Originally published on 23 April 2007.
I don’t recall how I found Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (aff) by David Allen, but I know I was drawn in by the title. I bought the audio book first, and then I bought the hardcover so I could look at the diagrams. What David Allen said made sense. I was constantly losing track of things in my mind, and his methods of getting everything down on paper seemed like a great way to go.
I have spent almost three years working with GTD, and I have modified it to fit my needs
What GTD Offered
GTD offers a methodology to return your mind to a non-disturbed state. By getting everything into lists of projects, someday/maybes and next actions, you can see at a glance the whole of your commitments. The next actions allow you to think ahead of time what needs to be done, and can serve as a great push to get past procrastination. Setting goals also allows you to focus on the best use of your time, in regard to what you want to accomplish.
How I Use GTD
I actually have two separate systems: one for work, and one for home. The work system is pure GTD, using an email client and a wiki-type application (Notestudio) for managing the lists. I split the systems, contrary to Allen’s recommendations, because I have the possibility of having multiple clients, and the tasks I work on are dependent on which client site I am on. Having it in one big system, mixed in with my home life, would be overwhelming.
In each system, I have a projects list, a reference “library”, a next action list, and a someday/maybe list. Contexts, or areas where I do work, differ greatly. For example, at home I have one “computer” context, but at work this is split into “Studio”, “SQL”, “JobHost” and “Internet”. My “Anywhere” category exists in both places, but takes on a different meaning at work.
What I Have Learned from the Using GTD
Having Everything Down On Paper Is Essential
I need to write things down, or I forget them. Then part of my mind worries about what I am forgetting, or to try and remember things actively. Having a list of things I am currently working on has allowed me on more than one occasion to stop myself from taking on other projects. Knowing what my areas of focus are allow me to see when things are getting out of balance, and when I need to cut back on activities. Knowing what my goals are allow me to not waste time on new activities that don’t further those goals.
Contexts Allow Me to Decide What I Can Do, and Put the Rest Aside
By using contexts, I can put things out of my mind. For example, if I need to look up some information on the internet, and I know it’s on my list in the Computer context, but if I am at the grocery store, I don’t have to think about it. I can give myself permission to forget, knowing I will look at my lists when I am at the computer, and it will be there then.
Reviewing A System Is Key
This makes perfect sense, but a system is no good if you don’t look at it. I was always very good at writing things down — little scraps of paper here and there, sticky notes, random PDA entries. But I never got around to actually looking at the papers again. Putting things on my lists, and making sure that I review them at least daily have been the keys for me not to let things slip. I also judge my workload from week to week, and decide what can be put off if necessary.
GTD Leads Me To Overwork
My main problem with GTD is that I have a tendency to stay in hyper-productive mode, and don’t turn off. Over a six month period, this led to massive burnout and important people being put on the next action list. It is a sad statement of your workload when playing with your child becomes another task to be checked off. For this reason, I am moving away from the pure GTD system and into something that allows me to stop working.
I think GTD is a good natural progression coming out of the forerunners of productivity. It puts forth a system that creative and disorganized people can use to structure themselves. However, it isn’t perfect. I suspect that David Allen’s system contains things he just does because it is second nature to him, and that the gaps in the system (like choosing what to work on) are so ingrained that he can’t explain it to those of us that don’t have that inborn talent.