A long-term benefit of using David Allens Getting Things Done methodology is this: GTD clears my mind.
After practicing GTD for a number of years, I find that one of the more subtle and underestimated benefits is that GTD clears my mind and helps me to be more mindful. Let me try to explain.
What I mean by saying that GTD clears my mind
I feel a need to start by saying that I don’t normally use the word mindfulness. I think the concept of mindfulness is being oversold and mystified. Wikipedia has a good definition:
“Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment.”
In plain English, this means getting all the stuff out of your head so that you can concentrate on how you feel and the things that you are engaged in right now. You don’t need to do yoga, meditate, drink green tea, or stop eating meat to achieve this. What you need is a system that enables you to keep “stuff” somewhere outside of your head.
Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.
– David Allen
This is where GTD comes in. Essentially, GTD is a system of parking spaces for ideas and chores, and a trusted method of reviewing those items.
The end of not being present
Earlier, when attending seminars, lectures, or long meetings, I would always start dribbling stuff down on my notepad. This would end up being a mix of ideas and to-do items. From time to time, the list would contain an “o-shit-I-forgot” item that would result in a panicked phone call or email in the next break.
Today, my notes are exclusively about the topic of the seminar or meeting. I still might jot down a good idea, if I get one, but that’s about it. In the break, I might transfer that idea to Todoist. Apart from that, instead of sitting huddled over my phone or computer, I will take a break, join others in a conversation and maybe get some refreshments. Just the act of getting out of the chair and moving around have a positive impact on the brain.
The reason for my earlier behavior was simple; Ideas and open issues used to buzz around in my head. I tried to use my head for remembering what to do. That is a really bad idea.
The process I was going through in those meetings or seminars is what in GTD is referred to as a brain dump. Essentially this means writing down all the things on your mind. Today, this is a part of my GTD Weekly Review, something I do every Friday. For the rest of the week, whenever I get an idea, I will write it down and process it during my weekly review.
One trusted system
To be able to confidently write everything down and forget about it, I have to trust my routines and my system. Since everything I write down and process will end up in Todoist, I can trust that whenever I have finished my to-do list for today, I know that there is nothing left to do that really have to be done that day.
Again, the weekly review is the key to ensure that I have taken care of the important stuff that week, and to prepare myself for the coming week.
The end of forgetfulness
Back in the time when I used my head to remember stuff, I would have periods of stress where I would wake up in the middle of the night wondering if I had remembered to do this or that. After I got my GTD workflow streamlined this has never happened. During my waking hours, I almost never have one of those “oh-shit!” moments, having forgotten something important.
Having a good system in place makes it possible to move stuff out of my head, into my system, and then forget about it – without forgetting to do it when the time comes.
The positive effects of not trying to keep stuff in your head
GTD clears my mind so that I can use it for what the mind is really good at; getting ideas. I find it easier to tackle unplanned challenges or crisis. Since my first reaction no longer is a feeling of uncertainty because I’m insecure about whether or not I have handled today’s most important issues, I’m able to throw myself into problem-solving much faster than before.
At the end of the day, the feeling of accomplishment and control makes it easier to relax on my way home from work. This, in turn, means that I arrive home in a good mood, ready to spend time with friends and family.
“I have only two priorities: What I’m doing right now and everything else.”
– David Allen
Give yourself time
The feeling that GTD clears my mind was not something that I experienced imminently. It was the result of a hundred different minute changes in my life. It was something I slowly realized because I noticed that I acted differently than I used to do.
If you give yourself time, and work on constantly improving your GTD workflow, you will get there.