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Seven Productivity Tips For People That Hate GTD

Article by Zen Habits contributor Jonathan Mead.

Not everone gets GTD (Getting Things Done). I know I didn’t. It made my head spin.

I have nothing against the system or David Allen. I’m sure it must be awesome for some people (that’s why it has all those followers, right?). But for others, it just doesn’t fit. Mostly with creative-minded people.

When it comes to GTD and other systems, it’s often too easy to get into a habit of over-engineering your system. You “geek out” on your system and lose sight of the point of pursuing productivity in the first place.

Plus, there’s a big gap in resources on productivity that doesn’t involve complex jargons and elaborate diagrams (see the GTD matrix). Typically, this exists in the creative sector. I’m not saying GTD doesn’t work or that it isn’t wonderful. It just doesn’t connect with some people (and makes others want to vomit).

Here are seven of the best, simple, and sometimes seemingly upside down tips for being more prolific.

  1. Create a “to stop” list. If you’re not getting the results you want, chances are you don’t care much about the things you’re doing. The best way to change this is to create a “To-Stop” list. We often spend lots of time creating lists for the things we need to do, but rarely do we reflect on the things that aren’t working. So create a list of all the things that are sucking away your energy and are wasting your time. Figure out which of those things is having the biggest negative impact on you doing the stuff you really want to do. Tackle that thing head on each day.
  2. Focus on short bursts. It’s a bit sad when you realize that the reason most dreams die is because of a lack of focused action. If you’re constantly distracted by the television, surfing the internet, reading blogs, or whatever it is, you’re just dragging your heels. Yet, we think that high levels of focus is something only super-humans can attain. But mental focus is akin to building muscle; it’s something that must be trained with resistance. So figure out how much “mental weight” you can lift, and start from there. Elect to focus for 50 minutes on your most important task, then take a 10 minute break to do whatever you want. Then repeat. If you can’t “lift” 50 minutes, try 20 minutes, or even 10 minutes. Gradually increase your “resistance” (the amount of time you focus) each week.
  3. Define your daily ass-kicking. What is your Something Amazing? Take the time to clearly define your deep reason for moving toward that goal. Now make a post-it note of out of it, or schedule a daily reminder of that deep reason on your email program.
  4. Allow yourself to suck. One of the biggest reasons we avoid doing what we love is that we’re afraid we’re going to fall flat on our face, in front of everyone. And then they’ll laugh or think we’re not amazing and all our theories about how we’re not really a genius will be true. Here’s some good news: You probably won’t be as bad as you thought you were. Here’s some bad news: You’ll never be great unless you first allow yourself to suck. So embrace your suckiness. Don’t let the fear of failure keep you from doing what you love.
  5. Focus on the Three C’s. When it comes down to it, there are three major groups of things we need to do to succeed at whatever it is we want to do. We need to Create, we need to Connect, and we need to Consume. Or in other words, we need to produce/share, build and nurture relationships, and keep ourselves savvy in our field. An imbalance in these areas will stagnate our progress. If we’re always consuming, but never getting our ideas out there, we won’t make any progress toward our goals. If we’re connecting without creating, we’ll have nothing of value to share. And if we’re creating without continually learning, we’ll become outdated. Defining a focus of one of the Three C’s helps us stay focused on our purpose for the day. It also helps us realize that spending time on Twitter and socializing is just as important as creating. It’s all about balance.
  6. Stop caring about things that don’t matter. This advice seems so simple, but it bears repeating. It’s easy to get caught up in obsessing about little tasks and trivialities that aren’t really important. The best way to overcome this habit is to start thinking in terms of long term impact. Every time you start obsessing over the little details, ask yourself how long the results of those tasks will last. If you’re always spending the majority of your time doing tasks that will have little impact after a week or month, you’re always going to be stuck in the same position. Be ruthless about not caring about all the stuff that’s not important. Your life depends on it.
  7. Make it stupidly simple. If you’re struggling to make headway on the stuff you really care about, maybe you’re making it too complicated. Try making a really simple commitment, like working on that “thing you love” for an hour a day. One hour, every day. Don’t commit to finishing it or making it perfect. Just commit to doing that One Thing You Love every day for one hour, for 30 days.

Complex productivity systems aren’t for everyone, and they don’t need to be. Don’t worry if GTD scares you or hurts your brain. You can still get the things done that really matter to you.

Also, I should note a couple of people out there, such as Charlie Gilkey and Mark McGuinness, who are working hard to change the lack of productivity material related to creatives. For further reading and material on this topic, I highly recommended checking out their blogs.



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