Welcome back to GTD® from the Top. In this series I’m aiming to distil the core ideas behind the Getting Things Done® methodology into easily digestible bites. I’m hoping that you’ll use this series to reflect on how GTD might better help you or your organisation to be as productive, fulfilled, and stress-free as you want to be.
Earlier in the series we explored the fundamental nature of our commitments, and the importance of both achieving and maintaining as concepts to understand our productivity. In the third edition I looked at the importance of envisioning outcomes as a way to influence both what happens in the future and to optimise our current engagement with our world. In episode four I explored best practices in organising the information we use to keep ourselves productive when we want to be, and undistracted when we don’t.
Episode 5: How do you make best use of your system?
OK, so let’s assume you have an organisational system that’s external (not in your head) and that it is structured in such a way that it has the clean edges that we looked at in the last episode.
How then do you make best use of your system? How do you ensure that it’s giving you what you need, when you need it? What would you look at, and when?
If you’ve got a system that’s organised as we suggest, the good news is that a lot of this will happen very naturally, and you’ll be able to interact with your system intuitively. Let’s say you’re prepping yourself for a meeting with your boss. In that moment, what do you want to see? A list of the things you want to discuss with her, and possibly also the things you’re waiting for her to do for you. If your system is set up with the “agenda for boss” lists and “waiting for boss” lists we discussed last time, then there is no great mystery about what you’ll need to review in order to be ready for that meeting.
The problem for a lot of people is that the way they have their information organised doesn’t support this kind of appropriate reminding. Faced with the looming meeting with the boss, they might need to first find and review a number of emails in various locations, several posts in Microsoft Teams, and some written notes from past meetings, also in various places. The problem with their system, such as it is, isn’t that it’s messy. It’s that it doesn’t support the kind of friction-free interaction with their information that would serve them best in the moment.
So the structure of your system is key. An equally important factor is the extent to which you can trust that the contents of your system are an accurate reflection of your current reality. Even the best designed system, if it’s filled with outdated content, will be a drag on your productivity and will increase your stress.
To be clear, I’m not making the case that your system is completely up to date every minute of every day. Frankly the world just moves too fast to make that a realistic option. But regularly aligning your system and your world is key to staying both productive and stress-free in the long term. That’s the thinking behind what we call the Weekly Review®, one of the core best practices in Getting Things Done®. During a Weekly Review you take the time to make sure that your reality and your system match each other, by reviewing and updating its contents.
So have a think about your own organisational system and the ways you interact with it. Is the experience one of friction-free flow? Or is there a rub?
In the end, this comes down to a question of trust. The Cambridge dictionary tells us that trust is “the firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of something.” If your system is structured in the right way for you, and you attend to its care and feeding on a regular basis, then you’ll trust it. And the partnership between you and your trusted system will lead to amazing things.