A few years ago as I was coming back to New York after a relaxing two weeks in Hawaii, my mind began to fixate on all the things I knew I had to do when I got back to reality. I felt paralyzed and overwhelmed, but I had just read an article in Wired about productivity guru David Allen and his system of Getting Things Done. I had always been one to put things on lists and check them off, and felt extreme satisfaction from doing it. At the same time I felt ashamed by all the things on my lists that never were completed.
I bought Getting Things Done in the Honolulu airport and was halfway done by the time we touched down in New York. I was hooked. I bought in. Why? Allen's system requires taking everything you want or need to do in your life, whether work, home, finances, relationships, everything, and getting them out of your head and into a system you can trust. My mind is good at a number of jobs, but reminding myself when I walk by a Duane Reade that I need q-tips isn't one of them, nor should it be. Our minds should be tackling the bigger and creative jobs -- at least that's what I want mine to do. But Allen doesn't stop with getting our to-do's on a list, he forces us to think in terms of projects -- for Allen, anything that requires more than one step is a project, and we need to answer this question about every project -- "What's the next action to move this forward?" I used to have "Renew license" on my list of to-do's, and I would procrastinate until my license expired. Why? Because renewing my license wasn't something I could "do", so I didn't know how to do it. If I really planned to renew my license, first I needed to find my local DMV office, then I needed to check the hours, then I needed to figure out what documents I needed to bring, then I needed to go through my apartment and find those documents, then I needed to figure out a day that I could break away from work to do it, then I needed to go. That's 6 actions, but when taken individually, simple and easy to execute.
By getting our to-do's into a trusted system that reminds us what we need to do, when we need to do it, and what we need to get it done, we get better control of our lives. And for a guy like me who is a sucker for a great gadget or tool, GTD has a ton of them, but more on that later.
Allen's system focuses on answering two key questions about everything we want to do: