Getting Things Done

The Secrets of Nearly Every Productivity Book Revealed

Time and Money concept image. us currency and a pocket watch portray time and money.Business concept.Do you wish you had the ability to add more time to your day? I do.

However, as I cannot create more time (at least not yet), I read books about how to increase and maximize my productivity.

I have read a fair number of productivity books over the years and recently I noticed that they all offer the same formula for success; authors just use different jargon to convey the same productivity recipe.

In this post, you will discover the blueprint offered in nearly every productivity book.


Blueprint for Increased Productivity

The formula for increasing and maximizing your productivity consists of 6 Steps:

Step 1: Create goals.

Dream about your life.

What would you like to accomplish? Where would you like to live? What kind of relationships would you like to forge?

Think about every aspect of your personal and professional life and note your hopes and dreams.

Step 2: Write down your goals and internalize them.

After you think about what you want to accomplish and what you want your life to be like, write down your ideas.

Read and refer to your written goals often. Visualize yourself realizing your goals as you review them. If you internalize your goals and believe that you will accomplish them then you will find ways to achieve them.


SuccessStep 3: Break your goals down into actionable steps.

Create an action plan.

What work do you need to do to achieve your goals?

Outline this work and use this sketch to plot out actionable steps that you can take to realize your goals.


Step 4: Review and plan progress weekly, monthly, and quarterly.

Life goals tend to require a lot of action steps to achieve. The sheer number of steps it might take for a person to realize their dreams discourages most from trying. Overcome this mental barrier.

Break down the number of action steps you need to take by plotting out how you will undertake a portion of those steps each quarter.

Divide the steps you plan to accomplish within each three-month period among each month in the quarter.

Distribute the work you will tackle within a month among each week within that month.

By dividing your action steps into manageable steps and time frames you will make incremental progress toward your larger goals.


Step 5: Tell people about your goals and your progress.

Hold yourself accountable for progress by telling people about your dreams.

You will make the most progress toward achieving your goals if you know people are counting on you or that they will ask you about your progress.


Quill-and-InkStep 6: Maintain focus by writing down ideas and tasks.

Maintaining focus can be hard. Free up mental space by writing down ideas, tasks, and other important thoughts in a safe place. Your mind will let go of these ideas once it knows that you have filed them in a place where they won’t be lost.

Each week, month, and quarter, review the ideas and thoughts you stored and sort them into your action plan. If the ideas don't align with your larger goals, file them away for “later” and let the ideas rest.



The above six steps appear in nearly every productivity book. Authors call each step something different to make their book stand out, but their advice represents a variation of the same success formula.

The key to their advice: you can achieve almost anything if you make steady, incremental progress and persist in your desire to reach your goals.

Now that my brain has recognized this productivity recipe, I won’t be reading any more productivity books. Instead, I will will divert my energy toward accomplishing the tasks in my action plans and to reading other books on my to-read list.


time-to-shareShare Your Story

What are your favorite productivity tips? 


Project Management with the Getting Things Done Method: Reviews

Getting-Things-Done-FileWelcome Back Readers! Before you read this post, read the first of this 2-part series: “Project Management with the Getting Things Done Method: An Overview

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GTD Reviews

To realize the full potential of the Getting Things Done method, you must regularly review your work and personal project lists.

Regular reviews keep your mind focused because reviews allow you to stay on top of what you need/want to do without forgetting a single idea or action step.

Review schedules vary depending on the person. As I mentioned in “3 Project Management Tips That Will Make You a Better, More Prolific Writer,” I conduct the weekly, monthly, and quarterly reviews advocated by Todd Henry in [amazon_link id="1591846242" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]The Accidental Creative[/amazon_link], an idea which he borrowed from David Allen’s GTD system.

Henry’s review interval works well for me. Quarterly reviews provide me with a large, but not overwhelming, picture of what I need to get done over a 3-month period. Monthly and Weekly Reviews help me to establish smaller and more manageable action plans for how I will complete my quarterly projects.

Each of my reviews has 3 main components.


Female business hands working on table.Quarterly Reviews

I conduct a quarterly review every 3 months.

1. Project Review: I review of all work and personal projects that I have listed in my Omnifocus app. This step helps me figure out which projects I need to work on and complete over the next 3 months. Quarterly reviews also allow me to see whether I can move any of the projects or actions from my “Someday/Maybe” lists into my active project roster.

2. Calendar Review: I go through my calendar and list any appointments, trips, meetings, or special events that will take place during the upcoming quarter. Listing these events helps me keep them “front of mind,” which helps me plan around them if and when I need to.

3. List Goals: I list goals for each quarter. In most cases they seem like a “wish list,” but for whatever reason making this wish list actually causes some of my goals to happen.

At Todd Henry’s suggestion, I begin each goal item with “It would blow my mind if…”

To get you started here are 2 items from my goals list for the December 2013-February 2014 quarter: “It would blow my mind if I launched my consulting business and landed a client.” “It would blow my mind if I revised 1 chapter of my book.”


action plan checkboxMonthly Reviews

I refer to my quarterly review when I conduct my monthly review.

1. Project Review: I select projects from my quarterly review that I will either complete or make progress on over the course of the next month.

2. Calendar Review: I go through both my calendar and my quarterly review and list all of the appointments, trips, meetings, or special events I need to schedule around.

3. Progress Assessment: At the end of my monthly review, I ask myself whether I am happy with the work I am doing and the progress I am making. If I am not happy, I spend a few minutes free writing so I can better articulate why I am unhappy so I can try to fix it.


Weekly Reviews

I conduct my weekly reviews on Friday evening.

I have tried conducting my weekly reviews on Monday morning and Sunday night, but I disliked how Sundays cut into my “family time” and Monday morning reviews made me feel like I was starting my week behind.

Friday evening reviews help me start organized on Mondays and get me ready for my upcoming weekend.

I use my monthly reviews to help guide my weekly work plans.

1. Inbox Review: I use the OmniFocus inbox feature to capture and store all of the ideas that come to weigh on my mind each day. Before I conduct my weekly review, I go through my inbox and assign each idea a project, place it into my work or personal single-action list, or file it into my work or personal “Someday/Maybe” lists. Reviewing my inbox keeps my ideas organized and the action steps I need for each project up-to-date.

Calendar2. Project Review: I identify projects from my monthly review and list the action steps I will take to either make progress on or complete the project.

3. Calendar Review: I review my calendar once again so I know when I need to schedule my writing around work and personal events and appointments. I like to schedule my writing time in as many 2-4 hour chunks as possible and reviewing my calendar at the end of each week helps me do that.



Reviews are vital to how I manage my projects and get things done, which is why I schedule them in my calendar. I do not want to forget to conduct them.

This 2-post series has provided a broad overview of how I manage my time, writing, and research projects.

GTD may look like a long, complicated process, but after the initial time you take to get organized, you will find that it becomes second nature. You will also find that you are more productive.

If you would like to learn more about GTD, you should check out [amazon_link id="0142000280" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity[/amazon_link] by David Allen, [amazon_link id="1591844118" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Making Ideas Happen[/amazon_link] by Scott Belsky, and [amazon_link id="1591846242" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]The Accidental Creative[/amazon_link] by Todd Henry. Allen created the GTD system, but Belsky and Henry explain the system in a way that writers and other creatives will find more practical and accessible.


time-to-shareWhat Do You Think?

How do you organize your time, writing, and research projects?

Is there a part of my system that you would like me to explain in greater detail?


Project Management with the Getting Things Done Method: An Overview

Time management lessonWould you like to know how to better manage your time, writing, and research projects? A reader who took my reader survey asked me to explain how I manage my time, writing, and research projects. So by reader request, this 2-post series will broadly explain how I use the Getting Things Done (GTD) method of organization and project management.


Getting Things Done

The main idea behind GTD is that you need to free your mind of anything that draws your attention away from what you need to do. The easiest way to free your mind is to set aside time to brain dump on a piece of paper, in an Evernote note, Word Doc, or a GTD-optimized app such as OmniFocus, IQTELL, Asana, or Todoist.


Initial Organization: Brain Dump & Action Steps

BrainstormList every project you need to complete and everything that is weighing on your mind.

Do not limit yourself to work related-ideas, write down everything weighing on your mind.

When you have finished writing down all of your to-dos and ideas, look over your list.

Your list may look like a mishmash of words: “Elkanah Watson,” “pharmacy,” “speed read.”

Turn this jumble into actionable steps by adding verbs to the items on your list: “Write article about Elkanah Watson,” “Pick up prescription at the pharmacy,” “Learn to speed read.”

Adding the verb is important because it transforms your mental note into a defined action you can take; verbs turn to-do lists into action lists.

Next, sort your action steps into projects and single-action items.

Single-Action Item: “Pick up prescription at the pharmacy.” I need to go to the pharmacy once to complete the task.

Projects: “Write article about Elkanah Watson” and “Learn to speed read.” These items are projects because I must complete smaller tasks before I finish these larger tasks.

For example, my action steps for “Write article about Elkanah Watson” may include: • “Read Flick Dissertation about Watson” • “Consult Watson’s Men and Times of the Revolution” • “Brainstorm what aspect of Watson’s life to write about” • “Draft outline of article” • “Draft article” • “Edit article” • “Submit final article to Journal of the American Revolution.”

All of these steps will help me complete the larger project, “Write article about Elkanah Watson.”

Take the time to brainstorm the actions steps you need to complete each larger project on your list. It will likely take you several hours to brain dump, organize your single-action steps and projects, and create action steps for each of your projects, but it will be time well spent.


Getting-Things-Done-FileWork vs. Personal Lists

If it will help you stay organized, you can further organize your projects into 4 different lists: Work, Personal, Work: Someday/Maybe, Personal: Someday/Maybe.

Place your work-related projects on your work list and your personal projects on your personal list. The Someday/Maybe” lists are all the items that you wish to accomplish in the future. They could be places you would like to travel to, skills or languages you would like to learn, topics you would like to write about.


Keeping Your Mind Focused

Aside from your action-step lists, GTD has 2 other important parts that you need to manage your projects and keep your mind focused: 1. Write down every idea that comes to you and store them in an “inbox-type” folder (physical or electronic) and 2. Frequent Reviews.



In order to keep your mind focused it must be free from distraction. Every time you have a thought that springs into your mind you need to write it down and store it in a place where you know you will not lose it. This action will give your subconscious the security it needs to let go of the distracting thought.

A trusted place can be a notebook you carry with you, an Evernote notebook, or a note taking or project management app on your smartphone. The trusted place should also be something that you have ready access to whenever you need it. I use Omnifocus on my smartphone as my trusted inbox.



Reviews are reminders. They keep your mind focused on the tasks and projects you need to complete by giving your brain the peace of mind it needs to focus. Reviews involve looking over each project on your work and personal lists and reviewing the action steps for each project. Reviews help you stay on top of what you need to/want to do so you do not forget.

By reviewing your project lists and inbox every so often, your mind will be able to focus on the projects you need to get done because it won’t have to waste time trying to remember everything that you need/want to do.



Reviews are essential to getting and staying organized and focused. Since they play such a vital role in how I manage my projects, I will devote tomorrow’s post to how I conduct my reviews.


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