Getting Things Done Again

For something that at first glance seems like a glorified to do list, Getting Things Done is sure harder than it looks. In fact, David Allen has said that it takes about two years for someone to completely implement the scheme and make it a habit.

Allen has also said that "doing GTD" 95 percent of the time is much different than doing it 100 percent of the time. To really achieve stress free productivity, they say, you've got to put on your purple jump suit and drink the Cool Aid.

I first learned about GTD about a year ago, so I figure I'm due for some stress-free productivity early next year. I've been following the scheme in one half-assed way or another since that first seminar, but I wouldn't say I've really done GTD right.

The one problem I always had with it was that I felt like my next actions changed too rapidly to depend on a weekly review for updating my to do lists. I was always thinking of new things I needed to do, and constantly adjusting. When it came to weekly review time, I couldn't figure out what to do, so I would inevitably get distracted by a shiny object and wander away.

This week it finally dawned on me what I was missing. Uh, the whole "processing" part? Remember that? I must have been napping during that chapter. Instead of updating your to do list once a week, you're supposed to collect all those adjustments that come up during the day and process them into actions EVERY DAY. Duh.

Generally I would say I'm not an idiot, but I read the book and have been reading about GTD on various blogs for a year now, and this just dawned on me. All this time, I've had an in box, but I've never really used it to collect "my stuff" and transform it into actions.

This revelation has renewed my enthusiasm for GTD and I'm giving it another try. In the process I've realized that tracking my action items on index cards isn't going to cut it. To do GTD right, you have to get EVERYTHING onto your list and into your system, and the number of index cards that would require would be ridiculous. My hand would also probably fall off from writing so much.

So I've started using Remember the Milk, which is a wonderful Web site. I love the ability to tag my actions and make an unlimited number of lists. I still use my index cards to capture things that come up throughout the day. The difference is that I jot the information down and throw the card into my in box. At 4:30 p.m. every day, I go through that in box and break down my notes into concrete next steps. I'm starting to get it. We'll see how long I last.