How to Avoid Procrastination with GTD

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Wouldn't You Like to Turn the Clock Back?
Getting Things Done (GTD), the productivity methodology designed by David Allen, increases your productivity by removing the noise from your thinking. You know the constant mental interruptions of your mind telling you that you should be doing something else, anything else, than what you're doing at the moment. Sometimes, it's so bad that it becomes nagging.

How Do You Clear Your Mind of the Clutter?

The key to having a clear mind is creating a reliable system that you can trust. When you have a trustworthy time management system, your mind will be free to focus on the task at hand, thereby, making you much more productive. Additionally, your stress level will diminish dramatically.

While there are many aspects to GTD, one of the most important contributors to my own personal success is the idea of Next Action Lists. In today's dynamic society, known as the Attention Economy, simple 'to do' lists are not enough. If all you have is a structured plan, you won't have enough flexibility to optimize opportunites as they arise.

Why Not Use a Master Task List?

A List is fabulous for things that need to be done in order or to remember items of data. A list is primarily for storage and reference. A single list was never meant to be the instructions for your life. It is a tool to help you remember and find things when you need them. In fact, a list has several limitations.

  • First, it is linear, which makes it likely that you will attempt to complete the items in order. Often, this is not the optimum priority.
  • Second, one list for everything is overwhelming.
  • Finally, a list without actions is a major cause of procrastination. By combining the feeling of being overwhelmed with a lack of discrete actions causes most people to freeze and choose to do nothing or nothing important.

David Allen's solution to this is next action lists. Rather than plan out the day based on a simple all-in-one project list, you list the next-action items for tasks you have to do. These lists are segmented by context. Aristotle would have called this loci or physical location.

Additionally, as the name implies, David Allen recommends identifying each item by the next specific physical action. This forces you to think in advance. Therefore, working the list frees your mind to focus on execution. This alone enables you to insert a higher level of excellence into your work.

What's the Context?

The next step in Getting Things Done, is to move these next-action's into separate lists based on physical locations. This is what he refers to as context. Here's a sample of my contexts:

  • @Computer
  • @Home
  • @Office
  • @Phone

If you've used Bubble Planner Time Management Tools, you probably recognize these contexts as part of the CHOP method of organizing your next physical actions.

So, back to the question, why should you have separate lists?

  • Separate lists allow you to group your items together, which reduces the distraction time. The transition time between tasks is greatly reduced if the tasks are similar in nature. Transition time is expensive in both mental energy and opportunity cost.
  • Additionally, separate lists allow you to locate what you need to do faster than a single list. It is a way for your mind to keep your life organized without expending significant mental energy.

BONUS TIP: A way to supercharge your Next Action List is to lay them out spatially. One of the reasons that Aristotle taught The Method of Loci is that it works. People naturally organize their life around contexts, or their physical environment. Like the top of your desk, it is easier for our minds to maintain control when we organize in a visual-spatial manner rather than linear. Linear is for archiving while visual-spatial is for processing and doing.
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