Category Archives: gtd

Speaking of finishing…

This is sort-of follow up to my last post about this summer being about finishing projects, getting ideas off the ground, etc. Already I feel better. In the GTD sense, I think I’ve mastered the day to day, week to week, month to month, things that have to get done. What was seeming to escape me was the someday/maybe/not-so-urgent items. Especially the ones staring me in the face everyday. A lot of them are household projects. In a few focused and dedicated hours on Sunday, I got a lot accomplished. I was sort of under the gun since I had a party to go to later in the day. I think if I focus and remain disciplined, I can find a few hours each weekend to continue on my goal to FINISH. It feels good to finally cross off some things on the long list. It builds a momentum.

Even at work, some career wishlist items are being crossed off. Just yesterday we launched our first multivariate test that we’re managing in-house. I have this undying fascination on learning to do things myself. Career wise, it’s hard to tell if that’s a good thing or bad thing. I don’t think everyone “at the top” needs to know the itty-bitty details on how a MVT test works technically. But I seem to in order to be comfortable. Well that’s off my list. This is in addition to what I’ve mentioned before in one of my past “what I’ve been working on” posts. This stuff if kinda related to finishing as most have been on a career todo of sorts.

Summer 2010 is going to be about finishing

For someone who’s keenly interested in personal productivity, I have a ton of half finished personal projects, house projects, ideas, etc. They have started to creep into my psyche.

Now, using the GTD system, at least they are all tracked. Too bad they’ve all been on a quasi “someday-maybe” list.

Looking at all the “unfulfilled commitments” at once seems intimidating. But each one isn’t too bad. I just have to focus focus focus and chop away.

There are some barriers causing resistance. For example at lot of the home projects require me to purchase large materials (e.g. doors) that don’t fit into my car. Man I miss the old SUV. So I’m going to find alternatives, like buying every single thing I need, then renting a truck from Home Depot or Lowe’s to get the stuff home.

I’ve already started one thing. Finish some half read books. I was reading like a madman when I used to commute into NYC each day. Usually getting through 2 books a week. On a recent weekend trip, we were without TV or high-speed internet. OH NO! I had to get to the bookstore to get a book as I didn’t know what to do at night–since I go to bed much later than my wife. Though the book was somewhat of a dud, it sparked my interest in reading more. I’m now well on my way to finally finishing A Thousand Splendid Suns, then The Richest Man in Babylon is next. Followed by a few others I have and wanted to read “someday.”

I never got to my stream-of-consciousness writing project that I wrote about last time. I’ll throw out the “can’t find the time” excuse. Really it’s a can’t seem to focus on it excuse. I might self-impose a no internet policy and shut off my computer and phone at 10pm and use that time for reading and writing.

I also need to start jogging again. I can’t believe my last jog was in November. I’m sure most if not all of my C25K gains have gone away. Oh well. It wasn’t that brutal, and I look forward to getting back in shape (again).

Ok, so here is the official to do (and finish) list for summer 2010:

  • Finish the flower bed in the back yard. Great, I carved out the area, now I need to plant something in the space!
  • Finish my upstairs project, which has been “in-progress” for almost {gulp} 3 years
    • This means put doors on my future upstairs bathroom space, the office, and the laundry room. Then finish the door and baseboard trim. I already successfully put up one door. 🙂 And put shelving in the laundry room. And a iron board hook.
    • Man o man when this is done it’ll give us so much more usable space that the disaster areas they look like now.
  • Paint the back of my living room window’s trim, which is unfinished for {gulp} 3 years! Jeez.
  • Complete the C25K jogging program again.
  • Read books. A book a week???
  • Write in a stream of conscious journal every night.
  • And finally, something that wasn’t started, but I want to get done: a play area for my son in the backyard.

I think with focus and discipline I can get all of this accomplished this summer.

My Cross Jotter Hack, Part II

First I cringe at the word hack. It has jumped the shark. Even the expression “jumped the shark” had jumped the shark. But that’s not today’s topic…

This is Part II of my Cross jotter alteration. Pretty soon, it won’t be Cross at all. See Part I here, where I replaced the shoddy original pad with a better one from Mead.

Over a year later, I’ve finally found another pen that fits the jotter case. Granted I didn’t search too far or too wide, but I did do a fair amount of searching for a small pen (about 4”) that doesn’t have a removable cap and has a retractable tip.

Why no removable cap you ask? Well the purpose of the jotter is to quickly and easily jot down things as they come to mind–whenever and wherever I am.

I touched this a little on my productivity vs. resistance post a while back. The slightest bit of resistance can throw productivity off track. Part of the GTD system is to have a “capture device” ready at all times. I have to say, this advice has been very helpful for me in remembering things and “getting things done.”

What the heck does this have to do with the pen? What the heck am I talking about?

Most ideas or thoughts that I want to take down (and remember) happen when I’m driving or at other inconvenient times. So I need fast access to the pad and pen—when driving I’ll wait until I come to a red light of course. It turns out the pen the jotter came with, while is high quality, has a cap. And the cap is a PITA because it doesn’t fit on the back of the pen. So I either have to hold the cap, throw it on the passenger seat, or hold it in my mouth or something. I usually end up fumbling around with it or dropping it–then having to look for it. Just this tiny little seemingly insignificant inconvenience makes me not want to use the jotter at times. This may be silly, but it’s true.

Also, my G1 phone can fill in sometimes at a note taker, but let’s face it. Writing something down is 10 times faster than flipping open the phone, launching an app, and taking a simple note.

So, what’d I get? A Zebra SL-F1 Extendable Ballpoint Pen at JetPens.com. Perfect! It’s small. It writes well. It opens up quickly and smoothly. It fits the jotter’s pen slot. And it feels sturdy. It solved my little dilemma! The bonus is it’s extendable. While very small when closed, it’s a regular sized pen when extended and ready to write. It has a cool telescopic action.

Google Finally Adds Tasks to Calendar, but…

But it’s still not good. A step in the right direction, yes.

You can assign a date to a task and it’ll show in the web version of the calendar on a “task” label, but the task/label doesn’t snyc with other apps (like my G1’s Google Calendar app or iGoogle’s gadget). You also can’t do a quick add or add a task from anywhere other than the task dialog box. This kills ubiquity which is essential for any GTD disciple (like me).

I’m happy to see this finally here, but there is still work to do to make it useful.

In Defense of GTD and Productivity

I posted this response to a few blogs bashing productivity. While I totally agree that “productivity” can be taken way to far (see my Productivity vs. Resistance post) and cross over into being counter-productive, a lot of good can come out of adopting a solid system. I’ve benefited from GTD. I figured it’s a good enough response that I’ll host it on my own blog too!

There comes a point when you have a system down and it’s as good as it’ll ever be.

I guess some feel that when you reach this point, it’s wasteful to try to squeeze out more productivity since the effort will cross over and be more than the reward.

I think there is an insane bias in the backlash though. Because not everyone has mastered being productive. Or even started. I’m so glad I’ve found GTD and have adapted it to my life and work–even though I don’t follow it to the letter or worship it like a cult. I’m at the point where I don’t need to think about it. It’s a discipline/habit.

Perhaps the backlash is from those who have been there, done that, and talked about it ad nauseum. And are frustrated that they can’t achieve absolute perfection (because it doesn’t exist). Fine, then step away. But please don’t dismiss GTD or productivity for those who may need it.

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.