Keep Your Mind Ready for Great Ideas: Using the Getting Things Done® Methodology

Do you feel busy but don’t feel you get anything done? If you're like me, you have a lot of information coming your way every day—emails, people stopping by, phone calls, meetings, and more. These are all data sources. They contain potential new projects and action items. However, these data sources can be overwhelming.

The Getting Things Done® methodology helped me get a handle on all of this information and organize it. Getting Things Done, or

GTD,

is a productivity system created by David Allen. He spent most of his working life performing more than two dozen different jobs ranging from magician to consultant; he's done a lot. In every job, David saw people struggling to manage all the data, just as he was. Over 30 years, he developed the system and wrote the bestselling book Getting Things Done. GTD really took off in the

dot com

boom of the early 2000s as tech people are into systems and algorithms. At its core, that's what GTD is, an algorithm to get information out of your head and into a trusted system.

The beauty of the GTD system is that you have a choice of paper, digital products, or a combo of both to utilize it. There is no software to buy in order to make it work for you. The way you implement the system is up to you. How does it all work? Let's find out!

GTD requires five steps, Capture, Clarify, Organize, Reflect, and Engage. I explore each briefly, below.

Capture

David says, "Your brain is for having ideas not keeping them." Simply put, your brain is not a great place to keep track of the ideas you have. When you have an idea, get it out of your head so you don’t think about it again. "If you're thinking about cat food more than once, you're not appropriately engaged with cat food," David likes to say. Instead of keeping ideas in your head, “capture” them.

The most powerful tool in the GTD system is something you probably have on your desk right now—a physical inbox. When you have an idea, write it down on a piece of paper and put it in your inbox for processing later. That way, it's out of your head. Personally, I don't have one inbox in my life. I have a physical inbox on my desk, my email inbox, and an inbox section in my task manager, OneNote by Microsoft®. I use all of them to capture my ideas.

Clarify

Once you have items in your inbox (or boxes), process them. How often you process is up to you—daily or even weekly. Ask yourself if the item is actionable. If it is not actionable or needed for reference, trash it. If it is actionable, you ask the next question: "Is this item actionable by me?" If not, delegate it to the appropriate person to carry it out. If it is actionable by you, then place this item in your “trusted system.”

Organize

Now that you have your actionable materials, it's time to place these items in your trusted system. A trusted system can be a notebook, Excel® spreadsheet, a

white board

—whatever works for you. The key here is that you trust the system.

If the item will take you less than two minutes, simply do it then. It will take more time to organize the task than it would to just do it.

If the item takes longer than two minutes then it becomes a project. A project is something that takes more than two steps to accomplish. When entering a project into your trusted system, ask yourself, “What is the next action to move this project along?” Say you need to put together a presentation for your boss. The next action might be, "Collect all the data needed to put together the PowerPoint®."

Reflect

Take an hour or so a week and reflect on all your projects and open loops during the week. During your weekly review, decide if each project still matters to you or if you can trash it. Maybe the project is something you'd like to do but you don’t have the time or energy for it. GTD has a tag for that, the Someday Maybe list. The Someday Maybe list gives you the freedom to think about projects that you are not ready to do.

Engage

Engaging simply means using your system to help you take appropriate actions to accomplish your projects.

Wrapping it all up

It can seem overwhelming at first to implement the GTD system. But, once you get ideas out of your head and into your trusted system, it really keeps your mind ready for your best ideas. It also reduces your stress over getting things done in a timely manner.

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