Let’s look at two areas of Getting Things Done that hold up a lot of people including us still. The first question is “Is it Actionable” Can you take action on a task that is on your list? If not, what do you do with it? The second question is “What exactly is your stuff and what does that even mean?” We will explain what your stuff is and how to define it.
Is it Actionable?- If there is one takeaway from Getting Things Done, if you learned nothing else except for these 5 words, you will have increased your productivity dramatically. The question is “What is the Next Action?” What can you do to move this project/task/item forward? This fundamental shift in thinking and mindset will change how you work, how you view others, and how much you get done. Why? Because those 5 words means you want to make progress. If you don’t define something, then it just sits there and the resistance to completing it increases. When you know what your next action is, it just becomes a matter of you doing something with it.
What is the Next Action?- So you have made the distinction that your task is actionable. Great! Now how do you take action or what is the next step to move it forward? There are four things you can do now.
- Do- If you can do it and you can do it quick (2-5 minutes) then you should probably just do it and take care of it. David Allen says 2 minutes, others say longer. We say it depends on your workflow and time. If you are in the zone and moving fast through your list, keep doing! If it is taking you a long time and you struggling, only do tasks that are closer to 2 minutes to complete. Getting through your list is just as important as actually doing it.
- Delegate- If you can not do it or you are not the right person to do it, you need to reach out to that person to let them know this task needs to be done, and then set a reminder for you to follow up with them. Give them a deadline so everyone is on the same page.
- Defer- This is where now is not the right time to do it either because it is not a priority or you do not have enough time to do it right now. This step could also be for a task that has multiple next actions which then turns into a project. A project is a series of next actions to get you to the end goal. Deferring could also mean that you don’t need to take action on this right now and it is not due or needed until a certain date. You would then set a reminder for yourself to work on it when the time is right.
- Trash- Besides just taking care of things when they come in and doing them, we think this is the next most powerful part of the process. Why? Because we are terrified to trash or throw away something for fear that it may have value someday. The flaw with this thinking is that in most cases that fear never comes to reality. The other problem is it makes you pile/file/store documents or items that now you have to organize and keep on the off chance that one day you might need them. Sometimes we are just lazy like in email and just leave it in the inbox. If you don’t think the email has any value anymore after you read it, DELETE IT!!!! If you think you might need it again, make a reference folder or archive the email. Deleting something is just as powerful as doing because you are taking action. You are taking action by saying this is not worth my time, mental energy, or resources to think about and I am choosing to focus on other things.
What is your stuff?- Your stuff is…well…anything and everything! Anything that is taking up mental energy would be considered stuff. It does not have to be work related, it does not have to be a physical thing, it can be a thought, something you are planning, anything really. Lumping all of your tasks/fears/actions/thoughts into one pile of stuff is mentally freeing. To achieve peace of mind and reduce stress this needs to be done. If you have a thought more than once (especially more!) you need to capture and write this down. This is another game changing part of the GTD process. Most people think of a to do list or being productive is to take care of tasks. This is true, but when you define like David Allen does about putting all of your stuff through the GTD process, it really is a way to free up your mental energy to open up mental space, energy, and creativity.
The two key takeaways we hope you got out of this article is to start asking yourself “What is the next action on this task?” Can I do it now, do I need someone else, is it it a priority right now? The other thing is to think of is being productive is not just about your to do list. Capturing and clarifying all of the stuff in your life, which is really anything that has your attention will help you prioritize what you really need to do and give you space to free up your mind and reduce your stress levels. If you think something more than once, write it down! When you need to do something ask yourself- “What is the next action to move this forward or complete this task?” and you will be on your way to a more productive life!