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Get Things Done: A Productivity Hack

Your productivity can always improve, even if you find yourself extremely productive. The most successful people strive to consistently do what they do better and more of it. In this pursuit, you’re going to need to find ways to be more efficient; ways to accomplish more each day without a drop off in the quality of work.

This is where a person like David Allen comes in.

David Allen is a productivity consultant. He published a book called Getting Things Done in the early 2000s that served as the beginning to a productivity movement that he’s spearheaded since. It went from being a sort of self-help productivity book to an entire program - Getting Things Done, abbreviated to GTD, is a noun as much as it is a phrase to the people who believe and practice it.

The premise of GTD is simple: most people find themselves less productive, or experience a drop-off in productivity due to stress.

He attributes it to a very specific variety of stress: one caused by approaching a task or a series of tasks that don’t have a tangible and clear end result. People like feedback. That’s why touchscreen smartphones use haptic feedback and why ATMs beep when you press buttons.

A sound or a feeling lets you know you’ve completed something. There are entire studies about how feedback is worked into the design of everyday products, even when the feedback is entirely inconsequential to how the product works.

Allen believes that many projects at work can be broken down into individual tasks that might not offer feedback: tasks that are open-ended, tasks that doesn’t have clear outcomes, or tasks that whose follow-up actions aren’t clearly defined.

He calls these things “incompletes” or “stuff”, and when you think about it, it’s astonishing how many very typical business tasks can fall into this category. Sending an email, posting to social media, making a cold call, attending a meeting. All of those things are sort of open ended, or at least can be.

The GTD system gets you to conquer tasks like that while not getting caught up in the stress you might feel from its lack of tactile feedback.

Allen breaks it down in a few simple fundamentals that can allow you to gain control and maintain order over your everyday to-do list before it makes you pull your hair out.

Step One is to “capture.” Write down everything (and he means everything - personal, professional, extracurricular, relevant and irrelevant) that has, or you feel deserves, your attention.

Step Two is to “clarify.” Take that list and decide which items on it are actionable. If they are actionable, do them, delegate them, or defer them - plan for how you will accomplish it. Remember, you’re writing all of this out! For items that aren’t actionable, trash them. Take them off of your list and archive them. If you wrote this on a digital device, you can quite literally do this. If you manually wrote, then you will probably need to create a new list.

Step Three is “organize.” Create a system for yourself to help you stick to your action plan. Set reminders, write and strategically place sticky notes - whatever you need to do to make sure you act on the things you need to.

Step Four is to “reflect.” Refer back to the list and make sure you revise, review, and re-organize to keep yourself on top of everything.

And finally, Step Five is to “engage” - the most clear-cut of the system. This is when you Get Things Done.

Want to know more about Getting Things Done? Check back each week for a more in-depth look at David Allen’s five steps. You’ll be so productive, you won’t even recognize yourself!

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