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Get Things Done: Tame Your Mind's Jungle

David Allen’s book from the early 2000s, Getting Things Done is an entire way of life for many people. A productivity consultant, David Allen spent years analyzing and thinking of how people operate and ways to get them to operate more efficiently. The premise is this: the countless number of tasks we need to do on a daily basis, large and small, act to make us stressed.

A person operating from stress is more likely to make mistakes and to forget things – something a business owner can’t afford to experience. With Allen’s system, though, you take everything out of your mental hard drive space, and make all of the things you need to do efficient, simple and stress and anxiety-free. This counts doubly for tasks he terms as “incompletes”, or without a known and tangible outcome.

We went over phase one of this renovation of your thinking - “Capture” or collect. You’ve taken every little thing in your mind that has your attention or requires your energy and written it down, either by hand or in a note-taking app.

Now, you’ve got to go through that list and begin to make sense of it over the next two steps - the first of which is to “Clarify” or to process that list.

The purpose of the first step in this system is to take your mental jungle and get it down on paper and off of your mind. Most memorization comes from rehearsal - actors remember lines by rehearsing, you remember names by saying them, phone numbers by reciting them, etc.

By writing it all out, you get rid of the need to rehearse the things you need to do in your head. Think about how many times you go over your “mental checklist”, even on a slow day.

Now, it’s time to tame that jungle and make sense of it so you can start getting things done. First, take a look at everything on your list and figure out what things you can do right now, this instant.

Our rule of thumb is that if a certain task takes you two minutes to complete, then do it right then and there. You’ll be surprised how many items you can take off of your checklist in a ten-minute span by knocking out just the short things.

Next, separate the things on your list that are actionable, and the things that are not. There are a lot of things taking up our mental space that you can’t really do anything about, or are too far off into the future that there’s nothing that can be done on it now.

Decide what you should do about those “unactionable items.”

Some will need to be completely crossed off and trashed; others might need to find their way onto a long-term list. Either way, get rid of what you can, or move them away from the things you have the tools to take action on.

And lastly, which is especially important if you’re a business leader, decide which tasks can be delegated. At home, this could be asking a spouse, roommate or a child to help with a chore or to run an errand. At work, it can be delegating an entire project, or asking someone to make a phone call to get information for you.

What you want to do is take as much of that mental jungle you’ve written down and remove it to prepare for your next step: organization.

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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