A while ago I started using GTD with my two tools of choice – Toodledo and Todo – and so far I’m very satisfied with the “results” and the progress. Time to recap my experiences with GTD, the tools and the process as it might help others, you, to get up to speed with Getting Things Done more quickly. Please note that these recommendations reflect my personal experience when adopting myself to Getting Things Done using modern tools, compared to paper files and folders as described in the de-facto standard book from David Allen.
Now that I used GTD for some time I can really say it works – my friends and peers sometimes might say “he is writing everything down – he can’t remember anything on his own”, but that’s not what should hinder you from using GTD. Writing everything down in a structured way really frees the brain from thinking about things it should not think about. Some of the lists I have are very long but I’m confident at any time that I know what I have to do so I don’t have to think about it anymore. Time you save and can spend on thinking about more interesting stuff.
Not everything should got to the “next actions” folder.
Per GTD definition almost everything should go through the Inbox – and in the first weeks I discovered that most stuff immediately after that goes to the next-actions list. Which does not make sense for two reasons:
1) If you next-actions list is very long you have to remember manually what tasks are more important than others, which wastes Brain-Processing-Unit (BPU) cycles.
2) If stuff remains in the next-actions list for a week or so it was no next-action in the first place.
After some time I became more confident that moving stuff to other categories also works fine and that I can also move items off next-actions as needed.
Do not review the inbox in the subway.
At least for me doing reviews of my list in the subway did not work out that well – most of my tasks are somewhat computer related – sending a mail, doing some quick research of a Web site, fixing a script or updating some text. These and a lot of other 2-minute items which require a computer do not work out in the subway. (Sorry Apple, but writing long mails on the iPhone is not what I want to do!)
Doing the review in front of a computer is way more efficient and faster, at least for me. And it is more efficient than to move those items from “in” to “next” before executing them…
There is also a medium priority.
In the beginning all my tasks had either no priority (90%) or a high priority (the remaining 10%) which does not really add any benefit regarding sorting. I see this problem as related to iTunes ratings – I don’t want to rate poor songs with a single star, as they don’t deserve it… so most songs remain unrated. Great songs on the other side get 5 stars, as they are great, aren’t they?
What I want to say is – find your way to use priorities – i.e. high if your life depends on it and it had to be done yesterday, medium for stuff that can is urgent, but not already overdue, low for important things and no priority for all other stuff. But use more than just high and none.
The context can save your ass (multiple times).
Use the context to store meta information about the tasks, i.e. “manager”, “girlfriend”, “call”… not for everything, but where it makes sense. That way you can easily access all items you want to discuss with your manager independent of the list they are in. And you can do that right now, as needed. Works great if your manager stops by and asks something – you can, within seconds, tell him all the new gadgets you need *right now* to survive your job!
Finally Appigo’s Todo also supports the context and tags it really makes sense to use that information as well!
Waiting-for is really useful.
The second-most used list is waiting-for – in there I drop stuff that I have delegated, where input from others or action of others is required. This is great as I cannot forget to follow up on actions or input – no more slipping of deadlines because there was no follow up on time. Also this list tells you what others are working on for you (or should be working on…).
Review the list regularly. The full list.
To have a working GTD system it is also important that you review your full list regularly. It is not sufficient to just review the next actions and the Inbox, you have to go through every single item at least once a week. This helps you to clean up the waiting for list and maybe some other actions have been resolved in the meantime. Also it helps you to be confident that your system works and you have everything “in there”.
Delete tasks if needed!
When you do the regular review also remove tasks – don’t let something stick around just because you added it a while ago. Feel free to remove things as needed. Especially if something is on the next actions list for quite some time – drop it or at least move it to any other list.
Is it actionable? If not – rewrite or drop it (or put it on a list).
I also learned the hard way that actions have to be actionable – which makes it sometimes hard but is a good chance to clean up your projects. On the other side there are some items which don’t make sense to be actionable – i.e. “buy milk” – I don’t want to write it that way, instead have a groceries and a shopping list, where you know it is a list with items that are similar important and that are no actions.
Once again: GTD works!
As I already stated on top – Getting Things Done works and will make you more productive and save you a lot of time. Getting started is not easy but there are good resources out there that help you (I can recommend this one).
Also it is important to find your way – there is no wrong or right way of doing it and also GTD is not a strict process but about giving you a general idea of how it might work – then go ahead and adopt the process as needed!
I hope these practical hints helped you implementing GTD on your electronic device of choice, iPhone preferred