The final step of David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) system is Engage. This is the step in which we actually get things done.
Allen argues that there are four factors that can help determine which of your next actions you should engage with right now. These four factors and the order in which they are to be applied are as follows:
- Allen refers to context as the how, when, where, or (with) whom factor that defines whether a task can be done. Some examples of this include home (eg. I can’t wash the dishes unless I’m at home), phone (eg. I can’t call my Mom unless I have my phone), or online (eg. I can’t read a web article unless I have access to the internet). The context is the first factor in determining what to engage with. Picking up a cake for your daughter’s birthday may be your highest priority today. You may have the energy and 10 minutes to pick a cake and have a birthday message written on it right now. But none of those matter if you’re currently across the city at your office. This is why we filter our next actions by context first.
- Time Available
- The time you have available is the next factor in determining what to engage with. Suppose you’re at the office and you have the energy to do the highest priority next action of the day: pair programming with the newest member of your team on a bug they’re working on fixing. However, if you only have 5 minutes before your next meeting, this is probably not the next action you want to take on right now. This is why we filter our next actions by time available next.
- Energy Available
- The energy you have available is the next factor in determining what to engage with. Suppose you’re at the office, and you have the rest of your afternoon free–several hours of time to get things done. The highest priority next action on your to do list is to have a difficult but not urgent conversation with a coworker. This may not be the best choice if your energy has hit rock bottom as you may not have the capacity to maintain composure during this conversation. This is why we filter our next actions by energy available next.
- The priority of the next action is the last factor in determining what to engage with. This may seem counterintuitive (eg. the Eisenhower Method suggests prioritizing the most important tasks first). However, I hope some of the examples above help to explain why the other factors are used to filter the available next actions before priority.
- If you ever encounter a next action that your intuition firmly states you should be taking on above other next actions despite the other factors, it may be an indicator that some of those items on your next actions lists should actually be moved to your Someday/Maybe List for now.
That is all there is to the Engage step and the GTD system.
In the next and final post, we will discuss how the GTD system helps to address some of the psychological factors we covered at the beginning of this series.