Recently I read the 2015 edition of David Allen’s widely popular book, Getting Things Done—The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. The previous edition was an eye-opener for me, although to be honest, I didn’t implement his system. This time is different.
I’ve jumped head first into the GTD cult. In this article I’m going to walk through how I implemented GTD, including the tools I use. I’m also going to cover how you can use GTD to improve your finances.
To get starting, let’s look at the 5 steps of the Getting Things Done system:
The 5 Steps
1. Capture: Use an in-basket, notepad, or voice recorder to capture 100% of everything that has your attention. Little, big, personal and professional—all your to-do’s, projects, things to handle or finish.
2. Clarify: Take everything that you capture and ask: Is it actionable? If no, then trash it, incubate it, or file it as a reference. If yes, decide the very next action required. If it will take less than two minutes, do it now. If not, delegate it if you can; or put it on a list to do when you can.
3. Organize: Put action reminders on the right lists. For example create lists for the appropriate categories—calls to make, errands to run, emails to send, etc.
4. Reflect: Look over your lists as often as necessary to determine what to do next. Do a weekly review to clean up, update your lists, and clear your mind.
5. Engage: Use your system to take appropriate actions with confidence.
For me there are three key parts to this system:
1. The ‘Snap Your Finger’ Test: As part of the capture phase, I record every thought, idea, inspiration, or to-do into my system. It gets everything out of my head and down on paper (or into Evernote as you’ll see in a minute). As part of this, I ask a simple question. If I could get anything accomplished by snapping my fingers, what would I do? This simple question triggers the imagination and gets the ideas flowing.
2. The 2-Minute Drill: Following David Allen’s 2-minute rule has increased my productivity exponentially. Rather than putting things off that are quick and easy to handle, I do them immediately. This is particularly useful when it comes to managing paper around my house or office, especially mail.
3. The Power of the Next Step: Big projects can overwhelm us. One way to break down the projects into manageable pieces is to start with the next step. Not all of the steps. Just the next one. I write it down for every multiple-step project.
As helpful as the Getting Things Done approach to productivity is, it won’t work without the right tools. I’ve tried several, including OmniFocus and even Scrivener. By far and away the best tool, however, is a combination of Evernote and a paper scanner.
Through the use of just a few notebooks and nested tags, you can easily create a GTD system inside Evernote. The place to start is with a free resource called The Secret Weapon (no, I’m not kidding). Through a series of easy to follow videos, you’ll see exactly how to set up Evernote for GTD.
I customized my setup in a slightly different way. Basically I gave my “when” tags different names. It will all make sense when you watch the videos. Rather than using tags such as Now, Soon, Later, and so on, I opted for Today, This Week, Next Week, This Month and Someday.
The paper scanner helps you get everything into Evernote very easily. I use a ScanSnap, which can scan directly into Evernote.
Applying it to your Finances
Once you have your GTD system setup, applying it to your finances is easy. There are a few additional tools you may want to use, however. A good budgeting tool and investing tracking tool are important.
One option to cover both is Personal Capital. You can easily connect your bank accounts, credit cards, and investment accounts. Once connected, you can manage all of your finances in one place. For those that one just a budget tool, YNAB is the best option in my opinion.
With the right tools in place, the next step is to capture every aspect of your financial life. Here are some ideas:
- Filing Cabinets
- Cars (e.g., title, registration fees, etc.)
- Bank statements
- Airline or Hotel Rewards
Some of this will mean piling paper on a table to sort through. Some of it will mean a brain dump (remember the ‘snap your fingers’ test) of things you’ve been meaning to do for a long time (e.g., finally get a will or rebalance your investments).
Once you have everything out of your head and out on the table, start processing each item using the 2-minute drill. For items that will take longer or are part of a project, record the next step. And use Evernote to save reference material (with the help of your brand new scanner).