Getting Things Done for Grown-Ups

Hannes Kleist
6 min readNov 17, 2021

Artikel — Hannes Kleist — 14.02.2020

How I changed my daily routine to make space for my family, my health, meditation, reading, thinking and reflection.


  1. Work less to get done more.
  2. The non-urgent but important stuff will kill you.
  3. Clear your inbox(es) only once every day.
  4. Only do must-do-tasks.
  5. The small stuff: First-in-first-out.
  6. The big stuff: Block time in your calendar.
  7. The oldest item on your to-do list: 1 week.
  8. Keep people in the loop.
  9. Do not have deadlines.

Introduction: Productivity Porn

In my twenties, I was addicted to what some people lovingly called “productivity porn”. I read every book about productivity, was a big fan of Getting Things Done, 43 folders (still am) and played with every tool imaginable. I did everything to avoid **doing **the actual work. Still: I easily raked in 50 hours per week doing that and producing slides and spreadsheets. And spending 70% of my day in meetings. Ahhh, those were the days.

Fifteen years later, I was working 80 hours per week running a 40 people digital agency — and nearly burned out. I could not sleep anymore, was riddled by anxiety attacks, was irritated with my family and nearly ran my company into the ground.

**Two Things Almost Killed Me

  1. Even though I clocked in 80 hours, I did have no time to think, plan and reflect.
  2. I did not get the important, non-urgent stuff done: Building sales, building solid processes, rebranding and repositioning the company, research, networking, finding partners, people development…

Creativity Needs Space

The deep thoughts and innovative ideas do not come (surprise, surprise) in your 81st hour of work in any given week. They happen when you are relaxed and your head has space to think. There is some good evidence that creative problem-solving actually happens in our sub-conscious. If you work 80 hours per week, sleep 5 hours per night and watch Netflix the rest of the time, when shall your brain do the hard work?

**Here Is How I Structure My Day:

  • 5:00 uninterrupted deep work
  • 7:30 lifting weights
  • 8:00 meditation (20’ mindfulness course, 15’ metta exercise, 10’ open awareness exercise, 15’ stretching)
  • 9:00 thinking with only a notepad
  • 10:00 reading (I actually burn through a book per week and review it here)
  • 11:00 shallow work (meetings, emails, to-do list)
  • 17:00 kids and cooking
  • 20:00 networking events, Netflix and Red Dead Redemption 2 on Stadia (yes, I’m hooked ;-)

I do this for nine months now, and it feels amazing. I get tons of stuff done, I feel super relaxed and in control, I sleep well, I am nice to my kids. I’m even considering going vegetarian 😱.

Urgent Is NOT Important!

True story: The important stuff in life is never urgent.

You can be super busy every day, jumping on the tasks that pop up in your inbox and seem urgent. Doing that is just a form of procrastination, as it keeps you from the really important stuff: Thinking and deep work. This type-2-thinking is hard, so our dopamine-powered brain tries to avoid it by chasing after the seemingly urgent stuff.

Read War of Arts for deep thoughts on procrastination and why it is your biggest impediment to getting forward in life.

Read Thinking, Fast and Slow for more about type-2-thinking.

I successfully did not work on the following topics for years:

  1. Building sales
  2. Developing “teams” (as opposed to just “people”)
  3. Networking and finding partners
  4. Building robust processes
  5. Writing

On top of that, a number of projects blew up because I postponed fixing them. We are talking six digits budgets!

My 7 Findings To Get Shit Done

1. Decide if you must do something or drop it.

Do not put “should do” or “might do” topics on your lists (they have a way to sneak in any way). Don’t fill your to-do list with unimportant, shallow busy work instead of tackling the big issues.

2. Only work first-in-first-out.

“Prioritization” is a hoax. You will always rationalize why something else is more urgent than big and hard topics. You must trick yourself into working through those topics like a machine. Like a pro.

Work off your to-do list from bottom to top (I actually use my Gmail inbox).

This also reduces anxiety because you just work off a list that is non-negotiable. (Pro tip: Mindfulness meditation really helps when you work on a shitty task. Listen in and find out that anxiety is just body symptoms your lizard brain is putting up to keep you from doing them.)

3. Clear your inbox(es) only once every day.

People take your responsiveness to emails as a sign of your reliability, professionalism and general awesomeness. So you must respond within 24 hours.

BUT: E-mails are always somebody else forcing their priority unto you. They are reactive. Spend the least amount of time on them. There is no need to have e-mail ping pong with people. ;-)

Do stuff that requires less than two minutes right away and leave the rest in the inbox as your to-do list to get to it, when you come to it.

4. The big stuff: Put a block in your calendar

Every topic that takes longer than two hours can’t be handled by first-in-first-out. You never have such long blocks and those tasks will clog your system. Add daily 30-minute blocks in your calendar for these tasks, ideally early in the morning when you have energy and the block cannot be claimed by meeting requests. I have a 30’ block every morning at 5:00 for designing and implementing our new website. This is a 100-hour project that will take me half a year. But I get it done slowly without blocking me from other topics.

5. Aim for less than one week of to-dos

Be careful not to overload your to-do list. If it takes you a month to do stuff you promised to other people, you will come off as slow and sloppy. Also, the anxiety of a long and stale to-do list will kill you.

Imagine being the woman who always delivers everything she promises in one week. You will be “Mrs Reliable and Productive” in everybody’s mind!

I block off Fridays just to get my to-do list down so the oldest item in there is from Monday.

6. Keep people in the loop

People get super nervous and lose trust in you if you do not broadcast status to them. Here are three tips:

  1. Always respond to e-mails, slack messages etc. with an ETA on your delivery. But tell them it might take twice as long.
  2. Give people an update on the progress at least weekly.
  3. If you need to push a deadline: Do not let it pass silently. Inform the other person asap.

People do not mind deliverables being pushed. But they want to feel that you are on top of things.

7. Do not have deadlines

Do not commit to deadlines. Ever! This will break you because you do urgent instead of important stuff again. Tell people estimates and keep those updated weekly instead. Only commit to a deadline when the work is actually done.


Being busy is very different from being productive. There is no way you can do the important work when you are stressed by the busy-bee stuff. To move forward in life, you need calm and long blocks of deep work. Those tasks are always hard and uncomfortable. So get your big girl pants on and tackle them.

Hannes also shares sales strategy and tutorials for startups on YouTube and at his consultancy’s blog.



Hannes Kleist

MBA, 10 years strategy at ProSiebenSat.1, 5 years app startup (exited), 5 years digital agency, now helping startups with sales