Getting Things Done: 5 Steps to Stress-Free Productivity

Getting Things Done: 5 Steps to Stress-Free Productivity

28-Nov-2017 by Dane Franulovic

Startups are defined by growth in a highly competitive and changing environment. Challenges they face on a daily basis demand high levels of productivity and the ability to recalibrate fast to new situations. Every startup goes through different phases of ups and downs. These entrepreneurial lifecycles have their psychological price, and startup stress has become a well-known fact in the entrepreneurial world. Stress is also one of the main enemies of productivity. Hence, the ultimate question is:

How to achieve and maintain stress-free productivity?

Getting Things Done method

Two weeks ago at the FinTech & CyberSecurity program in Amsterdam we had a privilege to host David Allen, the author of a widely acclaimed Getting Things Done (GTD) method that is described in his book of the same name. At the start of his workshop he emphasized two things:

”Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them!”

”To optimize your cognitive function you need to keep your head as empty as you can”.

Allen designed GTD to help us reduce work-related stress by keeping our heads empty and making our workflows more efficient. So, how to master the art of stress-free productivity? Here are the 5 steps that we have learned during the session:

1. Capture

The first step in GTD is to move tasks out of your head and put them on a ”to-do” list. Research has shown that an average human can hold five to nine objects in their working memory. Known as Miller’s law, it offers a more optimistic view of the average capacity of human working memory, considering that some research sets the limit as low as four items.
The first step in GTD is simply about collecting what has your attention. You have just opened a new office and you want to create a stimulating and pleasant work environment? Put in a reminder that you have to get this done. Had a great idea that could help your startup achieve a market breakthrough? Take a pen and a piece of paper, and write it all down. Your ‘’to-do’’ list can include tasks that are as simple as calling the bank, all the way to long-term projects like developing a market strategy.

2. Clarify

Process what you have put on a ”to-do” list. What do these items mean? Can they be deducted into actionable work tasks? If yes, then bring them down to visible actions and do them immediately if they require less than 2 minutes of your time. You can also delegate the task to someone else, or defer it to a later date, if necessary. For instance, buying a table football seems like a good suggestion to make the work environment more pleasant. Reflect on the idea you had regarding market breakthrough and decide what could be the next actions.
If the item cannot be deducted into an actionable task(s), either trash it, keep it as a reference or incubate it, if you think it might be actionable later on.

3. Organize

Categorize and prioritize. After you bring your idea down to a series of actionable tasks, see how they relate to each other and categorize them into a project. Realize that a project is merely a multi-step challenge that one action won’t be enough to complete.
Of course, time is of the essence when prioritizing tasks. If, for example, you would like to apply for a startup accelerator program or an award competition, plan ahead how long it will take to write the application. Always keep in mind what the next action is and take care of it when the time is right.

4. Reflect

Priorities change, and they might change often. Every week take a step back and review if your actions are indeed bringing your startup closer to its goals, or they are just keeping you busy with things that do not really matter at the moment.

5. Engage

The fifth and final step – act. If you did the previous steps correctly, now you will spend less time thinking about tasks you need to do, and more time actually doing something about them and crossing them off your list. Keep your mind as empty as possible to enable ideas to appear in that space. Get things done, allow yourself to innovate and allow your startup to grow. Now, you are an artist of stress-free productivity.

How do our 2018 FinTech & CyberSecurity startups and apply GTD to their workflows?

We asked Gonzalo Ceballos, CEO at startup OpSeeker, Maarten Luiken, co-founder of scale-up FinBase, and Daniel Fangueiro, CEO at startup Vision Tech Lab, to share insights on how they incorporate GTD in their businesses.

Gonzalo nicely summarized the importance of GTD approach to startup workflow:

The principle of GTD method – freeing your mind in order to have bandwidth to be able to think and focus on one thing – is crucial, especially for startups. This is because we suffer from the lack of human resources, so every “free head” counts!

Daniel continued likewise:

GTD helps with organizing your information and solving entrepreneurs’ biggest problem: the lack of time to do their tasks.

The principle is similar with scale-ups, as Martin added:

As a scale-up with limited resources, it is important to get the maximum out of your time. Using the right tools like the GTD method is critical for us.

We further asked them to give us a concrete example of how they apply GTD:

Gonzalo: On the business side we use Evernote as the entry for all the tasks that start popping and we use OneNote in order to distribute them by priority. We have many sections that hold all the projects in OneNote. At the moment this system is helping us a lot in stakeholder management at Startupbootcamp. We have specific sections for different partners and mentors and there we keep all the info and the actions.
On the technological side, we work with agile approaches such as Scrum, Kanban, Design Thinking, and others. These approaches are nothing more than tools to free our minds so we can focus on the task at hand at every particular stage.

Maarten: We implemented a tool to communicate with the independent advisors focused on planning their schedules. Using the right tools enables a lot of actions to be implemented within the 2-minute rule, so more time remains for the bigger projects.

Daniel: Companies should have the ability to understand their customers and act efficiently. What is really important is to prioritize, that is, define which tasks are most important for the business and who we should contact first. By applying GTD we become more organized and more efficient in our customer relationship management because actions are defined by their relevance and time.

During our accelerator programs, Startupbootcamp provides tailored mentorships and masterclasses that help startups and corporate intrapreneurs optimize their productivity and growth. Stay tuned for our next accelerator program applications! If you would like to know more feel free to contact us, or check out our Amsterdam based program webpages: FinTech & CyberSecurity, Commerce and Smart City & IoT.


Marketing Assistant at Startupbootcamp Amsterdam