I’m working my way through David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD, as it is known among its following).   I’ve had the luxury of learning the GTD strategies via an interactive online course, but I’m told that the book is also incredibly eye-opening.  READ IT!  I’ll tell you why.

What’s fascinating about GTD is that it’s not another time management system based simply on prioritization tactics or nuanced tips and tricks for leading a happier life.

Rather, here is the premise… We spend inordinate amounts of time and energy thinking about what we should be doing and even thinking about what we should be thinking about!  There is always more to do than can be done, and so we constantly are sorting through emails, post-it notes, to-do lists, loose papers, etc. trying to remember what’s on our plate and then determining which is priority and what action is needed.

It’s so true.  Particularly in more entrepreneurial jobs, work is so varied and workloads so overwhelming that trying to not only stay on top of things but also be “strategic” and focused in how we work is nearly impossible.  And the stress associated with always wondering whether we’re remembering everything and focusing on the right things is just as burdensome.

So here’s what GTD suggests as an alternative.  NOTE that this is my own summary of the GTD method:

1. Get everything out of your head and into a single, systematized list of tasks. If you can get every single project and possible to-do out of your head and stripped from your emails, written notes, post-its, etc.  and into one organized task list, you’ve just given yourself an amazing gift.  That is, a place to go at any time to get a snapshot of what’s going on in your life and determine what will be worked on next.

I’ve only just started using GTD, but I have my personal inbox down to zero and my work inbox is slowly being winnowed down.  The sense of relief that has come with not feeling like I might be forgetting something is remarkable. No wonder David Allen’s book has done so well – the feeling that comes with implementing GTD is addictive.  “Stree-free productivity.”  Indeed.

2. Process regularly. This is about 1) continually and immediately processing emails, papers, ideas, etc. and getting “Next Actions” into your task list.  The more quickly you record them, the less mental energy you’ll waste trying to remember.  Secondly, it’s about being religious about reviewing your task list and setting weekly and daily priorities.

3. Focus on feasibility first, priority second.  I love this one.  So many time management gurus focus on prioritization exclusively.  But what about the times I’d love to be working on revising that strategic plan but I’m stuck in an airplane sans internet and with no battery on my laptop?  You can still be productive, but you need to be able to quickly drum up a list of things you can do that don’t require a computer.  Thus, the GTD primary approach to organizing tasks – by CONTEXT, not PROJECT.

Context is the first step in determining what can be done.  Is it even possible given where I am?  Then, do I have enough time right now? Do I have the energy I need to do this? And, finally, among those items that pass the first three tests, which is highest priority? This series of questions is so intuitive and natural that you hardly need to make an effort to remember them.  It boils down to, “What’s doable now?” and then “Which of those is most important?”  Awesome.

Similarly, the GTD method for processing emails, etc. is to first ask, very simply, “Is this actionable?”  If no, it goes into a reference folder and leaves your desk immediately.  If yes, you either do it now (will it take less than two minutes?), delegate it now, or defer action by putting a to-do on your task list.  So easy.  So commonsensical.  And so powerful.

In general, what’s brilliant about GTD is that it turns productivity into a simple, repeatable, and tweak-able process that you can easily master to get on top of your work.

If you have any trouble mastering your workflow, this is absolutely worth a try.  The alternative is to let your mental to-do list and energy-consuming attempts to prioritize own you.