David Allen's 5 "Getting Things Done" Steps Will Help You Be More Productive — And So Will These Other Tips

Anyone who has researched how to make the most of their time has probably come across the teachings of productivity guru David Allen, author of Getting Things Done and creator of the "work-life management system." The Getting Things Done (GTD) system includes five steps for achieving top productivity: capture, clarify, organize, reflect, and engage. He recently told Fast Company, however, that his advice has been misinterpreted to suggest that to increase your productivity, you should always be doing something, when doing nothing is also a core component of productivity. He also thinks that using the term "time management" to describe his method has been misleading:

Time just is. That’s not the big issue. The big issue is really space. When people say they need time management, it’s usually because something is feeling out of control or inappropriately focused.

Man, this guy is deep — not surprising, since he's also a minister of the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness and has a black belt in karate. He even went as far as to call the GTD a martial art.

Let's rewind for a second, though. Most of us didn't even know what the five steps were in the first place, so here's how each one works and some more advice Allen and other experts would offer those of us looking to make the most of our time.

1. Capture

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Steve and Blue were onto something with their trusted notepad. Allen suggests you "capture" everything on your mind on a notepad (or, for those of us with a phobia for all things made of paper, a computer or voice recorder) so you can focus only on what you need to.

2. Clarify

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Review the items you've captured, ask yourself which are actionable, and disregard everything else. So, according to my interpretation of this step, you'd delete "fear that I'm going to die one day" and keep "need to do laundry instead of spraying perfume on already-worn clothes and hoping nobody notices."

3. Organize

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Divide your to-do list into sub-lists. A few suggested on Allen's website are "calls to make," "errands to run," and "emails to send," though mine would look more like "items to remove from purse," "Facebook events to RSVP to," and "useless listservs to unsubscribe to."

4. Reflect

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Return to your lists whenever you need to figure out what to do next. Allen recommends a weekly review to reflect on and update the lists — because maybe you'll discover you really do need those spare ear buds in your purse after all.

5. Engage

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This one's pretty straightforward: "Use your system to take appropriate actions with confidence." Sounds easier said than done, though: Can you ever truly be confident that your headphones won't break the moment you put that spare ear bud away?!?

So, even though this is the last of the five steps, here are some more tips to help bring you from capturing to engaging:

6. Do nothing

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Allen emphasized in his Fast Company interview that sometimes the most appropriate action during the "engage" step is nothing at all. In fact, the ability to clear your mind enough to do nothing at all is the process's goal: "A hallmark of how well you can do this methodology is how well you can do nothing. How well can you actually have nothing on your mind?" In addition, numerous studies have revealed that doing nothing has benefits in of itself, offering time to rest, distance from a problem, and an opportunity to let spontaneous thoughts in.

7. Give yourself deadlines

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If you're anything like me, you suffer from the false perception that the more time you spend on something, the better it will be. So, if I just write really slowly and take an extra hour to turn in this article, it'll make it better, right? Right?!? Fortunately, we actually don't need to drag out our time in the office (or library or coffee shop) to produce our best work. And we'll produce more work more quickly if we predetermine a time when we'll move on to the next project. Science says so.

8. Start with the small things

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Yes, that is a reference to the song "All the Small Things." You. Are. Welcome. Speaking from personal experience, sometimes getting out of a rut of unproductivity requires doing anything — literally anything — on your to-do list just to get back into getting-things-done mode. So, if dragging your laundry down the street seems like too much of a hassle, start by mailing that letter you've been meaning to send, and once you're in work mode, those few blocks to the laundromat may not seem like such a shlep anymore. These "small wins," as they say in business, can give you the confidence and energy to tackle the bigger tasks.

9. Offer yourself incentives

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Many companies offer perks and bonuses in exchange for good work to motivate employees, but you don't have to rely on your employer to provide these incentives. If you know Netflix is awaiting you after you tackle that report, you're going to bang out the bibliography. And if you don't have that incentive, you may just end up watching Netflix anyway because your work seems like an endless rabbit hole of doom and misery and you'll do anything to avoid it. We've all been there.

10. Schedule time for fun

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I have a confession to make. As a preteen, I had a crippling addiction to the virtual pet site Neopets. I'd sit through my classes daydreaming about how I'd spend my neopoints (the site's virtual currency), then I'd go home and pretend to do my homework while I entered my pets in battles and poker tournaments. Yet here I am today, a functional working woman! How'd I do it? I started allotting myself time intervals each day during which I was allowed to play Neopets. This gave me motivation to get through my so-called real life duties and fully rejuvenate during my newly guilt-free leisure time. Nowadays, it's not so much virtual pets as social networking sites that get me, since apparently we're biologically wired to scroll through newsfeeds during work, but the Chrome extension StayFocused helps me take the same approach to Facebook that I took to Neopets — just with fewer virtual battles.

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