How to Manage Workflow, Projects, and PrioritiesAUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
The main goal of the GTD methodology is to help you keep your attention on what is important for you at all times and levels. To do so, it provides tools that help you focus on what you need when you need it.
At the core of GTD are three working models that have been empirically tested and validated over the years, through daily use and experimentation by people who needed a clearer vision of their lives.
These three processes allow you to effectively manage workflow, projects and priorities. The first one helps you gain control and the other two give you perspective. Let’s take a look at each of them.
1. Managing Workflow
The GTD workflow management model is probably the best-known component of this methodology because it is immediately applicable to your daily routine and because it allows you to achieve a visible productive benefit in a short period of time.
Officially called the Five Stages of Mastering Workflow Model, it consists of five stages that you may already be familiar with:
- Capture. It consists of recording everything that catches your attention (potentially important to you) into a trusted external system; one or more inboxes.
- Clarify. It consists of emptying your inboxes, defining what each item in them really is, and deciding what you want to do with it.
- Organize. This consists of placing a reminder of each of the things you have clarified in the appropriate list, according to the nature of the item, so that it surfaces at the appropriate time.
- Reflect. This consists of regularly reviewing your system to update it and gain clarity and peace of mind.
- Engage. It consists of using the system created in the previous stages to choose the best action to take at any given moment.
This model allows you to collect everything that grabs your attention, think about it properly, and organize a complete inventory of the things you feel you should do something about, i.e., your commitments.
It covers the “horizontal control” of personal management, which is the consistent management of all the activities you are involved in on a daily basis. Basically, it is the management of all your ongoing actions and projects.
2. Managing Projects
Most of the commitments you make, whether personal or professional, need only to be operated through the work flow defined in the previous section to create the necessary feeling of control.
However, there are times when you identify projects where it is not obvious what the next action should be because they are more complex than usual, or simply because they involve things you haven’t done before and you don’t know how to start.
Officially called the Project Natural Planning Model, it is a five-step mental process that our brain goes through when it wants to materialize something into reality:
- Purpose and Principles. Why are you doing this? What is your intention? What are the values that will guide your behavior?
- Vision. What would the project look like when completed?
- Brainstorming. This consists of generating potentially relevant ideas to complete the project.
- Organizing. This consists of organizing the ideas into sequences of prioritized actions.
- Next Actions. What is the appropriate next action to begin with?
This model allows you to get started on a complex project quickly and effectively, with as little effort as possible.
If you want to see in detail what they consist of and how each of these stages is carried out, you can read this article.
3. Managing Priorities
The fact that we usually have more things to do than we can do today means that we need a strategy to decide what we should choose to do at any given time.
Storing things efficiently in an organizational system is of little use if we do not make good decisions when it comes to acting on them, and those decisions will be good to the extent that we know how to prioritize what is important at any given moment.
The model that covers the “vertical control” of personal management and lets you know what you need to pay more attention to at any given time is officially called the Six-Level Model for Reviewing Your Own Work. These are the six levels:
- Purpose and Values. What gives your life meaning? What are you here for?
- Vision. What would you like to be in the future? What is the most optimistic picture you have of yourself, both personally and professionally, five years from now?
- Goals. These are the accomplishments you want to achieve in the medium term, one or two years, to get closer to this future vision.
- Areas of focus. These are the different aspects of your life in which you need to perform well and most likely improve.
- Projects. These are the results you want to achieve in the short term to get closer to your goals. A project is an outcome that requires multiple actions.
- Actions. These are the steps you need to take to build the higher levels.
As you can see, it looks a bit like the Natural Planning model. In fact, it is about applying this model to a much larger project, your life project.
This model allows you to gain an overall perspective of your life so that you can focus on each level quickly and effectively as needed. The more directly an action is related to the higher levels, the higher the priority should be given to it.
We all operate at each of these levels, albeit unconsciously. Having a real and conscious knowledge of them allows you to focus on the actions that will help you fulfill the higher levels, that is, the most valuable actions.
If you want to know in more detail what each level of perspective consists of, you can read this article.