Genuine Curiosity

Author Dwayne Melancon is always on the lookout for new things to learn. An ecclectic collection of postings on personal productivity, travel, good books, gadgets, leadership & management, and many other things.


It ain't like brushing your teeth

Well, I've fallen off the wagon again with my Getting Things Done routine. My inbox is up to around 400 messages, I feel a bit "stuck" on a few projects, and that's not good.


I love David's GTD methods and philosophy, but I have a recurring issue with drifting away from my good habits. A few months back, I went to one of David's GTD|The Roadmap seminars, and he talked about how we needed to develop new habits for GTD so they'd become automatic, like brushing your teeth. His story went something like this:

When you're born, you don't know anything about brushing your teeth - you didn't even have teeth. Then, when you had teeth, your parents made you go brush them every day. You may have complained, but they reminded you and you did it every day. Then one day, without realizing it, you did it without being told or asked. You'd developed a new habit!

How often do you need to be reminded to brush your teeth? Probably not very often. As an adult, if you go too long without brushing your teeth, the "scuzz factor" kicks in and the sense of urgency to go brush your teeth increases. And then you brush your teeth and the scuzz factor is gone.

I agree with all that, but I don't think the analogy translates directly to the GTD methodology. GTD hasn't ever become a habit like that - at least for me. Sure, I get the "scuzz factor" when my Inbox fills up, but the response hasn't yet evolved to the "automatic" stage.


Options are a procrastinator's worst enemyI think one of the challenges is the lack of rigidity within GTD. While the concepts in GTD are very simple (put everything on a set of contextual lists, then work off those lists according to the context you're in) I think the inherent flexibility in the system makes it that much more difficult to stay the course. I sometimes find I have so many options that I end up so much time "considering" that I spend less time "doing" than I'd intended. Options are a procrastinator's worst enemy.

I used to be a big "Franklin Planner" user and I used it successfully for a long time. There was a more defined process which made it easier for me to develop "automatic" responses and a more defined workflow. Unfortunately, the Franklin / Franklin-Covey methods didn't work well when my world started to become so electronic - email, and electronic calendaring didn't mesh well with a paper-based system, and their electronic renditions didn't do the trick for me.

The one things that was good about the system was that there was one approach and, if you took their advice and used that approach for 21 days, you could develop a consistent methodology that became fairly instinctive.

I've done GTD for far more than 21 consecutive days, but there is too much variance in how I work each of those 21 days to make it feel like an automatic process. Therein lies the trouble.

Reminders and Consequences

One of my challenges with GTD is that I haven't developed a sustainable ritual of looking at my contextual lists to go "fetch" the next action. This is one area where having one list, as in the Franklin method, was helpful. The multiple lists aspect of GTD means that I sometimes ignore one of my lists completely for too long (for example, my @Calls list often stagnates).

In the IT process consulting work that I do, I tell clients that, when they implement new policies or processes, it is vital that they implement visible consequences for not doing the right thing. This helps people develop new habits that fit in with the new model. I need something similar to keep me on the GTD wagon but, apparently, I haven't found the right thing yet.

What works for you?

There is a ton of great information about various aspects of GTD, but a lot of it tends to focus on getting started, creating the perfect binder, creating lists more efficiently, etc. I haven't found a tutorial that helps develop this habitual aspect of GTD. What about you? Any great tips, resources, mentors, mantras, etc. you have discovered? If so, please share them with me.

Meanwhile, I'm going to take advantage of the slow email traffic this long weekend (Thanksgiving does wonders to quiet down email in the U.S.!) and get back with the program.

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