Getting Things Done: The Productivity Problem And How To Solve It

Getting Things Done: The Productivity Problem And How To Solve It

Are you struggling with getting things done?

For a recent article on Medium, Michael Simmons spent 500 hours researching productivity and found that our productivity is declining – so much so that it has been branded a positivity crisis. 

He found that there was a “great boom” in productivity between roughly 1870 and 1970, and that “at the exact point you think the productivity growth rate would skyrocket because of the computer revolution, it slows down”. 

This is known as the Productivity Paradox, and it’s affecting all industries.


The importance of mindful productivity 


I talk a lot on my LinkedIn and blog articles about burnout in the dental industry and reducing stress for dental professionals and practice owners. In our jobs – and indeed in our personal lives too – we’re constantly inundated with questions, requests, and tasks that need doing, so it’s really no wonder it can be such a struggle to stay motivated sometimes.

But a loss of productivity is far more harmful than tasks that don’t get ticked off. Losing our focus can mean things build up, which is a sure-fire way to become overwhelmed, and ultimately, burnt out. 

Being mindfully productive means getting things done whilst still protecting yourself from feeling overwhelmed and stressed. It’s not just about achieving your quarterly objectives, it’s about how you achieve them – without compromising your mental wellbeing.

Thankfully, there are methodologies and programmes out there to protect our health and ensure we’re Being Productive!


Getting Things Done


The method I recommend is called Getting Things Done, or GTD.

GTD is a time management and productivity method created by David Allen, who wrote a book about The Art Of Stress Free Productivity. The fundamental idea is to have the least amount of information in your brain possible, capturing and organising everything externally in organised places. In our increasingly digital world, it’s often true that you don’t need to remember anything, you just need to remember where to look for it.

I have been adopting this method for a while now and I’ve noticed that many of the productivity apps we see available today are an offshoot of the GTD methodology. 

This productivity methodology is split into five steps: capture, clarify, organise, reflect, and engage, and it’s fantastic for arranging the things in your life that need your attention into easily manageable and actionable categories.

However, we can simplify it even further into four ideas that I can personally attest to working effectively in a dental practice environment.

Let’s explore what they are.


  • Capturing Tasks


The first step is to collect all the jobs, tasks, and chores that are on your mind and store them somewhere so that they don’t take up valuable space in your brain. 

I personally recommend Todoist. I’ve mentioned Todoist in a previous blog about project management tools to boost productivity – I’m a big fan! – but what’s so great about it in this context is that it works extremely efficiently with the GTD method to give you a structured place for everything. 

Todoist allows you to create a folder for every aspect of your life so that you know where everything is. You can have as many folders as you like – work, home, personal, go nuts! The world – or Todoist – is your oyster.

If you’re short on inspiration as to which folders you’d benefit from, Todoist have a GTD template that can be imported into their programme and creates all the folders for you. It’s a great way of elevating how powerful their system is. 


Placing your tasks into their relevant folders becomes a guide of how to manage your time and your tasks without having to consciously remember what you’ve got to do next. 

I’ve used several task managers, including handwriting in personal planners, and the most important thing to be aware of is that you must have a method behind your to-do list. If you have a to-do list that isn’t organised, isn’t managed, and has no prioritisation, it can become a behemoth of its own. Things might get missed, and it might become so overwhelming that you daren’t even look at it! 


  • Clarifying 


A list of jobs that need doing is all well and good, but as touched on above, if there’s no method – or no clarity – to this list, it’s pretty pointless. 

Setting up categories, labels, and reminders is a great way to add clarity to tasks. You can make notes to remind your future self why a certain task has been prioritised in the way it has, or what it’s going to entail. 

Clarifying tasks in this way helps break down big complex projects into smaller, more actionable jobs that are less overwhelming and stressful.

As Desmond Tutu once said so wisely, “There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.”


  • Prioritising


Todoist allows you to categorise and label tasks in line with Eisenhower’s Urgent / Important Matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix was developed in 1954, when president Dwight D. Eisenhower famously said “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important.”

This incredibly effective approach to productivity splits tasks into four categories:

  • Important and urgent
  • Important but not urgent
  • Not important but urgent
  • Not important and not urgent

Essentially, it boils down to knowing what to do and when to do it. When our to-do lists are several pages long, prioritising what is most important, and not concerning ourselves with the rest for the time being, is a useful way of avoiding overwhelm and ongoing stress. 


  • Reviewing


In the same way we’d have a review with our practice staff, we should be having reviews with ourselves. These can be small daily reviews, or bigger reviews at the end of the week where we ask ourselves questions such as:

What did I achieve today / this week?

What tasks need to be moved to a different list?

Has something become more urgent / more important?

What are my priorities tomorrow / next week?

What did I learn and where can I improve?

Todoist also offers a free GTD review template to integrate into their software. You can find it here.

Reviewing your productivity in this way is a great method of self coaching. When done mindfully and without judgement, it’s a way in which you can identify areas you struggle with, tasks that keep being put off, and what needs to change to ensure you’re showing up as your best, most productive self.


The two minute rule


Another piece of the GTD puzzle is the two minute rule. This means that any task that can be done in under two minutes should be done immediately.

We’ve all got those ‘itty bitty’ tasks that are niggling at our conscience but which keep getting put off in favour of ‘more important’ things. Ignoring small tasks might seem okay today, but repeatedly deprioritising them might end up in a big, overwhelming pile later on. One wasp isn’t so scary but a whole swarm of them is a different story!

If it’s going to take two minutes to capture the task, store it in your organisation software of choice, and set a reminder, a better use of that time would be to just do it now. This is a great way of clearing odd jobs so they don’t become overwhelming later on. It also helps with productivity because you feel great for ticking things off, even if it did only take two minutes!

I’ve been on a mission to find the balance between productivity and wellbeing for many years now, and as a result I’ve got a plethora of tips, tricks and advice to share with you. My blog is dedicated to doing exactly that, so come and join the conversation over on LinkedIn to be notified every time a new post goes live!

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