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“Getting Things Done” in Your Personal Life

A business professional with an insatiable desire to learn and improve.

For those of you who haven’t read the book “Getting Things Done,” by David Allen, I highly recommend it. Notice I did not say “Anyone in corporate America should read this book,” I said anyone. Everyone who has more than one responsibility could benefit from the knowledge and strategies proposed by Mr. Allen. Let me explain how.

Did you know the phrase “multi-tasking” didn’t exist until the 1960's? It was a term originally used for computers who would have more than one application running at the same time. Originally, the term had nothing to do with the human brain because we can not multi-task. The brain can only focus on one thing at a time.

Now, I’m sure you’ve listened to music while driving, maybe listened to an audio book while washing dishes. Actions like these are common but we can do them because we are not focusing on both activities at the same time. Instead, what happens is you will be focusing on an audio book while your dish washing is automated. Occasionally, you will switch focus to your dishes just long enough to decide which dish to do next and how to wash it. Then the dish washing goes back to an automated process and your focus returns to the book.

Your brain cannot focus on two things at once. When you try, you end up losing efficiency. A known fact in the agile world is that when an employee focuses on two tasks at work, he doesn’t give 50% of his attention to each, he gives 20% of his attention to each and the other 60% is lost in switching between the two tasks. This gets worse the more things you are responsible for.

getting-things-done-in-your-personal-life

Read "Getting Things Done" by David Allen

So how does this apply to your personal life? How many things are you responsible for? Do you take the kids to school on your way to work? Do you have a honey-do list on the weekends? Maybe you’ve committed to playing online games with friends on a weekly basis. Regardless of formality, we all have things we are responsible for and we need to keep track of them. What most of us don’t realize, however, is that keeping track of our responsibilities is a task, and we can not multi-task.

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How many times have you been having a conversation and you remembered some other random thing that you need to do? How often have you sat down at the end of a long day to watch a movie, only to realize you forgot to take out the trash, or tense up because you remembered there’s a meeting tomorrow that you have to prepare for in the morning? Unfortunately, we don’t even realize when we do this most of the time. Our brains are pulled in multiple directions all the time without us even realizing it. This means, we are frequently operating at 20% focus due to multi-tasking.

Imagine your life if you gave 100% of your focus to every activity you were doing. Now, that’s impossible, but the Getting Things Done (GTD) method can increase your focus significantly. GTD will help you focus by metaphorically closing the browser tabs that you’re not using. Remove the mental applications that are running in the background of your brain and devote your processing power, your focus, to whatever task you have in front of you.

To oversimplify the method, write down everything you need to do, then turn that list into a set of reminder notifications. The idea is that you are transferring the responsibility of remembering to a computer so that you can instead focus on what you are currently doing.

What you’ll find is that you can do more. You’ll be able to listen more intently to your significant other, which will improve your relationship. You’ll be able to focus more on whatever task you are doing, which will improve the quality of your work and your efficiency. You’ll be able to get more done, do it better, and be less stressed.

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© 2022 Luke Evans

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