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This week, Life Training Online will be reviewing Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen, the third of fifty-two books in the 52 Personal Development Books in 52 Weeks series.

Today we’ll be visiting the first three chapters that make up the first part of GTD: The Art of Getting Things Done

A New Practice for a New Reality

As society changes from the industrial-age model to the age of the “knowledge worker”, new tools and ways of executing one’s day-to-day tasks are required. And paradoxically, as we find our quality of life increasing and discover more time, we end up taking on more tasks than we have the resources to handle. This combined with our jobs becoming less and less specific as to what our role entails, we take on even more responsibility and are left with too much input and not enough throughput. All of which leaves our productivity far from optimal, and our lives and our minds over-cluttered, overworked, and overstressed.

The solution to this problem, can found in Allen’s methodology on Getting Things Done (GTD): First, capture everything you need to accomplish somewhere outside of your brain and second, discipline yourself to make decisions about these tasks as they are added to your workload.
Optimal productivity can then be found when the mind is clear, free of what he calls “open loops” – the things you commit to do but remain unfinished, putting a strain on your unconscious mind. Allen compares the mind to a computer’s RAM, where too much stuff stored in your short-term memory can blow a fuse. The conscious mind is intended as a focusing tool, not a storage space.

Getting Control of Your Life: The Five Stages of Mastering Workflow

In order to take back control of your life (if you ever were in control ;) ), you must learn the five stages of mastering workflow: to collect, process, organize, review and do.

During the Collection stage, your main goal is to gather all the tasks that you have on your plate, get them out of your head, and put them into “Collection Tools” – items such as your physical in-basket, paper-based and electronic note-taking devices, voice-recording devices and email. In order to be successful during the Collection stage, Allen specifies three rules that must be followed: 1. Every open loop must be in your collection system and out of your head. 2. You must have as few collection buckets as you can get by with. 3. You must empty them regularly.

During the Process stage, you start going through and emptying those buckets – a process that he outlines throughout the book in great detail.
Here’s an overview:

  • What is it? Is it actionable?
  • If not, trash it, put it in a tickler file (I’ll be talking about this tomorrow) or put it in a reference file.
  • If so, what’s the next action? The next action is defined as the next physical, visible activity that needs to be engaged in, in order to move the current reality toward completion.
  • Will next action take less than 2 minutes?
  • If yes, do it.
  • If no, delegate it or defer it.
  • If it will take longer than 2 minutes, consider it a project (defined as requiring more than one action step) and put it in your project plans which will be reviewed for actions.

The Organize stage becomes the input of the previous stage’s output. As you are processing each item from your various buckets, they will end up in one of eight categories of reminders and materials: trash, incubation tools, reference storage, list of projects, storage or files for project plans and materials, a calendar, a list of reminders of next actions, and a list of reminders of things you’re waiting for.

You then use the Review stage to frequently visit the categories where your items are stored (except the trash can smarty pants), and finally use the fifth stage — Do — to complete the next most applicable item.

Getting Projects Creatively Under Way: The Five Phases of Project Planning

Rarely do you always get items coming into your life that only take one step to complete. For example, this is the “create a nursery for new baby” or “take wife out for anniversary” type of tasks – they both require planning. Projects — what Allen refers to as tasks that take multiple steps to complete — require a more “vertical” or big-picture view in order to complete them.

To be fully effective at project planning, Allen suggests using your brains natural five-step planning model:

  1. Define the purpose and principles behind your project: Your purpose answers the question “why?” Why do you want to carry out this project? And the Principles create the boundaries of the plan and define the standards that you require for successful completion.
  2. Outcome visioning: This answers the question “What?” What do you envision to be the final result? By doing this, Allen says that you activate the Reticular Activating System within the brain. This System, acts like a search engine, filtering out and bringing to your attention those things that match your vision (not unlike The Law of Attraction).
  3. Brainstorming: Brainstorming answers the question, “How?” Here’s where you identify how you will get from here to there, using techniques such as mind-mapping to generate lots of ideas. By writing these ideas down, you allow the brain to empty and continually feed you new ideas.
  4. Organizing: This is where you logically organize the results of the brainstorming stage by 1. Figuring out which of those things have to happen and 2. In what order should they be carried out for you to create the final result you’re looking for
  5. Identifying next actions: These are your immediate next-action steps that you need to take in order to get the ball rolling.

Getting Things Done is the third of fifty-two books in Life Training – Online’s series 52 Personal Development Books in 52 Weeks.

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