Ben Chinn

Slightly nerdy ramblings and linkage

A Fresh Start with GTD

After listening to the latest GTD focused episodes of [Back to Work]( “5by5 Back to Work”) I thought it was time for me to follow Merlin Mann’s advice and reread David Allen’s book myself. It’s been a while since I picked it up even though I consider myself a follower of the GTD system. Turns out I was wrong. There’s a lot I had forgotten and several ways in which I was not really Getting Things Done.

Blinded by Awesomeness

For a while I’ve been using Omnifocus for task management and it’s far and away the best app of its kind I’ve ever used on the Mac, iPhone or iPad. It’s so great that I haven’t looked much beyond what it offers to get myself organized and that’s where I’ve fallen down. Omnifocus supports a lot of GTD out of the box: Projects, Contexts, Review, even “ticklers” in the form of start dates for actions. One thing that Omnifocus can’t do though is actual thinking about projects and tasks and this is the crucial part of GTD that I’ve been mostly missing. I haven’t been asking the important questions: what does this project look like when it’s finished? What principles must be upheld in completing it? What’s the very next physical task I can take to move this to completion? I had got sloppy with creating tasks and projects and am glad that rereading GTD has given me the opportunity to start doing the work that my tools can’t do for me.

Project Planning

Since I had lost focus on much of the thought processes involved in GTD, the subject of The Natural Planning Model had not stuck with me at all. David Allen spends quite a few pages explaining how to plan projects, from conception through execution, and I’ve realized that I’ve been skipping most of this when creating a new entry in my projects list. There are a lot of tasks I’ve recorded that are really projects that need to be broken down further. I’ll probably need to read that section again acouple of times before truly internalizing the workflow but I’m sure it will be worth it.

Miscellaneous Misses

There’s a few other things in the GTD book that I had not been following. One is the way that David Allen approaches the calendar. In GTD the calendar is sacred, not to be clogged up with anything that isn’t absolutely positively associated with a specific time or date. I use my calendar for appointments with others only, but I may have gone too far in this regard. There are plenty of tasks of mine that might benefit from having space on my calendar, mostly so that nobody else can “steal” that time from me. One example is the weekly review, which I think I’ll have to schedule for a specific time to make sure I get around to it every week.

Of course, the weekly review isn’t really a single task but a group of actions: what David Allen calls a “checklist”. I don’t really make checklists, generally approaching projects as one offs. I can see how making some checklists might benefit my workflow though, perhaps being set up as Project Templates in Omnifocus . I’ve already created a checklist for creating new blog posts that looks like this:

  • Free writing for 20 minutes to generate post ideas.
  • Mind map or outline around one post subject.
  • Write a first draft in long hand.
  • Type up second draft.
  • Edit to create final post.
  • Publish post.

I wrote this post using this method and it definitely has helped focus me and remove any excuses for not posting on at least a weekly basis. A checklist like this works much better than a task sitting in my inbox called “write new blog post”.

A Better 2013

I’m already feeling energized by what I’ve (re)learned about GTD. If you’re feeling less than stress free and hyper-productive then it might be worth reading the book, no matter how many times you’ve done so in the past. Chances are you’ll find something new that might change your game completely.