GTD is Our Co-Pilot
As a small studio producing a considerable amount of work, we need all the help we can get to keep things running efficiently.
A few years ago, during a growth spurt, we found ourselves too often behind the eight ball servicing a sudden onslaught of clients. One night (probably while procrastinating), I stumbled upon the TEDx video above featuring David Allen, the author of the best-selling (nearly 2 million copies) business book Getting Things Done.
It changed everything.
A few minutes into the video, Allen asked his audience, “Any of you have anything on your mind right now — aside from listening to me?” Yep. A million things. In fact, I was only partially paying attention to the video.
He went on. “Getting Things Done is not about getting things done. It’s really about being appropriately engaged with your life — so that you can be fully present.”
Fully. Present. Who doesn’t want that?
As those words sunk in, I tried to remember the last time I felt truly, fully present. (That’s the curse of running a small business). Those are two beautiful words — fully present — and I wanted them to apply to me.
Then Allen unlocked the answer.
“The more something’s on your mind, the more it’s not happening. Why? Because you haven’t parked what’s on your mind into a system that you trust will be triggered at the right time and in the right way.”
Full disclosure, I actually bought the GTD book way back in the early 2000s. But back then, the system, which recommended keeping a set of 30 file folders (one for each day of the month) at hand and stuffing them with all of the papers, post-its, and tasks that came across your desk, just didn’t work for me. I was an early paperless adopter, and this analog approach felt like a step backward. The book got shelved.
But after catching this video, at a time when there were now dozens of digital tools (more on that later) for managing this kind of system, I decided it was time to reengage with GTD.
And, despite the nearly 300 pages packed into the book, it really comes down to a very simple process, with three key principles:
Don’t keep anything in your head. (For the rest of your life).
For every project or goal that takes more than one step, you’ll need to clarify exactly what the intended outcome for that project is and then put it on a list — and lock in time look at it your list more than once a week.
You need to clarify every single action or step that needs to be taken to complete your projects or goals, and record them in a place where you’re going to see those actions/steps on a regular basis.
Basically, break every project down to the component steps it’ll take to achieve success. And keep track of them.
As Allen says, “these are seemingly mundane behaviors, that when applied correctly, produce the capacity for you to exist in a kind of sophisticated spontaneity” that you may have never experienced. “It’s a key element to a successful life.”
It’s working for me.
(Oh, and the joy you get when checking things off your list? Priceless.)
Technology and software in this area have evolved quickly over the past few years, and after testing many options, here are the tools we’ve used.
Wunderlist. This was the first app we tried (and succeeded with) using GTD. It worked perfectly and powerfully. It allowed for multiple users so that we could work with different teams and track progress collaboratively. Unfortunately, in 2015, Wunderlist was bought by Microsoft. At the time of the acquisition, it was announced that Wunderlist would ultimately be shut down in favor of Microsoft’s new app To-Do. We immediately started looking for something new.
Todoist. After more research and testing, we moved on to this great app. In addition to working just like Wunderlist — allowing for teams and available on all platforms (desktop and mobile), it had the advantage of a very attractive UI (below). It’s very easy on the eyes and customizable, and it continues to update and add new features.
Things 3. Launched in 2017, this app, which has been around in one form or another since 2008, when the Apple App Store launched, is now our hands-down favorite. Spectacular-yet-minimalist interface (above), tons of functionality, and is accessible from everywhere. Just one thing, though: it doesn’t work for teams. We use it for everything internally, but still use Todoist with our contributors and clients. That said, Things 3 is still the engine that runs this studio. And hopefully, Things 3 for Teams will happen someday soon.
Bonus: Pomodoro (now called Be Focused). One thing we’ve found really useful since adopting the GTD method, given that we’re breaking all of our projects down into their smallest tasks, is the Pomodoro Technique. The Pomodoro Technique is a time-management method developed in the late 1980s. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. It allows you to take a break from always thinking about the entirety of a project and its end goals by simplifying and focusing the work of handling the smaller tasks of each project.
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