How I get my things done – The art of GTD

I’ve been¬†writing blog posts on to-dos, posting my¬†yearly and monthly¬†list of getting things done since quite some time – mostly¬†to keep track and social accountability. It was fun and productive, but I’ve stopped writing about my to-dos since¬†the start of year 2016 as I switched my job location and got a little busy, but relied on digital note keeping system, for the time being, using¬†Evernote¬†mostly.

As 2016 approaches to an end, I am reflecting back on good and bad things that happened and also the lessons learned from them. I’ll post about them in¬†a separate blog post, but while jotting them down, I thought of starting my habit of writing yearly and monthly¬†to-dos again.

Why? Because to give you the gist of 2016, I didn’t do any personal design related projects as I was mostly busy consuming information. Mostly from books, online articles, and videos. 2016 was much like a reading year for me. Not like I read 50 books. But I surfed a lot over the internet reading new and random stuff – not the most productive use of my time, but it happened.

I don’t regret spending time reading new stuff, but I could have managed my time better on several occasions only if I had made some goals. I made none and I wandered around aimlessly. There’s an argument about information in need vs. information in case which argues about whether we should consume information only when we need it the most, or we should consume to prepare ourselves for worst case scenario. I believe it can be both and that’s why few of the information I consumed, made me happy and few didn’t.

So from 2017 onwards, I’ll start making¬†yearly and monthly goals. Again. I’ll use the same note-taking method (i.e. using a pen and a notebook/memo pad) I’ve used in the past 3 years since¬†getting serious about being productive and methodological about my work, to get things done.

Basic rules I follow to get things done:

  1. Use note keeping as a system to store every to-do to stay on top of everything that needs to be done.
  2. Use pen and paper (a small notebook or a diary) to jot down those to-dos. 

Here’s why¬†I use¬†a note keeping system and¬†don’t rely on my brain power to remember things and also why¬†I use a notebook or a diary for¬†noting down my to-dos.

Why use note keeping as a system?

First, our mind has a¬†very¬†limited real-time memory which means we can’t store everything that we want to remember. Don’t believe me? Try remembering what you need to get done in a week starting from coming Monday till the weekend comes. I am sure that by the end of the week, you’ll find that you missed 60%-70% of the items that you first thought on day one i.e. Monday.

Second,¬†our brains are working constantly to remember those items which are not really needed. That brain power could be used to do something else, something more important. By putting all those to-do items in a note keeping system, say in a diary, we’re freeing up space or brain power to do other things.

And third, a note keeping system is also a¬†go-to point for revision, editing, adding new items and finally¬†to refer to it time and again. We can’t do that with our limited brain power. When I dump everything I am thinking of in a notebook or a memo pad (which I mostly use), I become stress-free. I don’t work my brain out to remember those stuff anymore because I know that everything that I need to buy, to do or take action upon, is stored in a system that I can always go back to, refer and pick up.

Why use a pen and a paper for note keeping? 

As much as I want to think and believe that note taking on a smartphone, laptop or any other digital device works, I have been proven wrong. For this year 2016, I completely tried sticking to digital systems for my note taking purpose.

Here’s how I started. The format was pretty basic in the start, i.e. to-dos listed in bullets. But later I moved on to a better layout. I was using Evernote most of the time for this.

Note keeping with Evernote with pretty basic format, i.e. to-dos listed in bullets
Note keeping with Evernote with pretty basic format, i.e. to-dos listed in bullets
Note keeping with Evernote with improved layout
Note keeping with Evernote with improved layout

After a year of using digital¬†system for note keeping, which includes smartphone apps,¬†Evernote, or notepad on laptop, I realized that it wasn’t working and might never work¬†even at it’s best. Here’s why:

  1. I used digital note keeping systems every day but found myself writing less to-do items. Mostly because it’s a digital device¬†where I am taking a note which is connected to the internet and other applications. The distractions¬†were huge. I found myself switching windows, replying to incoming messages or deviating to something completely unexpected on the device, like playing games. All in all, note keeping is best not done with systems that can¬†increase¬†our chances of getting distracted as we need to stay sharp and focused when making small or specifically big goals.
  2. Ticking off something on paper with pen or pencil is way more satisfying and liberating compared to just clicking or tapping on something as done in a digital device. This feeling that I am talking about, can’t be expressed in words. You need to do it yourself in order to feel the difference and the joy it brings.
  3. I also found myself writing more to-dos when I was writing them on my notebook compared to when I was writing them on my digital devices.

Now that you know the basics and the why, how and what of things. Let’s clear out more frequently asked questions so we can get things done in the best way possible.

Which notebook to use? 

Any that you like. But it must be paper-based. You can use A4 sheets, a small notebook, or something like a memo pad which I use mostly.

How often to write to-dos or goals? 

I usually write one yearly, then few monthly to-do in a notebook and little to-dos in a memo pad. So big picture goes to my notebook and small and everyday to-do details goes to my memo pad.

My monthly to-do in a myPaperclip notebook
My monthly to-do in a myPaperclip notebook
Little and daily to-dos in a memo pad
Little and daily to-dos in a memo pad

To sum it up, getting things done is a piece of cake once you get the system and resources needed in place.¬†Initially, you’ll struggle to keep up with the system i.e. you’ll forget to jot down little details, you’ll end up writing too many items on too many¬†devices, or you’ll miss on to complete a lot of items you wrote. Remember this is not a fight to get everything done that you write, rather this is to practice and convert writing your to-do items in a piece of paper every day, month and year into a habit.

Happy getting things done and here’s a picture of all of my memo pad sheets till date ūüôā Cheers!

All of my to-do items from year 2015
All of my to-do items from year 2015

Author: Sankalp Sinha

Nicknamed Som. Studied Automotive Engg. from Sharda University. Self-taught multi-disciplinary designer. Famous for a concept alarm clock - singNshock.....

1 thought on “How I get my things done – The art of GTD”

  1. Hey, glad I read this. I’ve been struggling with completing my goals. Do you also track how succesfully you’re following your to-dos?

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