What I took from GTD

I’ve read Getting Things Done twice now, once a few years back and once just this month. Here’s the 2 minute summary of what I’ve taken from it.

Capture EVERYTHING on your mind

Write down everything you think about that may involve some action at some point in your life. I don’t care if it’s replying to an email or possibly skydiving in 40 years. Write that crap down.

Once you get everything out of your head and into your system, your head can stop worrying about forgetting things which lets it focus on the good stuff.

There are some good trigger lists for helping with this process, like this one.

Find the next ACTION

“Tires” is not a task. “Get new tires” isn’t either. What is the next physical thing you have to do to move it forward? “Call tire shop to set up appointment for new tires (phone: 867-5309)” is more like it. That’s a task.

This distinction matters because procrastination sucks, and if you look at a task that’s already telling you EXACTLY what to do to get started, then you’re much more likely to do it. It only takes a few seconds but it makes a big difference.

3+ steps? That’s a project.

The GTD definition of a project is anything that takes more than 2 steps to complete. This is huge for me. By thinking about large multi-step tasks as projects instead of just “large tasks” like I used to think of them, it forces me to break them up into individual actions for each step because projects need to have tasks in them. That makes it much easier to get started and see visible progress along the way.

Projects should be complete-able

A project should have a very specific point at which it’s “done”. Once all the tasks are completed, that project is finished. If any given project can’t be officially completed, then it’s probably not a project but rather an “Area of Focus”.

For example: “Health” is not a project. The only way you can finish health is to die. “Run a 5K” is a project. “Health” is an Area of Focus.

Review your system weekly

There’s a pretty nice GTD checklist for weekly review but it’s important to add to this and alter it as you need to. All that matters is that you feel that you can trust your system. Every week you should consciously think “what do I need to do to make sure I can trust my system?”

Separate “Waiting For” vs “Someday Maybe”

I used to bucket together anything that couldn’t be worked on right now, but GTD makes a big distinction between things that you’re waiting for (i.e., they’re blocked by other people or other tasks) vs. things that you may someday want to do but not right now.

This makes a lot of sense to me. Every 3 days, I look at my “Waiting For” list in case some of those blockers aren’t blockers anymore. That’s totally separate from my “Someday Maybe” list which is just a bunch of random ideas that I may want to do at some point in my life, and I don’t want to forget about.

Contexts still matter

The original GTD book in the early 2000s made a big deal contexts of tasks. Things like @phone, @email, @work, etc. Lots of these don’t really make sense anymore because most people have smartphones which count for almost all of them.

But a few are still really helpful for me. Here are the ones I use:

  • @chat: So that I can batch together my work chat tasks (see more about this)
  • @errand: So that I can see a list of stuff to do while I’m out and about
  • @focus: So that I can narrow down tasks that require deep concentration, for the rare periods where I have time for them

That’s it. GTD is fantastic but the book is a bit fluffy, so there’s my condensed version of what I’ve taken from it.