For me, GTD is much more than a system for getting things done. In this post, I will give a brief overview of the great many benefits I get from it.
1. It helps me live in the moment
I said this before: the most important benefit of GTD is that it promotes a healthy mental hygiene. When I am doing something and an idea that has nothing to do with it pops up, GTD compels me to write it down so that I can attend to it LATER. This allows me to return my focus to the task at hand. In other words, it allows me to go back to living in the moment, instead of being constantly sidetracked.
2. It helps me focus
Focus is power. Along with time and energy, it is a key element of success. GTD promotes focus by diverting distracting thoughts to the inbox. When it’s time to process that inbox, I try to understand why that thought distracted me. I then determine whether it’s still important to me and what I should I do about it, if anything. For example, while I was attending a function yesterday a thought popped into my head: I might have to take my car to the mechanic for the annual smog check. I immediately wrote it down and, sure enough it left me alone. When I arrived home – where I could actually do something about it – I checked to see when the deadline was and set a task to call the garage appropriately. As simple as that!
Another way GTD helps me focus is by making me (self)conscious of what I am doing. Right now I am writing a blog post and nothing else is important. When I finish, I will have breakfast with my family. One thing at a time, with full focus, engagement and enjoyment. That is what GTD is about.
3. It gives me a sense of control
With GTD, I have an inventory of ALL the projects I am working on, grouped by “areas of focus” (work, family, friends, health, fun, mind, spirit etc.). This is incredibly soothing. At any moment I can see what is going on in my life, and re-assess my commitments. One of the greatest productivity pitfalls is taking on more than you can actually chew. GTD prevents this, by showing me what I have already committed to. If I take on more, I will have to decide how that fits in to the rest, and that may mean putting some other projects on hold to allow for it.
For example, the Dodgers just qualified for the MLB playoffs and I don’t want to miss a game. This means that from October 7 my schedule will have to allow for a couple games a week. More specifically, I will no longer have six hours a week available for doing other things. Since the Dodgers are a priority for me, I will have some rearranging to do…
4. It reduces anxiety
GTD pushes me to turn problems into projects, and projects into next actions. It’s a powerful methodology for alleviating anxiety and effectively dealing with what causes it. If you think about it, anxiety is a fear about uncertain outcomes. With GTD, I try to clarify outcomes and to devise a way to reach those outcomes (a corresponding project). It’s amazing how much time we spend worrying… when the only sensible thing to do is to get back to the drawing board and focus on possibile solutions. As David Allen said, the more you worry, the less it’s getting done, and so the more you worry! GTD breaks this vicious circle and puts us back in the driver’s seat.
5. It reduces stress
Stress often derives from mismanaged commitments: from not knowing what we have committed to or how to deal with thouse commitments. It also arises from getting started too late, such as on the verge of a deadline. GTD addresses both these issues. The project inventory gives me a comprehensive view of what is on my plate, while the workflow management process provides an effective way to deal with it. In more advanced task management programs such as Omnifocus, I can even put due dates for my projects so as to work on them before they become urgent and cause stress (the Omnifocus “Forecast” view is awsome!).
More importantly, as I never get tired of repeating, GTD is about doing one thing at a time, about recognizing that there is a limit to what we can do. If my boss all of a sudden heaps a brand new project on me, this means that something else has got to give. I go back to my inventory of projects and see which one(s) can be sacrificed or put on hold to accomodate for this. It’s a fantastic way to reducie stress, because it prevents the mind from going into overdrive.
6. It helps keep me balanced
GTD is not a book about work-life balance: the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and The Power of Full Engagement are much better at teaching the value of a well-rounded life. But GTD gives us an effective way of implementing this, by showing us how to group projects by areas of focus and how to review them every week to see if some area of our life is not receiving enough attention. If, for example, I have no projects under “health and vitality” I might have a serious problem… As I started using GTD in a more “holistic” way, I realized that I was giving too much time and attention to intellectual pursuits, and too little to physical ones, such as exercising. In other words, I was over-investing in one sector of my life, and dangerously under-investing in others. Not to mention the category “fun”, which we must always fill with great projects :-).
7. It brings structure and purpose to my day, both in work and in play
Without knowing what my commitments are, I may choose what to do in the morning in a haphazard way, by what David Allen calls the “latest and loudest” stimulus. My project list helps me choose the task that will give me the highest payback in terms of reaching my goals and accomplishing what is meaningful for me. This doesn’t mean that every minute of my day is guided by my project/task list. It just means that I am conscious, throughout the day, of what I want to accomplish, and that when I allow myself to “hang” or to be idle, I feel comfortable about it (and I can therefore truly enjoy it).
8. It helps me get rid of clutter
Since adopting GTD almost 10 years ago, I have had the tidiest office in the business. The GTD methodology magically pushes me towards a zen workspace: every single piece of paper that is not relevant to what you I am working on is out of sight and appropriately filed. More radically, I go by the rule that whatever is not equipment, supplies and decoration should be out of my way. I could never go back working in a different way!
9. It helps me get things done
I left this one for last, because it is the most obvious benefit of GTD, but perhaps the least profound: as we have seen, GTD’s benefits go way beyond getting things done, and I would go as far as to say that the psychological/mental benefits (focus, less anxiety and stress, sense of control, balance) are the most important. Personally, I am not aiming to do more, I’m just trying to live a better, more serene and fulfilling life. The system is appealing not because it allows me to cross off a few more tasks, but because it helps me cross off the most meaningful ones while promoting a more healthy mental state.