The basic requirements for managing commitments

First of all, if it’s on your mind, your mind isn’t clear. Anything you consider unfinished in any way must be captured in a trusted system outside your mind, or what I call a collection tool, that you know you’ll come back to regularly and sort through.

Second, you must clarify exactly what your commitment is and decide what you have to do, if anything, to make progress toward fulfilling it.

Third, once you’ve decided on all the actions you need to take, you must keep reminders of them organised in a system you review regularly.

An Important Exercise to Test This Model
I suggest that you write down the project or situation that is most on your mind at this moment. What most bugs you, distracts you, or interests you, or in some other way consumes a large part of your conscious attention? It may be a project or problem that is really “in your face,” something you are being pressed to handle, or a situation you feel you must deal with sooner rather than later.

Maybe you have a holiday trip coming up that you need to make some major last-minute decisions about. You just read an e‑mail about a new and pressing issue in your department. Or perhaps you just inherited six million dollars and you don’t know what to do with the cash. Whatever.

Got it? Good. Now, describe, in a single written sentence, your intended successful outcome for this problem or situation. In other words, what would need to happen for you to check this project off as “done”? It could be as simple as “Take the Hawaii vacation,”

“Handle situation with customer X,” “Resolve college situation with Susan,” “Clarify new divisional management structure,” “Implement new investment strategy,” or “Research options for dealing
with Manuel’s reading issue.” All clear? Great.

Now write down the very next physical action required to move the situation forward. If you had nothing else to do in your life but get closure on this, what visible action would you take right now?

Would you call or text someone? Write an e‑mail? Take pen and paper and brainstorm about it? Surf the Web for data? Buy nails at the hardware store? Talk about it face‑to‑face with your partner, your assistant, your attorney, or your boss? What?

Got the answer to that? Good.

Was there any value for you in those two minutes of thinking?

If you’re like the vast majority of people who complete that drill in our seminars, you’ll be experiencing at least a tiny bit of enhanced control, relaxation, and focus. You’ll also be feeling more motivated to actually do something about that situation you’ve merely been thinking about till now. Imagine that motivation magnified a thousandfold, as a way to live and work.

If anything at all positive happened for you in this little exercise, think about this: What changed? What happened to create that improved condition within your own experience? The situation itself is no further along, at least in the physical world. It’s certainly not finished yet. What probably happened is that you acquired a clearer definition of the outcome desired and the next action required.

What did change is the most important element for clarity, focus, and peace of mind: how you are engaged with your world.

But what created that? Not “getting organized” or “setting priorities.”

The answer is, thinking. Not a lot; just enough to solidify your commitment about a discrete pressure or opportunity and the resources required dealing with it. People think a lot, but most of that thinking is of a problem, project, or situation—not about it. If you actually did this suggested exercise, you were required to structure your thinking toward an outcome and an action, and that does not usually happen without a consciously focused effort. Reacting is automatic, but thinking is not.

David Allen’s Getting Things Done was hailed as ‘the definitive business self-help book of the decade’ when it was first published fifteen years ago. Next Action Associates, the only company in the UK and Ireland certified to teach the GTD methodology, is this month launching a new edition of David Allen’s best-selling book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, published in the UK by Piatkus.

The extract above is a chapter from the new edition, updated to reflect the huge changes in the business world over the last 15years.