Getting Things Done - GTD

How to Start Implementing GTD When You Are Too Busy

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez Tags Practical GTD Motivation Advice
“It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?” ~ Henry David Thoreau

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Too busy

Although expressed in different ways, this is a frequently asked question by many FacileThings users:

“I need to get organized and I know GTD can be the solution to my problem but I’m not a specialist in management and don’t have spare time. The amount of things I must be aware of in order to organize myself with GTD is overwhelming, and I can’t see the way of putting all the pieces together and get on with so many things at the same time. I would appreciate any advice you could give in order to clarify and simplify the process.”

Those who raise this kind of problem are really busy people—entrepreneurs, small business owners and executives in big companies—who find it very hard to get out of their daily routine and spend enough time building the necessary habits which would allow them to have a solid base to do GTD and enjoy its benefits.

My answer most of the time is, more or less, as follows:

1. Start up

First of all, forget about defining the perspective levels (vision, areas of responsibilities, big goals, etc.) until you have under control the day-to-day. It may take you some months, but it would be nonsense thinking further when you still have not embraced the habits that will allow you to be efficient in your daily work flow. If you live in a stressful situation, trying to cover everything from start will only add more stress.

Therefore the starting up of your GTD system will consist of only one step:

  1. Load your system with all the tasks you now have in place, both at work and in your personal life.

The ideal thing is to do a complete mind sweep, but if you have a real problem in regards to time, concentrate on those things that are now concerning you. The rest will rise at the appropriate moment.

For that you will have to book a couple of hours in your calendar, if it’s possible in a quiet day in which nobody will bother you. Dedicate this time to go through your inbox (emails, papers, to-do lists, etc.) and think about all those things you’re doing or need to get done.

Put all those tasks in the system. If you need more than one action to achieve an outcome, create a project. But don’t complicate yourself too much with projects, you don’t need to plan anything. The only thing you need to do is to indicate the immediate next actions that you have to do in the project.

2. Maintenance

Okay, you have already done the hard work and you’ve only needed a couple of hours. It wasn’t that hard, right?

Once you have everything that worries you in the system, you have to spend little time maintaining it. In fact, you only have to do these things:

  1. When something new rises—a task, a project or even something undefined—capture it. There’s no need to get into FacileThings to do it. You can write these things down wherever and, every so often, you can spend five minutes putting them into the system.
  2. Every now and then process everything you have captured. Once a day, every two days… whichever frequency you feel good. Use the FacileThing’s processing tool so that you don’t leave out any details.
  3. Check off the tasks you’ve already done. No need to do it immediately, but it would be good to spend five minutes a day to eliminate what is already done from your Next Actions list. If a task belongs to a project and is not the last, make sure you have the next action to advance the project in the system (create it if not.)
  4. Once a week, review your system.. This is extremely important to always maintain the system up to date with your reality, and because it will help you focus on the following week. The FacileThing’s Weekly Review tool will guide you and allow you to do it quickly and effectively. In addition, the time spent here will allow you to gain peace of mind and save time during the week.

If you get used to regularly carry out these activities, in a few months these habits will be perfectly embedded in your life and you’ll be able to have total control over your day. Moreover, the “always being busy” feeling will disappear. Once everything is under control, it will be time to think at a higher level.

3 comments

8bb2c9a97155fbcffcc91ca918d103c7
Commented about 4 years ago Cyrus

This is a great article and one I wish I had available when I first started GTD. I had 3 failed attempts before it finally made sense. This was mostly due because I did not understanding the full system, but attempted to use it anyway. It was the equivalent to getting behind the wheel of a car with the basic understanding of how to drive based on ours of video games. As you can guess, the basic principal of how things work is sound, but nothing can prepare you for when the "rubber meets the road", so to speak.

When friends and family ask me how I stay organized and get things done, I tell them it is easy and go through a simple exercise.

1. Name something that has been on your mind, but feels too big to do or you don't have the time to do it.

2. What is the very next smallest thing you need to do to start getting this "larger thing" off your mind?

3. Based on the outcome of the small thing you just finished, what is the next smallest thing you need to do?

And so on...

By the time we are done, the "big impossible thing that can never be done" is mapped out in 5 or less steps. I have also found that working backwards, defining what "done" looks like and working back towards the "large thing" is very effective.

That's how it all starts. The understanding of getting it out of your head where "stuff" remains abstract and putting it into a "system" where they become tangible and defined.

When I am asked how I do this at the office, I tell them I put everything under an "Office" list. When they ask about the home, I say "House". They quickly get it. And before you know it, they are working off of the basics of GTD.

The last thing I tell them is to keep their lists small at first and add to it when they feel comfortable doing so. I use the example of a garden to demonstrate my point. A list in the GTD system is like a small plot of land. Items on your list are the vegetables you planted and will harvest when you complete them. Leave your list alone or add too many tasks and it will become overgrown, overwhelming the individual as a result. Eventually, the individual will abandon it.

The more advanced concepts of GTD (weekly reviews, for example) I leave for later if the individual is still interested. The first step towards getting into a secure and trusted system is the most important. Fail to do it correctly and you will fall on your face.

Of course, all of this has nothing to do with being "productive". That is a whole different exercise and one worth pursuing.

8bb2c9a97155fbcffcc91ca918d103c7 Cyrus

This is a great article and one I wish I had available when I first started GTD. I had 3 failed attempts before it finally made sense. This was mostly due because I did not understanding the full system, but attempted to use it anyway. It was the equivalent to getting behind the wheel of a car with the basic understanding of how to drive based on ours of video games. As you can guess, the basic principal of how things work is sound, but nothing can prepare you for when the "rubber meets the road", so to speak.

When friends and family ask me how I stay organized and get things done, I tell them it is easy and go through a simple exercise.

1. Name something that has been on your mind, but feels too big to do or you don't have the time to do it.

2. What is the very next smallest thing you need to do to start getting this "larger thing" off your mind?

3. Based on the outcome of the small thing you just finished, what is the next smallest thing you need to do?

And so on...

By the time we are done, the "big impossible thing that can never be done" is mapped out in 5 or less steps. I have also found that working backwards, defining what "done" looks like and working back towards the "large thing" is very effective.

That's how it all starts. The understanding of getting it out of your head where "stuff" remains abstract and putting it into a "system" where they become tangible and defined.

When I am asked how I do this at the office, I tell them I put everything under an "Office" list. When they ask about the home, I say "House". They quickly get it. And before you know it, they are working off of the basics of GTD.

The last thing I tell them is to keep their lists small at first and add to it when they feel comfortable doing so. I use the example of a garden to demonstrate my point. A list in the GTD system is like a small plot of land. Items on your list are the vegetables you planted and will harvest when you complete them. Leave your list alone or add too many tasks and it will become overgrown, overwhelming the individual as a result. Eventually, the individual will abandon it.

The more advanced concepts of GTD (weekly reviews, for example) I leave for later if the individual is still interested. The first step towards getting into a secure and trusted system is the most important. Fail to do it correctly and you will fall on your face.

Of course, all of this has nothing to do with being "productive". That is a whole different exercise and one worth pursuing.

Fcb879f1bc70aa0f661b842011f280fb
Commented about 4 years ago Francisco Sáez

Hi Cyrus,

I think everyone falls off the wagon some times before they don't fully understand the process and why every piece of the method is important. As David Allen says, the chain is as weak as the weakest link. Capturing, clarifying and reviewing are key habits and the ones people need to focus most at the beginning.

My experience is that many people quit because, over time, there find a bigger and bigger gap between their system and their reality, and that's frustrating. Nobody reviews at the beginning because it's a long and hard task, but it ends up saving time. That's why I always recommend everyone to do the Weekly Review from the very start.

Thank you so much for your comments!

Fcb879f1bc70aa0f661b842011f280fb Francisco Sáez

Hi Cyrus,

I think everyone falls off the wagon some times before they don't fully understand the process and why every piece of the method is important. As David Allen says, the chain is as weak as the weakest link. Capturing, clarifying and reviewing are key habits and the ones people need to focus most at the beginning.

My experience is that many people quit because, over time, there find a bigger and bigger gap between their system and their reality, and that's frustrating. Nobody reviews at the beginning because it's a long and hard task, but it ends up saving time. That's why I always recommend everyone to do the Weekly Review from the very start.

Thank you so much for your comments!

00d0a361be3efa69c937adcb1446d9cd
Commented about 4 years ago Günther

It does make much sense to start like you described it. However, it would be great to have the possibility of mass processing for both actions and projects to a greater extent as it is possible right now - otherwise, once one introduces perspectives one ends up with potentially many unaligned elements. As roles and goals, among other things, are moving targets, mass processing would also contribute to facilitate respective changes being reflectable in the whole system efficiently.

00d0a361be3efa69c937adcb1446d9cd Günther

It does make much sense to start like you described it. However, it would be great to have the possibility of mass processing for both actions and projects to a greater extent as it is possible right now - otherwise, once one introduces perspectives one ends up with potentially many unaligned elements. As roles and goals, among other things, are moving targets, mass processing would also contribute to facilitate respective changes being reflectable in the whole system efficiently.

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