How I use short-term goals with GTD

Getting Things Done is a great organising system but I have always had a problem with step 5, “doing”. David Allen says to just look at your lists, consider the context, time available, your energy levels and priority – and then pick what you’re going to do. This is too wishy-washy for me. I’m someone who prefers rules. Without some structure I just don’t get things done. And I really don’t like assigning priority levels to tasks. Low ranked tasks just get ignored.

I, like many, have a tendency to procrastinate. I put off the more boring tasks and tend to avoid those that require too much effort. Or I may have good intentions but then get distracted, usually by the computer. And before I know it the day is over and I’ve not done as much as I would have liked. 

A few months ago, in an attempt to get over my issues with “doing” I started setting myself monthly goals. At the beginning of each month I choose 3 or 4 tasks or goals that I promise myself I will complete before the month is up. I keep a journal that I write in most days. There is a page at the beginning of each month where I write down these goals. By writing them down I don’t forget them and it makes it “official”. It’s as though I’ve signed a contract with myself. I have found this really motivating and fairly easy to achieve what I have set myself.

In fact it worked so well that I decided to also set myself weekly goals. I choose 3 tasks for the coming week. I’ve found a convenient time to do this is whilst doing my weekly review. Again, I write them down. I currently use a Moleskine pocket notebook for this. However, this is the same notebook I use for shopping lists, to-do capture, draft blog posts, all sorts – and I find my lists of weekly tasks get lost amongst everything else. I’ve bought myself a Moleskine pocket weekly notebook (18 months, from July this year until December 2009) and am going to start using that instead from next month.

I had already been using Cultured Code’s Things to record tasks for “today”, although these are mostly scheduled and added automatically to the today list. (More on my use of Things in an upcoming post.) After reading Patrick Rhone’s suggestions regarding a today list, and given my success with monthly and weekly goals, I now write down 2 or 3 daily goals as well. I use a basic version of Patrick’s dash/plus scheme. Each to-do in my Moleskine is prefixed with a minus sign. When it has been actioned (either completed or added to Things) I turn it into a plus sign. This is a quick, easy method to keep track of unactioned items and looks neater than crossing through them.

I have found that setting myself short-term goals – in other words creating short today, this week and this month to-do lists – has greatly increased my productivity. By writing it down, and effectively making a contract with myself, I am getting things done.



2 Responses to “How I use short-term goals with GTD”

  1. Carla Says:

    Writing it down is a good thing. I’ve always done lists but have gotten a little lax in the task. It may be time to bring the lists back to life again. Good luck.

  2. Rachel Murphy Says:

    Hi Carla. I initially kept all my lists digitally (on the computer and my iPhone). But I found sometimes it’s a lot quicker to write it on paper and I do think it can help you remember more easily. And there’s something very nice about writing in a nice notebook with a decent pen.

    I have also considered going to a purely paper-based system of lists. I may well try it at some point – there’s something very appealing about it. But I suspect I’m better sticking with my combined system for now.

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