Getting Things Done has been the most valuable skill that I learnt at Uni. It is not that I never got things done, or didn’t get things done – and it is easy to dismiss the title because we all know how to get things done, so we are all experts right? If I’m honest, I am certainly not an expert in getting things done, I am an amateur who tries. The value of getting things done has been the ability to manage my time systematically – to be able to say yes to the things I want to do, and no at the times that I know my priorities mean I should be elsewhere. Getting Things Done has helped me secure a graduate position (in a FTSE 100 company) before I have left university. It has enabled me to get more time for my, well… time. In short, it has equipped me with the ability to choose when to say yes, and deliver excellent results.
I remember my first year and how I was excited to be starting University. I was embarking on a new journey, one which was taking me away from my family to be independent. I was in charge of my finances for the first time, I was responsible for finding my own accommodation and food. I had a new life composed of new friends, new studies and a new city that I was living in.
This brand new life had many facets to it. There were lectures, essays, seminars, my course mates, friends from school who were in the same city, Clubs and Societies. It was all a great mass of activity and I was loving it. I did the classic fresher thing and signed up to every society that took my fancy. However, the academic cycle started to get into gear and I was cruelly reminded that university is also for studying.
Studying that great open ended task that no-one really shows you how to do. There are different methods, and there is always one friend that seems infinitely better at it than you and you can’t quite put your finger on why; but in the meantime, while you figure out the secret to intense and productive study you’ll have a cup of tea, catch up with TV, clean your room, read the news and have a nap. All of those worthwhile things that you do until the deadline gets way too close and you go into student lockdown mode – the stress fuelled mad panic frenzy that produces something that will satisfy course requirements.
I soon realised that I had taken on way too much and quickly became a non-attender at many of the societies to which I had signed up (luckily I hadn’t paid subscription fees by that point). However, Team Up was one of the sign ups that I stuck with. One of the training sessions was titled Getting Things Done. I hadn’t even registered but the session was on the timetable despite it being the longest session we were going to have. I thought Getting Things Done would be a wishy washy session where we learn some management jargon and perhaps have a nap!
It is needless to say that I was wrong and the session was in fact one of the most interesting and practical things that I have ever heard – it was a lightbulb moment where things just made sense. What was presented was a 5 step breakdown of what “doing” for most of us was – and yes it was admittedly a little jargon filled, but it presented something that was eminently practical and simple. The biggest revelation was that “doing” isn’t one thing and in the seminar it was broken down into 5; Five practical steps that formed a framework to get things done. Furthermore, because it was now 5 steps, not all the steps had to be completed at once. They could be broken out, and should be broken out. All together they provided a system to keep an overview of what is going on.
In the seminar we explored each of the steps in sequence, thinking about why it works as a step and the practical ways to implement it. Exploring the practical aspects meant that the session was tailored to me, and that it was an opportunity for me to begin to create a system of organisation that worked for my life and personality, because it was designed by me (structured around the five principles that GTD presented).
One of the things that sold me the idea of Getting Things Done was the simple exercise of writing everything down that was on my mind and being able to see all the “stuff” – the to dos, the maybe ifs, the catch up with X and Y. The biggest selling point was the sense of relief once I had written it all down. I had a list of about 40 items, all of which were taking up some space and worry in my mind. Now they were recorded, they were out. I didn’t have to waste time and effort recording them again. I could do something about them.
Suddenly I had a way in which I could manage what I was doing effectively. Things weren’t left up to chance and I knew what different plates were spinning in the plate spinning model of my life. It is this knowing that is the most powerful aspect of Getting Things Done. Knowing allowed me to exert some control over what was going on. Knowing allowed me to view my work load and see it as something manageable – something doable. Knowing allowed me to see what was to do, to choose whether or not to take more on, and to decide what goal to set against it.
One goal I have set, for example, is to keep evenings free, and in my future work life it will be to finish by 5pm – so I can go home, relax and spend time with my wife, because these are the things I value and Getting Things Done allows me to create the space to do these.
I was able to involve myself more with Team Up and took a role as a committee member in my second year. I was able to choose to do this because I enjoy working with Team Up and GTD had given me the skills to take this on. I was able to step down from the committee but retain a role as a tutor because I could see what would be required of me in my third year and that I would not be able to deliver the role as I would like. I have taken on internships during my summer holidays and was able to perform to a high standard and was still comfortable to go home without staying late – because I knew what I had to deliver and how I was going to deliver it. I was commended for how organised I was during my internship, and on the basis of a good performance was offered a graduate position.
I really appreciate the skills I learnt in the Getting Things Done seminar, because they have helped me be free to form my life as an adult, not as someone to whom things happen, rather as someone who chooses what they do. I can do the things that I want to do and make me me. Getting Things Done helped me realise what I could do and enabled me to do more.
Nathan is a 3rd Year Psychology Student at UCL and has had multiple roles with Team Up. He currently tutors KS4 Maths in Hampstead School.
President of UCL Committee 2015-2016
Schools Officer 2014-2015