Thursday, February 24, 2011

BBP001: Introduction To Black Belt GTD

In my first podcast episode, I spend some time talking about the strategy I would use to become a Black Belt GTD if I was just starting out. There's no fancy music and my voice has been known to put people to sleep but I thought that a podcast might be beneficial to some of my readers. I'm still learning the logistics of putting these together so if you have any feedback on the quality of the recording or things you'd like to hear about let me know.
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Thursday, February 17, 2011

The GTD Daily Review Checklist

In my last post, I talked about my GTD Areas of Focus and how I plan on using them as black belt levels. The plan is to work my way through each one with the goal of mastering it. Today, what I wanted to talk about is the GTD Daily Review and how to start using it to begin designing your perfect day. While many people have a daily review in their GTD system, others have trouble even getting to the weekly review and still others can’t get their inboxes empty. Like I’ve mentioned before, I’m going to start from scratch here by first outlining the general idea and then how you can specifically apply it to your own situation.

For those of you who already have started developing your daily review checklist, you probably already recognize three valuable benefits to having one. They are:

  1. You get everything out of your head.

  2. You are less likely to forget to check something you need to - like your calendar.

  3. You have defined what “done” looks like.


For those of you who don’t have one, you take the chance of putting yourself in a position where you have to try and remember everything which reduces efficiency, take the chance of forgetting to check something and finally you might struggle with knowing when to quit working – especially if you work for yourself. While it might seem mundane to account for every tiny detail of your day, those who strive for excellence pay attention to these kinds of details and learn to account for them. This is truly how you get everything out of your head and also how you reduce stress. It will also at any given moment tell your progress towards black belt.

Getting a complete daily checklist won’t happen overnight but will evolve over time. I recommend that you develop it in the following manner:

  1. Start by adding the steps needed to process your GTD system. This would checking your inboxes, your calendar, your lists, etc.

  2. Brainstorm what the perfect day might look like and start adding those things to your list. For example, you might want to work out, eat at certain times or even eat certain things. The sky is the limit here. It’s your life and if today was a perfect day what would you want to accomplish. These things will change from time to time and so your checklist will probably evolve as you do.

  3. Refine the list and start moving things around to make things more efficient. Maybe it makes sense to check your voice mail before your email. Be a master of the process and record every step as if it was the only thing you ever had to do. Make sure you include steps like “log in to email” and be as detailed as possible.

  4. Break the list into sections. Maybe you’ll break your day into emptying inboxes, take a breather and then focus on doing. Divide your list into logical groupings. Feel free to reward yourself when you complete sections and make sure you add those things to your list too.

  5. Once your list starts taking shape, work on completing the list faster so you spend less time working. Record the time you start and finish and try and improve your time.

  6. Review the checklist to see what you can delegate. If you have broken down all the steps for a certain task, have written all the steps down exactly as you would perform them, then it makes it that much easier to delegate those tasks to free up your time to work on other important tasks.


By following these steps, you can really get a handle on your day. But a lot of people get stuck and may find it difficult to get going. You might find that you can only get through part of your list and get stuck. What do you do then?

Here’s what I suggest. Use the Basic Three Step Black Belt Training Program. Start small, make small progress and raise the bar. Start by adding one thing to your daily review checklist. It doesn’t really matter what it is. Make sure that you at least complete that task each day. If you do more, then great, if not your day is still a success. Then raise the bar and add one additional task so that you have at least two for the day and make the commitment to get those done no matter what else you do. Slowly but surely, you’ll develop better mental discipline to tackle more and more work.

Look at it like lifting weights. Start with five pound weights (a few tasks a day) and gradually increase the weight. If you can only get through part of your list and get stuck and can’t get further, the challenge is the same. I know that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. You might be starting with a back log of papers or emails and you just can’t make any progress.

If that’s you, what I recommend is getting all of the urgent items out of your inboxes and setting everything else aside in a secondary inbox or holding area. Begin with today and make sure that anything that arrives today is processed today and you get through your list or farther through it. Then set an hour a week aside, to tackle the backlog. This technique will help you clear your head a bit and might help you gain the momentum you need to push through that wall.

With that, it’s time to take action. I will start working on my GTD daily review checklist over on my Black Belt Project Facebook page. You can join me over there by liking the page and I’ll start developing my list over there. I hope you will join me next time. Until then, take action.
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Monday, February 14, 2011

GTD Areas Of Focus – The Black Belt Levels

In the last post I talked about The Basic Three Step Black Belt Training Program. Today I wanted to talk about the belt system I’m going to use to help you move in the direction of being a master of your life. A martial arts student starts his training as a white belt and as his training progresses; he advances through a system of colored belts. We’ll do the same here but our “belts” will be our GTD Areas of Focus.

You and I will, as beginning students, start with a “white belt”. What we’ll do then is work through each of our areas of focus in getting things done and begin mastering them one by one.

Here’s my current list of GTD Areas of Focus. Remember these are broad areas of focus and we’ll be putting more specific projects inside each as we move along.

  1. Red – Productivity (GTD, Getting Things Done)

  2. Yellow – Physical Health (Exercise, Diet)

  3. Blue – Image (Grooming, Appearance, Wardrobe)

  4. Green – Financial

  5. Orange – Work/Career/Business

  6. Purple – Mental Health (Emotional)

  7. Pink – Relationship/Home/Family/Friends

  8. Gray – Spiritual/Contribution/Character

  9. Black – Fun/Adventure/Travel/Learning


As you can see I’ve established a 9 belt system advancing to black belt. This is my initial belt system. I might fine tune it as we go along but for now this is our working list.

We’ll be starting with the red belt which stands for setting up our GTD system. While you can start anywhere and work to master your life, I suggest that you start with either productivity or physical health. I’ll be starting with GTD because it will help us clear our mind and clear the decks of all our outstanding obligations. Once we clear our head completely, we’ll have better clarity in the higher levels.

OK. The next step is to start working on our red belt. I’ll start doing that in the next post. I hope you’ll join me.
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Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Basic Three Step Black Belt Training Program

As I move along creating the foundation to help you and I master our life through GTD and more, I wanted to build on my last post called “The Dojo Kun of The Black Belt Project.” In that post, I discuss the difficulty in finding a starting point because everyone is at different stages in their life and in their own personal development. Because of that, I suggested that the best place to start is at a point where you might be an individual who is “stuck”, so to speak. At any given time, you might find yourself in this frame of mind where you have a difficult time taking action either because of your emotional state at the time or because you are in a situation where things are in flux and you are not sure what to do.

Even if that’s not you, or not you at this time, the basic strategy that I am going to lay out today has its benefits and that’s because I’m going to use it as the starting point for becoming a black belt at any area of your life where you might want to focus on at any given time. For those of you who have gotten a good handle on your systems, I may risk offending you but I’m hoping that you will humor me as I feel that creating a system to create action is at the core of achievement. Many people have great ideas but for one reason or another can’t take action. Sometimes too, it’s the most basic strategies that yield some powerful results. As an example, take David Allen’s Getting Things Done next action thinking. This simple question – “what’s the next action?” I think is the engine that moves the GTD system.

Similarly, I think the basic three step strategy I am going to lay out also has an extreme amount of power. The core concept behind the basic Black Belt Project strategy is about developing your “getting things done” muscle. When you first begin to make changes to your life, your first option might be to take the drastic step of taking massive action. This is a great strategy. But for a lot of people, they haven’t the inner mental strength to lift such a heavy weight. And many times, they can only maintain that pace for a while before they tire out. If you think of getting yourself to a black belt at life as a marathon, you wouldn’t start by running 26.2 miles right out of the gate. You would start with much smaller distances and maybe even by walking. This helps you build up your endurance and if you go slowly enough also helps you prevent injury. This kind of approach can help you pace yourself and help you get moving again. Once you develop your inner discipline by starting slowly, you can create momentum and run greater and greater distances in faster and faster times.

OK, with that said, let’s begin.

The Basic Three Step Black Belt Project Training Program


Here are the three steps:

  1. Take small steps

  2. Make small progress

  3. Raise the bar


Let’s talk about each step and then I will walk you through a mini example.

First, I’m going to suggest that you start with small steps. I’ve alluded to this in the past indirectly in some articles and videos I have done. But, to institute major changes in your life, it’s really just a collection of smaller steps along the way. Start by figuring out what the smallest step in the process are and then write that first step down in a checklist that you can print out and set in front of you.

Next, make the commitment that you will complete that one step tomorrow if it’s the only thing that you do. Do it first thing to get it out of the way. Check it off your list. After you do that, you must commit to take at least that one action from that point forward.

At this point, you’ve set the standard for your day. It might only be one thing, But what you have accomplished is a major step forward if you have had problems getting moving.

This brings us to the third step in the process and that is, you must the raise the bar and increase the weight to build the muscle of your inner discipline. You do this by adding one additional step to your checklist of things you want to do the next day.

Make a commitment then to do no less than what you have put on your checklist. If you do more, that’s great. But do no less.

Continue to do this and continue to increase your daily resistance. What you’ll find is that you will start to create momentum. It will be easier to get through that list.

If you have read this far, you might wonder how this applies to GTD. So, let’s do an example.

I think the cornerstone of a black belt GTD’er is the daily review and the collection of checklists that you develop. If I haven’t developed this, the first thing I might want to do tomorrow is make sure that I check my voice mail and return my calls. While this is actually more than one step, I can personally say that I have been avoiding my phone messages and slacked on calling people back right away.

The first thing I would do then is create a checklist with one item on it.

  • Check voice mail


Tomorrow, I would check my voice mail if it’s the only thing I did. I would then ask myself what is the most next logical item I could add to the list and I would raise the bar. Maybe that might be:

  • Add calls to return to my calls list.


And then I would make it my personal mission to make sure that I completed those two tasks. This would then increase my endurance and help me create momentum. I would then repeat the process.

This is a simple example but I hope you can see how these three steps can be the basis of building your life to black belt. In my next post, I’m still considering covering a few basic concepts before we delve into more specific things. I hope that you will join me.
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