Not a GTD Disciple? Don't Worry About It

Recently, I attended a Barcamp for web workers, where I popped in and out of two groups discussing Getting Things Done (GTD). There was a beginners’ group, and one they called “Kung Fu GTD,” for the hardcore efficiency crowd. Despite not being a GTD user myself, I picked up one really useful tip from these sessions.

The few times I’ve looked into GTD methods, I’ve found them to be incompatible with the way I function. Already the time it takes to decide if something can be done in under two minutes is time I feel I’ve wasted. GTD seems to be a system I would have to impose from the top down, which is not how I operate. I tend to adopt tools and methods only if they organically find their way into my workflow. Strict GTD is too linear and stifling for me. And, I have to admit, it just seems complicated.

But I did pick up one extremely valuable tip from the “Kung Fu” GTD bunch. One woman in the group said that simplicity is paramount, and it all boils down to Stephen Covey‘s four quadrants of activity management. This is a great method for classifying tasks that I immediately incorporated into my workflow.

Essentially, you assign tasks one of four priorities:


Compare this method to a complicated GTD diagram.

Once you do this, everything falls into place. In my task management app, I have groups in which I keep associated tasks, but I also have a group for each of Covey’s quadrants. I drag things from task group to priority group, or I put new tasks directly into a priority group. It’s made my life a lot easier.

This UI/NUI/UNI/NUNI system (which is also lots of fun to say) is incredibly useful, and I can’t believe I never heard of it. But then, not being much of a self-help book consumer, I didn’t read “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Covey, which is where it came from. And I was way too footloose and fancy-free to be thinking about that kind of thing back in 1989, when the book was published.

One other bit of wisdom that I stumbled across while investigating Covey’s quadrants: It appears that people tend to expend most of their energy on the Urgent/Important and Urgent/Not Important tasks, get burned out, and go straight to the NUNIs to relax. Prevailing wisdom says that you shouldn’t neglect the NUIs. They’re good for your soul.

Be sure to read Celine Roque’s post “The Perfect Productivity System” in which she gives good advice on ways to find a system that works for you!

Share your productivity tips in the comments.


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