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The four truths about Getting Things Done (GTD)

GTD, Time ManagementEdward Kiledjian1 Comment

Like I have said over and over, I love Getting Things Done. It has allowed me to stay on top of things and I try to teach it to as many of my colleagues as possible. Having worked with dozens of people, I realize that there are some misconceptions about GTD, so I decided to write this article to talk about them.

1. GTD is simple and difficult

Whether you read the book, listen to an audio training program or participate to a live training class, you will realize that the core concepts of GTD are simple and based on common sense. They are very simple to learn and understand. The tools required for GTD can be as simple as folders, papers and a pencil.

So how is it complicated? The truth is GTS isn’t complicated but implementing it may be. Humans are creatures of habit and change is difficult. In order to really implement GTD, it has to become a way of life, both personally and professionally. Acquiring a new habit can take anywhere from 3 months to 3 years, depending on you. This is the difficult part. You will fall off the wagon and you have to be committed enough to get back on.

2. GTD is not free

I am not talking about cost but rather time. Many people mistakenly believe that implementing GTD will save them time (i.e. give them more free time). The reality is that GTD will require time to implement, control and manage.  You need over an hour a week just for your weekly review (mine sometimes take close to 2+ hours). Then you have monthly reviews, inbox processing, etc.

The key message here is that GTD will take more time out of your day but will give you the tools to make better decisions about how you spend your time. It will give you the confidence that you are making the right time decisions.  Consider the time you spend for GTD an investment. Like all good investments, it will reward you handsomely but you need to go in with realistic expectations.

3. You’re doing it wrong

As you go through GTD, you will realize that David Allen always gives suggestions of how GTD could be implemented but really leaves it up to you to customize it. Each user will setup unique contexts, collection tools and systems, review timeframes, etc. The message here is that there is no wrong way to implement GTD. As long as it is working for you and you are getting the benefits you need, then it is the right way for you.

Many GTDers will continue their search for perfection and will join GTD communities in an attempt to learn how others are using GTD. You may get great new ideas, tips or tricks that will help your own system but ultimately the best GTD system for you is the one that works for you.

Don’t worry about doing it wrong. Get it implemented, then start your lifelong commitment to fine-tuning it.

4. GTD isn’t for everyone

The reason there are thousands of time management books is that not every system works for everyone. GTD is no exception. Although I feel GTD is the best time management system I have ever used, and it seems to work for most people, it isn’t for everyone.  Try it, give it a real fair chance but it it doesn’t work for you, move on and try something else.

GTD is not the be all end all. It should be one tool amongst many. I believe that  an investment in oneself is the best investment you can make. They can take away your house, your car and your couch, but they can’t take away your knowledge. Remember that self-improvement is a constant journey that never ends. Strive to be a better person today then you were tomorrow.



The Getting Things Done Workflow (GTD)

Getting Things Done may be the most important business skill

What is the next action" may be the most powerful question you can ask

The Getting Things Done Workflow (GTD)

Behavior, GTD, Organization, StrategyEdward Kiledjian4 Comments

Life has a way of always getting more complicated so I am constantly searching for the next tool, technique or methodology that will make my life easier.  A couple of years ago, I stumbled on David Allen’s Getting Things Done book and I knew I knew this was something special.

I had gone through many other time management techniques from ABC prioritization to the Eisenhower method. Nothing else seemed to be as simple or powerful. I have also referred to it in previous posts here and here.

One of the core components of the GTD system is it’s simple but supercharged workflow.  Don’t be fooled by it’s simplicity. It will take time and dedication to turn it into a habit. I promise the effort will be worth it.

The Workflow

In GTD, every input goes into your inbox (whether physical or virtual) until you are ready to process it. When you start processing, you take the first item from the inbox pile and ask yourself a question “Is it actionable?”  (is there an action attached to the inbox item?)

It is actionable

If the item is actionable and the task will take 2 minutes or less to accomplish then do it right away. It would take you longer to log it, track it and then get back into it.

If the action will require more than 2 minutes to complete, ask yourself if you are the right person to do it. If not, then simply delegate it to the right person.

If the action will require more than 2 minutes to complete, you are the right person for the job and it will require multiple steps (we call this a project in GTD) then you add the item to a list called a “Project List”. This is a simple list to remind you of everything “you have on your plate” at any given moment in time.  Now that it is on a list, you can periodically review it to make sure you don’t drop the ball and you mind can stop wasting precious mental energy trying to remind you of it.

For all projects, familiarise yourself with the "What is the next action" approach I wrote about here. Once you have broken down the projects into their very next physical action and store them on an appropriate list such as (examples):

  • @Home - things to do at home
  • @Telephone - actions you need a telephone for
  • @Internet - actions that require an internet connected computer

It is NOT actionable

If the item is not actionable, the first question would be “Is this trash?” If it is, then simply throw it away now.

The second category of non actionable item is the “Someday/Maybe” list. This is a way to capture interesting and cool ideas you are no ready to handle now but may want to in the future. Like any other list, you should periodically review items on it and decide whether:

  • Items should stay on it
  • Be moved to active “projects”
  • Deleted because it is no longer something that interests you

If the information is time based and you want to be reminded of it in the future, you can store it in a Tickler File. Check up my write up of it here.

The last item in this category is the "Reference" category. This is for material you may need in the future.  There are many ways to organize your reference folder.  David Allen uses a physical alpha filling cabinet. I have implemented my Reference system in Evernote which means it is searchable and always available.

In Evernote I use the tags to create my filling “system”. I have tagz from A-Z and then create sub tags under each letter to store my content. There isn’t any magic or rocket science about where I store the info. I ask myself “where would I look for this info in the future” and file it appropriately. These may include anything from product pamphlets, warranty certificates to employee performance evaluations.

Other entries you may like...

Review of the free scan to cloud software - ScanDrop

"What is the next action" may be the most powerful question you can ask

How to set personal goals

Getting Things Done may be the most important business skill

Tickle your way to better organization


Review of the free scan to cloud software - ScanDrop

Apple, Evernote, GTD, Google, Google Docs, WindowsEdward KiledjianComment

I am a big fan of Evernote and use it to store all of my reference material (as explained in the GTD methodology). One of the key requirements to my online storage strategy is converting paper into PDF and getting it into Evernote as simply and quickly as possible.

A while back I found a free software called ScanDrop which did exactly that. I use it to scan paper directly from my Brother multifunction device and then upload it straight into my Evernote [For Google Docs users, it supports that service too] inbox ready for processing. It supports a whole range of scanners.

Main Window - Click to see full size

 Cloud Service Selection Window



Did I mention it's free? Sure there are features missing but it meets 98% of my daily scanning requirements. They do have a Mac version but it costs $9.99 from the Mac AppStore (I still think it's worth it at that price).

I know some may be wondering how I use Evernote as my GTD reference system, I will cover that in a future entry.

How to set personal goals

Behavior, GTD, Motivation, StrategyEdward KiledjianComment

I will use this entry to talk about setting personal goals. Yes.. Yes… I know it is June and that most people set their personal goals in January but how are those coming along?

Do a cleanup

Before building a new house, the contractor will clear the ground to ensure he is starting with a solid footing.  The same concept applies to your personal life. Before even thinking about your goals, make sure you “clean your house” (both physically and mentally) to ensure you start with as clean of a slate as possible. The cleaner the slate, the more likely you are to achieve your future goals.

List your accomplishments

Before you spend any time thinking about your future goals, it is beneficial to do some introspection and create a list of everything (of importance) that you have completed in the last 12 months. This is an extremely powerful technique to ensure you go into your goal setting with positive energy and  fully recharged psychic energy.

Start with the end in mind

In his bestselling book “The 7 habits of highly effective people”, Stephen Covey shares one of the most powerful nuggets of wisdom I have ever heard: "Start with the end in mind." Would you get in your car and just start driving? Of course not. You want to know where you are heading, so you can plan the best route. Same concept applies to goal setting.

Stephen Covey says “all things are created twice”: once in the mind and once in the real world (in that order). Setting goals with the “end in mind” keeps your brain thinking positively about what can be achieved.

This concept is so powerful other business visionaries have also adopted it in their models of efficiency such as David Allen in Getting Things Done (GTD). Napolean Hill stated it as "What the mind of man can conceive and believe, It can achieve." Professional athletes use visualization as one of their training tools.

Know that it works and spend the time to think about what “done means” for each of your goals? What does the successful completion look like? How will it feel? How will you know when it is successfully completed?

Your goals should be “SMART”

Many believe that the concept of SMART goals was first proposed by the grandfather of modern business theory, Mr. Peter Drucker in 1954. The reason this concept has been around for so long is that it works and is based on sound logic.

  • S – stands for specific. As mentioned above, start with the end in mind and make your goal as specific as possible. Saying you will “lose weight” is not specific. Saying you will “lose 30 pounds in the next 6 months by lowering your calorie intake by 1000 calories and running on the treadmill for 60 minutes 4 times a week” is specific.
  • M – stands for measurable. Your goals has to be specific and measurable. Being measurable is important to ensure you know you have “arrived” when you reach this threshold. S and M go hand in hand.
  • A – stands for attainable. Your goals should be “Big Hairy Audacious Goals” as proposed by James Collins and Jerry Porras in their 1996 article entitled Building Your Company's Vision. This means your goals should not be easily reached but logically attainable with enough hard work and commitment. Too many people set unrealistic goals then get disappointed when they miss the mark.
  • R – stands for results-oriented. This further reinforces the first section above. When setting goals, don’t let your mind get overwhelmed by all of the actions you need to complete to reach your goal. There is a time and place for everything and when setting goals, accept that you think about specific actions later. Right now concentrate on the desired end result. I strongly recommend you read my article about using the “Next Actions” methodology from GTD.
  • T stands for time. This means that each of your goals should have a specific deadline. When engaged in coaching, I work with my customer to get as specific as possible (to the day even).

Don’t beat yourself up

Next December, take the time to ask your friends and colleagues about how many of their goals they achieved. You may be surprised at how negative the conversation get’s and how quickly people make up excuses. Remember that beating yourself up is very self destructive and will not help you achieve your goals. Instead acknowledge that you may have missed some goals, spend some time thinking about why and about how you can approach your goals differently next year to have a better chance of meeting your targets.

How many goals should I have?

This is a question I love asking my employees, friends and family. Ask people how many goals they set for the year. Most of the answers you get will be in the low single digits. People believe that making a small number of goals increases the likelyhood of successfully completing them. WRONG!!!!

I believe you should set as many goals as possible and my rule of thumb is 30-50. Remember that not all of your goals should be to “cure cancer” or “solve world hunger”. A goal is anything you would like to be true by this time next year. It can be as complex as finishing up a master’s degree or about as simple as how you would like to perform when playing golf or what kind of outlook on life you want to have.

Ask yourself “What would life look like in a year, if it was better?”

Remember that out of the goals you set at the beginning of the year, you will likely end up working on a handful (10% or less). Read the following section to find out why.

Remember that you will not achieve most of your goals

You set your goals at the beginning of the year based on the best information available at the time. As you work through your various goals, you will acquire additional data or perspective and may decide that something else is more worthwhile.  This new goal may not even have been visible when you did your initial goal setting. You likely saw this new more worthwhile goal because of the effort you put into achieving your original one. Without that original one, you may never have seen this more valuable one and that is why it is still important to set those goals and drive towards them with everything you’ve got.