There seems to be, out in planning/productivity world, an almost cult like devotion to David Allen’s Getting Things Done. The book is frequently quoted in productivity blogs, podcasts and even in a book or two, with it’s friendly abbreviation, GTD. The subtitle is the art of stress-free productivity, so there is absolutely no question about the subject of this book. You are going to learn to get things done.
As with most things of this nature, I ignored it as long as I could. But after about the 20th mention, I had to get a copy and see what the big deal is. Mostly because Cal Newport mentions it all the time, and Cal is nothing if not prolific, productive and in his own way, incredibly creative. I’m not in knowledge work, and really, the only productivity goals are the ones I set for myself, but I have to say, for writing there were some great takeaways.
First off, the idea of open loops. Those are the little things that pop in your mind while you are focusing on something else and just nag at you until it’s done. For example, you are working on a deadline, and you get up to get a snack and notice the fridge needs to be cleaned out. You know you are on a deadline, but the fridge is practically yelling in your ear that it needs, it wants, to be cleaned NOW. That, friends, is an open loop. Mr. Allen says that if you just make sure you capture the task in a system you trust, your brain can then move on.
The important point is a system your brain trusts so that it will relax and focus on the task in front of you. I have had systems of writing things down, but since I never looked at it again, and my brain knew that, I still ended up cleaning the fridge before I could do my creative work. Now that I have a system where I know I will look at the lists at least three times a day, I can focus more. That is the capture part of his system.
After the new task is captured, there is the clarify (or configure, but that sounds a bit tech-y for me.) That is where the new task is broken into parts and well, clarified. For writing, I take this to be the story board (like the index card layout in Scrivener, or a physical index card array, or even, as I have done, a ginormous Excel or Google Spread sheet (perfect for long timelines.)
The last part is Control. (Actually, Mr. Allen calls it organizing, but Cal Newport like alliteration and I am with Cal on this.) This is actually planning the work. I like time blocking myself, but there are lots of ways to do it. The big key though, is to assign the task (yes, even creating) to a time/deadline and not just crossing things off a list.
So there you have it. A 5am review of Getting Things Done. Now, my blog block is over and it’s time for me to work on the story that I will be posting on Story Sunday. Have a great day.
Heyy, I like the content of your blog and this article. I love Cal Newport. I deleted 90% of my social media accounts to focus on essential things. Aside from Newport books, what books can you recommend? And yes, hello to the “productivity” cult haha
Thanks! I am working my way through Cal’s podcast, but at an hour per espisode it’s quite time consuming. What sent me off on the productivity journey was actually Laura Vanderkam’s book 168 Hours and her idea of treating time in weekly units rather than daily.
I am going to note this one. And I did not know that Cal has a podcast. I hope he is still off the social media. haha
It’s called Deep Questions, and he just answers questions from his newsletter subscribers. He is still VERY anti-social media.
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He is sooo cool. Anyway, keep on writing. I love your content.