Guest interview: taking GTD to the classroom - Next Action Associates

science class

This week we interviewed a ‘real life’ GTD fan to find out how it has helped refine working processes, changed the mindset, and improved quality life. George Reakes is a science teacher and Science Specialism Coordinator in an inner-London secondary school. He teaches science classes from Year 7 to Year 13 and also has responsibility for running science outreach and enrichment projects.

Hi George, thanks for talking to us. When did you first come across GTD and what inspired you to start using it?

I was browsing in a book shop and stumbled on the book; Getting Things Done – The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, as I had been looking for ways to get organised at work. At the time I was a newly qualified teacher and the number of different responsibilities was overwhelming me, making me feel like there wasn’t a single area of my job that was going well. I felt like I was just ‘getting by’ and fighting fires instead of actually achieving anything. I remember being impressed by some of the quotes on stickers on the book about how influential it was, so I bought it and gave it a go. The impact on my general well-being was pretty much immediate. I was confident about what I was choosing to do with my time, and importantly, what I was choosing NOT to do.

Can you tell us a bit about the system you use?

I keep all of my lists on Evernote, including a ‘Stuff’ list so that I can easily capture my thoughts using the app on my smartphone. Evernote allows really easy organisation of different notes in ‘notebooks’ and by using ‘tags’, so I use a different note for every action, project, area of focus, etc and keep them in the appropriate notebook, e.g. ‘GTD Actions’, then add a tag for context, e.g. ‘@work’ or ‘@home’. Evernote makes it really easy for me to check any list, any time on my phone or on any computer, and constantly update them.

What has been the most valuable thing you have learned from having GTD in your life?

I’ve learned not to worry! Worrying can be seen as unproductive thinking – if I’m worried about something I capture all of my thoughts about it and then clarify those thoughts and plan what to do. This might sound overly simple or even patronising but it really works for me.

If we were to look at your projects list, what would you say is your favourite project?

My favourite project at the moment is to run the Key Stage 3 Science Fair – this involves getting all of the Year 7 and 8 students to complete a science project of their own design and compete against others in their class in lessons. The winners from each class compete in a final in the school hall, attended by the local community and judged by visiting scientists. It can get complicated but every year it’s a lot of fun on the day of the final, and great to see how many students get so positively involved.

What do you do in your spare time (now you have plenty of it, of course!)?

I spend most of my ‘spare’ time with my one-year-old, Joseph, but when I can, I like to write songs and make music with friends (I play bass guitar), or play board games. Needless to say I’ve got projects relating to all of those…

How has GTD changed the way you work with other people?

Using GTD makes me more confident about saying yes to things AND saying no to things – having an up-to-date view of my workload and priorities at all times means I know what I can fit in and what I can’t. I don’t delegate much, but when I do, my weekly check of the ‘Waiting For’ list helps me to keep track of what projects others are helping me with.

Do you use GTD on your team/organisation, and if so, what are the benefits you’ve seen that come when there are multiple people using the approach?

I haven’t used GTD with a team yet, but I did manage to find one other GTD convert in another department at my school –  we’re currently planning to run an informal CPD session on how GTD can help teachers ‘do more and worry less’.

Do you have any tips on how to most effectively conduct your Weekly Review?

For me it’s got to be a ‘coffee review’ – I go to a nice cafe, partly as an incentive to get it done, and partly to get away from the busyness of the office or at home and just be able to think. Also, I have to make sure I’ve clarified all of my ‘Stuff’ before the review, as I found that otherwise this takes up too much of the two hours I give myself. Lastly, I learned that if I don’t get all of my important lists checked and projects planned in that time, I print off the remaining lists and make sure I complete the Review whenever I get spare moments in the next couple of days. This helps me reliably finish every weekly review, even if it’s not always in one session.

If you’re interested in starring in our next guest blog, we’d love to hear your stories. Email [email protected] with the subject header ‘guest interview’.



What’s the coolest thing on your Someday/Maybe list?
The coolest us probably ‘Run a marathon’ but the one I actually think is coolest (nerdiest?) is to write an entire Dungeons and Dragons style role playing game campaign in which the players learn science as they play..


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