Natural Born GTDers and their habits: are you one of the few?

Note: This is the first article I wrote for GTDtimes blog (the official David Allen Company blog) back in March. It's about people who just "get" the GTD (getting things done) method without even knowing about it... people like my business partner Luis and my wife Ewelina.
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Over the years that I’ve been learning and mastering GTD I’ve stumbled across many great individuals who taught me a lot about how to implement GTD in my personal and business life. Some of them have been exposed to GTD since the day the book was published and have gradually become black belts… and there are others who have never heard of GTD or “Getting Things Done” but if you have a look at the way they work – it’s incredible to see how they follow the book’s advice without ever reading it. I call them: natural born GTDers. Who are natural born GTDers? To understand that let’s get back to the question: “what is GTD?” To me, GTD is not just a set of methods, it’s more like a set of habits. Powerful habits. n order to be successful in implementing GTD in your life, you’ll need to develop a series of habits:
  • habit of putting all of your thoughts into your inbox and not keeping them forever on your mind
  • habit of processing your inbox and deciding what to do with each item
  • habit of managing projects and putting all of the project-related stuff where it belongs
  • habit of “cranking widgets” – getting things done without thinking too much about your system
  • habit of weekly review and re-organizing your actions for the next week
  • habit of extracting “next actions” from a pile of to-dos in your projects
  • habit of not putting everything into your calendar… just the time-specific meetings and actions
…and you’ll discover more of these as you read the book by David Allen. Now, much to my surprise, they are people who “get” these habits… they have never read the GTD book, never learned any theory about time-management or project-management – they just intuitively know that this is the way to go and they are just doing that every day. They even don’t have any sophisticated systems for this, they use good-old pen and paper, old-school calendars and whatever applications they have pre-installed on their computers. But these tools don’t matter. The key to their success is the fact that they know the “habits” it takes to get things done and are just following these every single day. The first natural born GTDer – Luis. Just after I’ve read the GTD book, I started doing business with a guy named Luis who is to this day one of my business partners and a great friend. I remember I was greatly impressed by the concepts from the book by David Allen but what really struck me is that after a week of working with Luis I found out that he is following his daily habits in the same way David Allen describes it. I set down and talked to him about GTD and he was surprised there is such a thing as GTD. When asked about his daily habits, he just said it was so obvious that he never gave too much thought to it. He just knew he had to make his actions list in the morning (“Next Actions”), he had to revise his projects and tasks every Monday morning (“Weekly Review”), he had to jot down all the stuff there was to do and later make sure to process it and attach it to a particular project (“Inbox processing”) and he had to spend his day with his list to make sure everything he had planned has been done (“cranking widgets”). No rocket science, he said, just a way to get stuff done and move along. He just had his regular habits and mastered them. I didn’t. And what he said there wasn’t all that obvious to me at the time. The same thing happened when I met my future wife and discovered she’d been following similar habits and getting tons of stuff done… and neither has she ever heard of GTD before. They are natural born GTDers – to them GTD is just obvious. I guess David Allen feels the same way. Habits are not that “obvious” though. I had to “discover” all of these “obvious” techniques and learn my habits. Really study them, learn, fail and try again. And again. And again. And boy it wasn’t all that easy. These natural born GTDers make it look easy. It’s not. Maintaining good habits is a tedious task. Sometimes we feel too lazy to remember them, we try to talk ourselves out of them or simply unconsciously find ways to avoid them. We tend to get flooded with lots of information and let ourselves be carried away by the pace of work and accumulate stuff to never find the time for the habits of processing, organizing, reviewing…This is why some of us (me!) need tools to help us. We need the tools to help us remember about our habits and guide us how to perform these habits. We sure will be covering some of there on the GTD Times blog. They range from simple pen and paper, calendars, computer based applications, web-based applications, you name it. I developed my own web application to help me remember about my habits – Nozbe – and boy it helped me a lot – I finally had my projects, to-dos, notes, files… etc. in one system and could easily choose next actions for each day. I’ve initially used it only by myself for more than a year or so… but later decided to show it to the world and now there are thousands of busy professionals from all over the world getting more done thanks to my web application. Are you a natural-born GTDer? If you are – congratulations. However, chances are you’re like me so you need a way to develop your habits and a way to keep you on top of them. I’m sure you’ll find the book by David Allen a great read and if you have already read it, find your tools for the job and create a perfect habits-empowering system that will help you get things done and live a happy life. Feel free to post about your system in the comments.

Posted on Wednesday, April 30, 2008