The last stage of the Getting Things Done methodology workflow is called Engage, and it is when you take advantage of all the organizational work you have done in the previous stages to make effective decisions about what to do at any given moment.
From a methodological point of view, it’s a fairly simple process. It’s a matter of choosing what action you are going to take next, with the help of your lists and your intuition.
The goal of the Engage stage, and therefore of the entire GTD workflow, is to always do what makes the most sense to be doing.
It’s not just about getting things done, it’s about being involved and fully present in what you do, regardless of whether it’s work, personal matters, or things you like to do in your leisure time.
Sometimes you’ll have to use a certain amount of discipline to do things you don’t feel like doing, but it will cost you less if you’ve reflected about the higher levels of perspective. We’ll talk about these levels of focus in the next article.
All the thinking you have done in the previous steps will allow you to stay calm and have clear ideas in any situation, even in times of crisis where it is common to lose focus and not know how to act.
The sense of control that comes from having defined a complete inventory of the things that need something from you in your life will help you deal with anything. When you aren’t at the mercy of the issues that come into your life and you are the one who governs them, you have the power to decide what to do and when to do it. And, very importantly, you have the ability to decide when not to take any action on your lists and use your time to relax, be fully engaged with someone you care about, or try new and interesting things.
Choose your next action
How do you feel confident that you will choose to do the right thing? Well, through the previous stages you have captured everything that is important in your life, you have clarified what exactly each thing is, you have classified and organized them in the right places, and you have reflected on your current goals, at least in the short term. Perhaps without being very conscious of it, you have created a fairly reliable map of your reality, where all the activities that are currently important to you are represented.
All this thought process has not been in vain. In addition to acquiring the feeling of control that comes from having everything perfectly organized, you have been able to develop a perfectly informed intuition about what it means to spend your time well in your life. Don’t underestimate this super power ;)
Take a quick look at your calendar and next action list to make sure there is no task that needs immediate action. If there is an urgent task in your lists, that is the one you should choose to do. Be very careful about confusing something urgent with something that is simply recent and grabs a lot of attention.
If there’s nothing you have an obligation to do right now, use these four criteria for effective decision making:
Where are you? With whom? What tools do you have at hand? There are many actions on your list that you are unable to do simply because you are not in the right place. Some actions will require someone’s collaboration and you won’t be able to do them unless you have access to that person right now. Other actions need certain tools to be performed. For example, you cannot make a phone call or send a message if you are on the street and have left your cell phone at home, charging the battery. The time of day is also a context to take into account. For example, you cannot make an appointment in an office if it isn’t open to the public.
Look at your list of next actions and focus only on those actions that you can do in the circumstances you are in right now. This will help you limit your options and focus only on what you can do in the context you are.
How much time do you have before your next scheduled activity? Which of your possible next actions could you engage in effectively in the time you have? If you are fifteen minutes away from a meeting you need to attend, starting the thought process that requires a complex action may not be the most appropriate; but perhaps you can send a couple of emails, respond to a message, review a document, or clear your inbox. Taking advantage of the time to eliminate small pending actions will allow you to have more free time later, which you can enjoy doing other things or doing nothing at all.
Think about the time you have available and try to fit into it actions with which you can be fully involved.
What can you concentrate on and what can you do with the energy you have? You don’t need to be at full energy to function properly most of the time, but it’s true that some actions require a high concentration capacity, a certain emotional availability or a significant physical effort.
Understanding how your energy levels work throughout the day and how you relate to them is helpful in optimizing the times when you work best. You should use the times when you are at your best to tackle the most challenging tasks. Similarly, you can take advantage of times when your energy level drops to perform other activities that do not require a lot of concentration.
According to your current energy level, which of the actions you can carry out are the most appropriate?
Once you have applied the above three criteria (context, time and energy) to your list of next actions, your options have probably been narrowed down to a small number of actions. Which of these should you choose? Which one is most important right now?
This is when the informed intuition that you have been developing while implementing the GTD methodology comes into play. If you have a project due next week, you should probably execute the action that allows you to move this project forward. If you have to take a short trip with your car this weekend and it has a blown pilot light, maybe you should take it to the garage first. If there isn’t one particular thing that has a special priority, you can choose what makes the most sense in your life right now.
Regardless, if you take into account your current circumstances, the context in which you find yourself, your energy levels and your real priorities, it’s certain that most of the time you will choose to do the best thing you can be doing at the given moment.
If you use FacileThings to manage your GTD system, the Engage option offers you a direct view of your calendar for the day and your list of next actions, as well as a tool to apply the four criteria that will allow you to filter the actions you should focus on according to your current circumstances. To do this, you can organize your tasks by indicating the context in which they should be performed, the level of energy they require and an estimate of the time it would take to complete them.