Why traditional to-do lists don’t work! Get Superior Organising Power

By December 12, 2017Uncategorized

Productivity expert, David Allen, says that traditional To-Do lists don’t work.  Ever noticed how you can read down your list and your mind wanders off?  We can look at a list and as we meet some items we think “I can do that” or I can fit that into the 5 minutes I have at 11.10”.  Yet some items on our lists have our minds spin into overdrive…”OMG that’s such a huge thing, I haven’t even begun to think how I will tackle that”. You start to worry about it and at the same time move on and do nothing about it. This is a classic procrastination habit.

It’s a very simple trigger that’s happening in those situations.  Your To-Do list is not in fact a To-Do of tasks, it’s a mixture of single step actions but also a lot of projects.  A project is defined as anything that requires more than one step to accomplish it.  For example,  ‘email Jenny to book appointment’ is a one stepper (assuming you have her email address). “Plan the scheme of work for Y11 for the department” is not a single step task.  This one involves marshalling resources, defining budgets, re-visiting existing planning and consultation and collaboration with the entire team, to name but a few elements.

Avoid Decision-Fatigue: Rethinking a list isn’t efficient

In a crazy-busy day at work, the constant process of thinking and rethinking the steps and priorities that a mixed-list presents tires you out and is very inefficient.

Add to this recent research from Case Western University about decision-fatigue and you’ve got a productivity black hole opening in your daily routine.  Case Western’s recent study shows that we have a finite amount of decision-making capacity in a single day. This appears to be recharged by sleep and meditation. And there are implications for the importance of  these activities during a day therefore to improve the quality and quantity of decision that are made.

Decision-fatigue is now a recognized state that we can all arrive at in intense working days.  An increase in errors occurs with extended periods of decision-making without rest. This is also exacerbated by poor sleep at night.

The constant readiness that is triggered by electronic devices which distract us if we allow them to, also feeds into the critical decision-making fatigue threshold.

Many highly successful corporate decision-makers ameliorate this threshold point and extend it by habituating many daily decisions, for example, what to wear to work each day.  Mark Zuckerberg and Barak Obama both famously have reduced their options on what to wear, so that they can save their quality decisions for the big ones each day and limit their decision-fatigue.  This so-called capsule-wardrobe system saves time as well as mental energy.

So that’s your garmenting taken care of. But what about this To-Do list?

David Allen, a leading expert in productivity, cites the importance of reducing this decision-fatigue with the use of a simple and efficient dynamic recording structure for your tasks and projects.  He couples this with a handful of habits, which add up to a really effective approach to personal professional organization.

The GTD Approach

The GTD Approach:  Getting Things Done, or GTD divides your portfolio of responsibilities into 5 key lists:

  1. Single Actions – this list sees only one stop actions added to it
  2. Waiting For – this list holds everything you have delegated to others or are awaiting responses from others
  3. Projects – this list is home to all of the areas of your responsibility that are in effect multi-step items eg the scheme of work plan
  4. Project Notes – here’s where you keep all the notes you make on the projects you’re working on, plus any action plans to do to break these projects down into their constituent actions
  5. Some Day – this is the list for that holds those great ideas you have and those goals for the future

So picture this:

You’ve now got a folder or project notepad with 5 sections in it (From personal experience if you’re going down the paper route, a folder works way better, because some sections fill up quicker than others).  Your tabs are labelled up and you’re populating each section with the relevant lists/notes.

Whilst David Allen has a tremendous following, and many of the world’s top leaders use it, I wanted to put this to the test myself.

I run three companies, I do have some help, but  a lot of the strategy for this falls to me.  I had reached some overwhelm a few years back. I was forgetting to action things.

I was also losing track of the important things I needed to do to stay strategic and plan for the future.

So I embarked on a paper-version of GTD. It’s transformed my life. I’ve now moved away from paper (yes me, the technophobe) and use the GTD app and Evernote to operate a virtually paperless approach to organizing myself and my businesses.  I teach this approach regularly to those I coach. I watch as it transforms the lives of these coachees and frees them up to spend time on what’s really important to them and their organisations.

The  system of recording I have described above needs to sit in a frame of habit. This takes a little while to build, but it is SO WORTH IT.

What are the additional elements of the GTD system?

  1. Your diary
  2. Your workflow
  3. Your daily and weekly habits

Your diary and the weekly check-in:

Any action that arrives into your life, that has a fixed time for it to be addressed eg a  meeting, a phone call, a project deadline, goes straight into your diary ( with appropriate reminder entries prior to the date if there are other related tasks)

Your diary then drives your day, and your planning

Into your diary EVERY WEEK, goes a regular entry for 20-30 minutes each week “My GTD Review Slot”.  This is where you review progress, scratch out actions you’ve achieved, and review the projects you have on the boil and then plan in the next actions you must achieve in the next working week to move them forward. These single steps go into your Next Actions list or straight into your diary in the slot they will be completed in during the next week.  You also check any “Waiting For” items and which ones might need chasing up.

This GTD Review Slot is sacrosanct and if for any reason it is hijacked, you must have a plan B slot for it.  In this way you will always review your week and reflect positively on your achievements, which is an important part of staying resilient.

You will also start the new week very clear about the priorities for the week and with a diary already planned, and your “must-do” priorities on your Next Actions list ready to action without much thought needed, because you have done that already.

Habits and work-flow

The final elements of GTD are the habits you build to keep it on track and working for you. The blog format here prevents us going into depth on this, but suffice to say, this approach needs a work flow that helps you effortlessly feed tasks, projects and the unexpected as it enters your system.

This work-flow centres around a predictable and easily learned set of practices for planning, workload, emails, conversations, meeting actions and new projects and responsibilities that come your way. It helps you deal with the curve balls in a drama-free way too.

Want to go paperless? GTD App is the way to go

For more information and support with getting GTD going in your life, contact us for to book a GTD Coaching and Mentoring Support session which can be done face to face or over the internet on our stable meetings platform.  We have a range of coaching packages to fit your budget and available time. Book a FREE 30 minutes session with Will Thomas here