 min)

Do a quick scan of your Waiting For items to see if you can move any into Projects or Next Actions because you are no longer blocked or waiting for someone or something that you may have delegated.

4 – Review my Areas of Focus (5 min)

Do a quick review of areas of focus to keep them fresh in my mind.  Often, this review will spur new projects that you will add to your projects list.

5 – Review Someday/Maybe items (5 min)

Do a quick scan of your Someday/Maybe items to determine if any items need to become active projects and if they do then change the Evernote notebook to the Projects notebook.  If you determine that you really are never going to do and item because it is no longer of interest then delete it.

It is very important to resist the urge to “do” during a weekly review. Don’t do it. The Weekly Review is for reviewing not doing. This is even true for the two minute rule. Focus on reviewing your “stuff” and getting current and you will immediately feel the stress relief of “Mind Like Water.”

How do you do your Weekly Review?