James McBrien is Managing Director of Clearwater Advisers Ltd. Clearwater specialises in showing talented individuals how to be great communicators.

We show people how to be natural when under pressure. As well as running individual and group coaching programmes we also help prepare management teams for IPOs and trade sales. We have developed a unique diagnostic tool that measures executive impact based on voice, facial expressions and gestures. I am 49, married with three children, living in Sevenoaks. In my ‘free’ time I am creating a vegetable garden, learning how to be a voiceover artist and planning river expeditions for my children. My goal is to be a Renaissance Man. I believe GTD is the most effective way of doing that!

Read more about James.

When running a small business selling intangible products and being a father of three, it is sometimes difficult to keep eyes on all the balls in the air and maintain focus and perspective. Before GTD I used to have three in trays: In, Out and Personal in tray. As my assistant is GTD trained, the out tray was regularly emptied and dealt with but the other two were dumping grounds which regularly overflowed due to fairly constant operational activity. Most of the time I survived but felt in a fairly permanent state of mild stress.
I had hand written lists to keep track of sales phone calls and my day was spent largely trying to cram more and more calls into an ever-expanding day. Email I had rather given up on. I scanned it, answered anything urgent but again the inbox was a dumping ground that was permanently overflowing and never emptied.

It could have been a lot worse… as my executive assistant would manage my emails when I was out of the office with clients. I took pieces of paper home with me with good intentions but then rediscovered them weeks or months later. “Oh yes, I meant to do something about that”. I had become physically run down, was having difficulty sleeping and felt fairly permanently overwhelmed. I had a nagging suspicion that there must be a better way and tried a few of my own experiments at being more productive but with limited success. I was surviving – just – but not thriving.

A friend had given me the GTD book which piqued my interest and I had met various people who were GTD ‘evangelists’. When the opportunity came to attend a one day seminar with Todd Brown at Next Action Associates, I jumped at it. I arrived with a lot on my mind and wondering if I could really give up a day of my precious time to do this and not surprisingly feeling quite stressed. In reality, I couldn’t really afford not to. I very much enjoyed the seminar and it got me thinking about what I do and don’t do and how the future could look. I also met some interesting people.

I started implementing the ideas with partial success. What really made the difference, though, was actually working on a one-to-one coaching basis with Ed Lamont and various others. I have an iPad, and found after trying a few systems that what worked best for me was the Nozbe tool – the beauty is that you can have the same system synced on both the desktop and iPad. Great for capturing those thoughts as they arise and ticking a few things off the list when waiting for a train/plane.

I started by filing all old paper documents in my in tray into separate files which I kept close to hand as I thought the information was more important than it really was. Most of the files I never looked at again so I am in the process of binning them. I then started working through my personal filing cabinet at home which had never been cleared out. I found the whole process very therapeutic and it made me reconsider what we file and keep and why.

In my first few months of Weekly Reviews I stuck to two hours but never got to the bottom of my in tray or inbox. But as I did it I realised that the time to do a lot of the processing was as it came in, and slowly but surely by repeating it weekly, the trays started emptying and my stress levels went down. One of my discoveries working with Nozbe was that I became good at capturing the ideas but less good at actually doing them. The more I use it the better the balance. The other benefit of GTD is becoming more reflective, so I am planning sales account campaigns, meetings and calls using iMindmap software. Not surprisingly, by spending more time planning the results end up better! On the personal side I have made a start on my pre-digital photographs which were all catalogued but not stuck in any albums. With three young kids, I had quite a backlog! I have also taken up golf.

I am in the middle of a number of major projects at work and home: launching a new website, integrating a new database, building a new team that is expanding into Europe, training for a ski marathon and about to embark on a major house renovation.

I currently have about 100 projects and try and complete projects before starting others. I find real value in doing the Weekly Review to check everything is on track. So the trays and inbox get to zero, I feel a greater sense of perspective and control, and sleep better.

I can thoroughly recommend the GTD approach to all who want to achieve more with less stress!


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