How to be productive?
I still remember the day I finished Tony Robbins’ book “Unlimited power”. For the first time, I realized that we have the power to change our lives.
At the same time, Tony weaved perfectly into words my pain and loneliness at that time. The book got me hooked with new theories. But instead of taking actions and care about how to be productive, I immediately bought another book to experience again the enthusiasm I had. “If only another author could describe what I endure right now” I told myself. As I finished the second book, I bought a third and this continued on and on without me taking any actions. And I did that for a couple of months.
Counterproductive: It’s all about taking actions
I failed to understand that theory is one thing and action is a totally different thing. We can double our knowledge within 9 months, but in the end, actions speak louder. We call it mental masturbation when we read a book just for the sake of reading it. For example, Napoleon Hill’s book “Think and grow rich” highlights the importance of organized planning. Instead of planning what I intended to achieve, I only highlighted every passage of the book, feel all excited and left it on my bookshelf later on.
How to be productive: looking for solutions
Whether it is to be more productive at home or at work, I realized I needed to take action. I started to read dozens of books about time management, productivity and self-organization. I really believe that powerful theories exist. Theories save our time. We always discover idea we never thought of. Books help us discover “what we don’t know we don’t know”. I will always be grateful to the authors who spent years, even decades to put their discoveries into a book.
Getting things done by David Allen
In the middle of an important task, have you ever had a sudden thought; reminding you of something you should’ve done? The very thing you wanted to remember but then forgot? It popped out only when you were busy doing something else? Later, you get all stressed because you could no longer focus on the initial task. You get even more stressed because there are now impending unfinished tasks or projects. The worst case happens when we have tons of things, commitments to do but then again we do nothing to solve them. I used to live like this.
What if I tell you that we can actually accomplish more without stressing? Focusing until you finish all of the tasks in a project? What if there is a free-stress system that gets things done?
Getting things done: the art of stress-free productivity
Don’t trust your mind, write down everything you want to accomplish
I learned those principles from David Allen’s book: “Getting things done”. I personally applied and refined his approach. This system helps us respond to an urgent situation in the most appropriate: neither overreaction nor under-reaction. Yet, one of the keys to happiness is our sense of control. If we overreact, we are sure that something else controls us.
Concretely what can we do? David wrote an entire book about his system but the basic principles are:
Don’t trust your mind, write down everything you want to accomplish
Write down everything. Don’t stick to a single area in your life. It can be personal (upcoming events, household…), professional (Projects started, not completed; Projects that need to be started; Commitments/promises to others…), financial, spiritual, whatever you have in mind right now
Write one sentence that describes the outcome for this problem (example: Sign up for a guitar class, buy a new weekly planner, have dinner with Jane…)
Next to that one sentence you wrote, what is the very first action to move the situation forward? Write that down too!
If you did it seriously, this experience can have the power to clear your mind. Instead of stress, you have clarity about what to do next, so a sense of serenity. We can make it a habit to write down everything we have in our mind rather than just relying on our brain.
The Getting Things Done method
We usually refer to it as the best book on how to be productive. David Allen, in his book “Getting Things Done, the art of stress-free productivity”, highlights an innovative method for planning and prioritizing the different tasks, projects that occupy our minds. The Getting Things Done (GTD) method even became a registered trademark a couple of years after its success.
GTD is not a simple time management method but rather a method for managing both private and professional activities.
“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them” David Allen.
The method is based on the premise that only a clear and serene mind can achieve optimal productivity. According to him, only by freeing it from the thoughts that hinder it and by entrusting our tasks and desires to an outsourced system can we truly be effective.
The five main steps of the GTD method
The “Getting things done” system requires different tools. We need to regularly “empty the bucket”, we for example need a calendar, wastebasket, file folders etc…
In concrete terms, the Getting Things Done method includes 5 steps: collection, clarification, organization, review and action.
1 – Collection
List all the tasks (private or professional).
Place the information collected in the “inbox” (a small notebook, a drawer or a list made in the Evernote application).
The objective here is to unclutter your mind and have a global vision and to centralize all your thoughts in a single medium!
2 – Clarification
Analyze the elements of the inbox one by one in order to define their nature and the different actions they require.
Distinguish between tasks that can be accomplished immediately and projects that need to be planned.
3 – Organization
Create new folders to relieve the congestion in your inbox.
Projects or ideas that are a little vague, that we are not sure we will ever be able to put into practice, will go into an “incubation” folder.
Ongoing projects will go into a dedicated folder and the various elements that can be used to carry them out, such as plans or contact information, will be gathered in a folder entitled “references”.
The first actions required for a project will be recorded in a separate file and sorted according to their characteristics. We can delegate, plan in the agenda or include in a schedule.
4 – Revision
Review the contents of one’s inbox and the various folders by adding new elements, deleting actions that have been accomplished or moving projects from the “incubation” folder to the “active projects” folder.
5 – The action
Decide upon the best task to perform at a specific time.
Define the most important action and define its priority.
Another principle from that book is to immediately execute an action if it takes less than 2 minutes to accomplish it.
For example, as you are focusing on a task and all of a sudden you remember that you have to make a call. You can write it down on your to-do-list and get back to your initial task (1). Or (2) you can immediately call the person if it takes less than 2 minutes (of course, “short” is the keyword here and not 120 seconds sharp). Another tip on how to be productive is to immediately execute an action if it takes less than 2 minutes to accomplish it
How to be productive: A better version of David Allen’s method?
I’ve been obsessed about how to be productive. GTD is an activity management tool that allows you to regain control over the course of your days and thus feel less overwhelmed. If we can quickly understand the main principles, mastering them takes a little time. So don’t hesitate to personalize the method and make new cut-outs, especially if you use it to manage both your personal and professional life.
I used David Allen’s system for a couple of months but became less disciplined overtime. We often criticize his approach as cumbersome, usually impractical in real life. The system requires rigor and patience. So I started looking for another method.
1- Use a piece of paper and title it “now tasks list”. We can also use a text editor on our computer
2- Just below, write down “critical now” meaning, we must do the tasks there today
3- Still on the same paper, write down another category: “opportunity now” which is a list of the tasks we need to start this week or next.
4- Take another sheet of paper and at the top, write the title: “Over the horizon (review weekly)”
The main advantage here is to list everything in one place. David Allen’s approach uses several folders making it complicated to review them on a daily basis.
We all undergo urgent tasks in our respective work. We might feel overwhelmed because of inefficiency or simply because we have too much to do. Either way, how to be productive is the problem and the solution is simply getting more organized.