Whenever somebody asks me if there is a book that all freelancers – without exception – should read, I almost always say this one:
The name may sound familiar because it’s hardly a secret – this is an incredibly popular system. You might even feel like you already know what it’s all about, or have heard about it so often you’ve been put off reading about it properly.
Getting Things Done is legendary in the productivity and business world, but few people really understand the system, and how it can benefit them.
The system described in painstaking detail in the book can genuinely revolutionise how much work you manage to do on the projects that really matter to you.
It’s based on fairly simple, timeless principles. So it may not be the most trendy thing around, but it’s still here because it works.
The reason I recommend this book to anybody who wants to live up to the potential that they have inside them is simply because this method works – and it will impact you in every area of your life if you commit to it and implement it.
By watching yourself get more of the things you want to do done, you’ll see your confidence growing, your horizons expanding, and you’ll see yourself benefitting from the clarity that this productivity system has to offer.
How this Productivity System can help you relax
We all know we should be more organised deep down, but the initial effort to get started, and then to maintain the system when things inevitably get busy, is where most people slip up.
This is why I recommend reading this book right away.
The system works – it’s undeniable and the best thinkers and businesses use it. Productivity apps are using this methodology. This means you don’t need to worry about doing your own research – Getting Things Done works and has been validated over many years since the book was first released.
It’s still around, and it’s so well known for this reason.
Also, reading the book will give you a full understanding of the need to commit fully to the system. You’ll be convinced to invest a little time now to reap incredible rewards for the rest of your life.
Introducing the External Brain
The main principle of Getting Things Done is simple but profound. Your brain is for being creative and having ideas, it’s not designed to remember every detail of your life.
In fact, it’s bad at remembering things. We remember randomly a call we should have made while shopping – forgetting the shopping items we’ve stored in our heads. Unless we’ve written a shopping list.
Simply put the brain is not designed for memory recall when you need it.
Trusted System comes to the rescue
So the idea is to try to unload everything that you need to remember into an external, trusted system.
This sounds daunting – every idea you have, no matter how small, has to be written down somewhere and captured.
But it’s nothing more than a habit. Once you understand the benefits, the slight inconvenience of writing everything down doesn’t feel that inconvenient.
It’s also easier than it ever has been. We are all walking around with smartphones in our pockets, and it takes a matter of seconds to whip it out and make a quick note.
I use Apple Notes to capture my thoughts because it is quickest to load on my phone. Then, each morning, I review the notes I’ve saved and load them into my External Brain. I use Roam Research as my “External Brain” at the moment, but yours can be whatever you choose – Evernote, Notion, a bullet journal…
This is my trusted system, but yours may vary. You may prefer to carry a notebook and jot your ideas down in there to capture them. It doesn’t matter, as long as you are capturing all of your ideas.
Trusted is the keyword here.
The second you start to doubt that you will remember to revisit a note or task, your brain will assume responsibility for remembering it again. Once that happens, it will bounce around, taking up brainpower because your brain is unable to relax. You can’t fool your brain, it knows whether something has been dealt with or not.
You have to be able to really trust that the item is in your system and so it will be automatically dealt with it the right time.
Storing the Open Loops
By capturing your ideas in this way, you are saving your brain from remembering things all of the time.
These are so-called Open Loops. Storing your open loops in a system where you will deal with them is a way to close these loops.
This system can help you to remove that background feeling of anxiety that most freelancers feel. The feeling of knowing there is a lot to do, but not knowing where to start.
The cause of this feeling – hundreds of open loops bouncing around in your head.
Why we feel endless anxiety – and how getting things done can help
David explains this feeling best in the book:
“An ambient angst pervades our society—there’s a sense that somehow there’s probably something we should be doing that we’re not, which creates a tension for which there is no resolution and from which there is no rest.”
It’s a horrible feeling, but it’s one that can be overcome, as soon as you trust your system and start using it.
Unloading in this way clears your mind of so much wasted energy, and gives you the mental space to become even more creative.
This is one of the main benefits of the system – you will feel the calm and stillness of knowing that everything is under control, and you can use your brain to make progress on the ideas and projects that are meaningful to you.
A simple system that works
Getting things done isn’t a particularly complicated system, but you do need to stick to the rules, otherwise, things will unravel quickly.
It essentially promises this:
“You need to set up systems and tricks that get you to think about your projects and situations more frequently, more easily, and more in depth. “
Basically, it goes like this:
Capture everything, and then organise it onto appropriate lists, whether that’s personal tasks, work tasks or projects.
Note: anything requiring two or more tasks to complete is a project.
You will then define the next action for each of your projects – the specific next thing you need to do to move it forward.
This little bit of thinking will often break down the mental resistance to making progress on your projects.
Regular reviews of your commitments and ideas keep your eternal brain up to date.
Once you’ve adopted the system, you’ll start to find joy in exploring this creation. You are fully in control of what you’re working towards, and where you are with everything.
The system is simple but profound and this sense of control over everything in your life is hard to imagine until you’ve tried it.
I particularly like the Someday/Maybe list. This is where you put all of the ideas that you’re not ready to commit to yet. I think of this as letting them simmer away on their own, ready to develop and grow over time.
Some will grow into ideas you want to bring to life, others will stay here until the time is right, and others will go no further.
The Two Minute Rule
The book is full of productivity tips and takeaways which have a life of their own. One of the most notable is the Two Minute Rule.
This rule of thumb simply says if a task will take two minutes or less to complete, you should do it straight away, rather than entering it into your system.
This rule alone is worth it’s weight in gold to many people, helping to automate systems and reduce mental clutter.
This is not a new system, but the book had its revisions in 2015 to bring it more up to date, with technological developments.
The principles remain largely the same, but there is still a large focus on physical items in the book.
Increasingly more of us can organise our work entirely online, especially freelancers, who tend to be able to work anywhere.
Some of the descriptions already feel a little out of date considering where we are with technology.
Are you ready to commit to it?
Whether you’ve heard of Getting Things Done (GTD) before, are new to the idea, or are even using elements of it already – you’ll find loads of value in the book.
I’ve tried to give you a taste of the benefits it promises, but this is no quick fix. It’s a way of working – a way of life even – that you will have to commit to.
It’s a recipe for a happier, more productive life, but – and it’s a big BUT – only if you’re ready to totally commit to it.
The adjustment can be a little painful, but once you’re through the other side, the benefits can be extraordinary.
So if you ever feel that stress of overwhelm, or the feeling that you don’t know where to start, I highly recommend giving it a read and seeing if it’s for you.
This book will take you far beyond simply learning to organise your to-do list better. It holds advice that will help you to take back control over of your time, feeling happier in your work, and be more creative.
To reap these rewards, you’ll want to read the book in full and let the creator himself guide you through the process.
Pick up a copy today and let us know your thoughts about the system!
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