Whenever I start to share how my system has evolved under the tenents of the GTD Methodology, most people get a slightly panicky look in their eyes and start to slowly back away. This has led to some hesitance in sharing with colleagues that are still early in the evolutions of their personal system or are just realizing the need to create one at all. I fully recognize that many will not understand the mix of technology and processes that I leverage in my personal system without following a similar journey to mine. I also realized that I need to remember what those early days were like for me and some of the pitfalls that I experienced along the way, to become more of a mentor than just showcasing where I am at within my own path. To that effect, I am writing my version of an intro to GTD for developers and those following the Agile methodology.
Get it out of your head.
It all starts with getting all of the items that you are trying to keep track of or remember out of your head, and I do mean all of it. Everything that grabs your attention, find a way to put it in a list and get it off your brain. This takes a decent amount of time since we are not always aware of the things that we are holding in our mental queues for processing. Getting that initial sense of how much you think about regularly usually surprises newcomers. There also is a sense of relief after completing this task because we have just released the burden of things that we carry with us each day. If you have not experienced this be warned, without following through on resolving those items that sense of relief evaporates quite quickly.
Then comes the drive to recapture that feeling and when it is not as effective, our need to relieve the stress of increasingly larger lists and the stuff we are not letting go of after all come back full force. While easily alleviated with additional techniques provided, this particular situation is the largest adoption blocker that I have witnessed among novices to GTD. It is not enough to get it out of your head but it needs to be processed and resolved to a state of completion before you are truly rid of that particular item. As you advance through leveraging these concepts and techniques you will begin reinforcing your process so that you are creating your behavioral momentum to keep you engaged in this process until it becomes auto-pilot which is the key for any successful practice.
2-Minute rule and beyond
I have this long list of items, now what? Well, the first thing that I would personally do is look through the list, and anything that can be accomplished in 2 min or less just start clearing those items out of the way. Clearing out these basic tasks is essential for you to start planning through more complex items and determining the next action steps to take for that particular project. You will feel more productive just adopting this one behavior regularly than almost any other because it is as close to instant gratification as you can get in any productivity endeavor. Regardless of the size of larger items and efforts required to complete them, always break them down to the next physical action. Doing so consistently will line up a constant stream of achievable tasks that make that productive feeling much more consistent.
While the management of lists of tasks and clearing those lists by processing through the most actionable items will provide some stress relief and promote a feeling of productivity, if you are still missing on larger items or lack confidence/trust in the system that you are building, it will fail. It is not enough to get things out of your head but to create a system that will instill a trust that your mind does not need to retain these items. That they will be able to be dealt with at the appropriate time and place for them to be resolved without being watched over by your subconscious.
This is where being honest with how you engage with your system, what works and what doesn’t, and having the willingness to adapt whatever is necessary to ensure you are building that trust to externalize the tracking and management of all items that grab your attention anyway. Keep evaluating your process and see where there is an opportunity to improve and remove friction points in your process so that it becomes an automatic reaction to follow your process and not feel like it is an extra burden to maintain.
Leveraging Tech ONLY in helping with the basics.
Technology should always act as an enabler for your system, don’t choose tools that add friction to the process.
Personally, I leverage Omnifocus for my tracking and task management. With its Siri integrations and able to run Automations on IOS devices using Shortcuts it is extremely helpful in helping me stay focused on the important things.
For my research and reference pages I use a combination of Evernote and OneNote to keep my material organized.
Analog and Digital differences
The main difference that I have found over the last 16 years of leveraging the GTD methodology is that when I start to get overwhelmed going back to the basics of pen and paper always gets me back on track. Technology and having digital access are very convenient for the day to day needs as we go about our lives, but the very act of writing things down will always have a place in my system. As a measure of capturing the necessary, I keep a stack of index cards with me at all times so that I can write down items that I know I want to track for later, then I ensure to capture them digitally when I can sit and process those items.
Ultimately whether this pattern of behavior will successfully assist in achieving your goals comes down to one factor, trust. Streamlining the process will increase productivity in the long run but trusting that items going into the system, regardless of what needs to be accomplished, the right actions will be taken at the appropriate times without you having to keep all of that detail in your mind.
People ask me how I handle so many things and different contexts and I have replied to them that I don’t, I only engage with the ones that are appropriate at the moment. I realized recently that though I started this journey with GTD to become more productive, I was looking to become more present in the moments that I was experiencing to better position myself to reach my goals. In the next post on GTD, we will discuss how technology can help or hinder your process and address some of the considerations you should make before deciding to incorporate it into your workflow.