How To Get Things Done
This book really changed my life.
And I don’t mean that to be hyperbolic. Literally, it changed my life.
I was sitting at my desk at my last job surfing the web, as I did a lot back then, and I stumbled over a blog post by my favorite, Trent, at the Simple Dollar.
He was writing a fourteen part series on Getting Things Done that took a much more in depth look at the book than in his previous reviews of GTD. I decided to pick up a copy and follow along.
I am so glad I did.
This book is a classic for a reason. In my mind, it fits along with the 4-Hour Workweek in changing how I viewed the value of my own time and helped me see that my time was worth a lot more than I had previously thought.
I basically have two modes of being – sloth-like laziness and frantic productivity mania.
GTD helped me focus that productivity mania in such a way that I don’t feel guilty when I indulge in my sloth-like laziness. Truly.
Here is a look at what I do in a typical week.
I have a full-time job where I’m expected to be in the office 40-50 hours a week plus (on average) one trip a month.
I have a part-time job that I can do from anywhere, but asks for about 4-10 hours a week commitment
I volunteer for an animal rescue and some weeks it’s more intense than others
I run this blog – that includes writing posts, updating the website, and posting on facebook and twitter
I also have a husband and two dogs that I enjoy spending time with. I like to have time for dinner with my husband where we eat dinner at the table like real-life adults. When the weather’s nice, we’ll try to walk the dogs after that.
So, I have a full schedule for the most part. But I do have other things that are important to me. I love to read and try to read a book a week. I have hobbies like gardening and crafty stuff. I love to bake.
BUT, and I know I’ve mentioned this before. If left to my own devices I will sleep for like 12 hours a night and sit on the couch and watch the re-runs of Chopped on the Food Network until I can predict what the judges will say. (NEVER USE CANNED TOMATOES! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!)
So, how do I do it all?
I use the principles that are set down in GTD Every. Single. Day.
I have a planner that I love and that helps me keep track of my daily action items as well as longer term action items. I keep a notebook in my purse so I can jot down any stray thoughts or “did I remember to…” flashes of panic. And I make liberal use of my phone’s speech to text recording device so that anytime something occurs to me that might be important later, I can write it down.
For instance, I’m writing this on a Friday morning and right now I have a lot on my plate. So why am I taking the time to write a blog post when I have a meeting this afternoon, two main action items that have deliverables of today, as well as a bunch of miscellaneous tasks to do like calling the vet, paying a dentist bill, and stopping at the grocery store before our friends come over tonight?
Because I follow GTD. As soon as I’m done with this post, I’m going to knock out those tasks in this order:
- Call the vet
- Call the dentist and pay the bill over the phone, saving me a stamp or a trip to their office
- Jot down a quick grocery list so when I do head to the store I know exactly what I’m going to get
- Finish my first action item which should take less than 10 minutes
- Grab lunch
- Break down my second action item into bite size chunks by drafting a project plan just for that item (Since I know it will take me more than 10 minutes)
- Pause for my meeting
- After the meeting I’ll take a look at how much more I can knock out on my second action item and then leave myself a note for where to pick up on this project first thing Monday morning
- Then I’ll head home, swinging by the store first and picking up only the items on my list.
None of these tasks take that much time. And Getting Things Done teaches me that I should not put off any task that will take 2 minutes or less. One through four on my list are all two minute tasks. And after I’ve accomplished all of them in such a short time frame, I find that I’m slipping into the zone and it makes it much easier to just keep going with my list.
That elusive ZONE is how I GTD.
I try very hard to harness the power of the zone, recognize when I’m in it, and call it to me when I need to get shit done.
Now, some of this might sound like namby-pamby mumbo-jumbo. BUT IT WORKS.
When I get into the zone I am fucking cruising. Shit just gets done. And a 4 hour chunk of zone is worth an entire days worth of work for me.
The entire book is really a focus device for helping you find the zone more and more easily. Because the easier you find it and can harness it, the easier you can get more and more work done quickly and efficiently.
During the days I’m in the office, I have a routine that helps me find the zone.
You already know that I rush around the house like a crazy person in the AM. But once I’m in the car and out the door that’s when my day really starts. I’m not a morning meditation person or anything.
I have a long commute. So I try to use that time in the morning to listen to a book on tape or a podcast. Usually something fictional and entertaining. It helps me start the day on the right foot.
I bring my thermos of coffee to work with me in the morning. I sit down at my desk with my planner and the coffee and I look at what notes I left myself from the night before. I block out any chunks of time where I need to be on the phone or in a meeting and I make a list of action items of things that MUST get done today.
I answer e-mails (if necessary) and then I dive into my fastest/quickest action items. Anything 5 minutes or less.
From there, I’ll take a look at action items that will take more time and choose one. Then I’ll start breaking out THAT item into smaller and smaller chunks.
It seems counter-intuitive. But tell me if this sounds familiar?.
You have (what seems like a huge project) coming due soon. You know you need to start it but you keep procrastinating. You’ll start it tomorrow, you think.
Then, all of a sudden, it’s due ASAP and you’re being forced to start it. And when you do, FINALLY, start you realize it wasn’t that big of a deal in the first place.
If that sounds at all familiar, GTD is the book for you. Because it helps you break through the tendency to procrastinate by making everything seem so easily doable.
Trust me on this!