Book Wisdom: Getting Things Done

I had a wave of clients this past year who came to see me because they were concerned about their procrastination and lack of internal motivation. Most of our jobs are becoming increasingly flexible and diverse which has meant a trend towards needing to be self-motivated, organized, and creative.

There is a lot of peace and power in having a clear mind. It won’t solve all of your procrastination problems, but as I’ve written before about procrastination, feeling unmotivated and overwhelmed leads to lack of productivity. Your brain is a complex machine that keeps track of many things at once at the expense of important thinking. Ever wonder why you get a song stuck in your head? It’s often because you heard only a piece of the song and your brain is trying to complete the picture. The brain cannot rest when it feels something is missing — or that you’re about to miss something.

There are things to discuss in therapy that go deeper into why someone has trouble staying focused on particular tasks or believing in their creative ideas enough to do something with them. But David Allen’s classic, Getting Things Done

addresses an important concept that overlaps with a lot of cognitive therapy I teach.

This book is perfect for a book review, because it is full of more complicated ideas and can be overwhelming to get the gist of. I think that the best takeaway is the idea that if you have a method for capturing what’s in your head (to-dos, ideas, goals, etc) AND a trusted and regular time to review what you’ve captured, you will free up your brain to do the important work of succeeding at your job and getting things done.

Allen’s primary goal of better productivity is to free up your mind to enjoy life, relax, and pursue creativity.

What does this system look like? See the picture for reference…and keep in mind these ideas:

  1. Have the same place to capture every little thing that crosses your brain. This could be using your Reminders/To Do List app on a phone to create digital lists or a small notebook in your wallet like the one Allen uses. It must be the same method for all things, which is why I like a phone application. People usually have phones on them and can create different lists — Groceries, Do When At Computer, Someday/Maybe (an idea list for inactive projects).
  2. Have a time each week (Allen suggests early Friday afternoon) to review your list and take Next Actions. If your brain doesn’t trust that you will review the lists you’ve captured, it won’t stop feeling frazzled and will keep glancing at the things you wrote down.
  3. For every idea, going one step further and noting the Next Action as specifically as possible. So on your House Projects list, don’t put “fix squeaky door” and leave it at that. Add “bring WD-40 in from garage.”

Experiment with different capture methods and consider flipping through Getting Things Done or getting David Allen’s newsletter if you’re serious about productivity.