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Getting Things Done may be the most important business skill

Behavior, GTD, Management, Time ManagementEdward Kiledjian4 Comments

From a very young age, I realized that if I really wanted to succeed, I had to be smarter, faster and better than everyone else in my field. I have spent thousands upon thousands of dollars on training products and seminars.

When working with younger professionals, the question I get asked most often is this : “What do I consider the one most critical skill required for success in business”. This is a great question and the answer is simple, learning a technique that allows you to GET CONTROL of your to dos. Notice I did not say time management because the minute something unexpected happens, most time management strategies go down the drain. I am talking about a system that allows you to always stay in control of all of your commitments. 

I have bought dozens of time management training products and attended even more training seminars. Nothing has proven more effective than “Getting Things Done” as taught by the master himself, Mr David Allen. 

The Stuff factor

In his first book, David defines stuff as “anything you have allowed into your psychological or physical world that doesn’t belong where it is, but for which you haven’t yet determined the desired outcome and the next action step.”

Stuff can be anything from buying groceries to preparing the big merger plan. If your system forces you to keep this “stuff” in your head (which most people do) then it is likely causing you undue stress and keeps popping into your conscious mind at the worst possible time. Have you ever been lying in bed at 2am and all of a sudden get a “to do” pop-up in your mind?

Because most people keep this stuff in their heads, they really don’t have a good way of conducting a full inventory of their “open loops” (aka all of the stuff you promised to do) and usually work on the latest and loudest item.


GTD is not a product. It is not a computer software that manages your time. It is a strategy that helps get stuff out of your head and into a trusted system where it can be captured, evaluated and prioritized.

In GTD a project is anything that takes more than one action to complete.

To really appreciate GTD, buy one of the books, CDs or DVDs. I guarantee it is worth the money and your time.

To introduce you to it however, here is a Coles Notes version:

  1. Collect all of your action items
  2. Process what they mean and what to do about them
  3. Organize the results in a trusted system
  4. Review
  5. Do

 Ok… here is a little more detail:

  • Identify all of your open loops (action items you have agreed to). This takes anywhere from  1 hour to several days, depending on how badly you have been managing your tasks.
  • Track each project on a project list. For each project as yourself 2 questions: What would be the successful outcome to this project and what is the very next action you need to take to move this project along.
  • The 2 minute rule. Any action that takes less than 2 minutes to accomplish should be done immediately. Filling it for later evaluation would take more time and “Getting Things Done” is empowering.
  • Cleanup Determine if there are things on your list that no longer need to be done and cross those off. Maybe you missed some deadlines, it’s ok. Just cross those off. Are there any actions that should be done by other people, make sure you transfer those (determine if you need to keep track of these or can just transfer and forget).
  • Contextualize your stuff. For each action, determine what you need to get it done. As an example, you need a phone to return phone calls for the context would be @Phone. To send emails, you need to be in front of a computer so the context would be @Computer. By contextualizing your actions, you can determine what to do regardless of where you are.
  • Create a “waiting for” list. Everything that has been delegate but must be tracked should be on this list.
  • Weekly review. Once everything is categorized and in your system, conduct a weekly review to make sure everything is in tip top shape. It is the time to gather and review all of your stuff. Update your lists.

The Power

GTD means everything is written down. I mean everything. The minute I take ownership of an action or project, it get’s written down on a piece of paper and put into my inbox. Once a day (usually in the morning), I process my inbox and ask myself the key questions:

  • What is the item ?
  • Is it actionable

If not actionable then:

  • Is it trash
  • Put in the Someday/Maybe file (i.e. something without a fixed timeline like getting a degree)
  • Stored in my reference system

If it is actionable then

  • What is the very next action item
  • Who should do it?
  • Does it take less than 2 minutes? If so do it now. Otherwise add it to one of my task management lists and track until complete.

By having everything in a trusted system that I know I will keep coming back to, my mind is in a state of clear. I am always confident that I am working on the right item at the right time.

GTD is not software

 This is worth repeating. Dozens of products claim to be GTD compliant but David Allen doesn’t really endorse any of them. He believes that there is no perfect GTD system yet and that the important is to implement the system. He actually recommends starting with paper for most people.

Call to action

I hope you can feel the enthusiasm I have for this system. It is so empowering to know that you are in control and not a victim. I recommend getting the book and going through it. It is well written and easy to understand.

Like any other learned skill, GTD will take time to properly understand. You will likely re-read the book (or sections of it) a couple of times. You will periodically fall of the bandwagon and David provides guidance on how to get back on the horse.