David Allen - Getting Things Done
I’d like to turn back a bit from the lofty realm of abstract thoughts towards our concrete, ordinary, have-you-seen-my-left-shoe kind of world in this post. I mean, it’s all well and good that we think about our principles, our dreams, our attitudes, and even the great overarching purpose of our lives, but if we then get lost in the minutiae of the day-to-day, none of it will matter. So I picked up Getting Things Done (or simply GTD) by David Allen, often referred to as the “productivity bible”. And if this method has helped countless business leaders carrying huge burdens and responsibilities, it can probably make life more streamlined – and less stressful – for us mere mortals, too.
Speaking of “less stressful”, the subtitle of the book (The Art of Stress-Free Productivity) promises that not only will we be more productive, but we will also become a lot calmer in the process! This is because if we always do what we know we should be doing, we won’t have any cognitive dissonance, and we’ll have that coveted flow experience more easily. On top of that, the method is modular – meaning, it doesn’t require us to follow everything word for word – so hopefully the habituation phase itself won’t cause too much mental distress either. The author is well aware that we are not perfect, so he wants to help, not just add another thing to feel guilty about to the queue.
It was emphasized at the beginning that the book would be more about principles rather than a series of concrete steps. Now this hasn’t really been fulfilled. As an illustration, the five-step planning method of chapter three is detailed step by step (after two counter-examples), and it was at the 4th element of a 6-long expansion list under the second subsection of the first step when it occurred to me that “Hansel and Gretel can suck it along with their breadcrumbs!”.
As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
onlyThis is not to say, of course, that there weren’t useful principles in the book that could be applied universally. It just means that they needed a bit of excavation. There were many timeless, obsolescence-proof tips – only they were demonstrated at a “granddaddy” modernity level, with pen and paper. I filtered these out, partly because they were incompatible with my digital fixation anyway. On the other hand, I dare to hope that you, my dear readers, will also be able to tailor the details to your own needs, knowing the principles.
The point is that there is nothing “new” or “revolutionary” about all this; it just states in concrete terms what we are already doing unspoken. But direct control through concreteness can bring very significant changes! Imagine pressing buttons randomly on a bare control panel, and then suddenly getting labels explaining what each button does.
Structurally, the book covers the same “curriculum” in 3 parts, with varying degrees of depth and detail. With your permission, I’ve condensed these passes into one, so that everything is touched on only once – but then completely. I’ll skip the project planning part on top of this, because I think focusing on how to deal with existing shitstorms is plenty to start with. So the table of contents became the following:
- The main, 5 step method:
- Scientific underpinnings
- Becoming a master
Nowadays it’s almost inevitable – even fashionable! – to take on more than we can handle. This is accompanied by a blurring of the boundaries between work and leisure, especially in “knowledge-based” work. True, the information that could potentially improve any of our processes is infinite and easily accessible. But then someone would have to access it, interpret it, draw conclusions… And if that weren’t enough, even our work in general isn’t well defined. In fact, we no longer have to adapt to our work, but to continuous adaptation itself.
If everything in our lives were “in order”, meaning we’d have the same job, no financial or health crisis, no need to move or renovate, no children, etc. Then maybe we could slowly find a rhythm on our own that would make everyday life sustainable. But unfortunately, most of the time, both our work and personal lives are in a state of constant flux. The pace of life (culture, lifestyle, technology) has accelerated to the point where we have to make hugely consequential changes increasingly often. In fact, not much is different from what it used to be, just the tempo.
Nothing is new, except how frequently it is.
This in turn leads to a situation where the old methods are no longer good enough, even if we happen to do the same things we used to. Today’s speed and complexity is no longer covered by a simple
TODO list. There is a surprisingly large number of things to deal with on an average daily basis, so a system is very important. But if we can consciously recognize how many things we have in our heads, and have a system for dealing with them, then it won’t be such a huge mental burden to jump from one thing to the next.
It’s a well-meaning attempt to define higher, more abstract goals, and then have the resulting value system guide our choices. But it can’t quite cope with the distractions of the day-to-day, hour-to-hour level. The truth is, by default, no one is used to thinking about work. For a very long time, work was just something that wasn’t done yet but needed to be done. If we shoveled shit, we’d know exactly what needs to be done; we’d see how big the pile is, how much is left, and shovel on.
This “two brain cells” attitude won’t get the job done anymore. And for the more abstract, less tangible life goals, it’s never been enough in the first place. So even if it seems logical that our big vision should dictate the details, let’s still build from the bottom up. Most of us are so lost in our daily lives that we have no chance to get to our vision. But if we prioritize the small implementation steps, we can at least start moving forward, even if “blindly” at first.
The solution proposed in this book can be summarized in 5 steps – which will also be the subject of the next 5 sections:
We collect all the tasks – giving us a definition of what it would mean to be “done”;
We make each item concrete – giving us a definition of what it would mean to “do” them;
We organize each item into multi-level, complex lists (depending on how we want to be reminded of them);
We use these lists to inform our self-analysis; and
We actually do what needs to be done.
If anything is rattling around in our heads, then we’ve failed already, because as a baseline, nothing should be rattling around there! So we collect, concretize and store things – including what needs to be done, what the end goal is, and what the next step would be. Each repetition of this process will make us feel a little bit better, and we can multiply this feeling many times over if we make a habit out of it. The main thing is to get stuff out of our heads!
There is usually an inverse relationship between how much something is on your mind and how much it’s getting done.
Left to ourselves, we waste most of our energy thinking about the problem, not the solution. This pillar of “getting things out of our heads” works because it forces us to focus on the solution. Even though we are not making progress, we are making what progress would look like concrete, and that makes it clearer what needs to get done and why. The focus becomes the end goal and the way to get there, not wallowing in the problem.
Thought is useful when it motivates action and a hindrance when it substitutes for action.
– Bill Raeder
But don’t worry, similarly to athletes, this can be improved! We’re not progressing slowly because we’re thinking slowly; we’re just thinking “badly”. And thankfully it’s not our time, incoming information, or priorities that need to be managed, it’s “just” our actions – which we 100% can control.
My personal opinion is that it’s not even the quality or the depth of the system itself that is really important, but that we A) have one, and B) trust it. There is little difference between a bad system and an optimal system. The big gap is between having one and not having one. So let’s have one – so that we are prepared to go to war with ourselves.
It is hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head.
– Sally Kempton
A few words about preparation: the author holds regular consultations and the transition to his system is usually done as a crash course of about 2 full days. Obviously, in our case, there is no such formality, or hurry. However, we should be aware in advance that, as with anything new, a major effort is to be expected. We shouldn’t let this put us off, though, as maintenance will be a breeze – and in time, an automatic part of our daily routine. It’s just about enduring until we get there.
It is easier to act yourself into a better way of feeling than to feel yourself into a better way of action.
– O. H. Mowrer
A prerequisite is to have a decent office. If we work from home, then there. If we commute to work, then there too. If we’re on the road a lot, we should still have a ready-made solution for what we can do in what contexts, what we have on hand when, that sort of thing. What any of us actually needs is, of course, very subjective. The main thing is to be able to manage lists somehow, and to have some kind of calendar. Besides, we don’t share! Everyone needs their own workspace – which doesn’t have to be a whole separate room, but at least a separate desk.
The other key requirement is a universal filing system. Otherwise, we will soon turn our “saved” things into an amorphous pile. It should be quick, simple and always at hand, otherwise we won’t use it. Also, we have to remember that we want to access data here, not just store it. A good rule of thumb is that if it takes longer than a minute to either file or retrieve anything, it’s no good.
Armed with this information, we can finally get started on the 5 key steps to keep our lives under control.
As soon as we label something as “must”, “should” or “could”, it becomes an “incomplete”. Incomplete, because our brain knows that there is something we haven’t done yet (but must, should or could). If we don’t record this properly – that is, outside of our heads, with a specific end goal, and a specific next step – it will fester. And the rattling just keeps eating away at our attention!
Therefore, the first step towards stress-free living is to collect everything that grabs our attention. This can be in a physical inbox tray, on paper, via digital text/audio, email, whatever. What is essential is that:
Everything is outside our heads;
Everything is in the same place – or, at the very least, in as few places as possible. If half of it is here while the other half is there, we won’t trust either source (and rightly so);
Every incoming item is regularly processed to keep the metaphorical “input tray” from overflowing.
You can only feel good about what you’re not doing when you know everything you’re not doing.
Spare nothing! If it requires any work on our part, let it come. If it’s too big for the inbox, we should simply write a note about it and let that go in the inbox. It goes into the inbox even if it’s already pre-organized – it’s much more important to keep everything uniform. If something is “just” misplaced, it may just go back in its place – unless we have something to do with it, in which case (you guessed it) it goes in the fucking inbox! Once the physical stuff is done, a mental round is needed, of course. Whatever comes to mind, from stopping climate change to buying cat food on the way home.
It’s important to note that we don’t start organizing stuff here. This is just a collection of what we will have to deal with in the first place. And making decisions or categorizing requires a very different state of mind than collecting anyway. Let’s also be aware, though, that nothing can stay at this stage for long. If our brains feel that we are not really dealing with the inputs, then the rattling comes back again!
Psychological outlook: collecting is both anxiously negative and liberatingly positive. But the negative part doesn’t actually come from all the work we have to do – because then it would never be over – but from all the “agreements” we’ve made with ourselves so far that we’ve broken. And if that’s the case, then:
Either we shouldn’t take on so many commitments (which will be much easier to defend against with a clearly full
We just have to do it and be done with it; or
We need to renegotiate with ourselves.
If something is kept solely in our heads, it only knows present tense. As soon as we have two things in there (which, let’s face it, is often the case), we are already breaking at least one of our vows because we are not doing one of them. That’s why we have to keep everything out of our heads. This applies even to what at first sight might seem insignificant. In our minds, there is no difference between cleaning the basement and starting a business – both are just vows.
Thinking about something is always more useful than thinking of it. Reminding should be the job of a system, so that we can always add value during our thinking.
It’s very apparent in a relationship or in a company culture how reliable individual links are. If we have to hold someone’s hand because otherwise we’d fear not getting what we asked for, there will be a constant dose of stress in the background. There can also be a proliferation of meetings, which wouldn’t even be necessary if things were running smoothly. But if we trust the other person’s system, we don’t always need to demand immediate attention – they can just respond when they get to it. In the author’s family, for example, they even do it at home by dropping things into each other’s inboxes instead of interrupting the other. Of course, all this doesn’t mean that we’re sailing in the right direction – or that we’re on the right boat at all… But at least we’ll be sailing more efficiently!
Once our inboxes are bursting at the seams, it’s time to flesh out what’s what. Our first question should literally be: what is it? Sounds funny, but in the author’s experience, many people don’t even get this far… But we should at least identify what we are dealing with.
This leads nicely to the second question: do we really have to deal with it? Because it may well be that we don’t. If it’s temporary (so, we don’t have to deal with it yet), we incubate it (see under Organizing). If we don’t have to deal with it ever, but we want to keep it for future reference, it can go into our filing system (which, remember, was a prerequisite). And if we don’t want it even for reference, it can head into the bin. Goodbye!
If we do have to deal with it, on the other hand, the most important thing is to determine what exactly, physically, is the next step for us to take? Something vague like “organizing a meeting” is not precise enough. “Email X about the meeting” is much better. Also, “we should decide” is not a next action! Decisions are quick, and they’re not a physical activity, so we should not postpone this part. If we need more info to make the decision, the next step could be “email X for their opinion” or “brainstorming with a list of pros and cons” which will bring us closer to the decision. We should be careful, though, that the next actions are really atomic and concrete, otherwise they will revert to “stuff” and continue to carry uncertainty.
If the next action planned can’t accomplish the whole job on its own, it can be linked to a project that collects all steps in a task sequence. Once this is in place, we can again branch off in 3 directions: the task can be done, delegated or deferred.
If it’s all less than 2 minutes, we should just get it done. There’s no scientific reason why 2 minutes exactly, it’s just about at the threshold where it’s more efficient to do it rather than file it – since then there’s nothing to file.
If it’s longer, but it’s not specifically us who need to do it, then let someone else do it. The method of delegation itself is up to our communication systems, but it’s important that we have a written record of it. Just because the other party may forget doesn’t mean we should.
And if it is both long and we have to do it, then we’ll come back to it. Period.
To avoid any misunderstandings, let’s emphasize once again: if a task is not of the 2-minute “quick off our minds” kind, it doesn’t have to be done here! We just need to make the decision about what to do with it. Let’s go through the inbox one by one, without prioritizing! It doesn’t matter how important something is, because we’re just deciding its fate.
I am rather like a mosquito in a nudist camp; I know what I want to do, but I don’t know where to begin.
– Stephen Bayne
At this point, we’ve binned, filed, delegated, or did-in-2-minutes. But we’re probably still left with a large “in progress” pile of things to do. We’ll deal with those in the Organizing section.
There are no interruptions – there are only mismanaged inputs.
Psychological outlook: We shouldn’t underestimate the power of the next action. Thinking ahead, and utilizing conclusions already drawn, will allow us to exploit the odd small gap during the day. We might not have the energy to go to our inboxes and untangle things at a given moment, but we might just have the energy to do a mindless little to-do.
There is often a bit of a fog in our minds. The picture is clear enough that we think we know what to do next. But it’s also vague enough that we don’t really know, so we’re repelled and we avoid it. People with good imagination are said to delay more because they can most vividly imagine the horror they are fleeing.
I am an old man, and I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.
– Mark Twain
It would be nice if we could tone down this “negative self-visualization”. Alcohol, for example, is no good because it dulls everything down. But a clear definition of the next action can have a more selective effect! Maybe the negative feelings weren’t really towards the to-do itself, but towards the slight insecurity and indecision about it.
Either way, we have to determine the next action at some point. But it makes a big difference whether we determine it when the task first comes up or when things have already gone off the rails. In the latter case, we will be in constant fire-fighting mode and nothing will be efficient.
A predetermined next step gives a clear picture, and the responsible party can be accountable, productive and self-reliant. When we decide what we want to do, rather than being driven by external pressure, it is also more rewarding than just deluding ourselves with self-affirmations about how effective we are.
Next actions also do away with complaining. If we can change the situation, then there is a clear next action, and we can pay attention to that. If we can’t, then we have to accept our impotence – which the lack of next action will force us to do.
There are risks and costs to a program of action, but they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.
– John F. Kennedy
Ok, we’ve collected, we’ve concretized, time to organize the rest! Our primary concern now is to keep the boundaries between categories “sharp”. Organization simply means different kinds of contracts with ourselves that define when and how we want our reminders. If these start to blur together, it all becomes meaningless.
At a base level, we only have to manage lists – which may make many people skeptical, as many people have been writing lists for a very long time without success. But it’s not “easy yet”, it’s “easy already”! In other words, a lot of brainstorming, systematization and experimentation has gone into getting to the point where the end user only has to deal with lists.
We must strive to reach that simplicity that lies beyond sophistication.
– John Gardner
The decisions of this step can sort things onto 8 lists in total. If it’s project related, our first stop is the project list and the references that can be linked to projects. The (1) project list is the home of any task that consists of multiple steps. It’s a very loose condition, so it’s likely that a lot of things will be “projects” that we didn’t think of as such before. A project list shouldn’t contain details, just a sort of “table of contents” that gives us a higher level of overall focus and frees up mental energy. Our current situation, our long-term plans, our values, or our problems can be starting points for exploring projects. It can be broken down into subcategories as needed, but all need to be given equal attention!
References that can be linked to a specific project (2) may include any “supporting material”. The point is that these should not serve as reminders – there are other tools for that. These could also include ideas that are not next actions if we know in advance where they will go. Once everything has its well-defined place, we won’t have to forget anything ever again. We may want to integrate these with our general reference materials, but then it’d better be accessed and used often during the project.
After project administration, we move on to the next actions defined in the previous step. If it was 2 minutes long, we didn’t get this far in the first place. However, if we did get here, then let’s have some paper trail! In the case of delegation, use a (3) queue to keep track of the responsibilities of others. It’s worth dating the entries, because it can be very useful for tracing stuff back later.
When it is really left to us, we need to ask ourselves one more question: is the next action date-bound or “as soon as possible”? If it’s date-bound, then it should go in the (4) calendar. For efficiency, let’s distinguish between dates and days. But the most important thing is to not treat our calendar as a
TODO list! Only put in there what we actually have to get done exactly then (or that day) and consider them sacred and inviolable from then on. If we fill it with all sorts of “it would be nice to do this on that day” rubbish, then over time something will inevitably get missed, and we won’t respect our calendar enough.
And if it’s “as soon as possible”, then we should put it on a (5)
TODO list. This can be a common place, or even categorized; we may want to organize these by context. For example, on the phone, at the computer, in town, at home, at the office, that sort of thing… This will help us make the most of unexpected little crumbs of time. Is the doctor late? In the meantime, we could make a phone call or two… if we had a list handy of who to call and why.
Those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its shortness.
– Jean de La Bruyère
We’re done with the current to-do list, but let’s not relax just yet, as there are still three more categories to go. If we have to deal with stuff, but only later, then we can proceed with incubation. These postponed tasks can also be time-sensitive – for example, there’s a concert next week, so we shouldn’t forget to discuss whether we want to go at home over the weekend – and these can go into our calendar as well. But anything that’s just a “someday” or a “maybe” can go onto a separate (6) parking list. We can think about our dreams, desires, or even our current projects for inspiration. It’s worth writing these out, because who knows, our subconscious might get to work in the background and something might come of it.
If we don’t have (foreseeable) things to do, but it would be nice to keep the current item as a reference, then… yep, you guessed it, it can be filed away among our (7) references. If it’s been established that we really don’t have anything to do with these, then it’s okay to have a lot of them, they still won’t trigger the brain-rattling anxiety! The sorting strategy itself is a matter of individual taste, but it’s worth starting simple from the beginning and letting the system “grow” with us.
And lastly, as a nice little cool-off, if we have nothing to do with it, and don’t even want the option to retrieve it later, then we should ruthlessly (8) throw it in the bin. It may sound obvious, but it is very important not to mix it back with anything else. If there’s even just one thing mixed into it that we still have to deal with, we won’t dare to throw any of it away, so it will need to be re-sorted, thereby becoming “stuff” and extra work again. So as soon as we know something is trash, it goes in the bin.
It’s not enough to organize our tasks, we also need to review them from time to time. For example, it’s one thing to know that we’re out of milk, but it’s quite another to remember it in the shop. We can only think at a “higher level” if we can really leave the low-level stuff to the system, and we can only do that if the system is always 100% reliable. That’s why we always need to keep it fresh, periodically review it, delete from it, expand it, etc. If we don’t review our open threads for long enough, our brains will gradually reassume the role of reminder and the “rattling” will return, too. So regular – daily and weekly – review is essential for the whole GTD approach to work!
The maintenance of life and the pursuit of happiness are not two separate issues.
– Ayn Rand
If everything is set up properly, a few seconds here and there can be enough for the daily review. We need to take a peek just long enough, and just frequently enough, to always be sure that we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing. Obviously our calendar and
TODO list provide the skeleton of our day, and usually that should be enough. But we should be flexible and keep the other lists handy, because we may need anything at any time.
The weekly review is more at the project level rather than the individual to-do items, so it’s worth basing it on our project list from the start. The main goal is to get to a state where we can confidently say “I am absolutely aware of everything I am not doing, but could do if I chose to”. Based on the author’s experience, 2-2 hours on Friday mornings is the official recommendation for this, but everyone should tailor it to their own needs. The point is to make it a quasi-ritual, because it will give us the mental clarity that will allow us to think more creatively about our longer-term plans.
In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.
– Albert Camus
This is the part where we “intervene” in the way the world works and actually do something. I hope no one thought we could get away with this! But where we intervene, and how, matters quite a lot. And if the first four steps get stuck anywhere, it will almost certainly not be where and how we should.
The bad(ish) news is that, even if we’ve done everything right, we’ll still have several options to choose from intuitively at most moments. The good news is that, because of our system, we may no longer just hope we can choose well, but trust it.
There is always more to do than you can do, and you can do only one thing at a time. The key is to feel as good about what you’re not doing as about what you are doing at that moment.
The book offers a 4-step system to help us decide in the “heat of the moment”:
Context: if we’re at work, obviously we should get on with some work; or if we don’t have a phone handy, we shouldn’t want to be on the phone all of a sudden;
Time: it makes quite the difference whether we only have 5 minutes or 5 hours;
Energy: are we dead tired or are we just starting fresh; and
Priority: once we’ve filtered the options based on the previous three points, we can freely choose from what remains according to our priorities.
Minute-to-minute and day-to-day you don’t have time to think. You need to have already thought.
And to set our priorities – and manage our lives as a whole – it’s worth looking at our goals from different perspectives. The author suggests 6 horizons:
- (ground): current tasks
- current projects
- areas and responsibilities
- goals, what will/should be in 1-2 years
- vision, what will / should be in 3-5 years
- the “big picture”, what is my purpose in life, what are my principles…
The challenge is to marry the high level, idealistic goals with the low level, mundane shit-shoveling.
An idealist believes that the short run doesn’t count. A cynic believes the long run doesn’t matter. A realist believes that what is done or left undone in the short run determines the long run.
– Sydney J. Harris
And allow me a little repetition from the introduction here: it might seem logical to approach all this from above, but in fact the reverse is true. We could say that the higher levels determine the lower levels, and why on Earth, for example, should we bother with a certain job if later it might turn out that we don’t want that job… But as long as the lower levels aren’t under control, we won’t ever get to the point of dealing with our higher motivations.
If we have a well-oiled low-level methodology, it will continue to serve us well, whatever we might use it for. Conversely, even if we can flawlessly tease out our life’s main goals, but we can’t concretely implement them – because we simply never get there – then what’s the point of it all?
If your boat is sinking, you really don’t care in which direction it’s pointed!
This is about the end of the original book, but there has been a lot of interesting cognitive and social research since it was first published, all of which nicely supports the principles discussed so far.
Positive psychology claims that we should stop focusing on just the negatives all the time – happiness, mental well-being, our life’s meaning, and other such minor things are worth some attention as well. Fortunately, there are more and more “formal” curricula for these too, and GTD can help. It’s not only
TODO lists here either, after all, but also mental clarity, values, prioritization, happiness, success, etc.
The field of distributed consciousness proclaims the value of an external brain. Its motto is “Your brain is for having ideas, not storing them”. And if we don’t have to remember, we’ll find it much easier to think – because that’s what our brains are for. Well, GTD just happens to be just such an external brain.
Research on the subject of cognitive load has shown that “unfinished” threads do indeed belong with productivity. And the good news is that they don’t just disappear when they’re done; they also disappear when they’re put into a reliable system.
The goal is also very similar for flow theory, and it’s about fully compatible. GTD actually only promotes the principles described there, just at a lower level.
The three branches of self-leadership theory are also all related in some way. Managing our own behavior can be matched to regular reminders; and exploiting our natural talents can be matched to, say, bagging small “wins” by being prepared to fill in small time slots productively.
Implementation intentions are based on the assumption that if we decide in advance when and what we will do to achieve a particular goal, we will more likely have the strength and capacity to do so at that moment. And this is good because then we don’t have to “spend” on it from our – very limited – willpower budget. Again, the tight system of GTD relates to this quite well.
Finally, the collective noun PsyCap (as in, psychological capital) is a combination of self-efficacy, optimism, hope (here: what the goal is and the paths to get there), and resilience. I suppose it will surprise no one when I say that GTD supports all of these:
We will be self-reliant because we’ll always know what our responsibilities are and what we can do about them;
We will be optimistic, because it teaches us that “you can do it if you put your mind to it”, which will make us dare to attempt more and bigger things;
We will be hopeful, because we identify our goals and several potential paths that will make it harder to get stuck; and
We will be resilient, because it gives us stability in the face of unforeseen – or even unforeseeable – difficulties and helps us keep our cool.
Becoming a master
GTD is a lot like mastering an instrument or a sport: there’s never an “end”, it’s an art that can be perfected over a lifetime. But in return, just like with instruments and sports, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
At the basic level, we still pay individual attention to the collection process, the definition of next steps, the waiting lists, the
TODO lists per context, a transparent and quick reference system, the stripped-down calendar, and the weekly review. All are easy to slip up with, even though they are not big things in themselves, but – precisely because they are not big things – it’s just as easy to climb back into the saddle! It can take years for everything to sink to a routine level, but once we have it, our hour-by-hour, day-by-day lives become stable.
As an intermediate, we aim more towards a week-by-week or month-by-month resolution. Higher horizons of thinking and order will become the norm, and in addition to our atomic actions, we will have our projects and permanent responsibilities in order as well. By this time, we have typically tailored and integrated the method to fit our own lifestyle to some extent. It’s also a good sign that if something unexpected comes along, instead of pushing us out of our system, we’ll increasingly seek “refuge” in it.
As a master, the system is no longer the focus. And we can use the freed-up energies to deepen our interests and relationships, or add value with our outside brain. In the clear order, we’ll be able to see connections that we might not otherwise see, and we’ll often benefit from the unexpected mixing of areas within our lives.
GTD gives us a universally applicable set of tools that can be used to bring order to even the messiest of circumstances. Obviously it won’t replace discipline and work, but at least we won’t fail due to a lack of methodology while working in a disciplined manner.
Instead of some mechanical repetition, I’d like to sum up by highlighting the lessons that seemed the most important to me:
There’s a big emphasis on writing things down. I know I’ve changed immeasurably since I stopped trying to keep everything in my head. Our minds are not equipped to deal with the complexities of today’s world on their own. Let’s write things down!
We are also given a concrete template for how to write things down, which makes the process easier to systemize, allowing us to grind it to routine level more quickly.
It’s basically all about standardizing what kinds of reminders we ask for, and when. It was a big “Ahaaa!” moment when this hit home.
Another important mental model was the part where we traced the stress of to-do lists back to broken vows we’ve made to ourselves. And to be able to solve our problems, we should first see them clearly, right?
Finally, I would like to reiterate the “bottom-up” attitude mentioned several times, because it points to a very important truth. If we don’t have our agenda in order at a low level, it doesn’t matter what our big goals are, because we’re never going to get there. We should get our collective shit together first, and only then move on to world domination!