Productivity and GTD

Defining Your Work Is Part of Your Work

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez

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In this article I will use the word “work” in the way it is used in GTD, that is, understood as anything you’ve committed to do, either in personal or professional contexts.

Well, when you work, you may be doing one of these three things:

  • Defining your work.
  • Doing the work you’ve previously defined.
  • Doing the work that comes up.

Defining your work means processing your inbox, clearly defining what is what, and placing the right reminders in the appropriate lists. Defining your work also means reviewing all those lists every now and then to keep your personal organization up-to-date.

Doing the work you have previously defined is very simple. It’s about looking at your calendar and next actions lists, where your tasks are clearly defined, and decide what to do now according to your current circumstances. This is the ideal situation.

Doing the work as it comes up is, sometimes, inevitable. Everyone must work on unforeseen or urgent matters at certain moments. Your boss tells you that a meeting with an important client has been brought forward for tomorrow and you haven’t prepared the offer yet. Your wife calls you because she’s getting off duty later than usual, and you have to go pick up your son from school.

The problem is when you are constantly working in reactive mode because you haven’t taken the time to define the work that has been falling on your table. Suddenly, someone calls you to know how her project is going and you realize that your notes for that project are buried under a pile of papers on your desk, and you haven’t even started it yet. Or your husband reminds you that you are having dinner tomorrow at a friend’s and you haven’t picked up the brochures on those New Zealand holidays that you wanted to discuss over dinner.

Such situations are the kind of emergencies that you most face in your everyday life, and are not exactly inevitable situations caused by third parties. You are the one who is sowing chaos in your life, by failing to properly address each new commitment that you have accepted.

If you want to achieve great personal productivity while also getting rid of all the stress associated with living on the run, you need to find a reasonable balance between the three kinds of work mentioned above. Of course, that doesn’t mean equally allocating your time between them. In my view, an ideal situation would be to spend 10% of your time defining your work, 80% working on what you have defined, and another 10% on to the things that might come up.

One of the most common responses I get from FacileThings users when I ask them why they have fallen off the GTD wagon is that they have entered a highly demanding stage in their lives and don’t even have the time to update their system. This is a vicious circle. When you are overwhelmed and have so much work to do that you think “I don’t have the time to organize my life”, you’re accepting the perpetuation of the very same reactive mode that has led you into this chaotic situation.

I am busy

You must break that cycle. When something new comes up, ask yourself if it is really urgent. Is it more important than all the work you have defined? Take the time to think about it, and don’t stop what you’re doing if it isn’t. Just note it down to process it later on, when it’s time to do so.

Defining your work is the most important part of your work: It paves the way for working on defined things and removes the uncertainty that forces you to work in crisis mode.

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