2020, the pandemic strikes. The stressful health environment, a second child on its way and my job at a financial services company called for a firm grip on my productivity. Already in March 2020 we’d been called to work from home and before chopping down any further tree, I thought wise to “sharpen my axe” (as someone wiser than me once said) which meant setting up my new Home Office: one or two screens? An electric adjustable desk? A computer or would a laptop, do it? Perhaps a Tablet as well? Should I stay on windows or move back to iOS? Move to Omnifocus on Mac or stay on Outlook for PC.

2015, I had just received the letter confirming my acceptance to learn the lost arts and crafts of bespoke shoemaking in Paris. A dream came true and off I moved from Germany to Paris and went on a shopping spree for the right clothes, the right hammer, nail punch, awl, lasting pliers and most importantly: The right shoemakers’ knife!

Why am I telling you about these two situations? Because while one situation was a challenge and the other an opportunity,

a) In both cases I was in an unknown territory and felt less in control than I used to

b) In both cases I eased the discomfort by focusing on what I could immediately control: The Tools.

Coming back to the pandemic and my new set up, I had dipped in and out of Getting Things Done®  for more than 8 years. I knew it worked when applied, but until that point, I had used it as a device for emergency stress relief when everything was blowing up. I called a friend, mentor, and as it happens, GTD expert and what he probably had told me about 350 times before, finally sank in: “The approach works when you work it. Have you worked it?” I probably needed a bit of desperation with my own trial and error to finally get there, but that was the point I sat down and focused on understanding one thing only: The approach.

I picked up the book and sat down for two days having made one decision: Apply the approach by respecting 100% the principles laid out in David Allen’s book.

For each step of the Getting Things Done methodology I have designed questions that synthesized the best practices and principles I ask myself (to this day) on a weekly basis to check whether I am working it or not. Here they are:

CAPTURE everything outside of your head, because your mind is made for having thoughts not reminding you of them

Have you captured on the go easily? Have you captured seemingly unimportant stuff? Can you capture as much when you’re in your kitchen/bathroom/out and about as when you’re in your office?

CLARIFY the meaning, what you’re going to do with it, if anything.

Have you taken time (45-90min?) to bring your inboxes to zero every 24 to 48 hours? (WhatsApp, Teams, Email, Physical in-tray) using the clarifying questions or have you spent most of the time checking and scanning for something that blows up?

Do you feel drawn to the actions you have identified because they are so clear and doable, or do you feel repelled by them?

ORGANIZE reminders in appropriate places

Have you clustered your reminders according to people, places, or tool you need for actually doing the actions?

Are you being reminded of what you need and what to do when you can do something about them or randomly?

REVIEW on a regular basis your system so that it stays current

Do the commitments you have in your system match the current state of your commitment towards yourself and/or others?

Do you renegotiate when things are outdated?

ENGAGE with the world

 Did you ask yourself: “What’s next?” or did you look inside your system?

 Did you use weird times you did not plan to review your lists and found something you could do in a 6-minute window you would never have done without the lists?

Did you consciously choose something to do according to Context, Time, and Resources?

These questions remind me weekly that the method is very simple but not easy and that without a bullet proof approach the system is secondary.

Does that mean the tools don’t matter? No. Once you do have a bullet proof system, then the system and tools you use become essential and a key driver of your performance. Make sure you hone in on the approach and I’ll tell you all about the tools next time.

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