The Getting Things Done (GTD) Methodology
GTD is an acronym for Getting Things Done-a way of thinking that helps people gain better control and focus in their lives, no matter what they are doing. GTD is not really about getting things "done." It's about learning to become focused on and engaged with the present, being aware of what is next, finding stability when things feel out of control, and creatively anticipating whatever life has to offer, whether that involves school, work, relationships, sports, goals, dreams, or even video games. GTD is about being ready for it all.
We have seen people from all over the world benefit from the practice of GTD, ranging in ages from eight to eighty, plus or minus a few years on both ends of that spectrum. GTD can be used by anyone, of any background, any gender, any religion, any culture, at any time, in any situation. It is an approach that, once learned, can be developed, personalized, and used for the rest of your life. Much like music, dance, and sports, it is an art that involves learning, practicing, and integrating into your life.
GTD has three main parts:
1. Five Steps-to help you gain control
2. Levels of Focus-to help you gain perspective
3. A Planning Map-to help you gain both control and perspective for situations and projects that require deeper thinking
Explore each of these tools and strategies and decide what works best for you. Once you put the GTD way of thinking to the test, you'll find that it will help you succeed, and you'll want to learn more about how you can make these tools and strategies your own.
Some questions that might be preoccupying you:
"Why should I learn this?"
"Why have I not heard of this before from my parents or teachers?"
"Is this going to create more work for me?"
"Why can't I just do what I've always done, if it's worked for me so far?"
These are all natural and good concerns, but let's look at why a new mind-set and skill set might be needed for your unique generation.
Have you noticed how complicated the world is becoming? Have you noticed how complicated your world is becoming?
For example, can you remember a time, not so long ago, when you thought that you had a lot of homework? It probably seems laughable in comparison to the amount of homework you have now. What else in your life can you look back on that seems so much simpler, easier, or more straightforward compared to your life today?
Or, do you ever find yourself looking ahead and wishing you could fast-forward a bit to the next stage of your life? For example, do you wish you could have the freedom that comes with having a driver's license and a car? Or do you wish you could just hurry up and move on from middle school into high school, or from high school into college?
Do you notice anything here? Perhaps a pattern?
Life seems to find a way to get a bit more complicated every year. As this is happening, you also continue to change, grow, and respond to these added layers of complexity. Sometimes the complexity matches your ability to handle it quite well. Other times, it doesn't.
When complexities arrive at perfect times in your life, you are challenged in welcoming and exciting directions. You might experience the thrill of new levels of independence, new types of relationships, new learning, and new levels of competition. When this ideal timing happens, you might feel a positive sense of balance and growth. When have you felt this way? When was the last change in complexity that came just at the right time?
Sometimes, though, complexity comes faster than you are ready to handle. At these times, you might feel stressed and anxious, because there may be more change or more things to track than you currently know how to deal with or more homework or more activities or more work to manage than you feel capable of handling. Have you ever felt like this? How did you respond?
There are even times where you are desperate for new complexity-in any form. You might feel uninspired, even bored, in your current circumstances, and believe that you're more than ready for more. You may be hungry for a challenge.
At these times, you might experience a sense of unease until something changes, until there is something novel to explore-a new class, a new hobby, a new relationship, etc.
Have you ever felt that your current situations are stalled and that you're waiting for something unexpected, different, more, or bigger? How did you deal with it?
Managing the complexities of life is a dynamic process. Life continues to evolve, change, and shift-and so do you-sometimes at a comfortable rate, sometimes at an uncomfortable rate.
As you start the journey into this book, ask yourself, "How do I feel about the complexity of my life today?" Are you feeling overextended? Perhaps stressed? Underchallenged? Maybe you're currently bored out of your mind? Maybe you're stretched to the point of breaking in some areas of your life and bored in others.
Using the following complexity graph, place an "X" in the spot that best describes you today.
Most likely there have been points in your life when you've experienced some form of all these feelings. Whatever you think of the balance of today, the reality is that changes are coming and will continue to come. These shifts in complexity and the feelings that go with them are natural. Eventually, you will graduate high school and go on to college or get a job. You will decide where you will live, how you'll support yourself, and what kind of impact you want to make. You may decide to get married and raise a family. With each of these transitions, your life will become more complex, and that complexity will require new responses from you.
While everyone, including your parents and teachers, has experienced these shifts as they've made their way through life, your experience will be different, and it is important that you understand why.
The better you get, the better you better get.-David Allen
Connectivity and the Flood of Information
While it is true that every generation faces a world that is unlike the generation before it, your situation is different, because the world you're facing is vastly different. What worked in the past may not work for you, because something new appeared that has changed everything.
Do you know what it is? Massive digital connectivity. Massive.
We humans are more connected than we have ever been before. Our constant connectivity has transformed how we study, work, play, shop, travel, relate, and communicate. It has also transformed our brains themselves and even how we think.
Many young people are so immersed in this connectivity that they're not even aware of it. Many carry their phones at all times and sleep with them at their bedside. Beeps, vibrations, and notifications all constantly compete for attention-so much so that many actually feel their phone vibrate when it isn't moving at all. The apps on phones are masterfully designed to grab and hold attention. (How long is your Snapchat streak? How many Instagram followers do you have? How many likes on your picture?) How many times do you check your phone in any given hour?
When you put down your phone, how long can you go before you feel the need to pick it up again? During the time you've spent reading this book, have you been tempted to check your phone or mobile device for new information? Did your phone interrupt you?
Try this: Take out your device. Shut it off-don't just put it to sleep; shut it down completely. Now pause for a few minutes. What do you notice? How do you feel?
If you're in a public place while reading this, stop and take a look around. What do you see? The answer will be clear: We all look like chipmunks, but instead of holding nuts, we are holding phones.
Our digital habits, like any other habit, are affecting our brains and nervous systems. Bits of information are coming in faster and in larger numbers than ever before. The reactive part of the brain is highly stimulated, and in extreme cases, it is overstimulated to such a degree that it may actually be forming an addiction to digital stimulation. The amygdala is designed to deal with short-term bursts of stimuli, not to be in a constant state of high alert.
Yours will be the first generation to grow up in a world where people are connected-to one another, to other cultures, to other countries-all the time. That puts you in uncharted territory. You have freedoms and advantages that no previous generation has ever dreamed of. The world's knowledge is at your fingertips, and you have more opportunities than anyone else in the history of the world.
Given that power, what does the next decade, your adult future, have in store?
What Will You Need to Succeed?
The truth is that no one knows exactly where we're all headed. No one knows or can predict the exact knowledge or skills you'll need to succeed in this new and hyperconnected world.
Your parents, teachers, and mentors are doing their best to help you be ready to face it. Your school is trying to prepare you, but the truth is that many of the jobs it is getting you ready for don't exist yet and haven't even been imagined or invented. Schools around the world are working hard to modernize and change the way they teach, but their efforts are often far too slow.
Because this is all so unprecedented, you will be in many respects on your own and have to start preparing yourself for this future. There is, however, one human skill that we're certain will be more valuable than ever before and can never be automated. That skill is the ability to think-to conceive of new ideas and make them happen.
Thinking is the critical skill that will always be in demand. It will help you in the present moment as well as define what you to do next. In a few years it will help you find a job. It will help you handle situations in which there are no clear answers, directions, or instructions. It will enable you to confront whatever challenges life throws your way.
But there's a problem: This critical aptitude to think is in real danger.
If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.-Will Rogers
The ability to think-to deeply, imaginatively, and creatively think-is being threatened by the huge amounts of information supplied by connectivity, amounts that have never been seen before. Inputs are coming at all of us in many novel forms and through many new channels. All of this stuff can burden, disrupt, or even eliminate actual thinking.
You were born into a world where this level of stimulation feels normal, and you may actually think you're used to it. The reality, though, is that you also may have developed some unhealthy habits-or even no habits at all-in learning to deal with it all. Without even knowing it, your habits may be hurting your ability to effectively deal with your everyday life and your ability to think. In fact, many young people have been reporting higher levels of stress and anxiety than we've ever seen.
The data in the following graph is from the American Psychological Association, which conducted research with teenagers in which they measure how much stress they were experiencing.
According to this study, about two-thirds of students are living with moderate to extreme amounts of stress. You don't have to be a statistician to know that's a lot.
In addition to the sheer amount of stuff entering their world every day, young people are facing more and more pressure to perform well, test successfully, get into college, find a job, have relationships, hold relationships, feel accepted, make time for friends, get fit, stay fit, and manage sports/music/extracurricular activities . . . and they are expected to deal with more and more of this pressure on their own. Many have calendars that are booked from morning to night, with no free time.
The specific sources of stress for teenagers are diverse.
What areas feel true to you?
These stressful situations decrease opportunities to think. Your ability to think-to conceive of ideas and make them happen-requires thinking space. If you know how to create high-quality space for thinking, you will be able to get more done, with less energy and less time.
You are absolutely a pioneer in a new world. As you explore, you'll likely need new tools, new skills, and a new way of thinking to navigate it. Before we introduce you to this novel way of thinking, let's identify some of the pitfalls that could trip you up.
We cannot solve our problems with the same
thinking we used when we created them.-Albert Einstein
A pitfall is a hidden or not easily recognized danger or difficulty.
If you think of being ready as the goal of a game, pitfalls may be placed in the course of it to try to make things difficult or dangerous for you. The same is true in life: Pitfalls are waiting to "catch" you. There are many pitfalls in today's reality that can trip you up, and it's possible you haven't been paying much attention to them. For example, have you ever pulled out your phone or device, intending to quickly check just one thing, and then you see a notification on another app and find yourself still on the device twenty minutes later?
Giving a name, or label, to some common pitfalls can help you recognize, acknowledge, and manage them as they appear. There are two main pitfalls that impact a lot of us today, creeping into our lives in sneaky ways.
Pitfall 1: Overload and Overwhelm
Overload: A load with too great a burden
Overwhelm: To overpower in thought or feeling
It's not unusual to feel as if everything coming at you is all just too much, too complicated, too fast, and too frequent. This sensation of there simply being "too much" is an indicator of the pitfall called overload.
Overload can sneak up on you. One day you feel in good balance, but two days later a perfect storm hits at school. All your teachers give you homework on the same day you already have a busy after-school activity schedule. If it is not properly handled, this experience of overload will lead to an increased feeling of overwhelm and stress.
Copyright © 2018 by David Allen. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.