Somewhere around the start of the school year we had to prepare our student books. We had to get some signatures, some photos and getting all the needed data on it. I was always the last one to do that. One particular year, my class teacher gave me my students book, after the head teacher had signed it, and said: “Don’t lose it this time.”.
“Of course I won’t” I said confidently and went back to my desk. One week later, a man came to school and said he had found a lost students book. The teacher wasn’t surprised when he found out it was mine. The funny thing is that only when I received it did I realize I had lost it in the first place.
As time passed, I finished school, learnt new things and advanced myself greatly. But one thing did not change – my carelessness.
But now, I ought to be more responsible if I am to be taken seriously as a professional. That is why, I have discovered a framework which has helped me transition from a careless boy to a responsible person.
Last time, I showed you how to keep yourself productive and efficient while performing your tasks. Today, I will share with you the workflow I follow for organizing my future tasks, ideas and arrangements.
Why do we get distracted all the time
When I wake up in the morning, I normally look at my facebook. Often enough, there is a close friend who has birthday. So I am thinking of calling him later in order to greet him for his birthday. But as time passes, I get busy with doing the usual tasks for the day and I never seem to remember that I had to call my friend.
This is a very common scenario for most people and it affects me particularly badly as I am very bad in remembering stuff. The reason for this is that the brain is very good at creating ideas, but not holding them.
Have you ever stood late at night, because you just thought of this awesome idea? You say to yourself – oh wow, this is great! I should remember it. But then, the next day you just can’t seem to resemble what you thought of in the first place. I know this has happened to me a lot.
That is why, we need some kind of system to cover the weak spots of our brain. We need something to persist the ideas we create. And one of the most common approaches is maintaining a TODO list. I believe this is a huge step forward because now you start writing down things instead of trying to remember them. This alone can help you become way more organized than before.
But, in the long-run, how efficient would this approach be?
The inefficiency of TODO lists
TODO lists can be a great first step to leading a more organized life, but there are some major drawbacks, which can be compensated by modern methodologies.
The major one is that there is no separation of tasks. Whether you have a big business idea or a simple reminder for calling your mom, you put that on the same small piece of paper. Furthermore, it is hard to maintain any kind of priority with a list like this. Another thing that is pretty useful is some kind of way to estimate your tasks.
So you can try using different paper colors in order to indicate whether something is important or not, fast or slow or what kind of type that task is. But you can only choose one classification. You cannot indicate priority, estimation and organization merely with a set of colors. Perhaps you could use a multi-color papers but that clearly is an overkill.
Keeping yourself organized with “Getting Things Done”
One of the most effective tools for solving this issue is presented in the book “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. The workflow carries the same name as the book and is called GTD for short.
It describes an algorithm for dealing with the constant flow of tasks in your daily life. One of the major ideas in the book is to split tasks into two brackets – Actionable and not-actionable. Afterwards, you group them into different sections, which allows you to easily navigate through your tasks and ideas. This video describes the whole workflow.
I actually don’t fully apply GTD for my tasks as I prefer using Pomodoro instead. I use it as a database because it grants me with a very useful separation of my tasks and ideas, which allows me to easily navigate through them.
Organizing tasks in the GTD workflow
The workflow defines several sections in which you can store your elements. I will now explore the different sections and explain what their purpose is.
This is the most simple one and it is similar to a TODO list. Here, you input your short-term tasks. These can be something like cleaning your room, buying food or walking out the dog. Normally, this is the section where you will spend most of your time in, as you will probably plan your day based on the short-term tasks.
This one is my favorite. Here, you store the long-term tasks. We all have ideas of reading that awesome book or going through a great coursera course. This is the place you store them in order to keep yourself responsible for completing them.
I suggest you go through this section from time to time and think about which item could you move to the Next or Project section. Normally, these are the tasks that help you develop yourselves. If you want to grow, make them a top priority.
There are some tasks which are too large to store as a single item. Reading a 1000 pages book for example. So when you have this situation, you can create “Projects”. This is a custom section you create for storing small items centred around a big common goal.
This is very important! When you look at a single task called “Read a book”, you get intimidated by the amount of time that will take you. But if you have several tasks of reading a book for 20 minutes, you will be a lot more willing to get things done.
Basically, this is a container for smaller items of all the other possible sections.
Until now, we talked about the actionable items. Those we can do right away. The non-actionable items the ones not meant for today. One of the sections for them is “Scheduled”. This is like the google calendar. You input tasks on a date from the calendar and once the day has come, it is supposed to move to the “Next” section and eventually, be completed.
At one point, I was making presentations in front of students from various schools almost every week. At that time, this section proved to be irreplaceable. Thanks to it, I never missed an event. Of course, you can simply use a calendar tool for the same purpose, but I like keeping all my stuff in one place.
This is an interesting one. I would have never thought of it if I hadn’t heard of GTD. Here, you put those tasks which you have delegated to someone else.
For example, if you have asked the plumber to come help you fix your toilet, you can put the task in this section. That helps you recall the responsibilities other people have. And of course, if they have forgotten about them, you can kindly remind them.
When I watch other peoples’ presentations or read a good book, I often find some very interesting ideas. However, I often fail to remember them and use them when I need to. At first, you might be tempted to think that you will just open the book again and find the idea in it. But navigating through a big book for a simple idea is like looking for a needle in a haystack.
This section is the repository for the interesting stories and ideas you encounter while reading books or watching a nice presentation. It can also prove to be useful for keeping some commonly used information like the ID for your bank account or the customer number for your electricity bills.
Implementing the workflow
The described sections are the backbone of this system. I find this part of it most useful. Even if you don’t follow the methodology strictly, you will still benefit a lot by grouping your work into different sections.
But how do I implement this? Do I write them down on a sheet of paper? Well, that would be inefficient. Nowadays, we are living in the digital age. And happily, there is software which precisely implements the GTD workflow. You can start using it today.
My favorite tool is a web application called Nirvana. It is pretty easy to use and well made. Apart from implementing the classical system, it introduces some useful extensions. One of them is the “Focus” section, where you mark the tasks which are with priority and you should do first. You can also mark a very important event you shouldn’t forget about as well.
But as every software, there are some drawbacks, sadly. The biggest one is that there is a subscription-based premium feature. It provides you with some cool features like creating a recurring task. For example – walking the dog every tuesday. But the biggest drawback is that you can only have up to 3 projects and 3 reference lists.
That really is something bothersome. However, I am yet to find a better tool that implements GTD and provides the mentioned free features.
Getting things done is a great instrument, which helps you be organized in today’s world. Its biggest asset is the efficient separation of tasks into meaningful sections. But even if you use a different time management system, it is very beneficial to extract all those tasks and ideas overflowing our minds. These systems are like Dumbledore’s Pensieve.
Try it out. Go to Nirvana and create a free account. Try extracting all those bothersome thoughts into the “Next” section. Afterwards, try grouping them into suitable sections.
Once you do that, you will feel like a great deal of burden has been removed from your mind. This is the first step to leading a much more organized and productive life.