Feeling like you’ve been forgetting what you need to do and can’t catch up with deadlines? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. I’ve been there as well.
There’s a system that allows you to keep everything in a trusted system so that you don’t have to worry that you forget anything. What’s more, thanks to this system you’ll be able to complete your tasks on time with less stress.
How Does It Look Like?
You keep track of everything you need to do and also all of the pieces of information. Then you have an access to useful information wherever you need it and it is accessible easily.
You use apps for storing information and tasks that are synchronized between many devices so you’re able to use it wherever and whenever you need it.
You may ask: why even bother doing all of that?
To keep your mind clean, to make sure you get as many important tasks done as possible. It’ll also make sure you remember about everything to do. It’ll ease your mind because you won’t be so busy trying not to forget about your tasks.
Your mind is created for generating with ideas, thinking. Trying to remember about everything important makes your brain use too much memory just like a computer does. And when you run too many programs at once it starts to get slower.
Same happens with your mind. That’s why this system helps you minimize stress and make you more productive.
How To Implement That System?
There are 5 steps you need to follow to create a perfect routine of executing tasks. It includes: collect, clarify, organize, reflect, engage. I will explain all of them in details.
The whole GTD system looks like this
Step 1: Collect
First, you need to collect all of your open loops.
What’s that? There are things in your mind that are not finished and are wandering in your mind. They are your internal commitments. You cannot be fully relaxed unless you empty your mind out of them. Your brain is exhausted by trying not to forget them.
What can you do to get rid of them?
Make a list of everything that stays in your mind, your to-do’s.
Where to keep your to-dos?
I’d recommend using one of to-do’s app like Things (for Mac and IOS) and Todoist (for Windows and Android). I personally use Todoist and I will show you how to use it properly.
Examples of tasks:
- Clean up your room
- Create a draft for an article
- Create a presentation on Getting Things Done
Step 2: Clarify
Secondly, when you have all of your open loops written down you can start processing.
You need to clarify where those open loops belong.
First question: Is it actionable?
If the answer is no, then you decide whether you trash it, archive it or put in a reference folder. Where that folder might be? I use Evernote for that. And I find it very useful. It gives you a quick access to whatever you need at a moment.
How to decide where to put it?
Trash: Completely useless or irrelevant information.
Someday/Maybe: A task you may do one day in future, for example learning Spanish
Reference: Useful information that you can use in future projects.
Second question: Can you do it in 2 minutes or less?
If the answer is “YES” then do it now!
However, if the answer is “NO”, then go to the next step.
Does it take 2 or more actions to complete it?
If “YES” the, put it in a different folder: PROJECTS.
For example, tasks, like Create a presentation, is too broad and requires 2 or more actions to complete it. Same with SPiSP Project.
You create project folders in your task managers. You can see on the screen that I’ve also matched each task to the right projects (blue) or areas (green). I will explain more about it in the next step.
This way all of your tasks are easy to find and are attached to a bigger task called project.
However, if it takes 1 action to complete this task, then go to the next step: Organize.
Processing Your Email Mailbox
There are also things you need to process in your email mailbox. Start from the latest mail and decide what you will do about it. Process each of them one by one.
- trash it
- archive it
- place it in someday/maybe folder in your task manager
- put it into reference folder in Evernote
- place it in task manager
If you are using Todoist you can add chrome extension and add a new task using one click.
Process it as soon as you open it. Don’t come back later to this mail. Just take the action immediately.
Maintain inbox zero.
Step 3: Organize
So, the next step in the GTD method is: Organize.
Organizing Your Tasks
Now, you need to put all of your tasks in proper folders. Group them carefully. To do this you need to ask yourself more questions.
Will you do it on your own?
If the answer is “NO” then you delegate it to somebody and put in in a folder “WAITING FOR” so it no longer distracts you from taking action.
In Todoist you can add a new tag called waiting. When you attach this tag by typing @waiting in the name of the task you can put it in that folder
If the answer is YES then,
Is it specific to a time?
If it is then you put it on the calendar, for example, Google Calendar. It might be a meeting or a lecture.
If it isn’t then you put it in “NEXT ACTIONS” folder. Most of your tasks will end up in this folder.
How To Organize Your Information?
I use Tiago Forte’s method called P.A.R.A.
When some information goes to “REFERENCE” folder we mentioned before, you choose one of 4 folders to put it into Projects, Areas, Resources or Actions
Projects are big tasks that require 2 or more actions to do them. Projects have a clear date of beginning and the end.
For example: Running a marathon, Writing a book, creating a presentation, writing an article.
Areas, on the other hand, are general. They are very important to you. You should take care of them on regular basis and review them once a month at least. It never really ends.
Examples: health, work, training, family.
Resources are the areas you might find valuable in the future but they are not important and you don’t have to keep track of your progress there.
For example some hobbies like chess, poker; Cooking, Languages.
And the last one is Archive. You put there all of your completed projects.
Step 4: Reflect
It’s a crucial step. Everything is good in theory but in real life, there are always issues. That’s why your system needs constant improvement. You need to review your whole system on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.
The perfect system won’t give you anything unless you do everything to maintain it.
There are a few steps you should do every morning and every evening.
Prepare for the day. Look at your open loops.
Engage with your next actions list and calendar. Determine what tasks are urgent.
The end of the day review:
Look at your calendar and Task manager. Has any of tasks has been left undone?
If the answer is “YES” then simply reschedule it for tomorrow.
This lets your mind rest and feel like you’ve completed everything you should this day.
Clean your email inbox so you maintain inbox zero.
It’s an essential step.
Set yourself 2 hours time block on Friday or Saturday and think about your projects from a different perspective. Look how you can improve them.
Weekly review allows you to regroup and refresh your world. It’ll make you more relaxed.
On daily basis, you cannot think strategically. You don’t have time for that. You focus on what you can do at a given moment.
What should you do?
Capture all of your open loops, process your emails. Maybe there’s some rubbish you need to clean up. Reflect on whether you are moving forward in projects or not. Check if all of the projects are still relevant.
Review your “WAITING FOR” folder. Maybe some of these tasks are completed or can be pushed further.
Take a look at what you need to do next week and prioritize.
Review your whole GTD system and see when you can improve it.
Sometimes you need to look at your life from a different perspective, from the sky. Once o month you should contemplate on your main areas in life, reprioritize it.
Check if you are going in the right direction.
Step 5: Engage
Make your tasks as easy to do as possible. And then execute them. That’s the key point of that step.
Next Actions List
Firstly, rephrase all of your open loops into clear next actions.
For example, Think about your master thesis is unclear and what you can do about is rephrase it into “Brainstorm 5 ideas for your master thesis”. It allows you to do your task without hesitation what actions should you take.
Once you’ve transformed all of your tasks into next actions you need to tag them. It means you will attach a label to each of your tasks according to time, energy, context.
It lets you do your task when you actually can do them. For example, if some tasks can be only done at home, there is no point at seeing them when you prepare to take the action. You filter it out.
When you have 15 minutes left you don’t want to look at all of your next actions and be thinking whether or not you can do it right now. You’ll lose those 15 minutes on wondering that way and won’t accomplish anything.
And when you feel tired after coming home at 8 p.m. there is no point in doing the highly demanding task. You’d rather do something easier.
That’s the purpose of tagging. It may look like a prison but believe me it isn’t. It helps you determine what you should do at the exact moment instead of wondering too much what you should choose.
List of my tags:
- 5_min – 5-15 minutes
- 30_min – 30-60 minutes
- 1hr – more than 60 minutes
- High – high-demanding tasks like writing that require a lot of focus
- Mid – medium energy tasks, everything between High and Low.
- Low – brainless tasks like cleaning up, sending some files, buying something
- Home – things you can do only at home
You put @ before the tag to attach a label to your task, for example, @1hr.
Not all of the tasks are equally important to you, neither urgent. And you don’t have time to complete them all at once.
That’s why you need to prioritize.
Pick 3 tasks for the day that feels urgent and important to you set priority 1 on them. It should be marked as a red circle on Todoist. These are must-to-do for today.
You’d better start with only 3. It may look like it’s too little. But you should always start small. Next week you can add more if you want to.
Then, pick 5-10 tasks and set priority 2 on them. It makes them marked as orange in Todoist. These are could-be-done.
You can engage with them as soon as you complete your priority 1 tasks. That’s why we set only 3 tasks to priority 1 because doing more than you must do this day gives you a sense of accomplishment.
And lastly, you pick the rest of the tasks for priority 3. These are marked as yellow in Todoist. These are good-to-be done. You aim to finish all of them this week.
Now, put all of that into a good system. To see what to do next, set yourself some filters
I set up filters this way but you can modify however you like.
- “p1, p2” called as “today”
- “p3” as “next”
- “p4” as Priority 4
When you all of that set up you can go to “Today” in your Favorites and start completing your tasks.
Standard Path vs DiffPath
Finally, you have learned about the GTD system. We can now go to the comparison of this method and the standard one.
- Being stressed
- Being overwhelmed
- Spending too much time by thinking about what to do next
- Forgetting tasks
- Being messy
- Spending too much time by thinking about what to do next
- Being busy instead of productive
- Minimizing stress
- Clear mind
- Spending more time on the creative parts of a project
- Remembering everything
- Having a solid system
- Knowing exactly what to do at a given moment
- Being more productive
What would you choose?
The choice is yours.
If you chose this path, start by getting rid of all of your open loops RIGHT NOW!
4 thoughts on “How to Organize Your Thoughts, Tasks and Life: Getting Things Done”
Thank you so much for this post! The importance of tracking your tasks, prioritizing them, AND ALSO reviewing/auditing what you did is so important and often forgotten! What a fabulous reminder.
Thank you so much for the reply! 😀 I hope you this article will help you in creating a good system.
I Like this! I have many people in my life I can share this with because they would find this as a guide. Well done!
Great! I’m glad you’ve found it useful. I would be very grateful in you shared this with people from your environment. Thank you in advance 😀