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How I Get Things Done(GTD)

I’m a pretty productive guy(at least I believe so) and I’m often asked from my friends what do I do to get things done. Keeping it simple is kind of key to my whole philosophy. To be productive, you must be able to focus all of your energies on the tasks you have. In my opinion, one of the biggest deterrents to getting things done is having a system that has to be managed. If you’re spending more time looking for new ways to help you get things done you’re missing the point. Remember KISS(Keep it simple stupid)
I’ve got a few “rules” and methods that I stick to pretty religiously that make up about 90% of what keeps me productive and here they are:

Capture everything important.

The first rule: capture everything important. I hardly ever “try” to remember anything. I simply record anything I need or want to remember or I know is important for me to recall or refer. I do this in several ways. I’ve habit of taking notes on my Cell phone, when I am away from my computer for brainstorming & recording ideas & when at my computer I jot things down into Microsoft Office Onenote. I tend to take lots & lots of notes & make lots of lists & I really try to get things down as I think of them.

Lately I’ve also been using Remember The Milk, a lightweight and easy to use to do list/task management application. Remember The Milk will record anything and I can even easily set it up so that it’ll SMS/Email/IM me reminders whenever I want. I have to say for RTM, that I’m pretty impressed with the ease of use and the fact that it integrates easily into my pre-existing process of email and calendar management with Gmail and Google Calendar.

It’s all about getting things out of my head and somewhere I can find them easily when I want to. I can’t tell you how much this helps free my mind up for other things.

Do it. Do it right. Do it right now!(also one of my new year resolutions)

My second rule has to do with not letting small tasks pile up. I believe am really good about dealing with things as they cross my plate and lot letting them linger and pile up. It was a bit tough at first, but now that I’ve been doing it for awhile it’s almost second nature.

What it boils down to is taking the time to immediately deal with anything that’s going to take less than five or so minutes to do. For example, responding to e-mail or checking my mail. I never let this stuff pile up. Some days are harder than others as sometimes small tasks can come at you in large numbers, but even then I’ve found it’s better overall to just deal with them and save the bigger tasks for when you can focus on them. Which brings me to my next rule.

Focus. Don’t multi-task the big stuff.

For “larger” tasks I tend to clear everything away so that I can focus on one thing. For example, as I write this I’ve effectively turned everything else off. I’m ignoring e-mail, IM, the phone, etc. For things I really need to focus on—brainstorming marketing strategies for example—I’ll literally turn off everything that might distract me from the task at hand. I’ll also set aside ample blocks of time to dedicate to getting something done. Usually in 2-4 hour blocks, depending on what I’m doing.
Not only does this make me a bit more productive, I find the quality of my work is greatly increased when I’m able to focus on it.

E-mail and a clean inbox every day.

Inbox Zero” is all the rage these days, and there are good reasons for that. I find it really, really helps me focus. To do that I’ve got a few other, related rules:
  • I don’t check my e-mail constantly. I usually let it pile up a bit. But just a little bit. :)
  • Respond to anything, If it takes less than 5 minutes to respond to as I get it. This is key, I don’t ever wait to respond unless it requires a complicated response or some other action.
  • File anything I can’t respond to. I’ve got three places I file things; the first is a massive and really organized Archive, the second is a “waiting” folder/label for things I’m waiting for more info on and the third is a “action” folder/label for things that I need to attend to later on. I review these folders/labels a few times a week.
  • Delete anything I won’t be needing later. I make pretty good use of my delete key.

Keep things clutter-free.

This goes for my physical & digital work spaces. Clutter is distracting. I do a really good job of cleaning & organizing my workspaces & this really helps me stay focused when I need to.

The bottom line.

I believe GTD is really about finding a system that works for you and sticking with it. All to often I see folks derailed simply by constantly trying to come up with a system that’s bigger & better. GTD doesn’t need to be complicated; for me it’s mostly about eliminating distractions, focusing when appropriate, taking care of the small stuff before it can pile up & capturing everything. It’s not hard to do & doesn’t require any complicated software or systems.

Well, I hope this is helpful for some of you looking to be more productive. Again, if you have a system that works for you, stick with it and if not, well, give new ways a try. Feel free to add your own ways/styles of achieving GTD in comments.

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