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GTD thoughts from a newbie



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Rory

Posted: Aug 01, 2009
Score: 0



I've been applying GTD (well, sort of) for about a month now, so I thought I'd just post my experience so far as a newcomer. I hope this may be of interest to some people here, or that you might be able to point me in the right direction with a few questions I have.

My Dad actually sent me the GTD book about a year ago, but ironically I never got around to reading it and it got shoved away in a bookcase. I ended up purchasing the book (because I forgot that my Dad sent it to me after a year) after reading about GTD on a personal finance blog.

I've read the book just once, and I get the impression it's the kind of book you'd have to read a few times to fully grasp it all. My initial impressions were that the whole concept sounded really interesting, but the suggested methods of application seemed a bit outdated. I mean, today we have great web services like Toodledo along with smart phone applications which really enable a different way of applying GTD compared to the idea of using folders and physical inboxes to track 'stuff'. One example of this is that if someone tells me something, and I need to jot down a task, it just takes me a couple of seconds to whip out my phone and add it to Toodledo. I suppose in the folder method I would have used a notebook or something, but then I'd have to transfer it to another piece of paper so that it could be filed into the correct folder. I feel like the idea of a weekly brain dump isn't as important if you can add tasks at any point in time (though I actually still find it helpful sometimes to do the brain dump to get me focused on what's rattling around in there).

My overall impression of applying GTD using Toodledo and Todo (on the iPhone) has been overwhelmingly positive. In the last month I've moved house, repaired my motorcycle (which I've procrastinated on for nearly two years), got back in touch with some old friends, and a lot more. Even the stressful task of moving house went really smoothly, and I can attribute much of the reason for that to having a method to deal with all of these tasks. I definitely have an immense feeling of satisfaction based on how much I've gotten done recently, but I can't help wonder if this is just an initial euphoria due to actually getting anything done. We'll see...

Initially I felt relieved to dump all of those things in my brain into some kind of system. I was still far from a mind like water, and actually I was preoccupied a lot with trying to remember all those little things I'd filed away. Looking at my statistics, I can see that I added about 80 tasks on one day, and the following couple of days I added about 30 more each day. After that it started to die down to a more managable level. The flip-side of this is that I also had a huge surge of tasks to complete. For a while it seemed like a lot of effort, but that too soon died down to a much more managable level.

There were some unexepected benefits of using GTD too. For example, I would sometimes go somewhere like the hardware store specifically to buy something, knowing that there were probably other things in the store I'd been meaning to pick up at the next chance. My way of reminding myself of what these things were was to wander around the store hoping that the sight of the item would remind me. Now I head in with a list and I'm out as quick as I can. Also, getting things like car maintenance and other chores under control is really easy now, so I have a lot more freedom to do what I want when I want without feeling guilty about neglected chores!

It's a strange feeling, but I kind of feel like there's two versions of me at the moment: One is the boss who processes all of the tasks and makes projects and decides when things will get done. The other is the worker who gets given a task list and just has to finish all of the tasks on the list. It actually feels pretty good to have this separation, and it makes things easy for me.

I definitely have some questions still. For example, I end up dumping a lot of tasks into a miscellaneous folder, but this feels like a cheat. Is this cheating? I also struggle sometimes to choose a good due date for a task, and I often seem to pile them up at the weekend. I'm sometimes pretty optimistic about what I can get done in the future, and when I get to the time I end up postponing some lower priority tasks. I suppose this is to be expected to a certain extent, but I feel like I'm cheating whenever I do it.

One mistake I continually make, but I'm starting to improve on, is that I often make tasks that are projects unintentionally. Is there a good litmus test for this? For example, I might write a task to read a certain book, but this really feels more like a project. I would suddenly see a task on my hotlist to read a certain book, but there was no way I could read for 5 hours and complete that task. Instead I now write tasks like 'read at least one chapter of XXX' under a project to read the book.

There are several features of GTD/Toodledo that I'm not really using at the moment, like goals, priorities and statuses since they don't really feel that useful to me at the moment. I'm trying to slowly adopt GTD so that I don't get overwhelmed or discouraged.

Anyway, long post I know! Congratulations if you've got all the way down here. My big take away of all of this is that doing something about all of my 'stuff' is so much better than doing nothing. No, I'm not doing GTD by the book, but what I am doing has made such a big difference that I'm going to stick with it.

Cheers,

Rory
Lance

Posted: Aug 03, 2009
Score: 0



I completely identify with what your saying here. I've been using GTD for several years now. Give your system a few weeks to burp, then pick up the book again. Lots of stuff will jump out at you that you may not have noticed before.

To try and address some of your questions. Couple of assumptions. Projects for me is just like David Allen addresses. If it take two or more steps to complete, its a project. If its just a one step item but can't be done right now, it goes on my list with the appropriate category. Something like pick up a new latch for the back gate would be in my home list with the category errands. I only have four lists: Inbox, Projects-Home, Projects-Work, Someday/Maybe. That's it.

Dates - If the project is not required to be done by a specific date, I don't give it one. Anything that goes on my project list, or task lists are commitments within the next six months to a year (depending on type of project). If I can't honestly make a commitment to complete project X in a reasonable time (you decide whats reasonable for you), it goes on my someday/maybe list. Because, someday, maybe I will do this. No commitment here on this list. The key is to review this list often.

Stuff like recreational reading I do not make them into projects or tasks of a project. This type of reading is meant to be sporadic, fun, whenever I'm in the mood. The opposite could be to read a white paper for project X, read a specific book for a paper or thesis/dissertation to write. I think this type of reading is a project or a task of a project. Some might require a due date if there is a deadline involved. I think your on the right track here with this.

One thing that has helped me keep my lists sane is this: Verb the Noun with the Object. You will see this referenced quite often in GTD forums, etc. By keeping clear the lines between what is a task, "Create a spreadsheet with 4th qtr financial data" is a task of project, "Publish Fiscal Year 2009 Financial Report."

You don't have to be a GTD purist to use GTD. From what it sounds like here, your on the right track for what will work for you. Lots of info in these forums with lots of help in both the theory of GTD, and the technical side of making TD work they way you want it too. Hope this helps.

Lance
Proximo

Posted: Aug 03, 2009
Score: 0



First, let me say that GTD is simple and you can implement all of it or a portion of it. The goal is for you to be more productive.

I have read David Allens book 2 times now and I am on my 3rd. I have been using Toodledo for a while and even if it's missing some elements required for true GTD, you can usually find a work around.

Projects:
Projects are any task that require multiple steps. You used the example of reading. I read about 3 books a month and honestly, I don't put them down as task. They are habits and I have the books I am wanting to read with me at all times. I read any chance I get. While getting an oil change, before I got to sleep or when I am sitting on the Royal Throne, if you know what I mean.

I think this is more of a Goal and something you want to develop as a Habit. This Toodledo can help you with. You can create a task called "Read XYZ Book" and then create a Goal linked to that task. You can use the Chain in Toodledo to make sure you are accountable to that task.

Not getting into much detail on this here, but just something for you to explore.

As for Toodledo and GTD. Implement what works for you. I found that 90% of GTD works just fine for me, but somethings based on how I work and the things I do, just did not fit perfectly as the book teaches.

Many of the users here cover their GTD setup and I recently updated mine. I plan on creating a post to share. It's on my list. :-)
Proximo

Posted: Aug 03, 2009
Score: 0



Lance,

I posted at the same time and just read your response. I agree that dates only need to be used for task that absolutely must get done by a certain date. You can use reminders to warn you they are coming due or you can use Start Date feature in GTD.

David Allen mentions that the Calendar is sacred and nothing should go on there unless it's truly due that day. This is why putting due dates on everything is not the GTD way.

What ends up happening is that you reach that Due Date and you just push it back some. Since the due date was not an absolute day the task needed to be done, you procrastinate and keep pushing it back.

Don't do this. At least in my opinion. Due Dates are for task that MUST be completed by that date. An example is a Monthly Report to the boss. You won't have the option to push this back if you don't make it. You probably will be in the office answering questions. :-)
Rory

Posted: Aug 03, 2009
Score: 0



Very interesting, thanks for the responses. I'd been trying to use due dates for everything since that seems to be the only way it shows up on the hotlist (I'm not using priorities at the moment).

I suppose that trying to work purely off the hotlist might not be the way to go then. I was a bit worried that I would leave the date field empty and then never actually do it since I wouldn't see it (apart from in my weekly review).

I'm not using a someday list yet, but looking at my projects I think some of them should actually be on this list. I'm going to start using that.

Thanks for the "Verb the Noun with the Object" idea, that really helps to clarify my project names.

My reading example was probably poorly explained, but I'll often get try to read technical books for work. For recreational reading I just let it happen when it happens.

One question based on this then: Say I do want to read through technical books at a rate of one a month, but it's not required. I'd like to still set a task to read through one chapter every three days or so. Isn't the only way to do this to set a due date on this task?

Thanks.
Anders

Posted: Aug 03, 2009
Score: 0



Posted by Rory:
One question based on this then: Say I do want to read through technical books at a rate of one a month, but it's not required. I'd like to still set a task to read through one chapter every three days or so. Isn't the only way to do this to set a due date on this task?

I don't know how GTD this is, but you can use optional Due Dates for that sort of thing. When you add a Due Date, click the box that says "due by" and select "optionally on". Then you can set it to repeat every 3 days. If you do this, the task will show as due on that day, but if the day passes, the Due Date will be set back 3 days.
Lance

Posted: Aug 03, 2009
Score: 0



I think due dates are very poorly used and like Proximo, my calendar is sacred. This is where I'm a GTD purist and won't budge. The only items that go on my calendar are actual show-stopper due dates, appointments, and stuff I want to be aware of. Aware of items might be times when key people are out of the office, events that I want to keep in awareness (sporting events, movie openings, etc.).

When it comes to priorities, I don't prioritize anything hence I don't use the hotlist. Again, this is also where I'm a GTD purist. I let my intuition, demand, time available, energy available to do the task determine what the priorities are. I believe this is where your weekly review is most important. If you are engaged with your system, updating your project list and checking off completed tasks, you will know whats important to you.

Considering your 'goal' of reading one book a month. I'm with Proximo on this. Unless you are willing to schedule time on your calendar (firm commitment), say from 6-7pm tomorrow, it doesn't go on there. Ask yourself in what context are you reading? At home, at work, on the bus/train? In my situation, I vanpool 45min oneway M-F. So I get about an hour or so of work related reading done most days here. I don't put it on my calendar, because I might not have the energy to read on a given afternoon if its been a rough day at work. However, it is on my list to read/study section X (task with a context of anywhere) for a certification exam (project).

Hope this helps.
Proximo

Posted: Aug 04, 2009
Score: 0



@Lance,

It seems we both use GTD in the same way. No priorities and Calendar is sacred.

I live and die by the Weekly Review. The single most important thing in GTD. Without it, you fail.

Energy is also very important. Gives you the ability to work on items that may normally stay at the bottom of a list if you used a Priority based system. In GTD when you are low on energy, you can focus on these type of task and knock them out.

Keeps things moving forward.
Tyler

Posted: Aug 04, 2009
Score: 0



Posted by Proximo:


David Allen mentions that the Calendar is sacred and nothing should go on there unless it's truly due that day. This is why putting due dates on everything is not the GTD way.

Don't do this. At least in my opinion. Due Dates are for task that MUST be completed by that date. An example is a Monthly Report to the boss. You won't have the option to push this back if you don't make it.


This is true (I'm reading GTD for second time -- benefited a lot from first read a couple years ago, but never managed to get a real system going, and now trying again) -- but I wanted to add something that Allen mentions about calendars that is very useful to me:

They should only be used for dated events, BUT there are several kinds of dated events people don't realize would be handled well by a calendar. For example, things you would like to do on a specific date (concert, lecture, event, etc.) but not sure if you'll be able to.

I have a friend who really likes to go to interesting events, galleries, etc. so he sits down in the beginning of the week with various listings (Time Out, local arts paper, etc.) and marks all the ones that are of interest. He puts them in his calendar as tentative. The result is that he is always aware of interesting things to do every evening... and winds up organizing lots of people to join him when he goes because he's become the "go to guy" for urban cultural events...

The fact that lots of calendaring programs (e.g. Google Calendar, T-bird lightning) allow multiple calendars makes this really easy to manage. You can have a "hard" calendar of appointments, but other calendars that handle more optional items.

Some examples of tentative items for separate calendars:
-- project milestones (flexible but still date driven)
-- recreation (as discussed above)
-- religious/ethnic holidays -- I organize some team sports, and live in NYC where it's likely many of my teammates observe holidays that I'm not necessarily aware of (e.g. Rosh Hoshannah, Chinese New Year, Diwali), so I keep calendars of these events that I only turn on when I know these holidays are approaching
-- expiring coupons or sales, and other items that have a limited date-range

So, in my reading of GTD, the purpose of separating tasks from calendars is primarily to separate what is date-driven from stuff that can be done at any time.

This is so that you don't conceptually confuse the two: tasks are driven by time-available, context, etc. but date-driven events are pinned to specific times (and usually places as well), or ranges of time.

A lot of people try to schedule their (non date-driven) tasks, and overload their calendar, and, as Proximo points out, stop taking their calendar or their tasks seriously... the system falls apart then.
Proximo

Posted: Aug 04, 2009
Score: 0



@Tyler

Exactly.

Hey, can I meet your friend. I need someone like that to keep me posted. :-)
Lance

Posted: Aug 04, 2009
Score: 0



Absolutely! My wife and I both have separate calendars, but have 'write' privileges through Google Calendar and a 3rd party app that syncs to our iPhones. She will enter all her half days, parent/teacher conference weeks, Christmas/Spring breaks, etc.

I'm an amateur trail and Enduro MX rider and will enter as events races and poker runs that I may be interested in for the season. I'll put on there potential out-of-town trips for myself and my boss, and lots of the same stuff you mentioned above.

When I do my weekly review and look at my calendar, I can see firm commitments that I have made and those of my wife's. I can also see that an upcoming camping trip is now a project, and start to capture all the tasks necessary to make it a fun and successful trip. If I decide that I want to attend a specific event coming up, I make a project to make reservations, buy tickets, pack suitcases, etc.

We also have a shared calendar in the office where we all place date/time sensitive events to keep each other abreast of our activities.

However, I will not and refuse to put tasks on my calendar and this is what I'm referring to as sacred. Only time and date sensitive events go on my calendar.

Glad you brought this up as too few people use it this way. It works for me, but to each his/her own.
Rory

Posted: Aug 05, 2009
Score: 0



Thanks again for the responses - I can't tell you how helpful it is to hear these points of view. I've been thinking about the 'calendar is sacred' point a little more. It definitely makes sense, but I'm still unclear about some things.

I'm a learn-by-example kind of guy, so here's mine: Say I'm talking to someone at work, and tell them I'm going to bring a book in for them to read. There's no actual firm date set, but you could say that there may be a social expectation that I'll do so within a week.

I jot down the task via my iPhone to Toodledo. That night, I'm processing my inbox (in Toodledo and I come across the task "Bring book X to work for Joe Bloggs". I'm still reading this book, but I'm right at the end and expect to finish it within 2 days. How do I deal with this?

The GTD way goes through some questions during the processing phase. The first of which is, "is it actionable?". Well no, not at this point. I'm still reading the book so it gets put in some incubate/tickler folder, perhaps scheduled to pop up in 3 days or so.

Question 1) The tickler seems kind of like the main calendar in that specific items pop up at certain times, but it's no firm commitment. How does one do this in Toodledo without it getting mixed up with the firm commitments calendar?

Question 2) Say I finish the book, so the task is now actionable. I now flag the task as next action, and it goes onto my grand list of next actions. How do I prevent that task from getting lost in there? The book mentions the concept of having 100 tasks on this list, so it seems that it would be really easy to not notice a task. I could actually get myself to remember that I need to bring the book in, but that defeats the point of the system. I guess the question really is, in GTD, how do you track the difference between a task you'd like to get done in the next few days but there's no firm commitment, and all of the other tasks?

For question 2 I'd be interested in hearing the answer from a GTD purist's perspective, and also from the plain Toodledo perspective (like I could see that maybe I could use priorities here).

I have a second example about next next-actions based on another post I read here but didn't really see an answer to. I'll wait on that question so that I don't dilute the responses.
Tyler

Posted: Aug 05, 2009
Score: 0



Posted by Proximo:
@Tyler

Exactly.

Hey, can I meet your friend. I need someone like that to keep me posted. :-)


Unfortunately, we no longer live in the same city, so I'm not going out as much!
Lance

Posted: Aug 05, 2009
Score: 3



@ Rory

Whenever I seem to get lost feel like I'm falling off the GTD bandwagon, whether I'm going through my inbox or during my weekly review, while looking at the item in question, I ask myself, "What single next action will bring this forward towards completion." I believe David Allen has a similar phrase.

From a pure perspective given your scenario of loaning a book to a friend that your still reading, it becomes a project because of the multiple steps involved. The project is loan book X to friend Y. I'm assuming you did not make a commitment in 'time' that you would loan the book, therefore no action on the calendar is necessary.

Under project Loan Book X to Friend Y, in the notes field you might brainstorm all the resources and actions you would need to bring this to completion:
-Finnish reading the book (@home)
-Place book in backpack so I don't forget (@home)
-Bring book to work (@errand)
-Keep track of the book that I loaned (spurs a new project)

Then as your brainstorming, you realize that you have several books loaned out, and a few other items nagging at you. So you quickly capture the thought to make a list of stuff loaned out to include date and person. This will be processed, at the least during your next weekly review if not before then. Your trusted system will not let this nugget escape.

Your done brainstorming and see several actions. Some will only list the very next action as a subtask. Others like to list all the actions of a given project as sub-tasks and use status to show/hide the very next action. Either one works well and I feel is more of a personal preference. If there is paper involved, I will make a file folder with the project name, and keep it filed in my active projects file. Projects that are completed along with reference items go in another drawer, A-Z.

Lets say you list them all with the format 'verb the noun with the object:
-Read Art of War Ch. 9 (Context @home, status: next action)
-Place book in backpack so I don't forget (Context @home, status: hold or deferred or waiting, all could be appropriate since it's a matter of definition, just be consistent)
-Bring book over to friend Y's office (Context @Work, status: hold or deferred or waiting)

It's been a couple of days, late Thursday night you finished reading the book and went to bed.

Next morning you went to work and first thing you did was your weekly review (I happen to choose Friday mornings for mine based on my energy levels). Looking at your Action Lists you check off completed items. While you only planned to read one chapter last night, because of your energy level and time you had available, you managed to read the rest of the book. Had you not, you could have completed the given task, and entered a new one with a new chapter. Hence why purists don't use priorities.

Because your doing a weekly review, every project will be reviewed, one by one, for goals, outcomes, new tasks, completed tasks; ensuring at least one next action that will bring it forward to completion.

In this case you realize that your next action is to place the book in your bag to bring to work. Therefore, Place book in backpack becomes the next action (Context @home, Status: next action).

Also, because this is your weekly review, while processing your inbox you initiate that new project to track stuff loaned out (idea you captured earlier) with a tickler file that you will only check once a week during your weekly review, listing the actions needed to bring it forward to completion.

Saturday you look at your action lists for @Home and there it is, Place book in bag. You complete this task, and change Bring book over to friend Y's office with context of @Work to next action. Go about your weekend.

Monday morning while having your fist cup of coffee and reviewing your action lists, you see the task to visit friend Y and bring them the book. Since its early and the day is not crazy yet, you head on over with a cup of coffee and drop off the book. While there, you check your action lists and under @Agenda-Friend Y you had a question about a contract that you needed to discuss.

On and on it goes.

What I'm hearing is a lack of trust in your current system, therefore the need to depend on calendar reminders. I've been there! This is where the weekly review shines, reviewing your action lists on a daily basis, and your project list(s) during your weekly review at a minimum keep everything together. Doing so regularly will keep stuff from falling through the cracks and build trust in your system because its working for you, not the other way around.

My best advice is to take it in small steps, adding a new component every week. Eventually you won't call it GTD, it'll just be the way you do things.
Linden

Posted: Aug 05, 2009
Score: 0



Thanks for that in-depth walk-through, Lance. I've only got a one foot in GTD right now, and while I'm light-years ahead of where I was last year, there's room for improvement.

Your explanation definitely helps to see how I can begin to walk away from tentative "would-like-to" due dates and move toward a more full implementation of GTD.
Rory

Posted: Aug 05, 2009
Score: 0



Thanks for the help. I suppose I'm worried that my home context may have a lot of next actions in it, and I might miss the "place book in bag" in the noise of other things which may be unimportant (relatively speaking).

This brings me on to my second question which I've seen here before, but I don't think it was really answered.

Say I have 5 tasks in my project, and they're all around 5 minutes to complete. They're all also in the exact same context, say @home. One of them is flagged next action.

So I see the next action for this project and complete it one day while I'm at home. At this point I'm actually able to complete all of the other tasks in the project, but since I'm working off the next action list I don't see them. Even if I review my projects daily to select a new next action, it would take me 5 days to complete a 25 minute project.

The project may not be time sensitive, but it seems that the day long gap between the next actions is an artifact of the period between project reviews. If I didn't have anything else on my home context at the time then I might spend my time doing other less useful things (like loafing around) when I have the time and the energy to complete the project. This doesn't seem right to me.

One alternative is to always select the next "next action" whenever I complete the previous one, but this seems overly tedious.

I know that Toodledo doesn't support having a specified task order, and that this would allow next actions to follow in a progression automatically. But this idea of automatic task progression doesn't seem to be part of core GTD either, so how does that work for the purists?
Lance

Posted: Aug 05, 2009
Score: 1



I think I understand where your going here. Part of this has to do with your electronic trusted system having sub tasks dependent on each other in. That is, you check off one and the next one appears. A much requested feature around here.

Personally, I don't need it because when I set up my project, I brainstorm everything I think of in notes. I then enter as sub tasks only those very next actions that will bring it forward to completion. So if I have a bunch of 2-5 minute tasks in one project at home like painting a room, I just bust them out. I'm engaged enough with my system to 'know' what needs to be done.

And this is a good point to bring up, the 2 minute rule. I use 2-5 minutes, depending on what it is. I could list all the prep-work needed to paint the bedroom: remove electrical and light covers, mask off windows and molding, spread drop cloth, etc. In my experience, this is more like a checklist of stuff under the task Prepare bedroom for painting under the project. Kinda like packing for a trip, I have several checklists I keep in a reference file for such things that I have printed off the web. Other will want to list each item as a separate task. And others still will want even more levels of task dependencies.

I tried using task dependencies with Life Balance and it felt like just like HAL 9000 was taking over my life.

It all depends on how far into the weeds you want to go in defining what a sub-task is. I refer to my lists often enough to just know what needs to be done next, always with my weekly review making sure I don't forget anything. I've gone a whole day or two without even looking at my action lists because I was so engaged with what I was doing, and getting a lot of stuff done, that I didn't want to interupt the flow.

Some need that kind of structure and have to have everything mapped out and having that give them a great deal of security. Others will feel constrained by it (me) and don't mind a little bit of ambiguity, while keeping with the philosophy as a whole.

Perhaps what I mean as a GTD purist, is that I follow the rules I have agreed to with myself consistently. I don't change them from one week to the next, so I have a great deal of trust in my system. Of course, I didn't get here overnight.
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