The Brilliance and Weakness Of GTD And The 5 AM Club

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GTD — Getting Things Done by David Allen — is a great book with an equally great message. The principles and methods detailed in the book are sound, they work and have helped millions of people around the world to get organised and to become less stressed.

But as with all things as good as GTD, the weakness in it is how people apply its principles. One good example is David Allen’s definition of a project which is, anything that involves two or more tasks is a project. Taken literally that means making an appointment for a haircut could become a project. You need to find your hairdresser’s telephone number and then call them to make the appointment. That’s two tasks. That’s a project.

But really is it a project? Those two tasks could be done sequentially in less than five minutes. Do you really need to create a project for these tasks?

The missing part of Getting Things Done is the part where common sense comes in. Were I to make a hair appointment, or a dental or doctors appointment, it would not become a project. Common sense tells me that to make an appointment to see my dentist can be done with a single task — make appointment to see dentist — even though there may be two or three tasks involved.

Another example where taking what is written in a book too literally can be found in Robin Sharma’s brilliant latest book The 5 AM Club. The book’s premise is that you wake up at 5 AM, do twenty minutes hard, intense exercise (enough to make you sweat), then do 20 minutes planning — preferably in your journal — and finish off the hour with 20 minutes studying, or self-learning.

I adopted the 5 AM Club principles early last year but modified them to better apply to my life and my circumstances. I wrote about my experiences and how I was getting a tremendously positive experience from it, yet I was informed by a well-meaning reader I could not be a “member” of Robin Sharma’s 5 AM Club because I do not follow the 20/20/20 principle. I do not do 20 minutes exercise followed by 20 minutes planning then 20 minutes learning. I disagree. Exercise first thing the morning causes me to feel dizzy and nauseous and I have found that planning my day is better done the night before. It removes anxiety and stress and leaves me waking up with excitement, energy and purpose. What my reader misses is that the 5 AM Club and GTD are not about the steps. They are about giving you a framework in order to achieve a desired end result.

Whether I do my exercise at 5 AM or 2 PM as I do, doesn’t matter. What matters is I do the exercise every day. Whether I do my planning at 10:00 PM or at 5:20 AM doesn’t matter. What matters is I do the planning every day. I achieve the same results as if I did my exercise and planning at 5:00 AM. And that is the point.

I wake up at 5 AM and do 45 minutes studying and 15 minutes meditation. It works for me. It leaves me feeling refreshed, energised and ready to make each day the best day of my life. Which is exactly what the 5 AM club is all about.

And the same goes for Getting Things Done. Whether you turn your hairdresser’s appointment into a project or treat it as a single task doesn’t really matter. What matters is you get your hair cut. Getting the work done is far more important than the process you have in place to tell you what needs doing.

We are all different, we all have different ways of doing things and we all think differently. What GTD and the 5 AM Club do is provide you with fantastic ideas and a framework to improve your life. How you implement those ideas into your life is up to you because those ideas need to work for you.

Pure GTD did not work for me. Too many things slipped through the cracks and my projects list became overwhelming. It took far too much time to maintain my system and it wasn’t until I broke away from treating every multiple task as a project that GTD really started working for me.

But at the core, my whole COD system is built on the foundations of GTD it’s just stripped down to work better for the way I think and work. Equally, the message in Robin Sharma’s book is about making a significant improvement in your life by waking up early and spending some time developing your mindset, heartset, healthset and soulset. I do that every day. It’s just I do things in a different order, an order that works better for me.

And that’s really the point. David Allen’s GTD and Robin Sharma’s 5 AM Club have a fantastic message and they both give you ideas and strategies that can give you incredibly positive results. But you do need to take those principles and apply them to your life. If you start work at 5 AM in the morning, then perhaps you need to wake up at 3 AM and do your self-development work, or with GTD perhaps you want to redefine what a project is for you. It could be four or five steps before something becomes a project. The way you define it is less important. What is important is that you are capturing your stuff and then organising it in a way that is meaningful to you. That’s how you get to improve your life and that’s how to take the ideas you learn and apply them to your life to make positive change.

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My purpose is to help 1 million people by 2020 to live the lives they desire. To help people find happiness and become better organised and more productive so they can do more of the important things in life.

If you would like to learn more about the work I do, and how I can help you to become better organised and more productive, you can visit my website or you can say hello on Twitter, YouTube or Facebook and subscribe to my weekly newsletter right here.

What it’s like to be part of Robin Sharma’s 5 AM Club.

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Last week I joined the 5 AM Club. For those who don’t know, the 5 AM club is a concept started by Robin Sharma where you wake up at 5 AM do twenty-minutes exercise, twenty-minutes planning and twenty-minutes study. It’s a great concept and it is something I have been wanting to do for some time.

I did modify the 20/20/20 structure a little. Personally, I don’t like exercise first thing in the morning and I believe planning the night before is more effective. However, I have taken the learning part and changed it to work better for me.

Where it all began.

One of my goals is to become fluent in Korean by June next year and the only way I can do that is if I can find some time to consistently study the language. This goal began a few weeks ago after I watched a talk by the wonderful Brian Tracy. In that talk, Brian Tracy asked the audience to ask themselves one simple question:

“What one skill could you learn right now that would have the biggest positive impact on your life and income?”

After thinking about this question for a few days, I realised there was one skill I could learn that would have such an impact on my life. That was to become fluent in Korean. I live in Korea, my wife is Korean and my in-laws family are all Korean. Being able to speak Korean fluently would have a huge impact on my life.

The question I had was “where would I find the time to consistently study?” The answer to that question was obvious; there really was only one time I could do it — 5 AM. The next question was: Could I wake up at 5 AM?. The reality is I have no choice. If I am serious about becoming fluent in Korean over the next twelve months then studying between 5 AM and 6 AM is the only time I know I can dedicate myself consistently to achieving this goal.

So, Last Sunday, before going to bed I prepared all the materials I would need to have one hour of uninterrupted study time. I divided it up into three, twenty-minute segments and went to bed. 5 AM my alarm went off, I crawled out of bed, put the coffee machine on, picked up my iPad and began learning my Korean self-introduction. And so my journey began.

The first day I was tired. My eyes were red and my body felt like I had not slept at all the night before. It was painful. Monday night was a struggle, but I managed to get all my work done. Tuesday 5 AM came along and again my alarm went off and again I crawled out of my bed. Again it was painful. Tuesday was the worst day. I felt exhausted all day. My body ached and it was made worse by having a lot of classes to teach that day.

It was only then did I realise the obvious. If I was waking up an hour earlier than I normally did, I need the be going to bed an hour earlier. Once this obvious fact sunk in, I went to bed at 10:30 PM instead of 11:30 PM. That made a huge difference. Wednesday morning was fantastic. I woke up, felt normal and didn’t feel like I was crawling out of my bed. I managed to get through the day without feeling tired — well okay… just a little tired.

Don’t deprive yourself of sleep. Go to bed earlier.

From this experience, I learned that you need to adjust your sleep time. I usually get around six hours sleep, by waking up early I was only getting 5 hours and that is not enough for me. You, of course, may be different but most people require between six and eight hours sleep each night and you should not deprive yourself of it. If you are going to do this then you do need to prepare yourself properly and make sure that if you are getting up earlier at the front end, you need to go to bed earlier at the end of the day.

Is it worth it?

Absolutely. I now understand the power of having that one hour every day to focus on myself. You don’t have to follow the 20/20/20 ritual of exercise, planning and study Robin Sharma suggests. You can create your own “Power Hour”. To get the most benefit from this hour, though, it should focus on your self-development. Whether you exercise, study, plan or meditate doesn’t really matter. What matters is you dedicate this time to spend on yourself. Never do work, check your email or social media or do anything for anyone else during this time. This is your time to do with whatever you like for yourself. Think of it as your special hour or, as in my case, my “power hour”.

Will I continue with this?

If nothing else I have learned I can wake up early and still function like normal human being. But what I have also learned is that by waking up at 5 AM and doing something important — learning Korean — that is aligned with my goals and my purpose gives me such a positive feeling of fulfilment. I know what I am doing will benefit me long into the future and at the same time I am building up my self-discipline which will just get stronger. With stronger self-discipline, I will be able to do more things that require discipline and that can only benefit me more.

Once I have achieved my Korean language goal, I shall use this time to develop another skill. I really enjoy waking up and not feeling rushed. I love that feeling of having one hour to study something that will make me a better person, benefit my relationships and ultimately increase my income. What being fluent in Korean will do for me is almost limitless and that knowledge is all the motivation I need to lift my head off the pillow at 5 AM and begin the process of study.

Thank you for reading my stories! 😊 If you enjoyed this article, hit the like button below👍  It would mean a lot to me and it helps other people see the story.


My purpose is to help 1 million people by 2020 to live the lives they desire. To help people find happiness and become better organised and more productive so they can do more of the important things in life.

If you would like to learn more about the work I do, and how I can help you to become better organised and more productive, you can visit my website or you can say hello on Twitter, YouTube or Facebook and subscribe to my weekly newsletter right here.