Good news for knowledge workers – if your job primarily involves thinking about words or numbers then you can easily work from anywhere, right?

Several weeks into lockdown, if you ask that question in one of the UK’s 5 million working parent households you might get a hard stare. If you ask it in one of the 1 million single-parent households you might be leaving fast under a hail of Lego bricks.

In such challenging circumstances, when the kids are bouncing off the walls, focussing on your work for long enough even to submit your expenses can be a challenge. However, this blog isn’t for the grown-ups, it’s for the kids themselves, who may be experiencing a grown-ups’ problem for the first time. Inbox overload. You see, in the early days of the school closures, schoolwork probably hit them like a tsunami.

In the case of my own 13 year-old, the online homework management system normally contains five or six pieces of work, all of which have been explained face-to-face in the classroom. Knowing what to do was never really a problem. In lockdown, however, the system’s inbox suddenly exploded. Almost as soon as the school gates clanged shut there were around 30 pieces of work there. BOOM!

The number of assignments was only part of the problem, too. Every piece of work was described differently, from the cryptic ‘homeowrk’ (sic) to the jaunty ‘Year 8 – creating coloured bitmaps!’. Also, the amount of work contained in each assignment ranged from the sublime, such as a child-pleasing single-question quiz, to the ridiculous, like the list of 220 culturally important albums to listen to, given out by the music teacher. (To be fair, while the boy rolled his eyes in horror at this one, I’ve been having a great time. Jeff Buckley’s ‘Grace’ is playing as we speak. Cracking album!)

Anyway, faced with this, my son’s look betrayed the thought that many grown-ups have every day when they sit down to ‘do’ email… “Where the hell do I start?”

After some early skirmishes in which, like any overwhelmed office worker, he scrolled aimlessly in search of the easiest bits just to get some traction, the penny dropped for me that it was the same problem I see all the time as a GTD® Coach, so I decided to apply a GTD solution.

We printed off the list of all 30-odd bits of homework and we started to go through them one-by-one to make a new list of what actually needed to be done – i.e. the next action. Here’s what happened;

  • Polar Bears and Penguins!
  • Year 8: CREATIVE TASK.
  • Reading Journal and Shakespeare research
  • 8GV1 – Tasks for week 1 (23/03/2020)
  • 2. Introduction to Anglo-Saxons Poster
  • Work to do from home
  • English work
  • Homeowrk
  • Y8 Spanish Home Learning Pack
  • 8G1 – Tasks for week 2 (30/03/2020)
  • Year 8 independent Work – Creating Coloured Bitmaps!
  • Year 8
  • Art – Design a robot
  • Art – Rainbow drawing
  • Computing – Creating bitmaps
  • Design – 20 Challenges
  • English – Research Shakespeare
  • English – Twelfth Night storyboard
  • History – Anglo Saxons poster
  • Maths – Algebra exercises
  • Maths – Bar charts exercises
  • Music – Listen to…?
  • RE – Malala Yousefzai essay
  • RE – Art competition
  • Science – Biology & Chemistry Educakes

The real payoff, though, was what happened the next day at homework time. He looked up and down the list for about 10 seconds and then said ‘Let’s do the Anglo-Saxons’. I breathed a quiet sigh of relief. Forward motion.

That feeling should be familiar if you practice GTD. Regularly clarifying your inputs – whether they be emails, or Slack feeds, or in-trays – gives you, in return, clarity about your choices and puts an end to constant inbox-scrolling, guesswork and anxiety.

I’ve heard GTD trainers say that sharing GTD with young people isn’t easy because you can’t make a solution interesting when they don’t have experience of the problem. It only shows up for real when they get their first proper job.

Well, right now many of our little darlings are getting a taste of the problem ahead of time. Why not give them a taste of the solution?

GTD For Teens offers a fresh take on David Allen’s classic by adapting it for the next generation. Specifically designed for parents and young adults everywhere to navigate the unprecedented amount of ‘stuff’ that enters their life each day, this book will give them a set of tools to reduce stress and distraction, while increasing their sense of creativity, self-confidence, and fun. Buy on Amazon.


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