How to be productive and manage lot of work with the GTD system (part 1)

How to be productive and manage lot of work with the GTD system (part 1)

» » How to be productive and manage lot of work with the GTD system (part 1)

How to be productive and manage lot of work with the GTD system (part 1)

Step-by-step plan, following which you can easily implement this productivity methodology in your life, set priorities and always be able to find time for important matters.

This material is a continuation of the article “How to put things in order and get on with everything: a complete guide through the GTD system”. You should have a look at it first, since many of the concepts used in this article are explained in detail there.

This article is a walkthrough of how to implement GTD in life. When I was writing this, I adhered to the following principles:

  • Universality. The ideas described here are universal, and with their help everyone will be able to build a GTD system for themselves. A system that will work with the services to which they are accustomed to.
  • Simplicity. The system must be intuitively simple to use. A minimum amount of time and energy should be spent on entering and processing information, as well as planning the next steps. Only then the system will work in the long term and even after long breaks: for example, if you go on vacation for a month, then when you return, you can restore your approach to managing the affairs.
  • Reliability. The most important thing is to be confident in your system, namely that you will not forget anything from the planned one, since you will see the reminder at the right moment.
  • Concentration on the important. The system should help you focus both on what you are doing at the moment, and on those matters that are important in the long run.
  • Pleasure. The system of managing affairs and tasks should bring you pleasure. For example, when lying on the couch after a hard working day with a phone in your hands, you delete the completed tasks from the list and by doing that you recieve real pleasure from it. Especially when it is still visualized by the growth of your productivity graph.


5 main stages of the GTD system

Stage 1. Information gathering

It is necessary to collect absolutely everything, even the smallest things, then our consciousness will be clear and we will act as productively as possible.

That is why the standard to-do lists do not work, because most people often include only the most important things in them, and hundreds of other tasks that are not as important are not included at all. But exactly such small tasks by regularly recalling themselves use a significant part of the brain’s resources and create additional experiences that lead to fatigue and stress.

One of the important principles of the GTD system is to completely unload all tasks from your head and put them into a reliable system that will help you remember important things at the right time.

You also need to consider that the boxes for collecting incoming information should be of minimum quantity. Ideally, one would be enough. Then it will be the easiest to handle.

Stage 2. Information processing

At this stage, we process the information that we have in the Inbox («Incoming» box).

There are three options of what we can do at this stage:

  • Mark the task as «Action», indicating the next step for its execution and the deadline. You may not specify a deadline, if there is no exact understanding of when to complete the task.
  • Transfer information to the «Directory», if you do not need to do anything with it, but it may be useful in the future.
  • Delete information, determining that it is «Garbage»: that is, to do nothing with it and in the future it will not be useful.                                                                                                                                                                                                

Stage 3. Organization of actions

All actions pass through the next funnel.

Filter number 1 – «Cutoff»

Ask yourself: do I really have to perform this action? If you have any doubt whatsoever, delete it.

Filter number 2 – «Delegation»

Ask yourself: if it must be done, then do I really have to do it myself? If not, we delegate and indicate the responsible person, the final result, intermediate stages of control (nodal points) and the deadline.

If it is precisely you who need to perform the action, proceed to the next filter.

Filter number 3 – «Action»

Ask yourself: will this action take more than 2–5 minutes? If not, do it right now and clear your mind. If so, record it in your system.

Actions in the system can be of the following types.

«Following actions» are simple tasks that consist of one action (call, write, go, and so on). For example, the action «Change winter tires»  will consist of the following simple actions: call and make an appointment with a car service center, schedule a time in the calendar, arrive to the car service center at the appointed time.

Such actions are conveniently collected in lists according to place and circumstances (context lists). There may be a list “In the store”, where you put everything you need to buy when you are in the store, or the list “In the chair”, in which you add affairs and tasks that you can perform in the evening after working in your favorite chair. Or a list of “chief questions”, where you write down all the questions that you have directed to your boss, so you can later solve them all at once.

I usually record all such actions either in the “Google Calendar” (meetings and events), or in Todoist, a cloud service where it is convenient to organize tasks.

«Projects» are tasks that require more than one step to complete. In order to move the project from a dead spot, you need to describe the first steps of its implementation and leave a reminder about it in a reliable system. Eventually, the project turns into a chain of simple actions, each of which can be performed in the next five minutes and produce a result.

Normally, I post my projects on Trello cards. The card is an ideal container for projects where you can put:

  • the description and purpose of the project;
  • references to other project documents;
  • names of those responsible;
  • the deadline;
  • checklists with the following steps;
  • commentary on the project;
  • necessary files and so on.

«Pending actions». If we cannot plan the following actions without an additional event or information (for example, we wait until a friend sends the phone number of the car service center where it is possible to replace the tires favorably), we enter such actions in the «Pending list». Optionally, you can put a reminder that you need to check something.

Such range of cases can also be structured as context lists. For example, make a list with tasks that are assigned to your assistant.

The «Someday» list contains cases that do not require action now, but which we would like to perform in the future.

It can be:

  • books, video trainings and courses you want to purchase;
  • useful skills you want to acquire;
  • places you want to visit;
  • things you want to buy.

You need to periodically look into this list, take notes and turn them into goals on which you will work to achieve.

Stage 4. Regular review

For the system to work, it is necessary to regularly review the main tasks and projects in order to remove those that are no longer relevant, and sort the new ones by priority and send them to work.

To make such a review regularly, follow these tips:

  • Leave 30–60 minutes in your schedule for a review (at the initial stage once a week will be quite enough).
  • Make a checklist or a plan for such a review, where the sequence of what goes after what is written down. This plan should not be too complicated, and the review should not take you too much time, otherwise you just will not do it regularly.

Below is an example of my weekly review checklist. I made it in the form of a cheat scheme with a sequence of actions, which shows the services / documents in which I look into. You can arrange it in the form of a regular list or draw the scheme by hand.

Print out four such checklists for one month. During the weekly review, grab one of them and cross out the completed points from the list. This simple exercise will motivate you to continue conducting such reviews.

Stage 5. Actions

When the plan for the week is completed, what remains is to act. Do not make one of the major mistakes of beginners working on the GTD system, when too much time is spent on organizing tasks instead of actually completing them.

Here are some tips on how to make actions more effective.

  1. Make a plan for the day based on the plan for the week. Break the day into blocks, highlighting 2-3 blocks to perform important tasks and selecting a couple of blocks for other tasks. The duration of the blocks should be on average 60–120 minutes. Between the blocks, insert free time for unexpected matters.
  2. Work using the system Pomodoro, for this you can set a timer on your phone. Its essence is simple: every 25–30 minutes of work, take a break for five minutes, and after the third work unit, a longer break (15–30 minutes). In total, there are three blocks of 30 minutes with five minute breaks, followed by a long break of 15–30 minutes. You can spend 2-4 such cycles per day depending on how often you are distracted.
  3. During blocks with important matters, try not to be distracted by other people and other sounds (for this, you can put on your headphones and turn on some special music for concentration).
  4. Determine when your energy level is at a maximum (for example, from 7 to 9 o’clock in the morning), and at this time do the most important things that bring you closer to your personal goals.
  5. Do not plan too many important things for the day: 1-3 is enough. It is important that at the end of the day, looking at the crossed out affairs in your plan, you should be satisfied and make the same realistic plan for tomorrow.


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