GTD: A Higher Level Approach to Personal EffectivenessAUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
“Everything you’ve told yourself you ought to do, your mind thinks you should do right now.” ~ David Allen
One of the reasons GTD has achieved great recognition as a personal productivity system is that it doesn’t reduce our daily activity to a simple set of tasks to be marked as done. That’s oversimplified. Although being productive is about getting more done with as little effort as possible, we aren’t machines. We’re human beings, and our actions must respond to something deeper.
Traditional time management systems (still prevalent in many people’s minds) simplify all our activity to a list of tasks to which we assign a priority. This priority is a number, a letter or a symbol that we simply write next to the task, and usually remains there forever. It often represents a degree of urgency, rather than importance. These systems don’t take into account that the importance of things varies over time, because new commitments continually arise that make the importance of all of the above relative.
A list of 70 tasks in which 30 of them have the same priority, very high, makes it very difficult and stressful to simply decide which is the next action to perform. In the absence of something that relates these tasks to us as individuals, something that objectively indicates the importance of performing each action, we will always choose a task that can be done in 15 minutes rather than one that needs 2 hours. Moreover, low-priority tasks always remain undone, until they generate a crisis and then there’s no choice but to pay attention to them.
Another alternative, even worse, is to enter each and every one of our tasks in a calendar and make it rule our life. Sounds weird? Well, there are still many people who tell me that their only personal management tool is Google Calendar. There’s an absolute lack of context in this type of organization. Moreover, it’s practically impossible to predict the time that each task is going to take us, so we’ll need to spend a good part of our time on the frustrating task of reorganizing the actions in the calendar (changing the day, the time, modifying their duration, etc.).
Reality is complex and changing. We cannot manage it with a simple piece of paper. And by that I mean a piece of paper, a calendar or a simple to-do app. We are human beings. There are internal forces that move us, that give meaning to our lives, although not all of us are aware of them at all times. If we want to be more effective in what we do, we must incorporate these forces into our personal management.
GTD uses lists of items that don’t need to be constantly reorganized unless the nature of an action changes; it introduces objective criteria to choose the next action to perform, such as the context you are in, your energy and your available time; and it uses solid values such as your goals and focus areas to prioritize certain projects and tasks. It’s not just about getting things done, it’s about making our activity meaningful. Why do we do what we do? GTD provides a framework that allows you to achieve a deeper understanding of your reality. And even just for that reason alone, it’s something worth knowing about.