Carola Lanzendoerfer has been practicing GTD® for over a decade now, and has used it to dodge burnout, lead a team inside a large corporate, and organize a rich and fulfilling post-corporate life. Apart from her work with the long-term unemployed, she is an avid photographer and photography teacher, and a very keen golfer.
I got lucky.
After my boss had recommended it to me, in July I had the good fortune to get onto one of the first GTD® seminars in my company. What’s lucky about that? Well, at that point I was drowning in my work. I felt totally overwhelmed by it, and had no idea how I could get things organised and back under control, never mind getting a complete overview of all I had on. That was bad enough, but because of the overwhelm I also felt there was no space for finding creative solutions in any area of my life. The first symptoms of burnout were already uncomfortably clear.
I’d love to say that I went to the seminar enthusiastically, but I didn’t. I went along, but was pretty sure it would be just “another time-management seminar that will manage nothing more than wasting my time.”
It was anything but. GTD is not time-management, but a philosophy for living. That philosophy saved me from sinking entirely into burnout. Oddly, I didn’t really need any discipline to get it set up and running, and since then I’ve practiced it pretty much as I learned it. There have only been a couple of occasions when I’ve fallen back into old habits, and the results were not good, but fascinating nevertheless: I pretty much immediately began to experience the same sense of overwhelm and restless anxiety that got me to the seminar in the first place. That was the bad news. The good news was that because I had experienced a new – much less stressful – way of working, I got straight back to working a la GTD.
I also implemented it in my personal life, and it works there just as well. As a philosophy, GTD applies to both my work and my personal commitments. The strange thing is that it is really a simple philosophy, but I’d never have come up with it on my own.
Why did it help so much? I certainly didn’t have any less work when I got back from the seminar. I think the stress relief comes from a few different things: since I implemented GTD I have a sense that I have a consistent overview of what needs doing, so I trust my prioritisation more. I was pretty good at getting things done before I learned Getting Things Done®, but now I feel that I’m getting them done with less stress. For instance, I don’t read e-mails while I’m on holiday, because they just don’t stress me out any more. I’ve done what needed doing before leaving, and I have a system to handle what is waiting for me on my return.
But the best thing is that I feel I have the time and space to work and live more creatively. I’m also getting positive feedback from my team, who find it more relaxing to work with me since I adopted the GTD approach. I figured that if it helped me it will help others too, so all of my team have gone along to the seminar too. I can recommend it to anyone – it is worth whatever time and money you invest.
I’ve been ‘retired’ now for 6 years. Since l left my corporate job, I’ve completed some further education, become self-employed as a coach to long-term unemployed, and gotten stuck into doing fun things that I’ve always wanted to do.
The nervous feeling that I couldn’t manage all of this has shown up from time to time. Yes, even in a life that is largely self-directed you can lose the overview at any time, which stresses me out. Fortunately, I still know what to do: GTD.
I’ve learned more and more to pause certain things – or to say goodbye to them altogether. With GTD, all the things I don’t really need to do are clearly shown to me. Because a task or a project that isn’t getting done (easily visible in my GTD system) – is probably not really either, or requires a different quality of attention to get it moving again. This in turn creates space for new ideas, cool thoughts and more serenity.
GTD has accompanied me for 10 years now, and I can’t really imagine life without it. It gives me structure where that is necessary and – on the other hand – shows me where I can and should loosen up. This may sound contradictory, but this is how it has worked for me.
Ten years later, my inboxes are still tidy and the “Weekly Review®” is as much a part of my life as eating and sleeping. The only downside? Not everyone is as lucky as I was. Whenever I see others struggling like I was in 2011, I think, “It doesn’t need to be this hard.”
I’m still lucky, but also happy. Above all I’m grateful that I found GTD when I did, and that I put in the effort to really understand – and use – the philosophy of GTD to help me avoid burnout. Since then, things have been so much more clear for me.