Getting Things Done

Pretty strong statement, no? In an effort to develop my blog more, I decided to post some of my favorite things.

What’s this have to do with Getting Things Done? Well it’s a book, as well as an entire productivity principle, by David Allen. I’m a fan and have made GTD a part of my life.

There is a TON of articles and blog posts on GTD. I don’t want to reinvent them, just explain how GTD works for me.

GTD’s main principle is to get things off your mind, and into a reliable system. Doing so will free up your mind and allow it to focus on accomplishing tasks effectively and efficiently.

Allen has a follow-up book, Ready for Anything, which I’ve read (actually listened to) as well. It’s whole premise is once you’re productive and firing on all cylinders, you’ll have the time and energy to deal with anything unexpected. Whether it’s a disaster or an urgent project plopped on your desk at 4:45 on a Friday. Since your mind won’t be preoccupied with clutter, you’ll be more creative, you’ll be able to anticipate more, in other words, you’ll be ready for anything.

I stick to the main GTD principle and steps. Right or wrong, I personalized and simplified the system. There is plenty of debate out there on the effectiveness of the system “out of the box.” My opinion is any system has to be tailored to your specific needs in order for it to be effective. If there is any bit of resistance to a system, it’ll fail in my opinion. I honed GTD for my needs, so if you read this, and you think it ain’t GTD, then so be it.

Allen’s high level process has 5 steps:
1. Collect
2. Process
3. Organize
4. Review
5. Do

So here is how I’ve interpreted those steps and what I’ve instituted in my work and personal life.

1. Collect. I struggled with this big time.

  • I carry a small notepad. It took me a long time to find one that fits in my pocket. This is what I carry: http://www.cross.com/(X(1)S(kfe1fx55qpf5mp45h2x0oh45))/home.aspx?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1
  • Whenever I think of anything I need or want to do. I write it right down. I get it off my mind.
  • What do I write down? Anything. Like if someone mentions a good book to read or a good movie to see or restaurant to go to. Or any idea that pops into my mind that I want to remember.
  • From the notepad, I go to step 2.

2. Process. This was not a weakness of mine. So it came naturally. But getting things put into the process was the payoff.

  • What to do with all the stuff that’s flowing in? Figure out what to do next, if it’s worth doing, or if it can wait.
  • Can I do this now, or should it be put on a to do list, or should it wait on an idea list?

3. Organize. Before GTD, I was what I describe as “so organized, that I can’t find anything.”

  • A single to do list.
    • Well actually 2. One for work, and one personal.
    • The lists have 2 sections. One is “to do”, and one is “waiting for”
    • The to do includes a next action to complete a task. A complex project is broken out into its steps.
    • The waiting for list is for outstanding items that are on others’ plates and are owed to me.
    • I keep work and personal separate since there is no overlap. I helps to reduce distractions.
    • For work I use a pen and paper–one side of one page only. For personal I use Remember The Milk.
  • Idea lists.
    • Again one personal and one for work.
    • These are stored in Google Docs. Can access from anywhere, but doesn’t need to be there on demand.
    • This is what Allen calls “someday maybe” lists.

The lists are the backbone of my personalized GTD system. Groundbreaking, no. But this simple discipline alone freed up a lot of wasted mental energy. Now I:

  • Remember what I need to do. What I’ve promised, etc.
  • Remember what I’m waiting for—which helps me follow up when things are late. Nothing slides.
  • Speak in terms of an action, instead of vague references.
  • Have a consolidated list instead of a bunch of unorganized notes, post its, reminders, etc.

4. Review. My system is far less formal than Allen’s.

  • Since my lists are always “live” and active, the review is constant instead of weekly.
  • The key for me is to have only 4 lists. I once had lists squirreled everywhere. This made for a lot of duplication, contradiction, and of course frustration.
  • The paper list is redone when I run out of room on one page.
  • I regularly scan the idea lists. Note regularly. When something jumps out, I know it’s time to take action. For work, often times I refer back to them and fire them off when asked my ideas on X or Y. They’ve been captured. No need to waste brainpower trying to recall them all from memory.

5. Do

  • Quite simply, set the wheels in motion on the items on the list.
  • Like I said earlier, I mark what I’m waiting for so the process is a closed loop.
  • Momentum will pick up. Procrastination will lessen.

6. Other – Mostly recurring tasks

  • I threw in an “other” because; well because I feel like it. And because they are more ancillary to the process outlined above.
  • I use Google calendar to remember birthdays and to remember personal appointments and other reminders, etc.
  • Outlook calendar is used for work appointments and recurring work tasks.

Other than “knowledge items”, the same principles apply to physical items, like mail. The quicker you process the better. So you get mail… Is it garbage, reference, or something to do? Throw it in the garbage. File things you may need later. Put the to do on an action list.

Expressing things next actions has been effective outside of personal productivity as well. Defining actions often is what helps ideas get from fluff to execution. For example, instead of bake cake, you should write, buy eggs, buy milk, buy flour, etc. Before you bake, you need what goes into it. That’s just a basic example. The effectiveness is clear once you start thinking of tasks in terms of actions.

Often things fall in the middle of the process, so not everything goes from 1-5 if it doesn’t have to. I don’t write in the small notepad if I’m by the relevant to do list. There are a million examples, I hope you get the point. I also don’t need to get EVERYTHING into a system. This is where I roll my eyes at some of the GTD blogs and message boards. If I have a cold, I don’t need to put “blow my nose” on my to do list.

The high level and being disciplined are what makes it pay off for me. The high level makes sense so it was easy for me to commit and become disciplined. I get frustrated when a system is too complex and when it creates more work. The idea of productivity is to be productive, right? Since doing this I’ve become far more productive, far less forgetful, and since it gives me peace of mind, far less stressed. I’ve never run around like a chicken with my head cut off.

There are other productivity tools I use, but as far as a system, I stick with my version of GTD. I will post about other productivity tools later.

G1 – My week 1 review

I should preface this review by mentioning a few things:

  • The G1 was my first venture into any sort of smart phone / pda, so I don’t know how other devices compare.
  • I’m a Google addict.
  • I like to be productive and hate repeating tasks or maintaining multiple lists (e.g. contacts and to do lists) on multiple platforms (e.g. cell phone, e-mail, even paper)
  • I get insanely frustrated on usability issues.
  • This is not an in depth review, just a review based on my individual needs, wants, and expectations.

I’ll start with the good first.

Using the device and navigating through it could not be easier. Like I mentioned above I get insanely frustrated when things are not intuitive. I was able to get the phone up and running and use all of it’s features by simply poking around. It’s very easy to learn and use. The touch screen is responsive. The roller ball is easy to use and responsive.

Like I prefaced, I’m a Google addict, so I had been using gmail and my only e-mail (besides work) and have been using the contacts in there as my main contact manager. So “having everything in one place,” which is important to me, was a snap since I’ve been using Google for almost everything to begin with. So, immediately I was all synced up.

The Google maps feature is amazing. I love that I can plot my exact location, then find directions from there. I wish I had this when I was lost in New Jersey a few weeks ago. It’s the next best thing to a GPS navigator.

The camera is easy to use, although you have to keep your hand real steady to get a non-blurry pic.

IM is quick and easy to use. Google Talk, Yahoo, AIM and Windows Live are all loaded. All simple to use.

I haven’t really tried amazon MP3, or even played with adding my music to it. This is really not a high priority for me as I really wanted something more for productivity than entertainment.

So far, some of the apps available are pretty cool. I installed the weather channel one–nothing groundbreaking, but pretty cool to get local weather with one touch. Pro Football Live to keep track of NFL scores. I guess that’d be cool if you’re away from watching football on Sundays. I’ve yet to try ShopSavvy, which supposedly lets you scan barcodes of products in stores and finds comparative prices in the area.

Now the bad.

A big WTF is not having an app installed that lets you create or edit Google Docs or Notes. There goes my “access from anywhere to do list” dream. There is a separate notepad type app to download, but it’s not a cross-platform app. I want something that I can edit and have synced/access to across any device.

More of an inconvience than a WTF… And this has more to do with gmail contacts than the G1 device. I have a ton of duplicates contacts since each one is unique to an e-mail address. A lot of my contacts have multiple e-mail addresses, like I do. Gmail and/or G1 should come up with something to merge contacts. I have too many to do manually.

A Google Reader app would be nice too, although it’s easy enough to access and use through the browser.

That’s my thoughts for now. More to come soon.

I’m skeptical about the power of Twitter for marketing

I know Twitter is the hot new thing right now. I’ve been a casual observer of it for about a month. There are plenty of success stories from companies like Zappos and JetBlue and many others. I think the success rate is dependant on the number of engaged Twitter users. I’m skeptical about it’s scalability.

Since it’s hot and new, Twitter hasn’t become unwieldy in size and its users are highly engaged. I think there are barriers to the adoption of it, which will prevent it from becoming mainstream like other forms of communication (like e-mail). And if I’m wrong about that, and it does become mainstream, it’ll be less manageable and less profitable than it appears to be today.

Soon rather than jumping for joy when DirecTV resolves the complaint you broadcast on Twitter, there will be too many other complaints (no offense DirecTV), or other queries for that matter, that will have to be prioritized and tabled like calls and e-mails are today—or completely ignored.

On the permission based side, I think there is value when a customer actively engages in your brand and you have the ability to reach out directly to them. But back to adoption. If Twitter is never widely adopted, how many customers will there be? If Twitter is widely adopted, messages will have to compete for attention like other channels today.

For now, I’ll remain a casual observer. Toes in the water. I’d be silly to write it off and ignore it at this point.

Political/Intellectual Arrogance – Defense of the Average American

I’m tired of political commentators who depict the voting public (except their own circle) of being stupid. Both sides do it and it makes me sick. Listen, Barbara Streisand isn’t brainwashing young dumb impressionable voters to vote liberal. Also, conservatives aren’t dumb war mongering racists who don’t want a Muslim (yeah I know, I know) in office.

I’m more tired of people buying into this sentiment.

There are plenty of news videos and YouTube videos of stupid Americans who don’t know how many states there are or how many senators there are, etc. Do you think they keep or cut footage of everyone who answers right? Don’t you think they are sensationalist for ratings? How fun would it be to watch a video of people answering correctly? So they cut the boring footage, produce the video, and then publish it for the enjoyment of “highly intelligent” finger pointers. Plus, and a BIG plus, I bet a lot of the people who don’t know how many states there are aren’t even registered to vote–or know when Election Day is. These hand-picked sound bites don’t represent every American! C’mon!

There are outliers on both sides. If you draw conclusions based on them, well then you are generalizing. Shame on you!

Seriously look around you. I know my friends and family aren’t stupid. People in my social/work/neighborhood network aren’t stupid. Sure I disagree with others’ views. But I don’t think any of them are stupid. A few may make me go hmmmm, but I don’t think they are dumb.

If you think anyone who doesn’t share your political views is stupid or misinformed, then well you are viewing the world through a narrow, arrogant, pretentious, and ignorant lens. And no matter what side you favor, it makes you a hypocrite.

Deducing that people think the way they do because they are unintelligent is a lazy cop-out and defeatist as well. It’s easier to label someone stupid or uninformed than trying to figure out what really makes them tick and what makes them think the way they do—their background and values. It’s easy to throw your arms up and blame everything on these stupid people.

If Americans were stupid, then how would companies run? How would anything get done? America isn’t perfect, but it isn’t stupid.

Congrats Microsoft, you lost me

I’ve been a Microsoft defender for the longest time. I never really understood all the negative sentiment they’ve received.

I actually despised the “I’m a Mac and I’m a PC” commercials. I thought they were overly pretentious. Plus, I never got the meaning of the commercials. Because up until a month ago, I’ve been using XP. Well, then my computer dies and I go out and get a new laptop with Vista. Jeez, what a downgrade.

I’ve been using it a month and not only do I think it’s a downgrade from XP, I can’t find one single advantage of it over XP. I’m not uber-technical, so I’m sure (sceptically sure–if there is such a thing) that there are “behind the scenes” improvements to it over XP. I held back, figuring I’d just have to get used to it. A month in and I hate Vista with a passion. It’s hard to navigate folders, hard to navigate the start menu, slow to log in and out (switch users, etc). I don’t know why on earth there are so many usability downgrades.

Had I known it would be such a disaster, I would have “downgraded” to XP. But now that I have everything set up, it would be too much of a PITA for me to do now. I’ll be thinking Mac next time around, since the Mac commercials are loud and clear now.

Bookmark Site I’d Like to See

I use both delicious and Google Bookmarks. Both are ok, but both also have their limitations. Not so much for capturing and saving bookmarks, but for giving you access to them. It hit me when I saw All My Faves that delicious or Google Bookmarks (or any other for that matter) should let you customize a page and lay out your bookmarks the way you want. Perhaps even giving your “public” or “shared” bookmarks a public url.

Google AdWords – Display Ad Builder

I have to share my love of a new feature of AdWords. Their display ad builder allows you to create banner ads with just a few clicks. This is great for testing out new placements without having to have a creative team build out many different sizes (or if you have no creative team or they are slow). Ad Builder lets you choose colors, text, and pull together other image assets you might already have (e.g. a logo). All in all it’s a fast and inexpensive way to dip your toes into display advertising water.

You got to know when to hold em, know when to fold em

No not poker, but cars. It’s great having cars with no car payments for years. It kind of feels like playing with house money. But sooner or later you’ll be faced with weighing mounting repair costs vs. the cost of getting a fresh new car. That’s where I am now. With 2 cars mind you. A 2000 Mazda Protege and a 1994 Ford Explorer. The car is holding up well (knock on wood). But the truck’s 4 wheel drive doesn’t work anymore, the AC doesn’t work anymore, has a crack in the windshield that spreads more and more every day, it’s been making more and more noise, and now the speedometer is acting funky. Just the windshield alone isn’t worth fixing, in my opinion. Because the next day might bring a more costlier repair. When do you stop? Well, I fold on the truck. Time to go car shopping!

This is my blog, links, and other random stuff.