“The future depends on what you do today.” — Mahatma Gandhi
The GTD methodology (Getting Things Done) methodology is a personal productivity system that is valid and appropriate for everyone, but there are certain professions, jobs, and ways of working and living in which it is essential to be able to organize oneself efficiently.
In general, this method is significantly implemented in professions where there is a certain degree of autonomy in defining the work (computer scientists, designers, etc.), in knowledge workers (those who generate value by working with their minds such as writers, researchers, etc.) and in command positions within a company, where a group of workers and resources must be efficiently managed.
The self-employed or freelancers are another of those groups in which achieving a structured way of managing work (and personal life) is always to be grateful for.
If you don’t have a boss who assigns you tasks and priorities, and you don’t work for a company that imposes a structured way of working, it is you who must organize your tasks and projects according to your own criteria, and who must decide at each moment what is most important. Moreover, if you don’t want to end up being burned out, you must balance your personal and professional life.
GTD is a personal organization tool that can help you, and a lot, to manage your professional life and achieve a balance with your personal activity.
GTD is based on a simple five-step workflow. Let’s look at some specific tips for tackling these five steps from a freelancer’s perspective.
Capturing consists of writing down everything that catches your attention and is significant in the sense that you may need to do something about it.
Of course, you should collect all of your customers’ requirements. Also note down any suggestions, ideas or complaints they make. This doesn’t mean that you are obliged to do everything (you will decide later what to do and what not to do), but it will allow you to better determine the scope of each project or job, estimate more appropriate quotes and negotiate changes.
Capturing all possible tasks in a trusted system will eliminate a good portion of your stress as a freelancer, as it frees your head from simultaneously thinking about multiple issues.
If you are a freelancer it will take you a while to apply the concept of “capture” well, but it’s crucial if you want to take care of your mental health. To prevent interruptions from taking over your day-to-day life, you must separate capturing things from the act of processing them. If, for example, you get a call from a client asking to make a change, ideally you should note the request, end the conversation and immediately get back with your work. If you get into the discussion and try to solve everything on the call, it will have become an interruption, you’ll have wasted precious work time, and you’ll have raised your stress levels. And, surely, in the heat of the moment you will not have adopted the best possible solution.
Don’t forget this:
Capturing is writing things down to think about them later.
As a freelancer, it is also very important that you take time once in a while to capture your own ideas, not only about your business but also about your personal needs. Doing a mind sweep to improve different aspects of your work and personal life is invaluable.
2. Clarifying and organizing
At least once a day you should clarify what all those things you’ve been capturing really mean and decide what you’re going to do about them. If you do this too often, it will become a kind of interruption and you will end up always doing the flashiest thing (probably, the thing that makes the most noise or comes from a more “demanding” client) instead of the most important thing. And this will result in more stress and anxiety.
A good time to clarify your Inbox is at the end of the day. This will allow you to catch up on all your activities, assess the importance of new things and set priorities for the next day.
If something is not strictly necessary or not included in the contract or agreement, add it to the Someday/Maybe list. You will decide later whether to do it and under what conditions.
Add to the Waiting For list all the tasks that the customer has to review, define or validate, in addition to those that you outsource or delegate to other colleagues.
Add new projects to the Project list and sort and store all new reference material for each project (contracts, specifications, requirements, planning, etc.) in a way that is easily and quickly accessible.
Set aside some time each week in your Calendar to review the entire system and, in particular, to track the progress of each one of your projects. This is absolutely necessary to keep track of your goals and meet your commitments.
Anticipate next week’s planned events and reflect on your priorities. Which projects should you focus on next week? Which issues have become more important and need more focus?
Don’t forget to review the list of Waiting For actions, as they can become a source of stress if these actions prevent important projects from progressing. Make sure they are moving forward properly or take the necessary actions.
Oh, and don’t forget your personal projects, your hobbies, your family, your friends, and so on. A good balance between all your areas of responsibility is the basis for a fulfilling life.
At each moment of the day you should choose what is the best thing you could be doing at that moment. If you work from home, the use of contexts to choose the best task to perform at each moment may not be too important. However, if a lot of your work is on the road, it will be important to define geographical contexts to optimize your productivity.
In any case, your available energy and the relative priority of each task (most likely based on already committed deadlines) will be very relevant when choosing what to do.
Take a look at this article to determine the best way to define context-based action lists.
Take breaks on a regular basis. Sometimes the best thing you can do is nothing — or relax by listening to music, reading a book or playing with your kid.
If you are freelancer, knowing and implementing the GTD methodology in your daily life will not only help you become more organized and properly manage your commitments, but it will also help you have a calmer and more meaningful life. If you don’t know GTD, I strongly recommend you try it ;)