Getting Things Done - GTD

What Do I Do Now? Choosing Well Determines Your Success in Life

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
tags Focus Engage Perspective Decision Making
"Do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of." ~ Benjamin Franklin

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What Do I Do Now? Choosing Well Determines Your Success in Life

If there’s a consistent and common theme when two people talk about time, it’s the feeling that the time we have available is not enough to do everything we would like to do, both in our personal and professional lives.

And it’s usually true. Since we can’t do everything there is to do, we must choose well what to do. That’s why one of the key goals of a good personal management system should be to establish a workflow that allows us to CHOOSE what’s best at any given moment. Ultimately, a personal management system should facilitate the answer to this question: Of all the things I could be doing now, what should I be doing?

This is a question you ask yourself every day, several times a day. Many times it’s internalized as a simple “what do I do now?”, but it’s not an easy question and you shouldn’t answer it mindlessly. Making the right decisions about all the things that concern you is what allows you to be in control of your life.

You cannot control all events in life, but you can make choices and own up to them. When you take charge of the events you can control you feel better, more valuable to yourself and others.

Making the right choice is not easy. There are always things that seem urgent and that encourage you to do them immediately, delaying or not doing other things that are probably more important. And this can lead you to spend most of your day doing stuff that seems valuable, but isn’t.

It’s important to distinguish vital emergencies from trivial ones. There are few vital emergencies. Unfortunately, we like trivialities, and therein lies the trap. They make us feel busy, even though at the end of the day we have the feeling of having done nothing useful. Self-esteem is linked to the fulfillment of vital goals, not trivialities.

We tend to procrastinate on important things because, unlike urgent things, they don’t require immediate attention. If a vital project has a three-month deadline, we tend to neglect it. If this happens to you too often, a trick that can help you is to turn the important into urgent, using much shorter deadlines. But beware, this is still a “trick” to hack yourself and it brings other disadvantages, such as the increased stress caused by tight deadlines, in addition to the distortion of reality that a false deadline generates.

Ideally, you should learn to distinguish the important from the urgent and educate your attention to be able to focus on life projects proactively, identifying time thieves and learning to say no in certain circumstances.

A personal management system such as GTD helps you achieve this distinction in a coherent way, through several interlocking pieces:

  1. Everything that catches your attention must be captured and, later on, clarified. This two-stage separation allows you to cool down the issues that come to your mind and not act hastily. Clarifying is a process in which you define exactly what the item you have captured means, its nature, its importance, its urgency, etc. Once the issue has been clarified, you only need to keep a reminder in the appropriate list so that it surfaces when it’s needed, not before and not after. In this way, trivial emergencies are brought to the surface as soon as they appear.
  2. The Weekly Review is also a great help in this regard. Reviewing and updating all of your active projects and commitments on a weekly basis allows you to determine where your focus will be during the week so that you don’t get carried away by the trivialities that will undoubtedly arise.
  3. Working your Perspective allows you to have a clear and robust system of priorities. Defining your goals and areas of focus will allow you to easily determine what is important and what is not, so that your actions are always aligned to important things and you don’t get carried away by the crisis of the urgent.
  4. All of the above pieces come together in the Engage stage, where you choose what to do at any given moment. If you already have the system perfectly geared, at the moment of choosing your brain will have all the necessary information to make the best choice. So, finally, what do I do now? has become an easy question to answer.
Francisco Sáez

Francisco is the founder and CEO of FacileThings. He is also a Software Engineer who is passionate about personal productivity and the GTD philosophy as a means to a better life.

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