Achieve Organizational Efficiency With the GTD System

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Getting Things Done" by David Allen. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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What is organizational efficiency? How do you achieve it?

With the Getting Things Done system, you can achieve organizational efficiency. With GTD, organizational efficiency is a way to guide your company to success.

Organizational Efficiency Stems From a Culture of Capturing 

Organizational efficiency is important. When a couple, company, team, or family has a culture of consistent and reliable capturing, it makes the whole organization run more smoothly because no one has to worry about anyone else letting something slip through the cracks. 

Many organizations don’t run as smoothly as they can because of hindered communication and action. This can happen when: 

  • People don’t have in-trays 
  • People verbally agree to do things but don’t capture them in any form
  • People allow items sit unprocessed in their in-trays for too long
  • People are diligent about checking and responding to some modes of communication (such as emails) but not others (such as voicemails) 

However, everyone in the organization benefits from a culture of capturing tasks as they come in. Even families function better when every member has her own in-tray, and show important organizational efficiency and effectiveness.

Applying GTD Principles for Organizational Efficiency

The practices of the GTD system are equally applicable to organizations and can profoundly increase productivity and alter an organization’s culture from one of high stress and constantly putting out fires to one of efficient and productive problem-solving. Organizational efficiency and effectiveness require good workflow.

Although you can’t force each individual to adopt new habits, you can offer training to educate them and support them in implementing the practices. Have people in the organization who have already mastered the methods to both support others and lead by example. 

Small factors—including unfocused meetings and neglected in-trays—can lead to major slow-downs and backlogs in productivity. By the same token, implementing even some small aspects of the GTD system can produce significant results and help you achieve organizational efficiency.

Why GTD Methods Work for Organization Efficiency

When the original version of this book was published in 2001, the primary evidence of the Getting Things Done program’s effectiveness was anecdotal from the author’s own experience and the experiences of his clients. However, by the time the updated version was released in 2015, multiple cognitive science studies had confirmed the principles behind the GTD methodology, and proved its effectiveness and efficiency in an organization.

The GTD system offers more than just a way to manage your time and your tasks—GTD encourages more meaningful work, a more mindful approach to living, and an overall sense of empowerment and reduced stress through outcome thinking (projects) and longer-term goals (higher horizons). 

Several psychological theories and principles that back up GTD practices, including: 

  • Research on distributed cognition proves that your brain is great at thinking and having ideas, but not great at remembering them. 
  • Studies show that unfinished goals, actions, and projects (a.k.a. open loops) weigh heavily on your mind, decreasing your clarity and ability to focus. 
  • Self-leadership strategies help people control their own actions with techniques such as self cueing (such as adding items to your action lists), natural rewards (such as the sense of accomplishment from completing captured tasks), and positive mindset (such as feeling motivated and empowered). Self-leadership strategies are proven to increase people’s sense of self-efficacy, the feeling of confidence and control over your ability to perform tasks. 
  • Research shows that the most effective way to achieve goals is through implementation intentions, or making a plan that includes the necessary actions and the contexts for completing them.

Let’s take a closer look at two other areas of psychological study that support the GTD system and how they help with organizational efficiency and effectiveness.

Experience Total Focus Through Flow

Flow is the state of being totally engaged and performing at your peak; athletes call it being “in the zone.”

The GTD program facilitates several conditions that are necessary to experience flow:

  • You must be working on just one activity. The goal of GTD is to clear your mind so you can focus on one task at a time. 
  • You must have clear goals in mind. The GTD system requires you to define projects, desired outcomes, and next actions, so you know the purpose behind each activity you engage in. 
  • You must receive some form of feedback. The GTD program helps you see and track your progress on your actions and projects lists, which is a form of feedback. 

When you achieve flow, you experience: 

  • Total concentration
  • A sense of being in control
  • Clarity of your goals
  • Little to no self-consciousness
  • No sense of time
  • Intrinsic motivation

Once you’ve experienced flow, you’re likely to be drawn to repeat the activity. In other words, if you experience flow while doing a task at work, it’s going to motivate you to do it more. Effectiveness and efficiency in an organization depends on your consistency.

Psychological Capital: A State of Stress-Free Productivity

Psychological capital (PsyCap) is a framework for measuring workers’ effectiveness and psychological well-being. 

There are four components of PsyCap, and the GTD system promotes each of them: 

1) Self-efficacy (as we mentioned above) is the confidence that you can tackle and succeed at a task.

The GTD practice of capturing and clarifying all your open loops creates a complete picture of your commitments and next actions. Seeing all this in front of you gives you confidence that you know what you need to do and how to do it. 

2) Optimism is your positive feeling about your ability to succeed now and in the future.

The GTD system helps you track your progress on projects and actions, and every step forward you make gives you a psychological “win” that boosts your motivation and confidence in your future success.

3) Hope is your ability to work toward your goals, even when it means redirecting your paths to get there.

The GTD program emphasizes front-end decision-making by forcing you to identify projects and clarify next actions. This practice involves setting goals (identifying projects) and determining the paths to achieving them (clarifying next actions). 

4) Resilience is your ability to bounce back and persevere after encountering problems. 

The GTD system aims to give you a sense of stress-free control over your life, and when you feel like you have a handle on everything in front of you you’ll be able to face challenges with more calm and clarity, achieving effectiveness and efficiency in an organization.

Achieving organizational efficiency can be difficult. You can apply your leadership skills and your GTD system skills to work on organizational efficiency.

Achieve Organizational Efficiency With the GTD System

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  • Why you're disorganized and your to-do list is a mess
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  • How to take complicated projects and simplify them

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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