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Getting Things Done

This is Week 20 of a Year of Living Productively

This week I tested Getting Things Done. {affiliate link} I put all my tasks into a trusted system and labeled them according to priority, context, time, and energy required. Many of them were associated with a project as well. Scroll to the bottom of last week’s post to see my plan.

How Getting Things Done Saved My Sanity This Week

  • Writing everything down gave me peace of mind. I was at a place where I had a lot of things rolling around in my head and it really was a relief to write them all down and then process them.
  • A weekly review gave me added peace of mind. For the first time, I looked at IQTell‘s Weekly Review option which has checkboxes for all aspects of it, including considering higher level goals. When I tried GTD many years ago, this was the piece that I was missing.
  • Working by context streamlined my work. I was in a low-energy state with iPhone in hand, so I looked up tasks I could do with my phone. Turns out something I dreaded (cleaning up my mangled address book) was easy and enjoyable. I also had lots of tasks that needed doing in our outside office. I realized I was putting those off because I didn’t want to interrupt my flow to go out there. Once I had a nice list of things to accomplish there, I was ready to get to work.
  • Made me think about limiting my work to just each project’s next action. As a blogger, I have dozens of ways to improve my blog on my task list. I realized I was trying to work on them all at once instead of focusing on the one with the most impact before moving on to the others.

How Getting Things Done Made Me Crazy This Week

  • Didn’t give me a short list of things to do today. Only things you absolutely must do on a certain day are supposed to go on a calendar. For that reason, I didn’t date a task unless it was vitally time sensitive. Within just a few days, I couldn’t stand wading through a long list of tasks, even within priorities or contexts. I have developed a habit of dating tasks I want to at least consider doing on a given day. I started dating them and was fine.
  • The mind like water didn’t last. If I write down absolutely everything I want or need to do, I eventually become more stressed. I feel (and rightly so) that there is no way I will ever get to it all (GTD or not). Before I wouldn’t write things down that I knew I didn’t need to attend to any time soon or that I would be reminded of naturally. I think this may be the difference in me using GTD at home versus in a traditional work environment. GTD also offers no simple test for determining that you’re taking too much on. The notion is that sometime, you’ll get it all done. If you can’t do it now, just put it in Someday/Maybe. Just label it and you’ll get to it. I think that’s my problem anyway, so GTD didn’t help.
  • No routines. GTD doesn’t talk about the importance of routines. At first, I kept up my routines as usual because they work for me. But soon I found myself thinking I should get right to my next actions and maybe I could skip the routines. Of course, that didn’t work! Then I had other problems.

Did Getting Things Done Really Help Me Get More Done?

In a limited sense, yes. Specifically, I was able to get more of my context-specific tasks done and they were things I had procrastinated on. I noticed that I don’t think about tasks this way much. I didn’t use energy or time as a way of working on tasks at all, for example. That’s a matter of not having the habit and also giving GTD such a short test. Some readers have pointed out that I can’t possibly assess the full value of an approach in one week’s time. I think that’s a valid concern with several approaches, GTD being one of them. However, I have begun to identify key factors in enabling me to be the most productive and in this case, I recognize that not having a short list of tasks to work from each day does not work for me. If it works for you, please continue using it. I will continue assigning some contexts to my tasks and doing a weekly review.


I don’t use contexts at all in my work. I also schedule everything in opposition to David Allen’s advice and it works beautifully for me.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Productivity Approach I’ll Be Using for Week 21

This week I’ll be testing time blocking. Specifically I’ll be using the approach from The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others Do in 12 Months {affiliate link}. Specifically, I’ll be scheduling time to work on my goals, handle unplanned activities, and to play.

The concept. Stephanie Vozza of Entrepreneur calls time blocking a productivity power tool.

Rather than trying to tackle tasks in a willy-nilly fashion, time is set aside to ensure that you address the work you rarely get to–the work that will take your business, your career, or your life to the next level. The 12 Week Year calls these Strategic Blocks. They are “a three-hour block of uninterrupted time that is scheduled into each week. During this block you accept no phone calls, no faxes, no emails, not visitors, no anything. Instead, you focus all of your energy on preplanned tasks–your strategic and money-making activities.”

Rather than lose time recovering from interruptions, time is set aside to deal with those timely, but not urgent requests and issues. The 12 Week Year calls these Buffer Blocks designed to deal with low-value activities. “For some, one 30-minute buffer block a day is sufficient, while for others, two separate one-hour blocks may be necessary. The power of buffer blocks comes from grouping together activities that tend to be unproductive so that you can increase your efficiency in dealing with them and take greater control over the rest of your day.” The people who need your attention can know they will have it during buffer time. I plan to have “office hours” twice a day so my family can have my full attention.

Finally, time is also carved out for leisure. The 12 Week Year calls these Breakout Blocks. “An effective breakout block is at least three-hours long and spent on things other than work. It is time scheduled away from your business during normal business hours that you will use to refresh and reinvigorate your mind, so that when you return to work, you can engage with more focus and energy.” I think “normal business hours” could be interpreted loosely or you could be fired! The point is to have guilt-free time to do anything you want to do to be refreshed.

If you’d like to join me this week, here’s what you do. Read this article on time blocking. Decide what strategic activities you will work on for the week and schedule a three-hour block to address it. Determine how to eliminate interruptions. Then schedule one to two buffer blocks per day. Finally, schedule your Breakout Block of three hours for the week. Use it to do things you’d like to do guilt free. The rest of the time can be spent doing work as usual.

Click here to see how my week of time blocking went.

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If you’ve tried Getting Things Done to increase your productivity, please vote in the poll below.

Here are the links to the productivity hacks I’ve tried so far:

A Year of Living Productively

Week 1: Paper To-Do List

Week 2: Covey’s Quadrants

Week 3: Routines

Week 4: Paper Planner

Week 5: SMEMA

Week 6: Guilt Hour

Week 7: Envision Ideal Day

Week 8: Do it Tomorrow

Week 9: Pomodoro

Week 10: Time Warrior

Week 11: Scheduling

Week 12: The Repeat Test

Week 13: Personal Kanban

Week 14: Eat That Frog

Week 15: Vacation

Week 16: David Seah’s 7:15AM Ritual

Week 17: Another Simple and Effective Method

Week 18: Daily/Weekly/Monthly To-Do List

Week 19: Ultimate Time Management System