Use the ‘GTD’ Method to Actually Get Through Your To-do List

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The Getting Things Done (GTD) method has been around for years, frequently cropping up on productivity blogs and forums since David Allen first released Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity in 2001. Since then, he’s updated the book a little and the concept has continued to proliferate. Here’s how to use it in your own life. What is GTD?Allen’s website calls GTD “a personal productivity methodology that redefines how you approach your life and work.” It relies on the idea that you need to simplify your workload, or at the very least how you think of your workload, because the more ideas, information, and stress that are in your head, the harder it is to figure out what you actually need to do, let alone do it. GTD is, obviously, about getting things done, not spending all your time thinking about what needs to be done. When you use GTD, you take all the clutter out of your brain and dump it somewhere where you can go through it, streamline it, and make actionable decisions. If you frequently feel overwhelmed or like you just have too much going on, this method might be great for you. How does GTD work?Even though the methodology of GTD is involved enough to fill a whole book, it can easily be broken down into five main components:Capture everything that is bouncing around in your head and pulling your attention in multiple directions. Write it all down, either in a planner or a document, and don’t skip anything, even if it seems irrelevant. Clarify what you wrote down. Look at each task and identify actionable steps you can take to complete it. Jot those down, so you break each task into steps. If there are no actionable steps associated with a task—not even just “do it,” if it’s simple—consider whether it can be thrown out, delegated, or handled later. Organize by creating a to-do list, putting action items on your calendar, delegating smaller tasks, filing away reference materials, and whatever else you need to create a timely, structured approach to getting it done. Reflect frequently and review all your organized materials on a regular basis. This could mean every Monday, you look it all over, update or revise anything that needs changes, and/or mark off anything that is done. Try using an “after-action review” to comprehensively go over what you’ve done and what you need to work on or stick with as you move forward. Engage by tackling your action items consciously and actively. You have a list of tasks and action items, an organized system with dates and references, and a schedule for checking in with yourself. You have everything you need to get started and work toward goal completion incrementally. What’s nice about GTD is it’s pretty adaptable. Allen doesn’t say you need certain apps (although there are plenty out there that can help you with your to-do lists and staying accountable to your goals) or that you should do this digitally or on paper. He only advocates for simplifying your workload into something manageable, whatever that looks like for you. A little stress can be beneficial for pushing you to be more productive, but too much will have the opposite effect, so creating a personalized system using the GTD method can reduce unnecessary stress and leave you only with the tasks and steps that are most urgent. 

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