Aug 222007

Note: This is a review of my implementation of the GTD system, rather than the book itself. You can find lots more information about Getting Things Done here, here and here.

Getting Things Done by David Allen is like the Escalade of time management systems. Its practically overkill! However, if you follow the system faithfully, you really can find yourself getting lots more done in a lot less time and with a lot less energy, getting more great ideas and keeping things out of your head so you worry less about everything. The following is simply an overview of my system and my experience with GTD and I’m putting it here for two reasons: 1. I couldn’t find examples of a GTD system in motion online which I think would have helped me immensely when I was getting into to it, and 2. It might give you some ideas. Plus, it’ll help me think the whole thing through.

The following headings are the five steps of the GTD workflow processes and you can find out more info about each step at one of the links at the top:

1. Collect – This step is simple. Collect everything and anything that you have any attention on. One of the loftier goals is that you should not have the same thought twice, unless you like having that thought. You need collection tools and buckets for things to be collected in and mine are:

  • a physical inbox,
  • I have a stack of little notepads that are about three inch squares that I can write short stuff on when I’m at home and throw them into my inbox,
  • a little paper notepad I always have in my pocket where I rip out full pages and throw them into the aforementioned inbox,
  • a plastic file folder that serves as a portable inbox that I carry with me in my bag everywhere I go,
  • email inbox,
  • and voice mail.

The real improvement opportunity for me here has been using a journal to collect and organize my thoughts and merge journaling with the natural planning model.

A 4.5 out of 5 here.

2. Process – This is where I process what I have collected and organize into discrete categories until your inboxes are at zero. The getting-to-zero part is what’s been a bit of a problem for me, partially because of the weird, ambiguous nature of the “stuff” that’s left in there cause it’s hard to deal with. I am making significant headway on it, though and intend to have all inboxes at zero by the end of this week.

Sometimes I’ll grab a bunch of stuff from my inbox and take it with me to process it while I’m in the subway or waiting or something. This is especially good for places where I can’t really concentrate a lot on reading or doing some work.

I have a source of ambiguity here. There is some stuff I want to remind myself to do (such as be more grateful) but I’m not entirely sure how to do it effectively. I’ve considered running 30-day trials on these sorts of things, but I’m wondering if there might be a more effective solution. Another problem I have is that there’s some stuff I want to remember to do or when I have a similar project in the future, but it slips my mind. Please comment if you have any ideas on this.

A 3.5 out of 5 here.

3. Organize – This is where the results of processing are separated out into categories and put into a system that can be used for reminding you. My system is a Palm M125 that I picked up from the local flea market for 30 dollars. It’s my brand new, 6-year-old Palm. The nice thing about this is that the little notepad (as in, just write what you want onto the screen) feature can be used as a portable inbox. I can also access my lists really, really fast, and that’s ESSENTIAL for implementing GTD. I originally used to use a folder, but the seconds it took to access it were too long and became a source of subconscious friction for me to access them, so I never really opened my folder. Now, the Palm works FAST.

One issue I am having here is with a digital filing system. My first problem is because I’m in between computers quite a bit, I have my files scattered among them, but this I will be fixing soon, because I got a laptop and will be consolidating my files on it. My last solution was going to be to put all my files on a memory stick and just carry that around, but I guess I don’t need to do that.

The other issue is how to organizing project research. A lot of times I’ll put links down as important for a particular project, but I either won’t or will forget to check the links when I need to. One way around this might be to copy-paste the relevant parts of take notes on the webpages. Yet another issue I’m having is that I have used Google Documents for some of my lists and so forth, but they haven’t been very effective. Yet another problem is that in lieu of a better system, I just started sending emails to myself with the information and now they’re embedded in my email reference system (Gmail with lots of labels). I suppose I’ll just consolidate all my digital based stuff in either a word file and put it in the relevant folder or something like that.

About 70-80% of your stuff will go into reference system, so its important to have a good one.

A 4 out of 5 here. Lose that point only because my digital reference system isn’t nearly as effective as it could be.

4. Review – Review the next actions when you are in the physical contexts to do them, and the weekly review, are the two main parts here.

  • Reviewing relevant lists in context has been a bit of a problem for me. I do consistently check the calender. I think an improvement opportunity here might be to set aside certain blocks of time which are “work” time. Another might be to review what I’ll be doing on a particular day and pick out the next actions I want to finish in advance, to remind myself of them. Another might be to just whip out the palm every time I do anything.
  • Week reviews have also been a bit of a problem for me. I’ve been very inconsistent with them, however they are extremely important. One way is to link my feeling of ennui to lack of weekly reviews. Another way is to reward myself for doing a weekly review. Yet another is to create a routine, perhaps a Saturday routine when I do some stuff which leads me easily into the weekly review. I’ll find a way to do this. If you’ve got any tips, let’s hear ’em.

A 2 out of 5 here. Could use some real work.
5. Do – Yay. One thing I’ve realized is that the stuff on your next actions list is stuff you actually want to get done. If you just think you “should” do it and are just procrastinating, throw it onto your someday/maybe list, DON’T clutter up your next action list. Everything on that list should PULL you to do it.

Another thing I’m starting to learn here is that there is more to do out there than I have the ability to do. Ever. So I’m starting to become more selective in what I choose to do. This is something I’m still starting to integrate into myself. There are women doing some weird totally choreographed hopping around and punching and weird dancing outside my window.

A 3 out of 5 here. I’m just not motivated to get a lot of stuff done lately. That might be because the goals I have don’t compel me anymore and I have to essentially go back to the drawing board.

Natural Planning Model – Thought I’d mention this here, too. I love the NPM. I would like to apply it a bit more in a less formal way, but its been really helpful to me so far to get things off my mind. Really read up on this part if there’s nothing else out of GTD you’re going to do.

Another one the nice things I’ve learned from GTD is about the power of tiny bits of resistance can add up. You can use this principle to add tiny bits of pain to doing something. For example, say you tend to impulse-click shortcuts to video games or webpages. You can create another profile, perhaps called “Work” where those shortcuts don’t exist. You can still access them, but that’ll require a bit more effort and you’ll more easily remember that you actually want to work.

In closing, let us pray:

The GTD Prayer

Our lifehacks, which art in contexts,
Inbox zero be thy aim.
Thy Kinkless done.
Thy Mind Sweep fun, in @work as it is in @honeydo.
Give us this day our next action.
And forgive us our open loops, as we forgive those who delete our email.
And lead us not into web surfing.
Deliver us from IM.
For thine is the Moleskine, the Project and the Due Date
For someday/maybe,

Note: I’d really appreciate any kind of feedback in the comments, good or bad. I’m still trying to figure out what kind of stuff people are most interested in, and that’s why there’s a bit more variety of material that I’m posting about. I’d like to know what really rings a bell with folks, though, so if it does, please let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading. 🙂

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