Personal Productivity – a guide (FTF and GTD)

Posted on 04. Jun, 2011 by ger in Guides, New Ways to Work

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all of the tasks and projects you have, then some personal productivity techniques might help. Maybe the five minutes you spend reading this post might save many hours of procrastination in the future.

I’ve experimented with a number of techniques in my time and two in particular made a big impact on me. In this post I’ll give you a quick guide to Stephen Covey’s First-Things-First (FTF) and David Allen’s Getting Things Done® (GTD®).

Getting Things Done (GTD)

Getting Things Done (GTD) helps you capture all of the tasks and projects bouncing around in your head into a system you can trust. It’s a bit different from other time management methods because it doesn’t focus on priorities. I’ve used GTD for a number of years and it is an excellent way to get and stay organized, calm and productive.

GTD – key concepts

Actions, are indivisible chunks of work. An action is something that needs to be done.

Contexts, are the situation in which an action can be completed. For example, an action that can only be completed in the office, would have a context of office.

Projects are activities that will take more than one action to complete. Each project has a desired outcome, a simple description of what success looks like. One of the key benefits of GTD is the idea that you should always identify the next action for a project. For example, if the project is renew insurance, the next action might be “get insurance company phone number”.

GTD has a simple workflow. You have a number of collections – notebooks, inboxes (electronic and real paper), voice recorders. You regularly process these collections and capture the actions. You can make a simple triage decision on each item in a collection:

  • Is it actionable?
  • If yes, and it will take less than two minutes, do it now.
  • If actionable, and it will take longer, defer it.
  • If not, bin it or store it for reference.

There’s a number of stages of the GTD “workflow”:

  • collect- gather possible actionable items
  • process – all the items and decide if they are actionable or not
  • organize & review – review your existing projects and actions, make sure every project has a next action
  • do – don’t forget to get things done

GTD Benefits

There’s more to GTD, but that’s the rudiments. When I’ve managed to apply myself for a consistent period of time I’ve found it excellent, felt calmer and more in control of my work. It does take some time though.

Getting the most out of GTD

The danger with GTD is you spend lots of time feeding the system, you could if you’re not careful, spend more time organizing than doing.

You really do need to do the weekly review every week – not every so often. The hard thing is stopping long enough to do the weekly review. I’ve let it lapse for a time and if you haven’t done a weekly review in more than a week you do start to feel harried and start to mistrust the system and feel like things are “getting a bit out of control” (instead of “getting done”).

The total number of projects starts to rise quickly. This is good and bad. It’s good because you become more conscious of the number of projects you’re involved in, they were all there in the back of your mind anyway. I found within a few weeks I was up to nearly 70 projects which is a lot to review weekly in just an hour. In the end I had to review only part of the project list. I used my “areas of responsibility” to prioritize my projects.

If you do read David Allen’s book and you’re not quite sure about GTD, try reading the book a second time at least a month later. I found the concepts made much more sense on the second read.

Tools for GTD

You don’t need any tools for GTD. You can do everything with a notebook and a simple physical filing system.

However, a number of excellent tools have emerged in recent years. On the Mac (and iPhone / iPad) you’ll find both Omnifocus and Things. Things is a very elegant and simple application. Omnifocus is more complex but more powerful. ThinkingRock is a java GTD application that runs on Windows (as well as Mac and Linux). All of these tools are for a single individual.

Our product Goshido is a platform for managing work. It runs on the cloud and any web browser. Goshido allows you to capture, organize and do: actions and projects. Goshido enables you to implement GTD either on your own or within a team.

GTD summary

One of the refreshingly different things about GTD is a lack of emphasis on priorities. The main idea is to select a next action based on context, on the day and in the moment.

If you’re finding you are harried in your day to day work and starting to feel out of control, give GTD a try, it could leave you feeling like you have a “mind like water”, a calm awareness.

Prioritizing work with FTF

A number of years ago I also tried using the productivity system outlined by Stephen Covey in his book, 7 habits of highly effective people. Habit #3 is “First Things First”. Covey recommends you decide the importance and urgency of each task.

This means each task can be categorized in one of four quadrants:

  1. Important & Urgent
  2. Important & Not Urgent
  3. Not Important & Urgent
  4. Not Important & Not Urgent

Many people spend too much time in quadrant 3 and not enough time in quadrant 2. Covey recommends intentionally tipping the balance toward quadrant 2, saying no or delaying tasks that arrive that are part of quadrant 3.

Years ago a US multinational I worked for sent us all on time management training. They recommended prioritizing tasks on a scale of 1-5. When I started using the Covey technique I found it much more effective.

As Dwight D. Eisenhower once said “Most things which are urgent are not important, and most things which are important are not urgent.”

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Goshido is not licensed, certified, approved, or endorsed by or otherwise affiliated with David Allen or the David Allen Company which is the creator of the Getting Things Done® system for personal productivity. GTD® and Getting Things Done® are registered trademarks of the David Allen Company. For more information on the David Allen Company’s products, please visit their website:

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