Crucial Skills®

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Getting Things Done

How to Manage it All

NOTE FROM EDITOR: We are excited to announce the launch of our brand new training course, Getting Things Done®. In the month of August, we will be highlighting the skills and principles from Getting Things Done in our author Q&A article. Enjoy!

Dear David,

What is the best way to manage both work responsibilities and personal responsibilities? So much is required of me at the office that I feel like I put all my energy and attention into getting work done only to arrive home at the end of the day with little gas left in the tank to give to my family. In reality, they are my bigger priority, but receive less of my time and attention because I just can’t seem to manage it all. Any advice?


Dear Overwhelmed,

Thanks for a very timely question! We just finished a major research study on this very topic. And the news is good! We discovered a relatively small number of changes you can make that will increase your productivity and reduce your stress—at both work and home.

We began by having 1,594 people rate their employees and peers from highest to lowest performer on a scale from 1 to 10, where the 10’s are the best. Then we asked two questions:

How much more valuable is a 10 than an average employee or teammate? The answer was, “Two to three times more valuable.” The 10’s account for more than half the work done in a team or department.
How do the 10’s do it? The answer was, “They work both harder and smarter, but mostly smarter.” In fact, an overwhelming number of their managers and peers said that the 10’s work habits actually reduce their stress.
We also collected thousands of descriptions of what 10’s do to be successful, and looked for the most common phrases. Here is what we found.

Communication Practices

• Top Performers: “They ask for help”, “Not afraid to ask questions”, “Know who to go to”, “Know when to ask for”
• Average Performers: “Lack of communication”, “Slow to respond”, “They don’t listen”, “They complain about”
Productivity Practices

• Top Performers: “They are organized”, “Good time management”, “Attention to detail”, “Very well organized”, “Keep track of what needs to be done” “Stay on top of their work”
• Average Performers: “Lack of attention”, “Lack of focus”, “Don’t follow through”, “Too busy”, “They are late”, “They are disorganized”, “Don’t meet deadlines”, “Not on task”

The communication practices will be familiar to those of you who’ve read Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, or Change Anything. However, the productivity practices comprise a wholly different set of skills.

For the last two years, we’ve been studying ways to improve personal productivity practices. Our guide has been David Allen, the author of the bestseller, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. So, we did a second study that put these practices to the test.

We began by using David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD®) principles to build an assessment that measures personal productivity practices. Next, we had 2,072 managers and employees complete the assessment, and tested how well it predicted their productivity and stress.

I need to get a bit technical to describe what we found: We used three methods to measure the impact GTD practices had.

1. A step-wise multiple regression analysis showed that the GTD practices improves Performance (R = .79) and reduces Stress (R = .78). These high “R values” mean that using these practices determine more than 60 percent of the difference between high and low performance and high and low stress.

2. T-Tests showed that people with high GTD scores had 68 percent higher performance and experienced less than half the stress of people with low GTD scores.

3. Item analyses showed the remarkable impacts GTD practices have. Here are a few of the items that grabbed our attention:

  • People with high GTD scores are 55 times less likely to say, “I start projects that never get finished, even when others are relying on me.”
  • They are 13 times less likely to say, “I’m not truly present at home, because I’m thinking about work and wondering if there are other things I should be worrying about.”
  • They are 18 times less likely to say, “I often feel overwhelmed. I start to think of tasks looming over me and that are about to crash.”
  • It was exciting to see the impact of David Allen’s five GTD practices. Their impact on both Performance and Stress are off the charts.

Three ideas for helping you at work and at home

I can’t teach you the entire GTD approach. For that, I recommend reading the book or taking our new Getting Things Done Training program. But I can give you a few big ideas that are proven winners.

1. Capture everything that comes in and out of your head. My favorite David Allen quote is, “Your mind is for having ideas, not for holding them.” Use a small number of capture tools, instead of relying on your memory. I use three simple tools: a pad of Post-It Notes, my email inbox, and a pad of lined paper. Whenever I have an idea, get an assignment, or remember a to-do, I capture it using one of these three tools. Having a reliable way of catching everything coming at me gives me peace of mind that nothing is slipping through the cracks.

2. Clarify everything in your in box, from top to bottom. Go through all of your capture tools at least once every day or two, and determine a next action for each item. Personally, I do this at the end of every workday. I go through the items in order, deciding what needs to be done with each one. This means I never use my email or notes as storage bins. I get my inboxes to zero before I quit for the day. Trust me, it feels like a little victory every time I do this.

3. Take stock once a week. Keep a sacred, non-negotiable meeting with yourself every week to catch up, get current, and align with your priorities. I spend an hour every Sunday night reviewing my past week, and planning my next. This is when I make sure my actions line up with my priorities, purpose, and values. This hour does more for me than any yoga method, meditation, or cocktail. It leaves me feeling renewed, energized, and confident that I’m on track.

Try these three practices. They take some discipline, but produce immediate payoffs.

Best of luck,

You can learn more insights and skills like this in Getting Things Done

5 thoughts on “How to Manage it All”

  1. Mark Kline

    I loved your GTD article and totally believe that the results of less stress and more productivity will be the result. I am a very creative person, but I find it difficult to follow a routine or procedure to the end. Perhaps this is a result of adult ADHD. I have attempted to get organized, read books, taken a seminar or two, but in the end, I am still a semi-organized mess. I guess what I am saying is that I find it very difficult to stay the course and end up back in disorganization and stress.

    1. davidmaxfield

      I’m with you! I also have a tough time keeping myself on track, even when I know the track is a good one that works. The pitfall to avoid is attributing this problem to your character, and giving up. Instead, I recommend the strategy we discuss in our book, Change Anything.

      Begin by becoming a scientist of your own behavior. When you find yourself off track, back up, and try to locate the time, place, and circumstance that led you to get off course. Then focus on what you can do to either avoid or master these Crucial Moments.

      Then focus all Six Sources of Influence on motivating and enabling yourself to do the right things during these Crucial Moments. We find that success requires: Will, Skill, Encouragement, Support, Incentives, and Tools. The combination is 10 times as powerful as any single approach.

      Best wishes,

      1. Mark Kline


        Thanks for the reminder. I will begin again and see where I am getting derailed. I will update you in a month!

  2. Clifford Spoonemore

    I have done a little of all three of your suggestions. They work and I need to put a bit more energy into all three.

    The one that is important to me is taking stock in what I did that day. One it organizes the day so I know what has to be done the next. It allows me to acknowledge I did accomplish a few things today. Plus here is a big pay off for me at home. I know what I did, I accomplish it, and I can share that with my bride (family). There is something to share at the family dinner table each night.

    When I don’t to this daily reflection I don’t have a good answer to “How was your day?” Then the conversation is very short and not very fulfilling. I know my bride does not want each detail, but she does want to know what I do and how interested I am in what i’m doing. This also opens the door for me to hear more details about her day.

    Thank you and have a good day.

  3. Cynthia

    Thank you! I started doing this (writing down a task list as it comes to mind) and I am so much more organized and at peace now. I actually get things done now. Thank you for your article!!

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