Get things done and gain Advanced Common Sense

Jul 23 / 2016 Comments
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Forgive me for the length of this blog post, but the subject deserves it.

Most people I know live their lives in a constant "not under control" state. They do not know what will happen next, they have lots of commitments, desires and projects that keep getting delayed and they are unsatisfied with that. Yet, since they have lived their entire lives this way, they think unconsciously that this is how it has to be.

The first thing they have to understand is outlined in the following quote:

Life is problems. Living is solving problems.

Raymond E. Feist

What Raymond Feist means by "problems" in this quote are not catastrophes, but more about "issues" or "things that need to be handled". You have to understand that this will never end, there will always be new situations and issues that you will have to deal with. As long as you're alive this never ends: so it is useless to complain about it, but instead we must prepare ourselves for this reality so that we can face the issues that come up in a regular manner.

Solve it when it shows up, or when it blows up?

So what is planning?

Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.

Alan Lakein

Basically what this means is that by planning, you will have the future laid out to you in a clear manner. Most people don't plan the things they want to do; sometimes they do plan them but only for the things that seem big or complex.

But what is the consequence of not planning things? They later become emergencies, and emergencies cause stress and anxiety in our lives.

In a sense people react to things when they blow up instead of when they show up, and this is bad. By building the habit of planning things when they show up, you can save the stress, anxiety and the feeling of being "overwhelmed" or having "a lot to do".

Examples of planning when it shows up vs when it blows up

Let's say you have a problem in your car that is not urgent yet, but requires a visit to the garage to have it fixed. Most people would say to themselves "I should go to the garage someday" and do not decide when. When do they go to the garage? When this problem makes their car unusable and they have to. This is a big nuisance as it can hinder some other plans because it comes as unexpected and becomes urgent. This is when people do something when it blows up. On the other hand, planning this when it shows up looks like this: you notice this problem and break it down into tasks that are actionable immediately like this:

  • I need to call the garage to take an appointment
  • I need to choose a day and time where I can take the car to the garage
  • I need to take the car to the garage
  • I need to secure the money needed to pay the garage
  • I need to pay the garage and collect my fixed car

Once this is done:

  • The near future can be predicted
  • You won't have any schedule conflicts
  • The emergency break-down of the car will not happen
  • You will feel more in control

So which one is better, doing when it blows up or planning when it shows up? I'll leave it to you to decide.

Example of planning recurrent tasks

Some things are recurrent such as buying groceries. In order to solve these once and for all, you must put a system in place.

If you use the "when it blows up" approach for groceries and supermarket visits, here's what would happen: You need light. You take your flashlight. You turn it on and oops, batteries are empty, it won't turn on. What you need this minute are fresh batteries, but you're not in the right context, you're not at a supermarket, so what do you get? Frustration and inability to use the flashlight.

How to solve this? In a system: you could for example have a groceries list that you carry with you wherever you go (on your phone or on paper, it doesn't matter). Every time you figure out you need something, you add it on the list, including the things you always need to have "just in case" (spare batteries). On a specific day every month or week, you visit the supermarket and whatever is on the list, you buy. What's the end result? Anything you need, you will have it within reach. Problem solved forever.

So planning things when they show up, and always being ready is a great thing to get used to.

Why do things get stuck?

A lot of people make promises to themselves and others "I should get a new fridge soon", "I need to get new glasses", and these stay stuck for many months and sometimes do not get done.

Why do they not get done then? David Allen answers in this quote:

Things rarely get stuck because of lack of time. They get stuck because the doing of them has not been defined.

David Allen

"Defining the doing of things" is what planning is about. It is about deciding on what actions need to be done for the task to be done, as well as when each action will be done.

For example, getting glasses would look something like this when planned:

  • Call a friend to get the phone number of a glasses store
  • Call the glasses store to inquire about pricing
  • Ensure the money is available for payment
  • Arrange transportation to the store (how and when)
  • Choose a frame
  • Pay and place order
  • After a while, collect the glasses from the store

This simple goal is actually 7 distinct actions when planned. Each action needs to be fully defined, specially when and how exactly it will be done. By definition this is a "project". A project is an outcome that requires more than 1 separate action to be achieved.

By this definition, your life is a project. You define goals and purpose and then break them down to actions that you take on to achieve.

The value of systems

As you can see, one desired outcome is made up of many actions. How do we make sure these actions get done and the project doesn't get stuck? We need a trusted system that will help us do this.

The systems store the individual actions and all details relating to them, and feeds them back to us when we can do something about them, to make the project move forward.

As an example of the "arrange transportation to the store (how and when)" task above, you could add it to your calendar system. What this will do is remind you about it at the right time, as well as have the time needed blocked out of your schedule so you do not schedule anything else at the same time as this task and create a time conflict.

I will discuss some tools that can help with this in a later section.

The value of time

All people have an equal amount of time during a day: 24 hours. So how do some get more things done than others? It is about efficient use of time, which we call "productivity".

Most people are more "busy" than they are "productive". Productivity is about using the least amount possible to accomplish the most progress possible on our projects and goals.

The most intelligent people are the people who always increase the ROI (return on investment) of the time they spend. By using systems and the planning approach, it is guaranteed you will be doing more valuable things with your time by getting more things time in less time than you normally would have.

Your brain is not made for storing information

How many times were you expressing an idea to someone and got interrupted, a minute later you forgot what you were talking about? How many times did you have something to do on a specific date and you totally forgot about it? Why is that you ask? David Allen answers with:

Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.

David Allen

The brain is very bad at time management: it has no sense of time. If you tell yourself "On August 8th, I must remember to do X", when August 8th comes, there's no natural process that is triggered in the brain to bring you this thought again. Moreover, if that thing was really important, you will keep thinking about it everyday "I should remember that on August 8th I must do X"; this is wasteful thought and energy.

It's a waste of time and energy to keep thinking about something that you make no progress on.

David Allen

This shows for example that the brain is not the right tool to use to remember something and its details, because it causes you to feel "overwhelmed" with commitments and is not reliable. What you could use in this case is external reminder tools, for example: having so many reminder apps on the phone that pop up a notification when the right time comes around. Free your brain up for creative thinking and store your ideas, commitments and reminders in an external trusted system; this is how you gain the feeling of being "in-control".

The importance of having a plan

Based on all what I've said above, you should agree that having a plan is very important, no matter how small or big the goal.

By having everything planned you will be able to see the future in a clear way and remove most of the stress that you normally would have, as well as no longer feel overwhelmed with all that you have to do.

All people have a lot of things to do all the time, but it is the people who are able to have it in control and constant progress that win at this game.

If you were to do a mindsweep, that is to take a pen and paper and write down all the commitments and things you have to do, you would be surprised that you have between 30 and 100 on-going projects, which can be developed to 200-500 next-actions. Yes! that's how much you probably have to do, so it's no wonder you feel overwhelmed if you do not have them handled and laid out in a clear manner and have them all stored only in your head.

Feedback from a friend

I once helped a friend get his life organized using the ideas presented in this blog post and many others, and after he got success with it, here is what his feedback about it was:

Life without a plan goes nowhere. For a person to become the best version of themselves in all the different fields of their lives, it is a must to envision a plan and build the discipline to execute it. For in reality, all that we have is time. And what differentiates one person from the other is how they use their time. Just imagine after understanding this concept and integrating it into your lives, what you could become - just knowing that you can optimize and maximize the utility of every second of your day. A vision sets it off, a plan draws the way and discipline ensures a dream becomes a reality. For in the end, thoughts without actions will always remain nothing but thoughts. As my friend Freddy told me: "do nothing, and nothing happens" and this relates to a widespread quote from the entrepreneurship community: "It's not the idea, it's the execution." You can literally spend your whole life reading and growing your knowledge, but if you don't take a step to execute what you have learned, nothing will happen.

A great friend

The tools you need

1. Note taking tool

You will first need a tool that will enable you to capture any idea that comes to you in any form: text, image or audio. Remember that we said that the brain is not for storing ideas and information? Storing the ideas in a tool like this will allow you to never let an idea slip away or be forgotten; even if you think the idea might not be useful, store it first and always, you can decide later if it is has worth or should be thrown away.

The tool I personally use for this is called Evernote. You can get it over here:

2. List management tool

You need a place where you can store & dynamically organize lists (for example a groceries list). The tool I use for this is the "Reminders" app on iOS (iPhone) and OSX (Mac): Not only does it have the ability to create and manage lists, but you can also share your list with other people (shared groceries list for the house).

If you do not have iOS or OSX (Android or Windows) another good tool to use is Trello. You can get it over here:

3. Project management and storage tool

You need a place where you have all your projects stored, where you can see the progress of each as well as the detailed plan you laid out for the project. This system needs to also be able to show you which actions you have to take or finish today for your projects to be on track.

The tool I personally use is called EasyRedmine. You can get it here:

Although this tool is not free, if you want a free (but less featured) version of it, you can get Redmine here:

4. Calendar

You need a place where you can see the rough edges of your day, time-wise. This is ideal for storing appointments and blocking out time-slots for specific tasks that take time (go to the gym, meet with a friend). The calendar should also remind you of any upcoming meetings in your day so that you do not forget them.

All smartphones today have a calendar app that you can use. I personally use iOS's Calendar which comes pre-installed on the iPhone and have it integrated with my Google Calendar account.

5. Daily handling tool

You need a tool that will remind you of things when the time is right or when you are in a specific location.

The one I use is called Handle and also doubles up as an E-mail Inbox management tool but only works on iOS. You can get it here:

Getting things done quadrants

To plan and get things done I follow a model called "Getting Things Done" by David Allen. I suggest you check it out and read the books.

In the model there is a four quadrant model that tells you where you are currently in your organizational progress. The test to evaluate you is called GTD-Q, and you can take the free online test here: I suggest you take it, it is simply a series of 20 questions and takes 5 minutes to complete.

For your information, on the test I score as "Captain & Commander". Most the people I met would score as "Victim Responder". You can try taking the test and report your results in the comment section at the bottom of this post.


I hope that this blog post made you more intrigued about planning and its importance. If you decide to go on this path you will become a more reliable and trustworthy human being and feel more "in-control" of your life.

I like to call it becoming a "Human-Robot". It is about having the best of both worlds. You can retain the great human qualities and emotions while gaining the efficiency of a robot or computer.

For people who become trustworthy and can predict their future; we say that they have acquired Advanced Common Sense.

I will end this blog post with one of my favorite quotes by Victor Hugo:

He who every morning plans the transaction of the day and follows out that plan, carries a thread that will guide him through the maze of the most busy life. But where no plan is laid, where the disposal of time is surrendered merely to the chance of incidence, chaos will soon reign.

Victor Hugo

I wish you a happy life filled with awesome goals and plans that get done.

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