Getting Started with GTD
Getting Things Done (GTD) long-time-practitioner, Jason Atwood, recently did a blog on tips after having done and perfected GTD for 10 years. GTD is about increasing productivity and organizing everything in your world so that even your personal and work life is synchronous, which in theory sounds wonderful but in practice feels impossible to do at times. So I will walk you through the challenges I experienced and continue to experience in getting started, what has worked, what has not worked when trying to implement this new way of thinking and functioning.
Challenges Getting Started
I hit three major roadblocks in those first few weeks of trying to start GTD:
Finding those trusted places where I could capture information so that I could get everything out of my head
Finding time to step back and review everything as David Allen suggests in his book (full review and purge)
Not being able to follow the David Allen’s 2 minute rule consistently, resulting in being easily side-tracked in doing work rather than organizing and prioritizing
I would choose 3 or 4 locations to capture information but they were kind of artificial, not part of my routine. Given this, I didn’t regularly check them and so all that information stayed in my head anyway. I hit a perpetual cycle of not being organized enough to properly implement this and then life got super busy and I went back to my old habits and ways of doing things. Starting over felt so overwhelming and I felt a bit defeated by the process that I procrastinated trying again right away. When I first read David Allen’s 2 minute rule I thought it was genius and yet in reviewing work I kept saying I could quickly just finish this item, 5 minutes become 15 minutes and then 30 minutes and now I was officially doing the opposite of what was intended.
What Has Worked
Although I have faced and am still facing many challenges, there are some things that are working with shifting to GTD in thought and practice. I have implemented great tools to help support, like Omnifocus. I no longer have 100s of post its everywhere, which is how I used to manage capturing random information prior to GTD (I can literally feel Jason Atwood somewhere smiling as I say this). Through this process, I now have an awareness of what needs to happen and find that I push myself to make efforts to change and really maximize the tools that I have. I have taken time to do inventory of major areas of my life that needs re-organizing and am starting to tackle them. I’m also learning to think about productivity in a general sense, not based on work vs. personal. That shift alone has reduced quite a bit of stress, not having to manage separate systems for my personal life and my work life.
What Still Feels Like A Struggle
After 6 months of using GTD principles, I still find that I struggle to maintain what I have implemented (systems, routines) when something new, major, and urgent gets thrown my way. If they don’t fit into my current system, I start to track them on the side. I like to compare it to juggling (although I can’t juggle at all, not even 2 balls, but think it’s still a great analogy). Imagine you’ve finally and successfully started juggling 3 balls after months of practice and all the balls are consistently and smoothly moving in the air. Then someone throws in an unexpected 4th ball rather than let the ball drop, you try to catch it in the moment and all your balls drop and you have to start over. Even worse, now you’re nervous about this 4th ball coming, even though you clearly haven’t practiced yet, and it’s now affected how you were juggling the 3 you had just been juggling perfectly. I find that I’m still letting new items that don’t have a clear home in my new world throw me off and rather than taking time to fit them it, I default to old habits to accomplish them. This begins to affect the effectiveness of the foundation I built.
So Now What?
I think perseverance and consistency is key. This process was not meant to be mastered in a few days or even months. I have to keep reminding myself of this and to be more patient with where I am in the process and not judging it. The moment I do, I notice that I take 3 steps back. As Jason highlighted in his 5th and 6th tips, it’s better to tackle smaller areas, build a foundation and then expand into other areas of your life rather than trying to do it all at once. That’s how I’ve been thinking about this and it’s coming along, slower than I was hoping but definitely moving in an upward direction and getting stronger every day. GTD has been such a great addition to my life and has really changed the way I’m approaching everything in my world. I truly believe that the time and effort that it takes to make this really work is absolutely worth it.