A simple GTD system for minimalists

Over the years, I might have experimented with hundreds of systems, apps, workflows, and whatnots to improve my productivity. And while I did help for a while, I got a whole lot burned out trying to find that “ultimate productivity system.” Because none exists and the optimist inside of me wouldn’t give up or listen to the rational part of my mind! 

I believe the onus is onto the person using a productivity system to first get to a level of sanity and control. Once achieved, they have to do their due diligence to tweak the system and make it their own. This is the part where most systems break down because they are almost always so rigid — you know, there’s a right way to do it and the wrong way to do it. 

But who defines what’s right or wrong? The user or the creator of the system? It beats the purpose if the creator is dictating terms on how to use a system. It’s a not a lab-experiment. We’re talking about our daily drivers that will make our break our day and/or careers. For this exact reason I don’t use a system per se but a simple method to capture, organise, prioritise, and execute.

That’s it! That’s my system. Well, a framework to be precise but one that’s not complex, agrees with logic, and just works. And the best part is that you can tweak it to your heart’s content. Precisely why I recommend it to my clients. It allows them to be stay out of a patented productivity system (created by some random management consultant) and actually get work done. 

One perfect example is a system created by Doist’s CEO, Amir Salihefendic, who used it to build the company from the ground up. (Doist makes productivity tools like Todoist (something I use personally) and Twist.) It’s called Systemist and I love it for two reasons: 

1. It’s not complex and focuses on components (see below) that will agree with your logic 

2. It’s quite similar to my own system — except two additional steps

Systemist has 6 components:

1. Take it everywhere — this one’s a no-brainer. It can be a notebook but both Amir and I would recommend Todoist for maximum flexibility. A good system has to be portable so you can carry it everywhere. It’s not optional. (At least for me.)

2. Capture everything — David Allen said it the best, “you mind is not to hold ideas but to produce them.” You have to dump everything (work, personal, family, friends, random stuff, grocery shopping, whatever!) into this system because if you don’t it (and you) will fail. 

3. Break it up in small tasks and make them actionable — this one’s a no-brainer. A single task become a project the moment it has more than a single step to be accomplished. And you and I know, that’s almost everything we do. In fact, I have a project folder that’s specifically for one-time actions… and believe me, it stays empty for the most part of the week. 

4. Prioritise — it’s literal, quite basic, and yet most people don’t take out time to do this on a daily basis. The key is use a combination of identifiers (priority levels 1 to 5), labels (for contexts such as @home, @office, @computer, @outside etc.) and due dates to priorities your tasks. Remember, if everything is a priority, nothing really is. Act accordingly.

5. Get to to-do list zero daily — this is important particularly if you would like the system to work. Hard to replicate on paper because you can see all the pending tasks still on that page. With an online app, you can reschedule it for another date and time. And guess what, it’s totally okay. Aim to do 7-10 important things in a day. If you’re able to do more, great! If not, that’s okay too. But no matter what happens, your inbox/today’s list should be down to zero before you sleep. 

6. Get consistent feedback — Todoist has a built-in feature called “karma.” It’s a pretty handy feature but I don’t use it often. What matters to me the most is that I’m able to check off 70-80 tasks in a single week. I’m good if I’m able to do it. If not, I need to understand why and that’s where the daily review process comes in handy.

And that’s a wrap for the Systemist framework. It’s not complicated and it surely works like a charm. It’s interesting how efficient all systems and frameworks turn out to be when you keep them basic. If Amir’s process is too much for you then you’re probably suffering from another challenge — procrastination. Face it, you’ve got to deal with it. There are countless blog posts (including at least half a dozen right here!), articles, and videos on the interwebs that you must review. 

At the end of the day, a system is only as good as your desire to get things done. And that’s the point most people miss out on.

By Sunil Nair

Nurturing leaders of tomorrow.

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