I consider myself a very productive person. I get a lot of things done. I’ve accomplished quite a bit. I’ve written two novels, designed many websites, worked on Alternate Reality Games for organizations like the Cerebral Palsy Foundation and The World Bank, maintain an active social, family, and most importantly spiritual life. I take care of my health with doctor’s and therapy appointments, meet weekly with my writing group, craft excessively, serve in multiple church callings, and blog now and then. My plate is overflowing, so let’s just say I’m up to some big things! However, to date, I’ve managed to do all this without any significant structured planning of my time on a day to day basis. Maybe you’ll find it impressive that I’ve gone so long without any sort of a schedule or plan, just doing what seem right in the moment, as it occurs to me. That’s code for “whatever task is stressing me out the most that second”.
Enough is enough.
I decided it’s time to try Getting Things Done in a more organized way. Conveniently for me, Getting Things Done or GTD, as it’s often referred to by its adherents, is a system for just what its name implies – getting things done. It was created by David Allen, and there’re plenty of resources in other locations where you can learn more about GTD. But for a quick overview, check out this infographic:
Once I learned about this system, and with some help and advice from others, I decided to focus on creating a schedule for myself based on GTD. The idea being I would now have set “Bucket Times” to manage all the areas on my life according to the principals of GTD. But I’ll get back to Bucket Times later.
The main problem I was facing with finding a system that would work with me was finding something I could stick with. In the past systems either were so cumbersome, scheduling and planning me so rigidly that I couldn’t realistically do it long term. Or on the other hand, the systems were so vague and abstract, focusing only on broad goals that they didn’t help me commit to anything. The third category of problem systems were ones that were incomplete, only addressing certain aspects of what I needed from an organization system and leaving me feeling semi-organized but ultimately even more overwhelmed. Why? Because now I knew exactly what I needed to do but had no structures in place to help me accomplish any of it.
To address of this, I there are 4 major components to my personalized GTD system I am putting into place initially. (This is just to get started. After these are going well I will add more.)
- Identify 6-9 Major Areas of Life
- Roles and areas are the major categories of your life such as Family, School, Faith, Friends, Work, Writing etc.
- List 10 Most Pressing Tasks Under Each Major Role/Area
- Most pressing tasks are tasks that currently need to be taken for that area. For example, for Family, it might be something like “Spend time with Mom” or “Game Night.” For Work, it might be “Sign the Parsons contract” or “Return Sonya’s phone call.” Any task that has more than two steps is called a Project.
- Create A Weekly Schedule of Bucket Times To Stick To Each Week
- Bucket Times are blocks of time designated at the same time every week for completing tasks in each of your Major Areas. For example, I created Spiritual Time every evening from 10pm – 11pm. During those times I will refer to my List of Tasks for that Area of Life for to do items to complete. See the Downloads Section at the bottom of this post for an Excel template tool to help with this!
- Generate Mind-Dump Of EVERY Open Loop In Life
- Open loops are thought processes that are incomplete. They keep the mind’s inbox full when it’s most productive empty. Empty that inbox by downloading everything in it! Generate a complete list of everything, every to do, action item, task, someday task, maybe task, goal, dream ,wish, hope, plan, etc. Include everything from “Remember to pick up the milk” to “Improve relationship with Dad” to “Travel the world”. Get that mind completely empty and onto something tangible and permanent that is workable for future reference.
Once I had a plan of action, it was just a matter of putting it into place…
Starting is always easier said than done.
I needed some help getting started. So I decided to enroll someone else to do this thing with me. No, not all of you readers! My dear writing buddy who I create my day with every morning. I told her all about his idea and explained GTD to her (the Cliff Notes version). She was on board.
Over Skype, we came up with our Major Areas of Life. This is mine:
Next I began to list my lost pressing tasks under each area. I’m constantly working on my list.
Then I created a schedule by which I would process the list of tasks. But instead of a rigid list of strictly scheduled times like ones that hadn’t worked for me in the past, I am working with a schedule of Bucket Times. The beauty of Bucket Times is it structured enough in that it gives you a set time you are committed to making forward progress in an area of your life, but it is flexible enough that you still get to choose what is most expedient to do within that Area. Furthermore, the whole schedule isn’t so rigid that the whole thing risks being thrown off if you go over a few minutes. As I see it, if you get behind you are often still within your bucket time for that type of item. And even if you aren’t you can rest assured that you have more time scheduled for that item soon. So file add it to your Bucket Time list for later. Lastly, the overarching rule is that this isn’t a rigid system, meaning the operative work is: expediency.
When all else fails, do whatever is most expedient in the moment.
I am committed to using this new system for a trial of the next 3 months. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to seeing an upswing in my productivity. And more importantly a decrease in my feelings of overwhelm at not knowing how to handle the overflowing plate that is my life. In this analogy, I’ve been eating off an overflowing plate for a long long time. Sure I’ve been digesting my food and getting nutrient, but lots of things haven’t been sitting well. GTD is a set of silverware – tools to help me eat my food, so that I can take small manageable bites and digest it easily and effectively. The schedule works like a restaurant menu (thanks Paul for that one!) with various selections for each category of food or area of my life. Some items or Tasks on the menu are more bland and others are the spice of life!
Give me a helping of work every weekday. Indulge in a double portion of friendship on weekends. A spicy side dish of romance if I’m so lucky! Pile it on my plate and enjoy a delicious, nutritious, and satisfying life!
Stay tuned for Part Two of this post series on Generating a Mind-Dump of All Your Open Loops coming soon! Get an email reminder when it comes out! Subscribe to the newsletter!
I hope you enjoy the Downloads below. The Weekly Schedule Templates for Microsoft Excel should be helpful tools for planning a schedule in the fashion described in this post. Please post comments with ideas for improvements, and I will do my best to make them.