GTD Recipes: Actionable Books
Just a few years ago, when you wanted to learn something on your own, all you could do was buy a book written by some expert on the subject. We are now in the Age of Information. If you google on a any subject, you will not only find physical books, but also e-books, videos, essays, online courses, podcasts, and countless articles about it.
Much of this information is even free and immediately accessible. But sometimes it’s too much. Information overload occurs when too much available information leads to a misunderstanding of the matter and results in a problem when making decisions.
A rule of thumb to distinguish the information that you should consume from the one that only generates noise, is taking notes while you are consuming it. If after reading, seeing or hearing something that you thought was interesting, you have not written down any action that may be useful for any of the goals you have defined in your life, you should not continue wasting your time with that source, since it does not provide you any value (of course, books, movies or resources you cosume just for pleasure, are out of this discussion.)
How can you do this, following the GTD philosophy? Let’s see a case study. I recently bought a book to seek ideas that allow me to better rank FacileThings in internet searches (SEO 2105 & Beyond, Andy Williams):
- Capture. The first phase consists of reading, highlighting and taking notes. It is important to separate the information consumption from the processing. Now it’s just the time to learn, to separate the wheat from the chaff. I bought the Kindle version of the book, so I can take it anywhere, and highlight and take notes on the own device while I’m reading.
- Clarify. Once I’ve read the book and have a complete picture of what it really means to improve SEO, I can start setting actions. Now it’s the time for reviewing all the notes and determine how I can apply them specifically to my website. If what you’ve read gives you knowledge you’ll want to easily review in the future, I recommend you also make a brief summary of the relevant information (this also helps you to consolidate the acquired knowledge). I synthesize everything in an Evernote note that I will keep linked to the project, as material support:
- Organize. With all the information synthesized and sorted, it is time to turn this reading into something actionable. I create a new project in my GTD tool with all the actions I’ve generated in the second phase. I order the Next Actions to execute first the most interesting ones, that is, those that will supposedly generate more benefits with less effort. I have to do all these actions under the context of “computer connected to the internet”, but that’s my default context, so I don’t need to explicitly indicate it in every action. What I find it helpful is to highlight which actions will require little time or low energy. There are some actions that I’m not yet sure if it will be necessary to perform them or not—these ones go to the Someday/Maybe list. Finally, I add the Evernote note to the project’s Reference Material list (as well as other useful links mentioned in the book) to have it at hand at all times.
- Let’s work!