Tuesday, February 21, 2012

GTD rediscovered

I have always been a pretty organized person when it comes to by Todo list is concerned; I know exactly what I need to accomplish each day, how much time I need etc. But recently I re-read the classic book 'Getting Things Done' by David Allen. I discovered some key aspects of GTD I had been neglecting:

1. The main purpose of GTD is to free you of thoughts about the small tasks that still need to be accomplished, so that you can focus on the one thing you are doing right then. That can be only done if you know that the other small things are captured, and will be reviewed and taken care of according to priority. That means - pick a task, and keep going till you get it done. Don't look at your task list to optimize every single moment of life. If you are reviewing a presentation say, and it takes a minute to save, don't open the task list to see if you can get anything done within that one minute. Breathe, chill and continue to work on the task. Actually closing the browser tab that shows my Todo list (I use toodledo) helps me take my mind off other tasks as well.

2. Another big change I have made is organizing tasks by context. So if I am at an airport waiting for my flight, I can look up my context called 'Phone Call,' and make the phone calls that I have been neglecting. This also hides all the tasks that cannot be done at that moment; so my task for 'Pick up Dry Cleaning,' which has a context of 'Tasks near Home' does not show up at work.

3. I also stopped using due dates unless absolutely necessary. Before this, I would 'guess' a due date for a task, then be disappointed if I did not completely finish the task. Now I just set start dates - dates before which I will not begin working on the task. Then I make a decision on what task to do based on what context I am in, how much energy I have etc. This has helped me get the unnecessary pressure off me, and allowed me to focus on just doing whatever I can during the day. And paradoxically, I am getting more done!

4. I also have 75 odd tasks in the 'Someday/Maybe' list. Things that I would love to do, but cannot do so at the current time. These include 'Write a Book.' Just knowing that I am capturing this information, and review it periodically to see if I can bring them into the active task list keeps them off my mind.

5. Most importantly, I have started focusing on the Next Action. Let's take an example of a task from my task list below, which said 'File taxes.' And then I will wait till close to the deadline before even getting started. Why? Well there are a substantial number of moving parts. Now File taxes is a project, which has a sequence of tasks that includes 'Find W-2s', 'Collect 1099 forms', 'Enter tax data', 'Review' etc. They key is that the Next Action in a project should be the next physical action you are going to take, and not a fuzzy goal with several tasks yet to be figured out.

So GTD is great; but I do want to mention a major pitfall. GTD has the potential of making you a task completing machine. Have a few minutes while walking from the bus stop to home? Find some task to do! But slightly changing what  William Henry Davies said, "We must make time to stand and stare."

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