If you work at a company, you probably use digital applications to process information and tasks all the time. But what about your personal projects and goals? You want to learn more about investing, needing a fresh new working space at home, wanting to make photo books of trips you did years ago, or maybe even finally start that side business?
Or.. it might be that the system your team is using isn’t even enough for you… Maybe you are still a student or you are self-employed and you don’t have a system to fall on at all to manage all your tasks and projects. In this case, then you might know the overwhelming feeling of all those projects running in your head, with procrastination as a result.
GETTING THINGS DONE: THE PRODUCTIVITY SYSTEM
One of the many systems that can be applied, and that I think is a good way to start, is the Getting Things Done (https://gettingthingsdone.com/) system of David Allen. Many people on the internet dedicate their life to this system as some kind of religion (this is exaggerated but kind of true), and I wanted to know if the hype was worth it or not, so I also jumped in with two feet, read the book and tried it hands on myself.
To sum up my own experience and give you a hint of what is coming: I loved reorganizing (or should I say organizing…) my life with the help of the Getting Things Done system, and it has seriously helped me when it comes down to procrastination and motivation. It basically meant to me making a second external brain, which I was in big need of… But, yes there is a small but, David Allen is a big salesperson and the useful part of the book could have been written in 10 pages. So I would, if you are not a big reader, start with reading the first 3 chapters and implementing those and you will be off to a good start. Or just simply start with the following steps explained in the blogpost! Discover the 5 steps to mastering the GTD workflow:
1. CAPTURE: COLLECT EVERYTHING
The trick of working effectively is emptying your head. Everything you think about, for example “I still need to call my boss”, you should have a system for where you can write it down in, called inbox, and where you know that you will see it later. We always lean towards doing the ‘loudest’ and most recent task first, but this isn’t necessarily the right thing to do at that moment. That is why it is important to drop everything in your inbox to process it later.
“Managing commitments well requires the implementation of some basic activities and behaviors”:
– First of all, if it’s on your mind, your mind isn’t clear. Anything you consider unfinished in any way must be captured in a trusted system outside your mind, or what I call a collection tool, that you know you’ll come back to regularly and sort through.
– Second, you must clarify exactly what your commitment is and decide what you have to do, if anything, to make progress toward fulfilling it.
– Third, once you’ve decided on all the actions you need to take, you must keep reminders of them organised in a system you review regularly.
The ‘inboxes’ can be multiple places like for example:
• your email inbox
• a tray for physical letters and notes
• a todo app
You can make many more inboxes like post-its on the fridge, a whiteboard at work,… but there are 2 important aspects:
• You have to be able to do it very quickly.
• You have to be sure that the place where you capture it, you will review it later. So fewer inboxes might be beneficial.
2. CLARIFY: WHAT TO DO WITH WHAT YOU COLLECTED?
On a regular basis (preferably at least once a day) you should process the collected tasks and ideas. A good time to do this is at the end of the day so you can start the next morning with a fresh mind.
• Trash what you don’t need or what is not important.
• If an item on your list takes less than 2 minutes to execute, then do it right away!
• Delegate stuff you can’t complete to others.
Now it is time to organise the items on the list in the right place. Is it a task or a project? According to GTD everything that exists out of more than 1 step is a project.
Everything that is in your inbox and you didn’t delete or execute yet should be organised in one of the following:
• A projects list
• Project support material
• Calendared actions
• Next actions: could be categorised by type of action: calls, computer, email, errands, at home, at work, agenda, or read/review
• A “waiting for’ list (waiting for others to complete)
• Reference materials
• Someday/Maybe list (i.e. recipes to cook, places to travel, things to buy…)
Most people don’t have a really complete system, and they get no real payoff from reviewing things for just that reason: their overview isn’t total. They still have a vague sense that something may be missing. That’s why the rewards to be gained from implementing this whole process are exponential: the more complete the system is, the more you’ll trust it. And the more you trust it, the more complete you’ll be motivated to keep it.
For all the projects you have that ask for some more planning, GTD has a simple method: the Natural Planning Model. This includes also 5 steps:
1. Defining purpose and principles. Why do you do this project? Why is it important for you/your team?
2. Envision your project. What should the project look like when it is finished? What does the world look like when it is a big success?
3. Brainstorm how to handle the project. Quantity counts here, not quality!
4. Organise the brainstorm session and make a plan
“What’s a good idea?” is a good question, but only when you’re about 80 percent of the way through your thinking! Starting there would probably blow anyone’s creative mental fuses.
5. Decide what the Next Actions are to follow up with the plan
“Getting things done requires two basic components: defining (1) what “done” means (outcome) and (2) what “doing” looks like (action).”
4. REFLECT: REVIEW NEXT ACTIONS
This step is more easily forgotten but it is actually one of the most important steps. https://blog.doist.com/gtd-tips/ The ‘weekly review’ can be done as the following:
1. Get Clear: put everything again in the system
• Collect all loose papers and all the material from your inboxes
• Clear your inboxes: decide and organise
• Empty your head: do a Mind Sweep
2. Get Current: bring everything up to date
• Look at your to-do list: are there things you already did that you need to replace?
• Look at the calendar of last week: are there things you have to follow up?
• Look at the calendar for next week: is there any preparation necessary?
• Look at the ‘Waiting for’ list: who do you still need information from to be able to finish a task? Now is the time to send a reminder.
• Look at the status of the different projects, goals and results. Do this 1 by 1.
3. Get Creative:
• Are there any projects on your someday/maybe list that you can find the time for now?
• Do you have any new ideas after the weekly review?
5. DO THE ACTIONS!
GTD should give you mental peace to be able to focus on your tasks and finish them.
DIGITAL APPLICATIONS TO HELP YOU START WITH GTD: NOTION, TODOIST & AMAZING MARVIN
There are a bunch of applications out there that can help you start setting up the perfect gtd workflow, but which of them to choose? You can read as many reviews as you want, but as with many things in life the best thing to do is to simply try something out and see if it works for you.
So before throwing money towards an application with an amazing marketing team behind it that is trying to persuade you, I suggest starting with free apps that are commonly used, and where you can find a lot of information about, like Notion and Todoist.
But… if you already tried a lot of them, and no to-do app seems to suit you then you might want to try out the new kid on the block: Amazing Marvin (I’m already in love).
Although Notion is definitely also used in teams, I find it very easy to work with for personal use. GTD is first of all a system to deal with tasks and projects, but one of the important parts is also to create a system to store all your information, lists, data, goals,… As David Allen says, your system must be as complete as possible, and I could definitely say this has become my second brain.
You can organise and visualize your notion app just the way you want. I divided my notion in between 3 categories: life hub, GTD dashboard & financial hub. The Life Hub is where I keep track of my goals, notes of books, wish list, personal CRM, … etc.
For a while I also used Notion as an inbox and to manage my tasks and projects, for which I followed the setup of the following video:
I divided my projects and tasks in 6 different categories and had an overview of tasks for all these categories + the “due now”, “due soon” and “waiting for” lists.
Although this is definitely a possible workflow, I didn’t find it very friendly to use. The tables are pretty ‘chunky’ and getting a clear overview of all the tasks per project is not that easy. Although if you would have one important project you could definitely make a category like ‘admin’ and even assign priorities to it. The advantage of also having your tasks and projects in Notion is the fact that you can easily link databases and pages related to a specific task or project to it.
The basic version of Notion, which I found to be more than enough for personal use, is completely free. Yay!
Todoist is different from Notion, whereas it focuses only on to do lists, tasks, and projects. It is less made for reference material and databases, but it is a really easy to learn and simple app to start with. Todoist is used by a lot of people so it is also easy to find information and tutorials about it.
As I didn’t find the workflow with to do lists the easiest in Notion I would suggest using Notion for databases and lists, next to another to do app like Todoist or Amazing Marvin (see further) for your tasks and projects.
A good way to start GTD with Todoist is following this video:
The basic version of Todoist is free. The pro version, which you would need to have the ‘reminders’ function is €3 per month if billed annually.
As I previously said, if you have tried many apps before, or if you are geeky and love playing around with software then Amazing Marvin is the app for you (as it is for me). The possibilities in Amazing Marvin are pretty much endless. You can change the visual appearance (until the tiniest detail), the workflow (GTD, Pomodoro, Eisenhower, or a mix of all), rewards, reminders,… You can choose features as timers, suggestions for the next action, a habit tracker, time blocking, …
Amazing Marvin has a preset workflow ‘ultimate GTD’ as well as ‘Marvin GTD’ which makes your start easier. But the learning curve and finding your workflow will be harder since there are many more possibilities.
The downside of Amazing Marvin is the price, which is about €7 per month if billed annually. The good thing is that students have a 50% discount, and when you have done the 30-day free trial they might send you a 50% discount code too (thank you Amazing Marvin^^).
If you have reached this far, then probably you might be in need of a complete system that helps you with your tasks. Whatever tool you choose, make it a nr. 1 priority and make the system complete. It will help you out a long way. Good luck from the Leuven Value Network team!