Getting Things Done - GTD

What "Reflect" Means in GTD and Why It Is so Important

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
tags Reflect Perspective
“You can only feel good about what you're not doing when you know what you're not doing.” ~ David Allen

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What "Reflect" Means in GTD and Why It Is so Important

The ultimate goal of the workflow defined by David Allen in his book Getting Things Done is to ensure that you’re always doing what you really need to be doing and, at the same time, you feel good by not doing what you’re not doing.

These two factors lead you to be highly productive (you move towards activities that produce benefits, whatever it means for you) with the least possible level of stress (you don’t feel overwhelmed by the tasks that are waiting.)

When you capture everything that catches your attention and you process it—that is, you clarify what each thing is and what you’re going to do about it—, you feel like everything is under control. Your GTD system is up to date and it’s totally reliable. But that doesn’t last long, since all organizational systems have a strong tendency to entropy. Soon new things will come to your inbox, you will complete some tasks that surely need some additional action, you will change your mind about the nature of a project you’ve already defined, or you will renegotiate any of your commitments.

The reality is that the dynamic nature of your life makes the reliability of your system will degrade slowly. That’s why reviewing your GTD system regularly is essential to achieve this kind of nirvana I was talking about at first. Moreover, if you do not review your stuff often enough, a part of your brain will be constantly reminding you and it will be hard not to be overwhelmed.

Definitely, if you do not review your system with the right frequency, the steps you have given before—capturing, processing and organizing—are useless. Your system is no longer useful. When the gap between your reality and the reality that your system represents has become too big, you simply stop trusting it. When this happens, you come to succumb to the urgent needs of others and live in the fourth quadrant of the famous Eisenhower matrix.

David Allen renamed the stage of Review by Reflect in his book Making It All Work and the second review of Getting Things Done. The reason is that the goal of this stage is twofold: to get the system up-to-date and to provide trusted perspective.

It is this second part, the gain of perspective, in which possibly the word reflect makes more sense than review. There are times when we focus on control and forget about perspective. If you feel yourself getting carried away by urgencies or you are neglecting important things, then the time has come you need to make a stop along the way and look at your system from a higher horizon.

Normally, reviewing your different levels of perspective (which David Allen call horizons of focus in his later writings) is not something you’re going to do very often. The highest the horizon, the longer you will go without reviewing it. Your life purpose will not change often, but your long-term goals and your areas of responsibility may vary the next year and you should take into account these variations, although they are subtle, to give better direction to your daily activity.

In short, when should you reflect on your system? And what do you need to review each time?

  • Every day you should review your active actions, i.e. those in your Calendar, and the Next Actions and Waiting For lists. The objective of this review is to decide what you need to be doing at all times.
  • The Weekly Review is a deeper review that covers most of your GTD system and aims to restore the balance that you have been lost during the week.
  • Much less frequent but equally necessary are the revisions of the superior horizons of focus. Here the recommended frequency is the one that allows you to be calm and confident with your perspective and, therefore, it just depends on you.
Francisco Sáez

Francisco is the founder and CEO of FacileThings. He is also a Software Engineer who is passionate about personal productivity and the GTD philosophy as a means to a better life.

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