Thursday, March 11, 2010

Getting Things Done, Slowly

I'm in the middle of reading and implementing Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, a favorite personal productivity book and system amongst Objectivists.  Paradoxically, it's put me a bit behind in my tasks and I can't seem to get to blogging much.

It's really not such a mystery - it's just the pain of setting up a new system, and I know it will be well worth it.  Also, as I've been freeing up my mind by offloading things into a better system, I've thought of many more new projects that I want to take on, and just getting them all down has been a challenge!  I plan to write more about what I've done and why when I'm more settled with it, but I'll give you a few teasers.

First, I already had a really good system for staying on top of the gazillion Little Things that need to get done in my life on a daily basis.  I had a fairly clean "in and out" system, a calendar, a task list, and project lists for big things like all the home improvement plans we have.  I looked at my calendar and task list daily, and they helped me remember to pay the bills, return the library books, and even to write blog posts.  I recently added my Droid phone to the system, which has allowed me to be truly mobile with these tools.  I had to manually sync my Palm Pilot, which was a real hassle when you are adding literally a dozen or more items to your lists each day, sometimes while at home and sometimes not.  The Droid syncs up automatically and continually.  Plus, it has a handy voice recorder for those 1001 ideas I get while driving and walking the dog each day.

What I've learned so far from GTD is that:

1.  I absolutely must get my filing system in order.  I still have not filed a single piece of paper in over 2 years, since we moved from Michigan.  I have stacks and stacks of paper, my passport and birth certificate are missing, and when I do need to find something I have a panic attack.

2.  I've been using my task list improperly by setting dates for my tasks.  I need to have clear boundaries about which tasks are day/time sensitive (these go on the calendar) and which are just things I need to get to as soon as possible (these go on the "next actions" or "to do" list.)

3.  I need to get more clear on what the next action is for any particular task or project, so that when I come across something on my list, I don't have to rethink the whole project to figure out what to do, but just look and start moving.  For example, I've had "filing" on my task list for 2 years, and every single day I postpone it.  It has been adding enormous stress to my life, and yet I can't seem to move on it.  But "filing" is not a task.  I have to buy the supplies first, then figure out a place to work, then move everything to that place, etc. etc.  It is an enormous project and I have to treat it as such.  I'm actually not too bad in this regard - most of my "tasks" are actionable items, but there are a few that I've allowed to remain fuzzy in my mind for too long.

So, while I'm in this transition period, blogging might be light.  I wish I could rattle off a "what I've been doing lately" post like Rational Jenn is able to do with such humor and interest.  There's been a lot of fun stuff going on here at Casa Mossoff, but finding a way to make it interesting to anyone but me takes more effort than I have available right now.


  1. GTD has been an enormous help to me, and it's taken me quite a while to really use it extensively and understand it, although I'm still improving.

    Two things helped me a lot with it after I initially struggled to keep it up. The first thing was not letting myself skip aspects of GTD until I had really given them a try. An example is something like the "Weekly Review," which may seem a little trivial and time consuming, but I think really does make a huge difference toward sticking with the system and using it effectively.

    The second thing was to not give into the temptation to come up with "better" tweaks, which in reality often just complicate things. I now do some things a little differently, but I think it helped me to try to use GTD as closely as possible to the system David Allen advocates for a while.

  2. Amy,
    What applications on the Droid do you use for syncing tasks? I've used the gTasks, which syncs with Google Tasks, but does not do so automatically.

  3. Travis, Thanks, I think I'll try to do the same. I'm even going to try David Allen's filing system, with the manila file folders only. I've heard that the Weekly Review is worth doing. I haven't gotten that far yet. Luckily, I already do my own kind of weekly review, so it probably won't be a major adjustment.

    John, I use Remember the Milk ( It costs a small fee for mobile use, but it works well. I like that my husband and I can share tasks or send tasks to each other. (I LOVE sending him tasks!) I also like that it is both a task program and a simple list program, so I can use it to list all the books I want to read, CDs I want to buy, etc. on separate lists. (It has tags, too, but I'm not sure I'll keep using them as it is clunky to enter them). I found Google tasks not flexible enough for my needs.