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Struggle to get things done? Here’s a systematic approach to time management

A guest blog by Miles Seecharan

Do you get to the end of the day feeling like you’ve achieved what you set out to achieve that morning? Or are you more like the rest of us, frustrated by how many distractions got in the way?

If you’ve worked with me, you’ll know I’m a pretty organised and efficient person, but that doesn’t mean I don’t struggle to keep those pesky distractions at bay. That my concentration isn’t broken by the ping of a new email. That I haven’t lost sleep worrying about all that has to be done tomorrow.

Over the years I’ve developed a few techniques to keep myself on track during the day – you can find some of them here. But I’ve recently discovered an approach to time management that brings together all the tactics I’ve learnt, and many more, in a systematic and effective way.

It’s called Getting Things Done and, frankly, I wish I’d known about it sooner – it could have saved me many a sleepless night! When I heard about it, I wanted to share it with you immediately, so I’ve asked Miles Seecharan of Next Action Associates to explain how it works.

Over to you, Miles:

“Distractions don’t just impact on our productivity. They affect our capacity to be creative and strategic too. To think deeply our brains need time and space. When we’re worrying about making a difficult call, sliding sales figures, the 200+ unanswered emails in our inbox, our brain goes into panic mode. Its focus becomes smaller, more risk-averse. We are less likely to come up with radical, innovative ideas, more likely to stick with what we know.

That’s why it’s so important to have a way to put these distractions in their place. Getting Things Done (GTD®) is one solution to this problem. It’s been around since 2001 and has a reputation as the gold standard of personal productivity.

What makes GTD® different?

Many approaches to time management start at a high level, getting you to think about your overall mission, aims and objectives and so on. All important stuff, but it doesn’t stop those emails from pouring into your inbox. Or the numerous calls you get from customers and colleagues. Or the lengthy meetings you get drawn into.

However focused you are on your goals, the distractions just keep on coming. And the speed at which those distractions come at us can be overwhelming. 

GTD is a robust and systematic approach to dealing with those distractions. It focusses on managing detail from the bottom up so you actually have the headspace to think about more important things.

What does it do?

GTD gives you ways to ‘download’ your brain – techniques to free your mind of all the clutter and minutiae so that it can get on with what it should be focused on – creative and strategic thinking. It’s based on the principle that your brain is for having ideas, not holding them. It works by helping you create a ‘second brain’ outside your head using easily accessible tools (e.g. Evernote). In this way you can track reminders and actions as part of a system rather than trying to hold it all in your head.

Doing this also enables you to truly switch off and relax when you need to – one of the biggest challenges of our modern world, as statistics around stress and burnout will confirm.

How does it work?

GTD consists of a set of best practices for managing day-to-day workflow. The GTD training programme takes you through these best practices so that you can find a system that works for you, customised to fit the way you like to work and using the tools you like to use – whether that’s Evernote, Excel, Outlook etc.

The 5 ‘phases’ of the GTD methodology are:

Capture – quickly and consistently being able to get the stuff that you need (or want) to pay attention to out of your head so you can manage it efficiently and cease to be distracted by it. Typical sources of ‘stuff’ are emails, phone calls, meetings and ideas. Has your brain has ever reminded you about stuff at 3 o’clock in the morning? Effective capture stops this from happening.

Clarify – systematically making decisions about what to do (or not do) with the things you capture. Often we put these decisions off or make them in a way that doesn’t actually help us move them forward as quickly as we might. The fundamental GTD ‘next action’ thinking process changes that. (It clears your inbox every day, too).

Organise – capturing the output of the decisions you make in that ‘second brain’, a system of highly functional and helpful lists in whatever tool works best for you. The calendar is also a key part of the organisational system in GTD.

Reflect – once you have a complete inventory of commitments externalised into a GTD system you will need to review them regularly so that you trust them when making moment-to-moment decisions about what to do next. GTD teaches a specific weekly review process for this and it is also the part of GTD that most reduces stress.

Engage – the art of making the best choice about what to do next so that you’re always doing the right thing at any given time based on where you are, how you are feeling and what your priorities are. In GTD the aim is to feel good about your choices, even when there is too much to do (GTD doesn’t change that!).”

How can you find out more?

If you’re interested to find out more about GTD®, get in touch with Miles Seecharan of Next Action Associates for a chat. Miles is based in Stockport and promotes GTD® to individuals and businesses in the North of England. The next course is on Thursday 6th July in Manchester and if you decide to get trained in GTD® with Miles there’s also a special discount for subscribers of this blog too. 

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