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My Greatest Productivity Breakthrough in Years!

My Greatest Productivity Breakthrough in Years!

I imagine your life is a lot like many things to do and not enough time to do them! This seems to be the curse of our technological age. We have great tools for improving efficiency, but we are also expected to be infinitely more productive.

As you know, most of the time, I write about improving education for our students. But today, I want to share something specifically for you as a parent and/or educator. Like me, I’m sure you are under a lot of pressure to get things done. Recently, however, I stumbled across my greatest productivity breakthrough in ages! It is a practice that is so flexible it will work for anyone: working parents, stay-at-home parents, teachers, administrators, and any other type of job.


I’ve never had a time in my life when I have felt less overwhelmed or gotten more done. Not only is this a major accomplishment, I had some specific constraints:

1. I was out of the office for six of the first nine weeks of the year. Most of this travel was for business, which is exceptionally exhausting and frenzied.

2. SOARA� is growing rapidly. This is a good “problem” to have, but there are more demands on my time than ever before!

3. I have two lively and lovely (yet VERY high-maintenance) children with ADHD.


Perhaps you’ve already heard of the block-buster system, Getting Things Done (GTD). I heard about it for years. A good friend of mine even owns a large firm in the Netherlands, teaching people how to be more productive with GTD principles. (He’s the Dutch “GTD King!”)

However, I never paid much attention. I’ve always been a very organized person. I’ve read hundreds of books and articles on the topic of organization.

They all say the same thing.

I had even attempted a few elements of GTD before, but I didn’t take to them very well. I now realize that I was missing the most important element of the whole process…

I was not keeping an appropriate written record of *all* of my commitments (a.k.a. “to-do” items).

How is this possible?


Or, so I thought.

David Allen, author of GTD, describes *anything* we have to do as an “open loop,” no matter how big or small. His description made me think of a fish hook; a type of loop that would cause a serious snag. In this case, Allen explains that open loops cause serious snags in our attention. These attention snags build and eventually, cause a feeling of overwhelm and dread. They are a constant strain on our mental bandwidth.

The brain cannot categorize these loops. It does not distinguish between a “big” loop or a “small” loop. To our brain, every open loop feels like a large, looming task. Something as simple as “stop by the dry-cleaners” has the same impact on our mental bandwidth as “clean out the entire house.”


Allen suggests that we capture *all* of our open loops in writing. I was used to having a weekly to-do list of 10-15 items. When done correctly, however, Allen says that most people will have over 150 open loops on their list.


I always avoided writing down little, mundane tasks. They seemed too insignificant to put in writing. Perhaps I was afraid of becoming more overwhelmed with a bigger list. It turns out, the opposite is true. Without a system to capture those tasks, they would swirl around in my head. They would pop into my attention at the most inconvenient times. I never realized what a drain they were on my consciousness, my energy, or my productivity.


I have a drawer in my bedroom filled with VHS tapes I will never use again. Every time I walked past that dresser, I would think “I should really clean that out,” and my stomach would sink ever-so-slightly. It bothered me, but I was never conscious of it. I certainly never thought to write it down. Just as soon as I thought about it, I thought I was forgetting it. I now realize that it was compounding with all of the other “I shoulds…” I would think of throughout the day. B-I-G M-E-N-T-A-L D-R-A-I-N!

As soon as I added this task to my list, I have *not once* thought about those tapes when passing that dresser. I still haven’t cleaned them out, but I enjoy the fact that they are NOT bothering me anymore. I must have been waiting to write this article, just to maintain a specific example of the power that writing everything down can have!

Allen recommends investing a few hours in creating this list. I followed his recommendation and walked all around my house, recording every open loop I noticed. Then, I went through my office and my email to capture everything possible.

By the time I was done, I filled three pages! My new Action List includes *everything,* from the prescriptions I have to pick up tomorrow to ideas I might not address for another three years. In other words, everything my brain dreams up or for which it feels responsible. Since I only have one brain, I keep personal and professional commitments on ONE list.


I have been completely and utterly AMAZED to experience the transformation of creating this master list! I review it every week and make decisions about what I will cover the following week. (This weekly review is another, completely essential step in making GTD work.)

I don’t have words to describe how mentally freeing it is to get everything out of my head. My brain takes much comfort in knowing that it no longer has to track every open loop. As a result, I am sleeping better. I am working faster. I am…

Getting Things Done!