This Get It Done downloadable poster pdf, based on the book Getting Things Done by David Allen, is the perfect way to get your goals in motion.
Are you struggling to set your daily, monthly, and yearly goals? I know that feeling well! It can be overwhelming to figure out where to begin, but don’t worry, I’m here to help.
Have you ever heard of the book Getting Things Done by David Allen? If you have, perhaps you’re looking for a refresher. Or, if this is an entirely new concept for you, you’re in the right place – I’ll explain everything in detail. Getting Things Done aims to engage in natural planning: noticing and working with the way your brain naturally wanders.
We begin by capturing: brainstorming with enthusiasm to find ideas that already exist in your head. Then, you can organize: divide your ideas into types of tasks and notes for future reference. Finally and most importantly, you can then identify the next action: the next step you need to take to get your project moving. Planning can be fun and easy!
Making decisions can be daunting. Use this Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style strategy for making the creative process less stressful:
Capture: Write down all of your ideas
Write down all of your goals-related ideas and keep an ongoing list. Use an app or paper and pencil, whichever works best for you. As you capture your thoughts, remember that the goal is to keep them out of your mind and free up mental space for new ideas and inspiration.
As you work through your goals, I recommend capturing all areas of your life. Getting those out of your head will give you even more room for creativity.
If you feel overwhelmed seeing your own thoughts, remember that you’ve been walking around with these in your head already! We’re now able to see those thoughts visually. And then later we can focus on making realistic choices.
The Three Keys: Capture, Trigger, Focus
You may find it helpful to use a trigger list to spark new ideas to capture. A trigger list is simply a list of prompts or questions that can help you think outside the box and approach problems from different angles. For example, you might write down prompts like “What if I tried a new color palette?” or “How can I incorporate humor into this project?”
In addition to a trigger list, it’s also useful to create an “areas of focus” list to keep track of the different aspects of your life that require your attention. This list could include categories such as work, health, relationships, and personal growth.
By regularly reviewing this list, you can ensure that you’re devoting enough time and energy to each area of your life. These are more examples of ideas that you might capture or create prompts around:
- Creative ideas – story ideas, painting concepts, or musical compositions
- Personal goals – fitness, travel, or learning a new skill
- Home-related tasks – grocery lists, cleaning schedules, or home improvement ideas
- Errands – doctor appointments, grocery shopping, or picking up dry cleaning
- Social events – dinner parties, weddings, or networking events
- Financial goals – saving for retirement, paying off debt, or investing in stocks
- Hobbies – reading lists, movie recommendations, or crafting ideas
- Travel plans – vacation ideas, flight bookings, or hotel reservations
- Professional development – attending conferences, taking online courses, or reading business books
Capturing is key to the Getting Things Done method.
It’s easy to get caught up in the allure of the latest list-making apps and productivity tools. Keep reminding yourself that the whole point of GTD involves staying engaged in our goals and regular work. Whether you prefer the simplicity of pen and paper or the convenience of a digital platform, try sticking to a tool that might work for you long enough to know if it really fits your creative process.
The ultimate goal is to capture your thoughts as they come to you, to keep your mind clear and focused. So, let’s resist the temptation of shiny new tools and instead, focus on the practical methods that will help us achieve our goals.
Do you have a favorite method for capturing your ideas? Share it with us in the comments!
If you’re wondering, I use a combination of tools to capture my work:
- Workflowy: A list-making and outlining app for the web, iPhone, and Android that you can infinitely add short notes within your notes that sync to all of your devices.
- Obsidian.md: For writing, the text-based editor gives you a simple place to edit text and create internet-like links to connect those notes to each other. While Notion is a popular app, I found it cumbersome and distracting for simple note-taking.
- Paper: And for creative work, I still haven’t loved any digital tool as much as I’ve loved having tons of paper sketchbooks, notepads, and napkins.
Rather than having one tool that does everything, I like to ask myself: What tool suits my work?
I’ve found that capturing my thoughts and ideas often jumpstarts my creative work. Still, it’s important to remember that written notes alone aren’t always enough to make things happen. In the last few years, a lot of popular content has talked about note-taking as a “second brain,” but I find that those discussions often focus too much on information storage instead of taking action.
Having notes becomes most useful once you start thinking about next actions, which we’ll tackle in the next step.
Clarify: Is your idea actionable? Can you act on it?
You may be wondering what to do with all the information you’ve captured. This is where your next actions come into play – it’s essential to identify actionable steps and prioritize them based on importance and urgency.
Decide if your idea is actionable. Break it down into small, practical tasks. If a task takes less than 2 minutes, do it now. If a goal is too big to be a single task, break it down into smaller tasks that make up a project.
As you decide whether a task is actionable, try to think of the smallest practical step. Think of a task in a way that’s big enough that you’re not wasting time listing the baby steps. And yet not so large as to make the project feel overwhelming. One caveat to the “baby steps” thought, though. Often having a very specific first step can help to jumpstart the project.
Projects: Projects are your collections of tasks, at least in the GTD set of terminology. “Write the Johnson Report” would be a great project, not a task.
For any task that takes less than two minutes or so, consider whether you could knock it out now. Then you can cross the item off your list the right way. For tiny tasks without projects, you could bundle them. Get creative and try to notice what works for you.
Smaller tasks make up a project when a goal is too big to be a single task. What’s needed for your report? Who do you need to talk to? Think your goal out as much as you possibly can. For any task that tasks less than two minutes or so, just knock it out and cross the item off your list the right way. If an item is not now actionable, then:
Someday/Maybe List: For tasks that are so low priority that you’d like to revisit them later and have no clear or necessary deadline, add them here. Perhaps you’re okay with a messy desk for a while. Someday you’ll organize things and for now, you can live with it.
Tasks that are low priority and no clear deadline go here.
Who should do it? If the task is actionable and necessary, add it to your “To Do/Action List” as a top priority. If not a top priority, consider adding to Someday/Maybe List.
Write down anything and everything related to your goals. Keep an ongoing list as you live your life. “Do laundry.” “Answer Joan’s email.” “Talk to Tim about the Johnson Report.”
Reference: Save the thought for reference. Perhaps this bit of information you captured isn’t necessarily something you need to act on. If the idea appears useful for your tasks, save the thought in a place where’ll you’ll be able to find it quickly. Many of my reference ideas end up being useful when I’m writing blog posts and emails.
Reference: Save useful ideas for reference, but not necessarily to act on.
Forget it: If the idea is something that would be nice and at the same time does not need to get done, is it best to forget it completely?
Maybe you don’t need to talk to Tim about the report after all. His insights would be nice to have and still are not completely necessary. Drop the idea from your list. As you collect and capture your thoughts and go through your inbox, you might even discover that you already have Tim’s input.
You might also find a new task that replaces your original task at this point. Perhaps you’ll just email Tim, thanking him for offering to talk your idea through. Let him know that due to time constraints, you’re going to give it a go and if a stall happens, you’ll check-in. If the idea is not necessary, forget it.
Clarifying Questions: Must This Be Done Right Away? Who should do it?
If the idea is actionable, the next question to ask is whether the task is actionable by you or if it needs to be delayed or delegated.
If so, is it possible and necessary to do it right away? This means that it’s a high-priority task! Add the task to your “To Do/Action List” as a top priority. If the task is not necessarily a top priority task, consider your options:
Someday/Maybe List: See above. Send the task back up to the maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow list!
Delegate: Is this task better suited for someone else?
That coworker who’s playing solitaire might want to feel useful. This also could refer to hiring a temp, freelance, or full-time employee if no one is around. If you can afford a housekeeper, you might delegate some of your cleaning.
We live in a service economy, don’t feel as if you must do it all! Schedule a time to follow up and let those to whom you delegate tasks know that you are available. Note the “Next Action” for your delegated tasks. Will you want to follow up after a week? That leads us to the next category, the scheduled tasks.
Schedule It: Add time-related tasks to your calendar. Today’s lower priority might be tomorrow’s number one task!
This is also great for tasks that are better suited for certain days. Save that discussion for your weekly team meeting or quarterly review if it makes more sense. Call back your mom when you’re having a less busy day or during lunch.
Scheduling is a very powerful tool! I always schedule haircuts, dentist appointments, get-togethers with friends, and anything else I can! Also, schedule reminders and conversations. I like to check in at some point before meetings to make sure that it’s still a good date. Also, schedule a time to check your tasks. At work, I like to do a quick check in the morning and after lunch.
Also consider scheduling a Weekly Review to look over previous tasks, celebrate wins, and capture any open thoughts.
Waiting List: If you’re waiting for a response, for files, or any other information then the Waiting List is where you’ll want to keep such tasks.
When you reach a certain point where a Waiting List item becomes more critical, add it to your schedule. Wait and if you don’t hear back from Cindy in a week, you can schedule a follow-up email. This is a powerful place to keep items that need some attention eventually, and that you can forget about for now.
Organize Next Actions: There are many ways to organize all of your projects
It’s at this stage that you identify the exact “Next Action” for your goal. For some of you, the next action “Sit at the computer” or “Open Photoshop” might be the most helpful next step. Don’t shy away from being granular and specific. Vagueness often gets us stuck.
Calendars, lists, and apps are all popular goal trackers. Scheduled tasks can go on your calendars or on your weekly checklist. Decide on rules and keep these categories separate. You’ll be able to find clear answers as you work and keep moving. Always know what your highest priority task is! If you don’t, go back through the above steps.
“Next actions” are the actual steps that need to be taken to move a project forward. For example, often when I’m thinking about washing the dishes as they pile up, I can find it overwhelming. Instead, I reframe success as engaging in the next action: Standing at the sink? Picking up a dish? Wash a single dish? Even if I don’t finish the entire pile, I can make small and manageable progress.
One way to reduce stress and increase productivity is by using this “next actions” concept. This clarifies what the next step is in a task that may have an unclear outcome or no defined next action. Getting Things Done author David Allen calls these sources of stress “open loops”, “incompletes”, or “stuff”.
By choosing the most annoying, distracting, or interesting task and defining that task as an “incomplete”, I can now write down the next step required to move forward. I make a self-assessment of the emotions experienced after completing these steps and then find a new next step if that’s what I then want.
When I’m stuck, I find relief by identifying these few small steps and prioritizing them to make progress. In any creative project or even just daily tasks in life, having the concept of “Next Actions” in mind helps. By putting reminders about everything I’m not working on into a trusted system external to my mind, I can then focus on the task at hand without being distracted by the “incompletes”.
Get it done! Work through your Next Actions in order of priority, one tiny step at a time.
If thoughts pop into your head, capture them. Feel free to get back to that idea later unless you’re sure the thought is more important than what you’re doing. What steps add to your creative process? Let’s talk about your goals in the comments!
Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.