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Productivity Tips From Time Management Guru David Allen

You may constantly be running out of time to finish projects and wishing there were more hours in a day, but you don’t need more time to get things done and be more productive. What you need to do is learn how to make time work for you.

David Allen is the creator of the time management technique Getting Things Done (GTD) that urges you to take action to complete your daily goals. In his book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, Allen explains in more depth how you can make the most of every day without stress. But since this is easier said than done, you are going to need some basic guidelines to take you through the principles of Allen’s technique.

See Also: 15 Times Wasters Successful People Avoid

The theory behind GTD is different to the work of any other productivity consultant. That is because it requires you to take immediate action by focusing on the day-to-day tasks that help you see the big picture and then moves you towards achieving bigger life goals. Allen’s work is contrary to many of his peers, as it follows the bottom-up approach to information processing instead of the top-down approach that the majority use.

To help you out, these are the 5 stages of the GTD thinking process:

  1. Capture: collect the information and find out what you need to do e.g. tasks, daily activities.
  2. Clarify: think about how you are going to do it.
  3. Organise: get the tools you need and organise your time e.g. how many hours will it take.
  4. Reflect: make the plan.
  5. Engage: get actively involved in the project or task.

This easy 5-step process allows you to pinpoint what you need to do and then create a plan for how to do it. So, it doesn’t simply tell you to think about what needs to be done, it also helps you come up with ways to get it done.

An excellent way to store, track and retrieve information is to write it down. This is more efficient than using your brain, since you can’t fully rely on its capacity to remember things. In fact, there are a number of popular time management applications that follow the GTD methodology. Amongst other popular apps are Evernote, Todoist, Remember the Milk and Wunderlist. Just like traditional To-Do paper lists these tools can help you unload the information from your mind by writing it down.

This way, instead of overloading your mind with unnecessary concerns, GTD encourages you to record your thoughts externally and then break them into small manageable pieces of work. This should not only help you gain control over your thoughts but also the stress caused by these ongoing responsibilities. As Allen argues being able to control your to-do tasks – and your feelings about them is essential to productivity and success.

It is easier to understand when you take a moment to think about how your brain works. Since your brain isn’t capable of processing big chunks of information all at once, staying on top of your responsibilities feels like an extremely difficult task. And that is when you get the most frustrated and confused.

While getting anxious can be a good thing as it helps you stay more alert, most of the time it backfires. As Allen states in his TED talk (video below) when you have looming deadlines or things that need to be done urgently, you either become overwhelmed and you ‘numb out’ or you get really busy. In fact, Allen says that sometimes doing nothing at all about a task that you are supposed to complete is the best course of action.

How to Become ‘Appropriately Engaged’

In essence, getting things done is not about getting things done but being ‘appropriately engaged’. It is about getting things out of your head and finding the right formula that will help you work through the process of completing tasks. As Allen says “the more it is in your mind the more is not happening; the more you are inappropriately engaged with it [task].”

Check out the following video to see what Allen means by that:

To become more productive, you also need to be more engaged in your work. And when you clear all of the clutter out of your head, then you can make room for creativity which results in improved engagement.

But how you do that? Here is the simple 3-step process Allen proposes in the video:

Step 1: Write it Down

When you take the time to write it down, what you are really after becomes clearer to you. Allen suggests that you keep a pad and a pen with you at all times so that you can write information down. He also says that it can be anything that comes to your mind as the most important thing is to clear the clutter out.

Step 2: Define the Work

When you figure out what you need to do, ask yourself how you are going to do it. Focus on the result of each task and get down to specifics. What does the work involve and what is the next action you need to take? At this point, you need to be very clear about what you need to do and determine the action plan.

Step 3:  Put it All Together

Putting it all together means that you need to take a step back and see the big picture of what you are trying to create. Allen calls these the ‘maps of the action’ which help you identify the key aspects of your life that these tasks are associated with, and figure out what you need to manage and take care of on a regular basis to achieve your goals.

See Also: Time Management Tools for Home Workers

David Allen has many things to teach us to improve our productivity. But, it seems that the most important lesson is that you need to free your mind from the clutter and those things that are slowing you down. This should give you the chance to be creative, and, as a result, become appropriately engaged.

Decide on your own time management system and focus on what motivates you the most. Experiment with your imagination and allow yourself to be ‘creatively chaotic’. As Allen states, “life is messy if you haven’t noticed [but] mess is cool. Actually the most productive times I am is when I have the freedom to make a creative mess”. So think about that when you are feeling uninspired stuck or confused…

What time management system do you use? Let me know in the comments section below…

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