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.

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