Productivity and GTD

How to Manage Problems with GTD

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
"Most people spend more time and energy going around problems than in trying to solve them" ~ Henry Ford
Managing problems

We all have problems, constantly, almost every day. But what are problems exactly? According to the dictionary they are difficulties with dubious solution, circumstances that hinder the achievement of a goal. But the most important thing is that they are issues that need to be clarified, because they either become an obstacle on the way to your goals or they cause you a stress that you do not want to live with.

Each one manages problems in their own way, but if you practice GTD you have some tools available that can help you deal with your problems in a more effective way.

Having clear goals and well-defined areas of responsibility is the first step before managing any problem. Your goals determine your direction and your areas of responsibility establish the aspects of your life that truly deserve your attention. If you don’t have these two things clear, it will be difficult to classify a problem when it appears and, above all, react to it in an optimal way. You could overreact and have a bad day for something that “is not even your problem” or you could underestimate the consequences of the problem and not do anything until it’s too late.

Having your goals clear also helps you to set priorities, and to say no to things that prevent you from getting other things that you value more. You don’t have all the time or energy in the world, so you should focus on the problems that, once solved, will provide greater benefits. The problems related to things you’ve decided not to pay attention to stop being problems immediately.

Another prerequisite to a good problem management, perhaps the most important, is to have the right predisposition and be willing to take to the surface and solve any problem that might come up in your life. Problems are usually not pleasant at all and many times they bring light to our weaknesses. The fear of facing them make us look the other way far too often.

But problems are something common and you need to recognize that they are a source of opportunities and learning, and that solving them (as soon as possible) always leads to a better life. Because a life with a lot of unresolved problems, even if they’re small, is not enjoyed. So don’t tolerate problems.

You also have to acknowledge your responsibility, if not in the problem, in the resolution of it. Thinking that “it isn’t your fault”, “it isn’t fair”, etc. is not going to take you anywhere. Managing your problems in an effective way is as important as knowing how to move forward your plans.

The attitude of being willing to accept this challenges that life’s throwing at you isn’t going to be given by any methodology or personal organization system — you need to develop it yourself. However, the first stage in the GTD workflow invites you to capture anything you have on your mind out of it, in a trustworthy system, to free your mind from stress of constantly keeping pending matters. If you follow this strictly (you should) every time a problem comes up you are going to capture it on your system. In this first step you shouldn’t worry about how you are going to solve it. Just capture what you have on your mind, bring it to the surface.

The second step to solve the problem is to identify it. You do this on the second stage of GTD, clarify, where you stop to think what is really what you captured and you define it as accurately as possible.

When you’re clarifying you must create a project that reminds you of the result you need to get to overcome the problem, and then establish the first action to solve it. Here is when you start to rush things and start introducing the next actions to solve the problem, but don’t jump the gun. The first and only action in a project like this should be to diagnose the cause of the problem.

It’s a common mistake to focus directly on “what am I going to do to fix this” but before that you need to focus on “what is this really”. To design a good solution you need to get to the root, the original cause of the problem. If you don’t, you will be putting a patch that will break again in the future.

Once you’ve executed that this first action and have the problem well dissected, you are in a position to solve it. Design a plan and establish the next actions that will bring you closer to the solution. It’s possible that you don’t have the skills necessary to solve it, but in your hands is looking for someone who can assist you with guarantees.

The last and final step is to move relentlessly towards the completion of the project that will solve the problem. Now it’s all about executing, and for this you only need self-discipline and that desire to end with any problem that hampers your life.

Having good organizational habits is very underrated. People who success in life are capable of designing and executing task lists that are reasonably prioritized. GTD gives you the thinking and execution structure that you need to solve any problem.

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