Getting Things Done or GTD is a fantastic framework for managing a business written and developed by David Allen.
I use it selectively. I retain the bits that are of practical use to me, the parts that can be integrated into my habits and everyday working.
The essential principles that I retain are as follows:
- Next Action
- Weekly Review
- Desired outcome
As an underlying principle, I cherish the idea of natural planning. So while I believe in and use tools to plan, I recognise their limits and the limits of planning itself.
I would like to describe each of these areas which I think are the most relevant and easily applicable. David Allen said that if there was just one principle to retain it is that of Next Action. If you are not doing weekly reviews, you’re not doing GTD.
This idea of next action is the embodiment of natural planning. While it is interesting to plan all of the possible steps to achieve to get to your goal, the most important one is the very next thing that you do. It highlights the idea that you can only really determine the next action once an action has been done.
In practice then you may spend a lot of time planning a whole bunch of steps, only to find that you need to replan. The idea of next action does not excuse us from planning, it just emphasises the very next thing you need to do.
So it also helps to distinguish actions from objectives. It is too easy to set yourself objectives and then to wonder why you’re not achieving them. This may well be because you have not correctly or completely translated your objectives into actions. So what is the difference between an objective and an action? An objective is an endpoint that you want to get to, but the action is something you can actually do. You cannot do an objective.
As an example, your objective may be to lose weight, but you cannot actually do “lose weight”. You can only eat less, measure your calorie intake, eat more carbohydrates, eat less protein etc.
The idea of next action in GTD is not to “lose weight” but eat some cereal. The understanding is that if you do that thing consistently, you will lose weight and therefore achieve your objective.
Retro planning establishes a series of steps between now and the desired outcome. But you need to focus on things that you can do in the real world.
Everyone needs to develop their own weekly review to remind themselves of the desire to achieve, and what has been achieved. It invites me to establish next actions and to focus on the direction I want to go (desired outcome).
So above is my central GTD review grid. I have tried to keep it succinct rather like a dashboard. It is divided into three main areas: productivity, sales, finance and strategy.
This is a rough mix between areas of current focus, key measures and horizon 4 / 5: long-term/life goals.
Everyone’s GTD review will be different because every business is different. Everyone has specific areas that they want to monitor on a regular basis.
For me, it is important to produce and in my day job as a translator, the
financial result comes from the number of words translated and the hours worked. So in the second section sales and financial, I try to correlate effort with the financial result.
Plan the future
It is more difficult to plan the future than to think about the present. Establish a task to determine desired outcomes to which you can feel committed. Instead of just more of what you’re doing today.
The weekly review is an opportunity to establish objectives in each area. Use it to evaluate whether actions are driving you towards your stated objectives. Establish next actions which either correct the trajectory or are simply next actions which continue the positive progress.
Key measures may include average price, number of orders, average order value, turnover and costs, hourly rate, monthly salary. These things all seem relevant to measure as a self-employed person. I measure turnover, cost and profit.
I measure the effort required to achieve these results. Continuous improvement is designed to spend less effort to achieve the same or better results. My next actions ideally will focus on improvements that I can make to go in this direction.
Desired outcome. This is the key. It also equates rather nicely to the idea of purpose, the long-term vision to which all actions should eventually lead. It should
If the desired outcome does not feel right, change it. But before you do, determine whether you think it unachievable, or whether you simply need a series of actions to get on track.
Keep in mind your commitment to your desired outcome and determine how you would feel if you let it go.
Getting Things Done
So getting things done is a useful toolbox of principles which can help change your attitude to work in general. Instead of thinking about objectives that you are not achieving, think about next actions. It’s more productive to think about what you can do to get back on track and achieve.
Name things. It is vital to express tasks, things you want to do, objectives and actions to getting things done. If you can’t express it you can’t get it done. Spending time expressing what needs to get done, is half the battle because of the clarity it brings.
Key to implementing the principles of “next action”, are the tools which capture and manage the tasks in hand.
Tools to get things done
I use Trello to embody actions and next actions.
I use Evernote to hold my GTD review
(the actual grid above is in a Google Sheet)
I feed the review with statistics from Trello Plus.
I store, manage and report on orders and invoices in Odoo.
These tools help with the reporting review and in the end help move forward on a daily basis. Ultimately, they create that production capacity which keeps me in business.
I often see this whole arrangement as a sort of game, chess if you will: arranging the pieces to be in the best configuration. But there is important psychological stuff going on here. The fact that I have a model of my reality enables me to stand back from it, to be objective and at least, in theory, to manipulate it in an ideal configuration.
However I understand fundamentally that to get things done, I still have to actually do things! It is obviously not sufficient just to arrange the pieces, I also have to move them across the board. Sometimes I even repaint the board in different colours. It is for you to decide whether you want just to get to the other side of the board, stalemate or checkmate.