In this week’s episode of The Working With… Podcast I answer a question about David Allen’s Getting Things Done.
Hello and welcome to episode 35 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.
This week I have a question about GTD and what I think is the most important part of the whole GTD philosophy. It’s a great question because all five parts are important in their own way. But there is one part that if you don’t do it, nothing else will work.
Before I get into the answer though, I want to let you guys know that I recently updated my learning centre. I’m very excited about this because it takes me to the next stage of my online course development for all of you. To celebrate this launch, I have a HUGE sale on my bundled courses. I have taken off over 50% these courses and you can take advantage of this special offer. All you need to do is go to the special offer page—a link to which is in the show notes—and buy yourself a bundle. When you do buy a bundle you will get all future updates for free as well as any new courses I do. You are in a way, inflation proofing yourself. So go on. Pick yourself up a bundle today. The offer ends at Midnight on Monday, but for you wonderful people I have secretly extended the offer to lunch-time on Tuesday.
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Okay, onto this week’s question. So that means it’s now time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question.
This week’s question comes from Paul in Canada. Paul asks, Hi Carl. I’m a big fan of GTD (Getting Things Done) and was wondering what, in your opinion is the most important part of GTD?
Before I go… Don’t forget to get yourself enrolled in one of the bundles. This will be something you will never regret.
Good question and this is a question I have pondered over the years. I’ve switched between all parts of the GTD process, but in the end, to me, there really is only one part that is crucial. That is the collecting (or capture in GTD speak)
The reason for this is if you are not collecting your commitments, appointments and ideas, it doesn’t matter how elaborate or beautiful or well organised your system is, if you have nothing to put in it, it is never going to work. The whole point of any productivity system is you are getting out of your mind the stuff that you are trying to remember and to get them into a trusted place where you can make decisions about them when you have more time. If you are not collecting anything, then you have no decisions to make and you will be trying to remember everything in your head. And, as we all know, that is not the best place to keep stuff you want to remember or make a decision about later.
Part of the reason many people feel overwhelmed and overstressed is that they are trying to remember everything in their heads. Now out heads were not designed to be memory banks. Our heads were designed to recognise patterns—we walk outside and we see rain, that tells us we need to either put on raincoats or grab an umbrella. Or if we absolutely must remember to take a book to work with us, we place the book in front of the front door so that our brain will see it in the morning and say: “ that doesn’t look right. Why is the book there? Oh yes, I must take that book to work with me” Our brain is seeking out patterns and things that are out of place. That triggers a response and that response results in an action.
The problem here is when we try and trust our brains to remember things like call that customer, reply to that email and buy milk. All these little tasks have no triggers unless they are written down in a trusted place. When you’ve had a long day at work, fighting fires and dealing with all the issues, as you go home you are thinking about all the things you need to remember for tomorrow, you are not going to remember to buy the milk. Our brains are just not that good at things like that.
When you have a great collecting system though, you can get all those things you have to remember out of your head. When you trust the place you put them in, then you start to make progress.
Of course, if you’re not processing or organising what you collected, then things will fall apart at that level, but if you don’t collect, then everything falls apart and you will feel overwhelmed and stressed trying to remember everything that comes your way.
Once you understand the importance of collecting everything in a trusted place, you can then begin to develop ways of making the collecting process as fast and easy as possible. In my early days of GTD, I carried a little pocket sized notebook with me everywhere, but I soon realised that was just another thing to remember to take with me. It wasn’t the most efficient way to do it. When the iPhone finally launched in Korea in 2009, that was when I really got my collecting system working.
Our phones are always with us. We carry them everywhere and smartphones are basically pocket-sized powerful computers. In this little device, we have access to all the information we could want. We also have the ability to collect any information we want in almost any format. That could be text, a photo, a PDF file, an email or a webpage. There’s no need to be carrying around scraps of paper, napkins or any other random materials with scribbled down numbers and don’t forgets. Everything can be collected in one place.
That though does create it own challenges. Yes, you can now collect everything very easily in almost any format, but where do you store it? Where can you collect all this stuff so when you need to see it you know exactly where it is? Now, this is the reason I have always advocated creating as simple a system as you can. I like to think of it as my “one project” one app for one purpose.
What I mean by this is having one app for each of the different types of things you collect. So, if I make an appointment, it goes straight into my calendar. If I have an idea, it goes straight into my notes app and if I have a commitment or task it goes into my to-do list manager.
So, in my case: random thoughts and ideas - Evernote. Tasks and commitments - Todoist and events and appointments - calendar. Each app has a purpose, each app deals with a different purpose.
Now, I know many of you may be thinking, couldn’t you do that with one app and sure this is possible. But I’m thinking a little more long-term than that. When I am organising, I like to compartmentalise. When I am organising my tasks and projects I want to be working in my task manager. When I am developing ideas and projects I like the free-flowing functionality Evernote gives me. And of course, when I need to know where I am going to be, I will look at my calendar. It’s just the way I like to compartmentalise. You, of course, may be different and prefer everything collected in one place. There really is no right or wrong way of doing this. The important thing is whichever way you do it, it works for you.
So, if collecting is the most important part of any productivity system, the next question to ask is how do I optimise my collecting system?—How do I make collecting as easy and fast as possible?
One of the things I’ve found over the years is if your collection system is not efficient and fast you will not collect everything. You will continue to trust your head to remember things. When you optimise your collecting for speed and ease, there is no reason to resist and you will soon develop the habit of getting everything into your system.
Now I do a complete review of my system every three months. I look at all areas of my system, from collecting and organising to doing (the COD system - Collect, organise, do) But the one area I spend most time on is looking at how I collect things. I look to see if I resist collecting certain types of stuff. If I am, I work out the reasons why and what can be done to remove the barrier. Most of the time it is because I have too many steps. I apply what I call “the subway test”. This is where I ask: can I collect an idea, task or appointment while transferring trains while on the Seoul subway system? Essentially can I capture using one hand and my phone? If the answer is yes, I see if there are any ways this could be sped up. Using Siri for example, or are there any new capturing apps like BrainToss or Drafts? Are they faster than Drafts? Etc etc.
So for me, the speed and simplicity of collecting stuff is the most important part of the GTD system. I would guess over the years I have spent hour and hours fine-tuning my system so I could make this part of the GTD system as fast and efficient as possible.
For those of you wondering how I have things optimised at the moment, then I use Drafts. Drafts is a little note-taking app with a huge amount of power. It allows me to collect everything from a task, an appointment to an idea into just one app. Once the task, appointment or idea has been collected I can send it either direct to my Todoist inbox, my Evernote inbox or my calendar. I’ve been using Drafts for years now and hands down it is by far the best collecting tool I have come across.
The app sits in my dock on both my iPhone and iPad and it has become a simple habit for me to simply open up the app, type or dictate my thought and send it off to the right place.
Now for those of you interested, I have done a few videos on how I capture on my YouTube channel. Most recently, following an update to the Drafts App, I did a video on how I use it with both Evernote and Todoist. I will put a link to these videos in the show notes so you can see it all in action.
So there you go. In my humble opinion, if you really want to optimise your productivity system, begin by looking at how you collect stuff. Ask yourself the question “what can I do to make collecting as fast and as efficient as possible “ and really get fast at it.
It does take time to get into the habit of collecting and the habit-forming is part of the process, but once you are there, you really will have developed a process that will alleviate most of the stress and overwhelm you feel.
Thank you very much for listening to this podcast. Don’t forget if you have a question you would like answering you can contact me either by email, Twitter or Facebook. All my contact details are in the show notes.
And finally, if you really want to take your productivity to the next level and are serious about creating a life of joy, accomplishment and purpose then get yourself enrolled in one of my bundles while they on this amazing special offer. Remember, you only have 24 hours to get yourself enrolled to do it today. Get that into your collection system and get it done.
It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.