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Getting Things Done is as easy as 1-2-3

Being in a perpetual state of overwhelm is a defeating feeling. A recent study revealed that a typical adult’s media consumption has risen from 5.2 hours a day in 1945 to over 15 hours today. That’s a whole lot of emails and Facebook posts to digest.

How do we tame an endless barrage of messages to check anything off our to-do list? By Getting Things Done.

Getting Things Done or GTD is a mantra coined by productivity Yoda David Allen. The methodology was first introduced in 2001. The process has been refined over the years with the 2015 release of Allen’s latest edition. GTD has had a profound impact on my life. If you’re already a practitioner, you know what I mean.

Allen shares the analogy of “mind like water” in the very first chapter of the book:

In karate, there is an image that’s used to define the position of perfect readiness: “mind like water.” Imagine throwing a pebble into a still pond. How does the water respond? The answer is, totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input; then it returns to calm. It doesn’t overreact or underreact.

Anything that causes you to overreact or underreact can control you, and often does. Responding inappropriately to your email, your staff, your projects, your unread magazines, your thoughts about what you need to do, your children, or your boss will lead to less effective results than you’d like. Most people give either more or less attention to things than they deserve, simply because they don’t operate with a “mind like water.”

Envision your inbox at this very moment. Not exactly a sea of tranquility? If you’re like me, you have a hate-hate relationship with email. Email is someone else’s agenda for you. It’s rarely good news and always requires you to do something. There’s nothing more defeating than stepping away from your computer and coming back to an overflowing inbox.

Getting Things Done to the rescue. At its core, it’s about getting things on a list and then:

  • Do It – Right away
  • Delegate it – To the right person
  • Defer it – To a future date

1. Do It

If a task takes less than 2 minutes, do it right away. Staying with the email example, don’t clutter up your inbox with messages you can quickly reply to, file away, or delete. Pro Tip: Use an email subscription management tool like to stop unwanted e-newsletters from hitting your inbox.

2. Delegate It

To delegate means to entrust a task or responsibility to another person. Evaluate every message that you receive. Ask yourself, “Do I need to do this or could someone else take care of it?” You’ll be surprised how many times the answer is someone else can do it.

3. Defer It

Because of the easy access to email on our computers, smartphones, and now even our watches, our inbox subjects us to a false sense of urgency. Not every email needs to be taken care of right this second. If the task will take more than 2 minutes, file it away for a designated time in the day – early morning, lunch, or evening are ideal when other messages aren’t coming in – or a future date.

There are a lot of fancy tools out there to implement GTD, from online list-makers like Trello and Checkli to calendars like iCal or Google Calendar. Also check out Merlin Mann’s 43 Folders and Inbox Zero. Sometimes, nothing beats a good old-fashioned sheet of paper though.

Start with these three things and in no time you’ll be experiencing mind like water.

Like the idea of Getting Things Done? The first 5 people to fill out the form below will received a free copy of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity compliments of yours truly. Enter your address in the message field.

By Jason Piasecki, Partner + Email Kung Fu Master


Jason is a Partner and the CEO at Revel, a B2B marketing agency. He is a diehard baseball fan who loves his Detroit Tigers. Family vacations often revolve around seeing games in different MLB ballparks around the country – they’ve been to 21 so far and counting. Connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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