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How the "GTD" method saved one freelancer's sanity

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I started my inbound marketing business while I was still employed in a tech startup company. At first, things were great. However, it didn't take long before I started feeling overwhelmed. Despite using different productivity methods, I was falling behind on my work.

As someone that considers himself an overachiever, this was a frustrating and overwhelming time. I knew I had to do something about… and FAST!

That was when I came across the GTD method, and it saved me not only from losing my mind but more importantly, my business.

What is GTD?

GTD stands for Getting Things Done. It’s a productivity method David Allen created. GTD guides you to develop a system to organize your to-dos, priorities, and schedules. It also encourages you to clear your mind from any distraction so you can focus on your work.

Most productivity methods teach a rigid "step one, step two" system to follow. The GTD method is made of different stages (called “pillars”) that have an end goal to achieve. There’s no specific technique or tool to use. You can use whatever works best for you to accomplish each pillar.

Applying the 5 GTD pillars...

1. Capture everything

I call this pillar the "brain dump" stage because you need to list everything down in one place, whether it’s your favorite to-do app, a planner, or even a simple notepad. The goal is to get everything out your head so it doesn’t stay floating in your mind and distract you.

I found creating a document and storing it in my Google Drive works best. It syncs everything in my desktop to my mobile devices. I can quickly capture everything even when I’m on the go..

2. Clarify your tasks

The next thing to do is to go through each one, and evaluate them. The goal here is to figure out the tasks that you need to accomplish personally.

I usually do this on Sunday right before the week begins. That way, I don’t feel rushed doing this.

When going through my task, I follow the Eliminate, Simplify, Automate, and Delegate method. I first learned about this productivity hack from Tim Ferriss.

Essentially, this method helps you categorize all your tasks. The first category is those tasks that you can eliminate. These are those that aren’t aligned with the goals you set for your business.

The next thing to do is to see which of the remaining tasks can be automated. Apps like Zapier and IFTTT are handy. You can program these apps to carry out the functions for you.

The third category is tasks you can delegate. When delegating, I ask myself: Who among them can accomplish this task as good or better than I? I then assign that responsibility to that team member.

The last category is simplifying tasks you need to do. Often, these are significant projects that require several steps to finish, so I break these into smaller tasks to make them simpler.

3. Organize your tasks

For this next pillar, the goal is to create a list that's quick and easy to scan.

I do this on Asana. Its new board layout makes it easier for me to organize all the tasks I need to accomplish. I can also move them around based on their priority by setting deadlines, and reminders that are sent to my email and phone. More important, it lets me delegate tasks quickly, so I know who to follow-up.

Again, there’s no specific rule on how to organize your to-do list or where you create them. What’s important is that you can quickly review and switch them around based on their priority, which I’ll talk about next.

4. Reflect on your list

Now that you have your list of to-dos, it’s time to arrange them based on what’s important.

For this, I decided to come up with a list of my "Daily 3." These are what I consider as the most critical tasks that I need to attend to within the day. That way, even if I don’t accomplish everything on my to-do list, I still can feel productive.

5. Engage

Now you got your list. It's time to get to work and start knocking those tasks down.

Because my work’s done online, I can’t afford not to use the Internet. The downside is that it’s so easy to get side-tracked.

The solution I found was combining Freedom along with the Pomodoro Technique. Freedom blocks off websites that can quickly become time wasters. I set Freedom to block off my specific sites for 25 minutes (the recommended time for one Pomodoro).

The first few days of using the GTD method was challenging. However, the more I kept at it, the easier it became. After one week of doing this, I compared my performance before I started. I noticed I was able to quickly catch up with my work backlog. More important, I saw I managed to free up time to do things outside of work.

Recently I spent time helping Eden Mogese implement the GTD productivity strategies and I can attest that we all have different personalities but we need structure to help us from feeling overwhelmed. Here’s Eden’s personal testimonial:

“As a blogger/Instagram micro-influencer one of the biggest problems I have is trying to attain perfection, but have come to terms with focusing on Getting things done. Upon working with Kevin, I learned to take a systematic approach to managing my business and now I'm focussed on the few things that matter.”

Like I said earlier, there’s no strict way to practice the GTD method. The important thing here is that you apply the different pillars to fit your planning and working style. Don’t get so engrossed in trying to get things right. Focus instead on getting things done.

Kevin Payne Kevin Payne is an inbound marketing consultant. When he's not advising startups on SAAS strategy he writes about the many lessons he has learned from the trenches.

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