Getting Things Done

My name is Jennifer and I am an office supply fetishist. When I go into a stationery store, I must fondle every planner and address book, stare at the pen selection for hours, and rationalize various reasons why I need to buy a few more notebooks. It takes genuine self restraint not to add to the piles of Post It notes, stickers, and rubber stamps in my overflowing office. At work I love to go in the supply room and pick out new steno pads and glue sticks.

I'm also an INTP, and I love to create new organizational systems for myself. Unfortunately, I love creating the systems more than actually using them, so I sometimes find myself organizing and reorganizing rather than actually doing anything productive.

A few months ago I went to a day-long seminar on David Allen's Getting Things Done regime, which was right up my alley. I loved how simple and realistic it was, and decided to implement it using Outlook. I've been using the Outlook-based system for a while now, and it's worked fairly well. At home I have an inbox on my desk where I throw all my mail, receipts, and notes. Once or twice a week I go through it and throw stuff away, add new items to my task list, and file important backup. At work, since I'm mostly sitting at the computer, everything goes straight to Outlook. I take meeting notes on paper, then go back to my office and enter action items on the to do list and important information into my Google Notebook. My office is so clean that no one believes I do any work.

I keep my Outlook tasks, calendar, and contacts on a HP iPAQ, which I sync with my home and office computers. At work we have a shared calendar, which syncs with my PDA. The PDA syncs with Outlook at home, but at work I log on to our network to see my appointments. When I complete a task, I delete it from my list.

But even with all this hoo-hah, I've been feeling lately like I'm not getting anything done. The tasks on my list aren't really "actionable" the way Allen recommends. They sit there for weeks, and I stare at them feeling like I don't know what to do. I still find myself making lists by hand of the things I'm going to do that day, rather than relying on Outlook.

Many years ago I was a devotee of the two-page per day Daytimer. On one page I would list my appointments, and on the other I would write my to do list for the day, phone numbers, notes, etc. When I was done with a task I would check it off. If I was waiting on someone else before I could do the task I would put their initials next to it. When I moved a task from one week to the next, I would put a dash next to it. At the end of the week I could see all the things I had completed, and every day I was forced to plan what I was going to do, because I had to make a new list.

I was thinking about moving back to a paper based system when I found a whole community of loony planning enthusiasts like myself online, who had made the move back to analog. They sang the praises of the Moleskine planner, which reminded me of my old system. They reveled in the satisfaction of writing by hand and using nice pens. They argued that paper based systems were more flexible and creative.

Of course, these fellow whackos were speaking my language. I immediately went out and bought myself a Moleskine 18 month planner from eBay. I went to Office Max and found just the right pens. (Felt tip Flairs.) I'm awaiting the delivery of my new planner like it's Santa Claus. In the meantime I've created my own stopgap solution using a steno pad, but it's just not the same.

I've moved my task list out of Outlook and into a notebook that I carry with me everywhere. The tasks in it are allowed to be vague. I use it like the "brain dump" that Allen describes, where you list all things on your mind that you need to do something about. Then I go through that list and create actionable tasks that I add to my planner every week. When I'm done with a task I check it off, and my heart flutters a little with the joy of knowing that I'm one step closer to being able to buy another planner.


Michael said...

Congrats, Jennifer. I too am making the move back to paper...mainly so that I can use my new first Fountain Pen, a Lamy Safari.

I am anxiously awaiting my 18-month planner. Hopefully it will be here today or tomorrow!.

j.e. said...

I dunno, I still like being able to drag emails over into Outlook tasks. I have rules that do this automatically for certain types of email. I find clicking the "complete" box with the mouse to be pretty satisfying. I also have a pretty complicated and geeky system that changes the colors and fonts of a task depending on urgency, proximity of due date, etc.