I don’t know about you, but I’ve yet to work in any kind of marketing, communications, public relations or event management role that didn’t have endless deadlines, calls to make, reports to write, people to follow up etc. The nature of the work we do typically involves a constant juggling of priorities and the nagging feeling that we’re forgetting that one really important thing. It can feel overwhelming, right?
Time management, organisation and getting things done – as efficiently as possible – are some of the hallmarks of a great marketer.
In this post, I talk about the personal productivity system that has helped me (and millions of others) to get things done, not just at work, but in my personal life.
David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done
About ten years ago, during a phase where I was reading every time management book available, I came across David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done.
Little did I know that it was one of those classic “business bibles”, which has amassed a huge, worldwide following.
What I loved instantly about Getting Things Done, was that it provided a clear, actionable process to declutter my mind, dump all of the large and small ‘things to do” in my life into a central system, and apply some order to the chaos. This freed me up to get on with actually getting things done. Go figure!
If you don’t use some sort of workflow management system, it’s likely that you’ll forever be thinking about what you need to do next. As Allen says, “There is usually an inverse proportion between how much something is on your mind and much it’s getting done.”
Allen talks about why this happens. He says that something is “on our mind” because we want it to be “different than it currently is”, and yet:
- We haven’t clarified exactly what the intended outcome is;
- We haven’t decided what the very next physical action is; and/or
- We haven’t put reminders of the outcome and the action required in a system of trust
[Tweet “Something is on our mind because we want it to be different than it currently is ~ David Allen”]
Until we do all of these things, Allen says, our brain stays in overdrive, subconsciously trying to close the loop and pressuring us about that next untaken step – usually when we can’t do anything about it (usually at 3am for me: hello insomnia!).
His basic premise is that our mind is for thinking and being creative, and that if we fill it with unstructured to do lists, unclosed loops and general ‘stuff”, we’re not using it to its full potential.
Five steps in the Getting Things Done methodology
The books works through the five-step process in detail, which are summarised in Allen’s five steps that apply order to chaos.
- Capture – collect what has your attention
- Clarify – process what it means
- Organise – put it where it belongs
- Reflect – review frequently
- Engage – simply do
It’s worth reading the first time to get an overview of the entire process, and then actually working through each step on the second read. I would recommend applying the process to your work projects first, then your personal life. Yes, this methodology even helps you stay on top of your personal projects!
I know many people who use the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology, and have refined it over a period of years to suit their way of doing things. You will likely experience this as well, but the key thing is to give it a go.
When I did the “capture exercise” for the first time, I remember feeling a huge sense of relief that I could at least identify all of the projects (large and small) that had been whirling round my mind. Once I could see everything, break it down into actionable next steps and create a system to manage it, it definitely helped to reduce my level of stress.
Tools for Getting Things Done
The GTD system relies on having a couple of tools – a repository to store reference material, and some sort of task management system.
It’s possible to do all of this manually and on paper, but I prefer to keep everything online where possible – and in platforms which are independent of the tools made available to me at work. My two key tools for the GTD system include:
Evernote – as I’ve written previously, I save everything from meeting agendas and project lists, to recipes, my taxes, holiday plans and ideas for blog posts – in an organised way, of course. I also use it as a central store for articles about a range of marketing topics and useful resources like eBooks, How To Guides etc. I add and refer to content in Evernote at work and at home, at least 5-10 times a day. The free version is great, but if you really get into Evernote like I did after the first couple of months, it would be worth considering upgrading to the Premium version.
Asana – a great, free task management tool. I use it for managing projects and tasks at work (and now at home). It emails me daily reminders and allows me to set up checklists and workflows to ensure repetitive tasks are carried out the same way each time. The free Asana App lets me access my to do list from any device, wherever I am.
These are the tools I use. There are countless other “storage systems” such as Dropbox, Google Drive or a good old filing system. And there are plenty of task management tools, such as Trello, Remember the Milk, Wunderlist and Todoist.
My advice is to pick a tool and try the process out with it. Again, give it a go and see if you can make it work for you, but don’t get too hung up on the tool itself – the key part in all of this, is putting the system in place and sticking with it.
Other Getting Things Done resources
There are a stack of GTD resources out on the Interwebs, which you may find useful:
- The official GTD resources page
- The GTD YouTube channel
- The Secret Weapon – a series of free video tutorials which demonstrate how to use the GTD system and Evernote
- Asana Guide to GTD
I’ll confess that I still don’t stick to the GTD methodology 100% in every instance. It requires daily, weekly and monthly discipline, which can be difficult to maintain in particularly frantic periods such as the leadup to big events, campaigns, and other big projects. But it has certainly helped me declutter, organise, prioritise and get things done throughout my career.
I hope you find the book and the GTD process as useful as I have. I look forward to hearing about your experiences in the comments below.