Stress-free Productivity

By Francisco Sáez • April 16, 2012

GTD, known as the art of stress-free productivity, is a personal management method very different to any other. Instead of focusing on time-management—as calendar-based systems do—or on urgent tasks management—as priority-based systems do—, it focuses on helping us manage our inner commitments effectively. The premise on which it is based is that our productivity is directly proportional to our ability to relax.

Although speed and accuracy are key to conducting effective movements, being relaxed is what enables maximum control. David Allen, the father of GTD, argues that the philosophy behind martial arts can be applicable to many other fields, especially to personal productivity. Is not it more efficient to manage a team when there are not tense situations? Or is not it better to make a deal when both parties face in peace? Do you not have better conversations with your partner when you are relaxed?

Being relaxed and able to focus on what is at hand, when it is at hand, and reacting properly to it, is a fundamental skill today. But how can GTD help you accomplish this?

  • Like everyone else, you surely have a lot of things in your head, about your work and life in general. Most of them are totally unproductive and only distract you and produce stress. One of the rules of GTD is to capture all those things outside your head, in a place you trust. The freer your mind is, the less stress you have to stand and the greater creativity you will experience.
  • GTD encourages you to do everything in its time, without mixing up stages. There is a time to process your stuff, another for organizing tasks, another for reviewing your system. You have the control to negotiate your internal commitments and decide what things you should complete and what things you are not doing by now. Doing one thing at a time and learning to accept when it is fine to stay idle, is very liberating.
  • It is a structured system in which changes are accepted. Plans can change, can be interrupted or canceled. When you accept this as a part of reality, you remove a major frustration point. This allows you to restore balance when things change, have no fear of the unknown and gain stability.
  • By taking into account, not only your everyday tasks, but also your areas of responsibility, medium-term objectives and vision of life, you can easily distinguish the important from the urgent. By avoiding emergencies, you eliminate a big source of stress and are able to focus your attention on what is really worth.
  • Another GTD feature, the Weekly Review, is essential to keep stress at bay. If you review every week all your open loops and set next actions for each one, you can face your week with peace of mind, since you know everything is under control and there is always room for whatever may arise.
  • You have a framework for choosing the next action, and although your decision may not be the best, in a stress-free environment, following your intuition will be right most of the time. And if you are wrong, you are ready to change and adapt to the new situation. In any case, every decision will provide you more clarity and eliminate confusions.
  • As you use GTD, there is a feedback that increases your control and decreases your stress. Something like when you learn to drive. At the begining you drive under stress, worrying about everything. After a few years driving, you can do it totally relaxed and that, in turn, allows you to be a better driver.

As with any other methodology, learning and implementing GTD successfully requires a significant investment of time and a good dose of discipline. But if you come to master it, you will have your work and your life under control in a relaxed way… I assure you it is worth the investment.

About the author

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Francisco Sáez (@franciscojsaez) is the founder and CEO of FacileThings. He is also a web developer specializing in Ruby on Rails who is passionate about personal productivity and GTD as a means to a better life.

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