Beyond Getting Things Done

November 22, 2020

Back in 2001, David Allen published “Getting Things Done” (or “GTD”), a book about managing your time. The book became a bestseller and the Getting Things Done approach became incredibly popular.

And for good reason. David’s key insight was the value of moving planned projects and tasks out of your head and into a system. Once they’re in your system, you divide them into actionable steps.

This is a fantastic approach for being more organized and for checking items off of your to-do list. It’s a great foundation for being productive. But there is more to productivity than checking items off of your to-do list.

Earlier this week, a reader shared a New Yorker article by Cal Newport in which Cal describes the limitations of endlessly optimizing the speed at which you can blaze through your tasks. If you’ve read Cal’s book Deep Work or listened to his podcast Deep Questions, you’ll be familiar with Cal’s approach to productivity.

Shifting the focus from cranking out tasks to a more holistic picture of productivity is topical for me, as I am putting the final touches on the Big-Picture Productivitylive program, will open for enrollment later this week. And it should be topical for you too, as you think about what you want to achieve in 2021.

Think of this way: If I were to ask you what would make 2021 your most successful year ever, you wouldn’t quote your answer in terms of number of tasks completed. You’d say, “I will have renovated my home” or “I will have published two papers in academic journals” or “I will have completed three freelance projects”.

You can make all the lists you want, but at some point you have to do the hard stuff, the deep work.

Whether the hard work is designing your kitchen, writing up your research results, or getting on sales calls with clients depends on your line of work. But whatever form it takes, prioritize it.

Don’t fall into the trap of equating productivity with the number of tasks remaining in your task manager, or even the number of tasks you’ve completed. Think bigger.

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