A concept I really like is the seeming paradox of stress-free productivity. I am a type-A workaholic that strives daily to embrace new challenges and to do ever more. I am also a blissed-out yogini who believes firmly in the mental health benefits of a strong yoga practice. Sometimes the fact that I want to make my mind more skillful, through the daily practice of yoga, so I can get more done and accomplish greater things feels like some kind of yoga blasphemy. But I don’t think so.
The Niyamas are the ethical internal disciplines of yoga. (The Yamas are the external disciplines that define our commitments in interacting with the rest of the world). The internal disciplines really capture the spirit of a daily yoga practice. With Sauca we align ourselves with others and “show up” fully to our practice. With Santosa we practice despite distractions and despite the lack of the “right” circumstances. With Tapas we show up consistently to practice and not just when we feel like it. With Svadhyaya, or self-study, we take responsibility in our lives and realize the only one we can really change is ourselves. Finally with Isvara-pranidhana we dedicate ourselves to an ideal. This is where we live as people with strong faith principles. The entire eight-limb path of yoga follows a progression through the yamas, niyamas, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, to samadhi which is also an ideal that we strive for in terms of our integration and relationship with the world around us.
So striving with unwavering commitment to better oneself (and to maintain oneself in a highly-effective and productive state) is completely consistent with a yoga practice. And David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) is like the yoga of Daily Workflow and To-Do lists. :-)
One of the very first recognitions in yoga is that we all suffer from chitta vritti, or the constant “churning of our minds”. A big part of yoga is “stilling the mind” rather than let our brain-on-overdrive cause us stress, disturb our sleep, make us ill, and impact our relationships. GTD recognizes that many of us are continually churning through To-Do lists, trying not to forget things, and that this can cause a great deal of stress. Allen says “most of the stress people experience comes from inappropriately managed commitments they make or accept.” In particular, the commitments that are incomplete, and running open loop in your mind because you don’t have a plan yet for meeting them, can cause a lot of chitta vritti. GTD’s goal is to help you make your mind “still like water” so you can be truly relaxed while also being maximally productive (!).
So - why does your mind churn on To-Do list stuff?: Because you haven’t clarified exactly what the intended outcome is; you haven’t decided what the very next action step is; and/or you haven’t put reminders of the outcome and the action required in a system you trust. Without these things done you "stress" and "get anxious" and your mind keeps bringing your incomplete commitments up. Over and over. GTD's goal is to give you simple tools to rectify this.
There are two Big Changes that might occur if you decide to embrace GTD. The first big change is getting stuff out of your head. ALL of it. The second is mastering the five stages of workflow. I’m not going to cover this is detail. My goal is to give you some teasers and tools so you can decide if you want to check this out.
1. Getting stuff out of your head.
If it takes less than 2 minutes to do, then do it now. If it takes longer then you need to get it recorded in a collection device in your collection system.
2. The five stages of workflow:
Collect -- Every open loop must be in your collection system and out of your head. You should have as few collection devices as you can get by with and you must empty them regularly.
Process – When you process each item in your collection devices you need to ask “is it actionable?”. If it is not then it is trash, something that might be done later on, or important reference material (in support of some other task). If it is actionable then you need to determine what outcome or “project” have you committed to and what is the next action required? A project is really an outcome that takes multiple actions to achieve.
Organize – You need supporting materials and reference files, a calendar (which contains only things that must take place on a particular day) and then Next Action lists.
Review – Review your calendar most frequently, then your focus list, and then your Next Action lists. Really you should review your lists as often as you need to in order to get them off your mind. But you should review your next action lists once a week at least.
So there are two tools, Nirvana and Evernote, that I think are simply amazing for implementing 80+% of GTD principles. (For the rest you need maybe a notebook or two plus Email and a Calendar. I use gmail). Nirvana and Evernote are both web-based and available on smartphones. Evernote also has a desktop application which I use extensively.
If you are going to try Nirvana and don’t know GTD then I highly recommend you spend some time researching and reading about GTD. You will get much more out of Nirvana. Also, Nirvana has a great community forum where you will find useful tips. From the Nirvana website:
- Nirvana is task management software that's 100% web-based. Based upon the well known Getting Things Done method of keeping organized, it is fast, easy, available from anywhere.
- GTD rests on the principle that a person needs to move tasks out of the mind by recording them externally. That way, the mind is freed from the job of remembering everything that needs to be done, and can concentrate on actually performing those tasks.
Evernote’s tag line is “remember everything”. It implements an amazing, access-anywhere, reference system that allows you to capture just-about-anything into it. To get stuff into Evernote you type it, email it, scan it, clip it (extensions for browsers), paste it, drag it (like attachments/files), print it, record it, photograph it, and more. I recently set up a “watched folder” into which I can download anything with one click. Evernote will immediately snarf each item into a separate “note”.
Oh – and you can copy a “note link” in Evernote which you then paste into your Nirvana task so your reference material is right with the task that needs it. Like Nirvana, you capture things with very little wasted motion unlike, say, capturing items as files that are then stored in some organized folder system on your hard drive.
And both tools are free BTW. It took me 3-4 weeks to figure out how to use Nirvana and Evernote. But I think both are easy to get value out of quickly (in 1 day) and then you just need to commit to incrementally learn more about them so you can really reap the benefits. When I first set up my To-Do lists in Nirvana I did it all wrong. The big “ah ha!” for me was really understanding that a project in GTD is the same as an outcome. If I need to accomplish a multi-action outcome, then I needed to set up a project in Nirvana. Too many of my first projects were more like collection devices or traditional To-Do Lists. The second “ah ha!” was when I really figured out how to use focus lists versus next action lists. Suddenly everything fell into place. Projects tied to outcomes had lists of actions. My focus list always had what I need to focus on “now”. My next action lists were quick to review when I needed to refresh my focus list. And then my Nirvana just got more-and-more complete as I learned how to set up repeating tasks and how to determine when tasks should be scheduled or unscheduled. With Evernote most of my “ah ha!” came as I learned all the different ways I could get reference material, in every form and format, into Evernote with just one click or menu access. And, then, of course, using “copy note link” to link Evernote to Nirvana. So…
Do more, stress less!
Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen.
Nirvana can be achieved at http://www.nirvanahq.com/
Evernote can be acquired at http://www.evernote.com/
Evernote ®: The unofficial guide to capturing everything and getting things done. 2nd Edition by Daniel Gold.