You’re back in the office. And welcoming you is a thankless inbox full of new work waiting to be done. Yet more commitments on top of all the other ones.

So what do you do? You attack. Armed with nothing but a flimsy task list for protection. That’s what most people do and I was no exception. When there’s so much to be done, why waste time thinking about it when you should be doing it?

List of things to do


Yet that’s where David Allen, creator of the Getting Things Done (GTD) system, suggests the secret to better productivity lies.

When we’re faced with seemingly endless jobs we race ahead in an attempt to get everything done as quickly possible. So we miss out the important part of stepping back to consider the bigger picture with questions like:

  • Why am I doing this?
  • What’s the best order?
  • What should I be doing where I am right now?

GTD is a method for improving your productivity. The basic premise is that humans have single-task brains not suited to juggling the multiple concurrent demands that this information age makes of us.

In GTD every incomplete commitment represents an open loop in our overstretched and order-seeking mind. And that causes us anxiety because your brain worries about how and when it will complete these (misconceived) equally important tasks in an uncertain future.

What GTD means in practice

Like any methodology that prescribes how to live your life, I treated GTD with caution. Yet after my usual introspective digestion I gained some pretty helpful new working practices.

For example, Evernote became my trusted system – a place where I safely dump my to-do items, email actions and ideas. That way they’re somewhere accessible yet not occupying valuable processing power in my fallible human brain. It’s comforting to know that when I post a raw unprocessed task in there I don’t need to worry about it until later.

When later arrives it’s probably time for a daily or weekly review. Yet this is what most people skip because feels like counterintuitive work about work. This is when you decide what you do now and at some time in the near and distant future.

A review is just a more orderly way to pose those questions that you already ask yourself. Like:

“What is the very next action that will take me closer to completing this project or goal?”

Sounds simple. Yet most people try and hold all that information in a brain that’s better applied to solving problems than organising them.

By putting all your tasks into context you guarantee yourself that feeling of deep satisfaction you seek after you’ve done something. Because that something now has a clearer sense of context and purpose.

If you ever feel overwhelmed by work and commitments leave you short of breath then I recommend you read David Allen’s book Getting Things Done. There are plenty of interesting principles you can absorb into your own routine. And you can use whichever tools you’re comfortable with (it’s not prescriptive about software or equipment).

If you feel inspired to make a more productive change right now, then the free video tutorials over at The Secret Weapon are a good place to start.