In my recent posts on searching for a job, I’ve mentioned Things a couple of times. You might be wondering, “Things? Can you be more specific?” Yes. Things is the Mac program I use to track my GTD (Getting Things Done) system.
Why Do You Need to Get Things Done?
Just because you’re unemployed or underemployed doesn’t mean you don’t have things to do. Further, just about virtually everything you’re doing is self-directed and self-organized. No one’s calling a status meeting to check on your progress with cleaning the garage or checking in to verify you’ll chaperone the 1st grade field trip on Monday.
You may think that this is the worst time to set up a new organizational system. Wrong: this is the perfect time. You need to be organized to find a great job, and you probably have more control over your schedule now than you have in years. Additionally, this is a great time to start (or restart) personal projects that you always want to do, but never had time to pursue. Guess what: now you have time.
Now that you have some extra time, it’s also likely people will begin asking you to do more stuff: volunteer at school, take on more child care duties, work on long-delayed projects around the house, etc. Simply keeping a house in order is a full time job. If you’re serious about finding a new job, you need some way to organize your efforts. That job ain’t gonna find itself.
If you’re having the opposite problem — thinking you have nothing to do — think again. In case you need ideas or motivation, check out this terrific blog post about 9 things to do in your first week of unemployment that my wife sent me a few weeks ago.
What is GTD?
In case you don’t know GTD from a GTO, it’s a system developed by David Allen for collecting, organizing, and track everything that you have to do get done in your life. That may sound stressful, but the goal is actually to reduce stress while enabling you to move beyond merely maintaining your life to achieving your goals.
Here are a few places to learn more:
- David Allen’s book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
- Merlin Mann’s article Getting Started with Getting Things Done
- Michael Schechter’s A Better Mess blog, which chronicles his journey wiht GTD and ADHD. Worth reading even if you don’t have ADHD.
Additionally, one of my favorite podcasts, Back to Work with Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin, has recently started a series introducing Getting Things Done. If you like productivity discussions sprinkled liberally with comic book references and silly voices, subscribe to Back to Work.
There’s a cottage industry of software to help people with GTD, though you can actually use the system with simple notebooks or even plain text files (as Merlin Mann does). A few of the apps I’ve used include:
Things is what I’m using right now. Why? Because I own a copy. Don’t spend a lot of time choosing the right software or the perfect notebook. Trust me — I’ve tried them all, and the most important factor is your own willingness to keep on top of the system.
How I Apply GTD to My Job Search
In Things, I have project called “Find a new job.” Perhaps even more importantly, I also have all of my other projects and areas of responsibility set up as well. While it’s important to stay focused on the job search, life goes on and you need to focus on the rest of your life, too.
Here’s GTD in action with a situation that actually happened to me.
- Capture. I record everything I need to do related to this job search and put it in the project folder. Most GTD apps now have phone versions, so it’s easy to jot down something anywhere you are. I also like to keep a small notebook and pen with me for the same reason. Just make sure to consolidate your written notes with your software ones. Example: at a friend’s house, I met a person — let’s call him “Bob” — who happens to work in one of my target industries. I recorded his contact information in my phone and made a note to email him for lunch.
- Organize. I convert my random notes into clear Next Actions with specific contexts. A context is anything you need for the specific action. It might a piece of equipment (phone, computer), a place (hardware store, library), or a state of mind (high energy, low energy). At this point, high/low energy is one of the most important contexts for me. You can also use contexts to specify how long a task will take – five minutes, an hour, all day, etc. (If it takes an entire day, however, it’s probably a project, not a task.) Staying with the example above, the only context I need to email Bob I met is, well, my computer. It would only take a few minutes and require almost no energy. So I might give it the contexts “computer,” “5min,” and “low.” (In reality, because this was a very quick task, I did it as soon as I saw in my daily review.)
- Review. Perhaps the most important step, and the one I struggle with most. You should be reviewing your GTD system daily and weekly so that you always know what you need to do next. It’s something I’m getting better at. On Tuesday, I reviewed Things and saw that I had “Email Bob for lunch” as a to-do item.
- Do. When you have the time, context, and energy for a task, do it. I emailed Bob for lunch.
GTD is much more complex and robust that this, so I encourage you to read the book and try it yourself.
Do you use GTD? Have you used it or another system to find a new job? Do you suggestions for how I improve my system? Tell me about it in the comments.