The Engage Stage of GTD, Explained
The main purpose of this workflow management process is to facilitate good decision-making about what you are going to do at any given time, so that choosing the actions to take is as simple and satisfying as possible. This is the last stage to which the previous ones serve and lead, as you have built a framework of solid criteria that will ensure reliability. Ultimately, the goal of all of the above is that you feel good about what you are doing at all times.
At any given time of the day you will be carrying out an activity that falls into one of these three categories:
- Doing predefined work. That is, you are doing things that are on your action lists. Most of the time you will be in this state, as long as your system is complete and up to date, giving you the maximum support to manage your reality.
- Unplanned work. When you are doing things as they come up. Occasionally something urgent or something that requires your immediate attention may come up, but this should be a conscious decision on your part for the sake of effectiveness.
- Defining your work. You are clarifying the things you have recently captured in order to decide whether you are going to do something with them or not; and if you do, to define what is the next action to be taken. Doing your Weekly Review is also defining your work.
In case you are doing predefined work, it will most likely only take you a few moments to choose which action to perform next.
- First check your Calendar: The calendar contains the set and unavoidable actions that you need to take into account as a priority.
- Then look at your Next Actions lists: It will be essential that you have your next actions organized grouped according to contexts, so that you can focus on the things you can actually do (for example, when you have a phone at hand, a good predisposition to talk on the phone and time to spare, you will review your @phone context).
How will you choose which next action to take and feel comfortable with your choice? The Four Criteria Model will help you make these decisions. It will not give you definitive answers (as there is no single solution), but it will help you approach your choices in an effective way.
These four criteria are the context in which you find yourself, the time available, your available energy and the relative priority of each task. The first three describe the constraints within which you normally move, and the fourth sets out the preferences that follow from the relevance of a particular action versus others at a particular time:
- Context: The environment in which you find yourself at any given moment establishes limitations and possibilities. Some actions can be performed anywhere, but most require a specific place, the presence of someone, or access to specific tools. These are the first factors that delimit your decision about what you can do at any given time.
- Available time: “When do you have to do something else? Other activities close in time may limit your options. For example, if you have a meeting in 30 minutes, it is preferable to dedicate yourself to some action that requires less time and can be completed.
- Available energy: “How much energy do you have? Some actions require a lot of mental energy, some require physical strength, and some require very little of both. It is often ineffective to engage in complex tasks when you don’t have enough energy. Your mood and your state of mind also affect your attention and cognitive capacity, so it isn’t advisable to engage in a task if your disposition doesn’t match its demands.
- Relative priority: Once you have filtered your next actions according to the above criteria, which of them will bring you the most benefit? Which one makes the most sense to do right now?
Each time you apply one of these criteria, your list of possible actions decreases. The last step is simply to choose the best option from among the actions that are doable. This choice is intuitive, but your intuition has been perfectly informed by the entire workflow that has led you to it.
Engage, in a nutshell
What is it? Choosing the best next action to take from all your options.
How do you do this? By identifying which action best fits the context and tools available to you and carrying it out.
When do you do it? Every time you decide to do things based on the predetermined work, both in your work and in your personal life.
Why do you do it? To move forward in all of the life commitments you have engaged in, moving you closer towards your desired outcomes and feeling good about what you do and also what you don’t do.