One of the coolest aspects of the Getting Things Done (GTD) "vibe" is that you can (and should) tweak the system to fit how you live, think, and work. As I've shared in my last few chapters of my Odyssey, that isn't always easy. Knowing something is broken is not the same as knowing how to fix it.
A quick recap of my condition:
My main symptoms, as you may recall, were:
- I hadn't been able to develop a workflow that turned "management of my context lists" into a predictable habit;
- Which resulted in ever-growing, stagnant lists;
- Which meant that things got lost in my "trusted system;"
- Which drove me to leave more things in my inbox so I wouldn't lose track of them;
- Which led me to distrust my system.
The opposite of hilarity ensued.
My newfound nuggets of hope included ClearContext (which helped me gain an upper hand on email and task management in Outlook), and "Total Workday Control" (which helped me with a new approach to list and task managment).
My prescription: A hybrid approach to GTD
I won't cover everything about GTD here -- you can read the book for that -- but I will recap the things I'm using intact, then the things I've tweaked to fix the things that didn't work for me.
The keepers - things I'm doing "by the book" are:
- The "Next Action" approach
- The 2-minute rule
- The Collection habit (recording thoughts and actions as soon as possible after they enter my head)
- GTD's approach to topic-based filing (physical and virtual)
- But I don't use paper Tickler files - I travel too much and am too "virtual" for that to work for me.
- Focusing on getting In to empty, and using David's processing workflow (the diagram in the book) to get there
- Using traveling GTD folders: A red Inbox one, a blue Read & Review, and project support folders
- Actively extracting the "embedded actions" from my captured notes and getting them into action list
- Keeping my "hard landscape" and nothing else on my calendar
- GTD's method of project planning (tracking is covered below)
That's not to say I do these perfectly all the time (I am still much better at work-related stuff than I am at home-related stuff, for example), but I haven't made significant changes to these aspects of GTD.
My hacks - the things I've tweaked or added include:
|I've added more traveling folders|
I've added a folder called "Supplies" that has stamps, envelopes, thank-you notes, Post-It's, and other things that are handy when traveling on the road.
I've also added one called "Shred" so I can put sensitive things in there after processing my folders on the road. Sometimes I don't have a trash can handy, so I sometimes use this as a trash folder, as well. I used to have a separate Trash folder, but I decided to trim things down by sticking with "Shred" only.
I use TWC's method for managing tasks, which has led to modified Weekly Review behavior
This includes using the Total Workday Control (TWC) views I described in Part 3, which were installed automatically by the TWC edition of ClearContext (see my review of ClearContex in Part 2 for how you can get a discount by using my referral code).
Here's how this works for me:
I believe this is the most significant change I've made, and is the thing that was missing from GTD for me. Even though it means buying yet another book, I really recommend that you pick up a copy of TWC even if it's only to see Linenberger's kung fu for managing tasks.
|I use TWC's method of noting Projects, Goals, and Mini-projects in my task list|
I still use the GTD mindset for thinking about projects, but GTD isn't prescriptive enough for me about how to track them in your system. I've seen other tracking systems on blogs that seemed cool, but I ended up either abandoning them or was afraid to try them because they were too complicated.
TWC includes a very easy technique for flagging / tracking projects and goals in Outlook. Basically, you create a nomenclature (starting with a "P" for Project) and use it to record all your projects in your system. If I have a project about remodeling my kitchen, for example, I might create a project task called "P - Kitchen - The kitchen is updated, has more usable storage, and we love how it looks."
Then, I decide on the Next Action (or even more than one possible Next Action) and I use the project name ("Kitchen" in this case) in the Next Action text. For example, a Next Action of this project might be, "Kitchen - Discuss budget and time frame with Kathleen."
This makes it easy to tell which items are projects, and which ones are related to those projects. Pretty simple. And there is some great material in the book on "Mini-projects," as well.
For Goals, I simply write them with a G at the beginning, like "G - Exercise - I exercise for at least an hour, 3 times per week." I then create Next Actions relating to this goal, using a notation method similar to that used for projects.
|Different way of using Context lists|
I don't assign Contexts for everything the way I originally did when I started with GTD. That said, I still use a few pretty consistently (using the Categories field in Outlook). The only Contexts I use these days are:
Why do I use these?
I no longer feel pressure to put everything in a category-specific context list.
|I use ClearContext to manage my Outlook inbox|
I've already discussed this in "My GTD Odyssey" and it is a key element in my ability to get my inbox to empty every day for the past month.
Actually, there were two days I didn't - last weekend when I was on a Boy Scout campout all weekend. But I used my newfound techniques to get back to zero first thing Monday morning. It was a piece of cake.
When you combine the email filing leverage of ClearContext with my ability to trust that items tossed into my Task lists will actually get read, I'm easily 10x faster at dealing with items in my inbox now.
All this makes it seem sooooo much easier and less stressful to clear my inbox these days.
The foundational principles
Whether you use Outlook or not; whether you use ClearContext or not; whether you use TWC or not, there are certain foundational principles I've learned that I think you can apply or develop from my experience. Here are some thoughts about what they are:
- If GTD is not working for you, don't throw the baby out with the bath water. Try to separate it into the components that are working and those which are not. This "divide and conquer" at least helps you identify which things you'd like to keep and helps focus on finding better ways to fix the things that are broken.
- Beware of the "magic tool" trap. If you have a process problem, you need to find a better process to fix it.
- If your Task lists are growing longer, going stagnant, etc. and you don't trust yourself to manage the items they contain, that's a process problem. You need to find or develop a workflow that forces you to look at them methodically. For me, that method seems to be what I found in Total Workday Control (TWC).
- If you do want to find a tool to help you with a particular aspect of your life, look for one that simplifies your process rather than making it more complex (for example, I found that ClearContext enabled me to achieve a more precise and far more efficient flow for topic filing of messages in my email inbox).
- Look for others' solutions, and find a community of practice that you can learn from and share information with - GTD is very tweakable / hackable, and I'm finding that others' tweaks and hacks are helping me immensely.
The sites featured in the "Productivity" and "Work, Life, and Management" categories in my blogroll are places I often find inspiring and helpful tips & tricks.
My GTD Odyssey will continue
So, that's the story so far. As a lifelong learner, I know that this journey is not over. I hope you benefit from my thoughts at this point, and I will continue to share as I continue to learn.
And I would love to hear from you with any questions, tips, tricks, and useful things you find on your own journey.