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Doing GTD: On the Bandwagon And The Inevitability of “Off”

Introduction

I read a very perceptive article on Medium.com last weekend. The author is Maxim Kotin, and the article “What I’ve learned after 10 years of quantifying myself” had a poignant passage at the end that summed up how I feel about falling off the GTD Bandwagon:

7. Eventually you will give up. It’s inevitable
It doesn’t matter how strong your willpower is. Eventually you will
break. Someday you will feel that you can’t bear the responsibility
for your time [GTD] any more. You will quit — for days and maybe 
weeks if not months. It’s ok. It doesn’t mean that the system is 
bad or ineffective. It doesn’t mean that there is something wrong
with you. On the contrary: you are 100% normal. It’s just too 
damn hard to be alert 24 hours a day.

Falling off the GTD bandwagon for me, comes after “sprints.”

A GTD sprint evolves out of work closing in on you, you responding by organizing with more focus (and a bit of desperation) until you reach the point where you as a GTD trotter horse let go of trotting and start to gallop.

Galloping is a GTD sprint. You give up long term maximum productivity, for short term results. I for example, have a boss who is a genius at pushing teams to produce breakthroughs. When my boss starts pushing, it is like hearing a Caterpillar D12 engine in the distance, then the clank clank of the caterpillar drive draws closer, the the cold steel of the blade on my … back.

In a GTD sprint, you go with whatever situational awareness is in your head, for the duration. The key GTD moment comes after finish. Your crisis is averted, the falling sky has   been propped up. Now what?

Now you let your mind unwind a bit and you realize:

  1. Your GTD trusted system is a mess.
  2. You have an expense report that I need to start procrastinating on finishing.
  3. While you were sprinting, your heard of genius cats were generating questions and you have a queue of genius cat questions awaiting your attention.
  4. You are exhausted.

And now it is time to get back on the GTD band wagon. Aw crap!

Work can feel like it is unending. Like it can never get enough of your time. Another perceptive insight from Maxim Kotin’s blog says:

1. You can only count on 5 working hours a day
You probably know a lot of people claiming that they work 10, 
12 and even 16 hours a day. They are fooling you — and maybe 
they are fooling themselves. Because aimlessly surfing the 
Internet is not work. Hanging out on Facebook is not work. 
Chatting with a peer on Skype or at the cooler is not work. 
Smoking outside is not work. Staring out the window is not 
work. Even working with your beautiful to do list for a 
half an hour is not work either, although it definitely may 
look like it.

So face it. You have to do everything, and you can really only do it in 5 hours a day. Work is not unending. It isn’t about how long you work. It is about how smart you work. So the key question to ask when you are off the GTD band wagon is: “How can I maximize how smart I work in the 5 hours a day available?”

And this is an on-ramp to getting back on the wagon. I haven’t found any way to work smarter than I work with GTD.

bill meade

p.s., Ask me a GTD question! wkmeade@gmail.com

Alas Babylon Update: Spoiler = Everything is fine

The story:

Bigfoot letter happened.

In response, I replied with the permission email I received, when I asked David Allen and the CEO of David Allen’s company for permission to use RestartGTD.com  … before I started RestartGTD.com.

A couple of email exchanges happened over the weekend and early this week.

The VP of legal eagles at David Allen’s company has given me her assurance that she’s good with the current state of RestartGTD.com … because I had/have permission.

 

*Aside* I managed the business side of patent litigation back in the day, when I worked at HP. We were burning 7 figures ,,, a month on six *big nasty* lawsuits, and I hope to never again live in litigation la la land.

So I was *philosophical* about whether to close RestartGTD.com. If the GTD powers that be did not want my enthusiasm (which is not for everyone), I was going to let RestartGTD.com go.

As it stands, RestartGTD.com will continue to operate as it has.

But, you could help if you would:

  1. Email me some GTD questions!!! My best posts are responses to questions. wkmeade@gmail.com is the place to get your free advice on getting back on the wagon.
  2. Get off your duff and install the Evernote web clipper so you become hopelessly addicted to Evernote for reference filing. Side benefit: web clipper makes Evernote filing reference filing easier to do, than not do.
  3. Buy that ScanSnap iX500 ($413 today) that I’ve failed (so far) to persuade you to invest in. You don’t know what you are missing by being paperless.

Thanks for the kind words and back channel emails! More posts soon! As soon as RestartGTD was in limbo I had a bunch of new ideas. :-(

bill meade

 

Bigfoot Spotted!

Photo Library - 16569

Introduction: 

Just received “bigfoot” letter from David Allen’s VP of Legal. Check it out:

Screenshot_022715_045731_PM

= Death sentence for this blog.

I can’t see changing the name to “RestartX”
where X = That Book David Allen Wrote

= Evangelist exterminated.

I’m not going to fight. I’ll erase all blog posts on Sunday when my work for this week permits.

Writing RestartX has been fun!!!

Good luck everyone in staying with that book that David Allen wrote!

Bill Meade

Evernote vs. OneNote … Redux

Presentation1

Introduction:

In my current job, I’m working with a lot of people from Microsoft. If I mention “Evernote” I often hear “You mean OneNote … Right!?!”

This post is just a small scream out to the inner Microserfs (The t-shirt with “IBM Weak as a kitten, dumb as a sack of hammers!” alone makes the book worth reading!!!) of my anonymous Microsoft partisans:

OneNote and Evernote are different. Really different.

Let me use a Microserf-ish analogy:

  • OneNote is Excel. Evernote is Power Query.
  • Or, OneNote is Excel, and Evernote is PowerPivot.

Yes, their functionalities overlap. But no, they are not competitors. To a GTD person, they are complements, not substitutes. Oops, another analogy from economics just inserted itself.

There is a healthy humility at Microsoft today. Gone are the arrogant people looking at your extended hand and saying “Do I need to know you?” They’ve been replaced by mortals who worry about being laid off as well as worrying about whether their market share can be *significant*.

My Microserf partisans, embrace this humility!

But, don’t let your healthy humility combine with an unhealthy fear of failure, that will react with humility to produce defensiveness. OneNote is great. OneNote is powerful.

But not as powerful as OneNote+Evernote.

Read that last sentence again!

Bill Meade

Easy GTD

cropped-restartgtd011.jpg

Introduction: 

I’ve discovered something. A way to make Getting Things Done (GTD) easy to do. Three words:

Love.

Your.

Job.

This Post’s Story:

When I finished graduate school in 1992 I read Waldrop’s COMPLEXITY. The book is about the development of chaos theory from lunatic fringe, to the Santa Fe Institute. The book is not available on Kindle, so I can’t cite the passage exactly, but there is a description of John Holland that goes something like ‘Holland is a nice guy, helping a lot of people, doing work he loves, and having a genuinely good time.’

When I read that I was … jealous. And ever since, I’ve wanted to be John Holland.

Along the way, I’ve come across books that have helped me become more like John Holland:

1. The Artist’s Way (TAW) by Julia Cameron

Mary Meade, my artist sister bought me TAW. Julia Cameron is the world’s greatest ninja in getting “stuck” creative people, unstuck. Her formula is “Write three pages every day. Does not matter what. Just write three pages every day.” Kind of like “one idea, one 3×5 card” in GTD. This unsticks writers, sculptors, painters, …

In TAW I learned:

  • About “crazy makers” who prey upon creative minds, giving them busy work and drama. Don’t have an agenda, crazy makers will give you an agenda.
  • That jealousy is a signal. It tells you what you want to be doing.
  • That getting ideas out, is critical. If you don’t get ideas out of your head, you can’t move the ideas forward.

2. Getting Things Done

Ian Watson basically got on my chest and said “I’m not getting off until you promise me you will read GTD.” I’ve tried to document on this blog, the result. If you haven’t seen the progress, start with the before/after post.

From GTD I learned:

  • Organizing is possible, and then fun. Until GTD, my wife said “I have to have a door I can close on Bill’s office.” Since GTD, the opposite is the case.
  • Organization is about figuring out how your brain works, and then structuring your work naturally. Example: I had a book that I knew I needed to write “stuck” in my head. For seven years I would sit down, try to “dump” the book, and fail. After 1.5 years of GTD, my work environment and mind became organized and synchronized to the point, where I sat down and was able to dump the book, in outline format (a first for me), into a computer.
  • When you organize, God comes along beside you and encourages. S/he has you on earth for specific reasons. Organizing is how we can figure out the reaons.

3. & 4. The House That Cleans Itself (THTCI) and 2,000 to 10,000 (2Kto10K)

  • THTCI taught me about the concept of “stations.”Stations are how you organize to eliminate localized clutter. The formula is to let clutter build up in your life, then take pictures of localized clutter storms.

    Then, figure out the clutter storm’s function. Once you “get” that you are manufacturing clutter when you are doing a specific function (ex., creating draft after draft of writing, dealing with multiple projects simultaneously, missing appointments (temporal clutter), or forgetting tasks) you can organize your environment, trusted system, calendar, etc. to focus on the function at a station optimized to slam dunk the function.

    In a way, GTD as a book, is a pre-fabricated system of stations (next actions, one idea one 3×5 card, project list, 2 minute rule, predigesting tasks by context, etc., etc., etc.). Stations are how I evolve GTD.

  • 2Kto10K taught me about matching enthusiasm to work.Rachel Aaron, a novelist and the author of2Kto10K kept a log of how much she wrote each writing session. She then figured out that she wrote faster and better when she:- Knew what she was going to write before sitting down to write (this is what I’m doing when I take 3×5 cards of ideas, rearrange them before doing)
    – Had long blocks of time (1 hour = 500 words/hr, 5 hours = 1,500 words/hr)
    – Was “was in a place other than home” while writing.
    and most importantly
    – Was enthusiastic about what she was writing.

    Being behind in Rachel’s words was “the perfect storm of all my insecurities” … (feel *familiar*)????? But her ninja-nerd writing log helped here avoid perfect storms, by structuring her work naturally. What I got from Rachel, and what provoked this blog post is …

    The importance of enthusiasm. The word roots of “enthusiasm” are en which means “in” and “theos” which means God. Enthusiasm is “the God within.” Work you loves has the God in you coming along side.

So what?

I’m in a job right now, that makes applying GTD easy. This blog post is my attempt to be a Rachel-Aaron-like nerd, to figure out … Why?

For me, it is about dread. Here is what my task completion time looked like while I work in jobs that were, well, … OK.

Screenshot_022115_121906_PM

Dreading a task is 50% mentality, and 50% environment. When I’ve worked in jobs that I don’t love, the phone rings, there is a knock at the door, there is a meeting that pops up. And for me, very often, a crazy maker boss that drops in. So out of 100 minutes I was only getting work done during 40 minutes.

When in a job that I love, I preemptively manage the environment part of dread procrastination. I turn off the phone, close email, log out of Lync, so I can focus. And, the 1/2 of dread procrastination (just about what the task takes to complete), that is mental … evaporates.

When I love my job, I look forward to rough organizing, and then slam dunking the next action. When you love your job, you avoid the dread tax and get more done. You begin to be more like John Holland:

  • Help more people.
  • Genuinely enjoy the work.
  • Be nice.
  • Do your job effortlessly.
  • Build momentum.

I worked 75 hours this week. Trip to Mexico, lots of driving around and meeting people. Sharing the gospel of simple models applied to the obvious data, to solve obvious problems. On the flight home I realized “I feel like John Holland in Waldrop’s book!”

A first for me.

Implications:

  1. If you find GTD “too hard” to do. You might need a different job.
  2. If you need a different job, you probably know it.
  3. If you know you need a different job, if you are like me, you have not:
    1. created a “find a job of destiny” project, then
    2. rough organized the job of destiny project, or
    3. started executing the job of destiny project.
  4. If you don’t execute on finding that job of destiny, you won’t find your job of destiny.
  5. It is easy to shift blame to GTD for being too hard, when the root cause lies elsewhere.
  6. Looking back on jobs that I did not love, GTD was depressing. Keeping track of all the stuff that isn’t fun, is depressing. Unloved jobs truly are “same shit, different day.”
  7. If dread is part and parcel with doing GTD for you, see implication 1 above.

Bill Meade

Rough Organizing

Source: http://www.gottabesolid.com/jobs/images/carpenter-sidebar-05.jpg

There is an analogy between “rough carpentry” and the topic of this post “rough organizing.” Rough carpentry is also called “framing” and that is not a bad description of the result of a rough organizing session.

Rough Organizing: What is it? 

Rough organizing involves the following tools:

  • GTD’s one idea, one piece of paper
  • GTD’s “mind sweep”
  • A clear desk

I start rough organizing with blank 3×5 cards. One idea, one 3×5 card. I fill in cards and then lay them neatly on the table in front of me in a grid. I fill in cards about the subject I’m working on until my mind is empty. Usually a dozen cards will do it. But, I carry 3×5 cards at all times, so I can capture open loop ideas whenever they make themselves available. So I often will have two dozen cards to rough organize.

The rough organizing starts after a mind sweep has captured all ideas, one to a 3×5 card. Then I lay the cards out on the table so that I can see them all, and then start moving related cards toward one another.

 

popuporganizing01-1-1.jpg

As related ideas come together, I organize them in a column, not-overlapping. After I have arranged all related cards into columns, and separated the not-related cards. I can look at the cards and “see” the structure of what I need to do.

  • If I am writing a complex document,
    I will see the document organization, and I can proceed to writing an outline. But usually, I’m in a hurry and I just write the document. Once it is off via email, I throw the cards into recycling.
  • If I am organizing a project,
    I can distill next actions for the project and who to delegate what actions to. This goes into OneNote and then the cards into recycling.

Rough Organizing: How does it save time? 

I find that rough organizing makes writing happen faster. Instead of free writing, then editing, the refactoring the writing. I can see the big elements that need to be covered, organize them in a sensible sequence, and then proceed to writing.

Time is saved because:

  • Ideas jump from 3×5 cards into a computer, in a much more organized fashion than using other writing tools (mind maps, outlines, detailed note cards, Scrivener, etc.).
  • Rewriting is dramatically cut down. The 3×5 card/ideas … are the floors, walls, and ceilings of my writing. It has always been hard for me to go from a writing project idea, to an outline. But with a mind sweep of 3×5 card ideas, to framing in an argument, is … easy. Perhaps I am just writing an outline, by writing the individual ideas without organization, and then organizing them after they are all out. Whatever … works.
  • It is much easier to make writing flow, when one arranges the stepping stones thoughts travel across. And my personal writing nemesis, the creative “leap” (leaving readers behind), has all but vanished since I’ve employed rough organizing.
  • I save time because I write modularly. I’ll make a first pass at a document. Get the ideas framed in, use the document. Then, I find later I’m building out the document and repurposing it for other tasks. Getting feedback from colleagues, to put up drywall, paint, and sometimes, even decorate rooms.
  • I save time because I no longer experience writer’s block.

Great Post on Evernote as Trusted System

Michael Keithley has a great post for those who want to use Evernote as their trusted system. Covers all the basics in just over a page.

Click here to see RestartGTD’s 30+ posts on Evernote.

Bill Meade

GTD of Fear at Work

Quick note on the GTD of fear at work:

I recently started a new job. A dream job. But all dreams come with some crazy, and some weird (C&W). The C&W in the new job was extreme time pressure. This post is my observations on what extreme time pressure and the ensuing fear did to my use of GTD. Or better, what my use of GTD did to my productivity under extreme time pressure + fear.

  1. The biggest positive of this experience was that GTD put me in a focussed frame of mind. There was no possibility of having a mind-like-water when I was desperately behind. Ready for anything? I was barely able to keep up with meetings tomorrow.

    But, … GTD did allow me to develop an attitude towards worry = that worry was a complete waste of time. Being afraid, and resolving to not worry about it. I focused on doing good work, and living or dying based on the good work. This turned out to be an ace that I can keep. I’ve been able to re-use the “We are data scientists, all we can do is good work. And we will live or die based on doing good work.” and so far, good work has produced nothing but breakthroughs. And, …

    I don’t miss the time spent worrying. :-)

  2. I’ve heard about trotting horses that you train them to swing right and left legs together, and then very gradually, you train them to speed up with the trotting gait. If you push them to faster than their training can support, the stop trotting and gallop. This slows the horses down.

    Fear at work pushes my use of my trusted system, to the point where I stop using it. And like trotter horses, I begin to gallop with stream of consciousness organization. And I slow down.

    When I go from trotting with my trusted system, to galloping without it. I’m off the GTD wagon. :-(

    I find that I have to budget time to focus on organizing all the information pouring in. Budget time to refactor and build-out my trusted system towards new challenges. But because of the time pressure, I have to sneak trusted system building into time cracks of the day.

    This is the sentence we GTD users bring upon ourselves. Raising productivity, taking on more, getting to the point of galloping. Then, refactoring and refining. Over time, responsibilities increase, and the refactoring of the trusted system never gets easy. It just works. No guarantee trusted system refinement will be easy.

  3. Looking back on the past 3.5 months, I wonder if the focus GTD has brought, or the ability to put aside fear and worry, has made me more sensitive to patterns. Patterns have been leaping to mind. For example:

    (a) A common pattern of our customer sales cycle.
    (b) The repeated pattern of co-workers under pressure.
    (c) The validation of my “radar” that sees future problems … far in advance

Perhaps there is a self-induced “Hawthorne effect” for GTD people in struggling to keep work life functioning smoothly from a trusted system. Whatever the source, GTD has stood me through.

bill meade

Evernote Conference 2014: Top 5 Benefits for GTD Users

Evernote_Conference

Introduction

Evernote had their fourth annual conference this week. A recap of Day 1, was posted by Evernote, but Day 2, and Day 3, did not make the blog. I watched from afar, underwhelmed at what the technology press were able to wring out of the conference as news. but there are a few big benefits for GETTING THINGS DONE users:

  1. The biggest benefit I’ve identified is that Evernote’s monthly upload quota has been raised from 1 gigabyte per month, to 4.
    IAccount_Info saw this in my account this week. But it was not mentioned at the Evernote conference. Looking around the web it appears that you can opt in to Evernote’s new web template, and that is what causes the bump. There is confusion about this on Evernote’s forums. It looks like trying the new web form explains the increased upload.
  2. So, Evernote has a new web form.
    Fullscreen_2014_10_03__8_48_PMAnd if you opt in, you get 4 GB of upload per month! To see the form and get the upload quota bump:
    Step 1: Log in to Evernote.com via a web browser
    Step 2: When you see a dialog box that says “Try the new Evernote Web?” click yes.
    The new web form is nice, and uncluttered. But, is not as fluid as 3×5 cards. :-(
  3. “Work chat” client built into the base Evernote application. IEvernote_Goes_Collaborative_with_Work_Chat_-_Evernote_Blogt must suck to be the product manager for Office 2013. EVERYONE on the planet is trying to kill email. Evernote, Slack, Asana (see post) and one would have to remember Google WAVE, are all attacking email. This is not likely to have a big GTD impact soon. But, it may be a big deal to GTDers before long. We tend to over predict impacts of new technology in the short run, and under predict them in the long run. I can imagine David Allen smiling at this news. He has chosen to focus on the logic of work, and fastidiously avoided entangling alliances with electronic technologies. I wonder if Work Chat will be exclusively focused on Evernote Business users, or if we individual GTDers will gain workflow advantages as well.
  4. Evernote API. I’ve been waiting for Evernote’s API to build momentum for Evernote, in the way that Twitter’s and Facebook’s APIs launched them past competitors. But, the results have been slow and … goofy. But, API results are starting to happen. Go to Postach.io, and you can see how you can blog from inside Evernote, by creating a note, and then tagging it with “published”
    Postach_io___Collect_and_share_from_all_your_favourite_apps__like_Evernote_and_Dropbox_Imagine a project story board that is organized as a blog. Every day, the post is updated and refined, so everyone can see where the project is. Hmmmm. Evernote API is getting warmer this year. But, when you check the Evernote App Center, no killer apps … yet.
  5. And finally, the last big lesson from Evernote’s conference this year, is that … getting things done is still in our hands. The conference was a blizzard of individual people, showing how they use Evernote to get things done. Using your mind efficiently and effectively is still THE GAME. Thinking drives work to completion. And while electronic tools help thinking, especially, collaborative thinking, they are not yet impressing anyone generative thought. Evernote also announced an effort to build AI into Evernote. AI by the way means “Augmented Intelligence” not artificial intelligence.
    Evernote_Conference__Day_1_Recap_-_Evernote_Blog

I wish GTD had a tool that aided project thinking the way that spreadsheets and databases aid analytical thinking. But .. not. Getting Things Done for the foreseeable future remains an act of will, to think.

bill meade

Getting Started with GTD: The 2 Minute Rule

KindleiMac27_-_Getting_Things_Done__The_Art_of_Stress-Free_Productivity

Source: GETTING THINGS DONE page 34

What is it?

An execution step set smack in the middle of defining next actions. This is an exception to David Allen’s rule that doing work be separated from processing the inbox. If the work is small (<2 minutes) you do it upon definition.

How does it work?

When processing items out of your inbox, you ask yourself “Will it take less than 2 minutes?” and if so, then you do it. But …

There are A LOT of recurring tasks that don’t come out of our inboxes. For example some come out of litter boxes:

  • Cleaning the cat litter every morning
  • Squeegeeing the shower when done

And the productive GTDer will apply the 2 minute rule upon recognizing these tasks. Even if s/he does not like the task. This takes discipline only until you’ve built a track record of following through. Conversation with self: “Cat box need cleaning. Just do it! Ugh, I HATE CLEANING THE CAT BOX. Yeah, it has killed you for the 31 days in the last month you’ve done it every day. Just do it. Well, OK.”

What are the benefits?

  • Encouragement: when you mow down a bunch of small tasks, it pulls a lot off your mind, and builds energy.
  • Economy: When the task is small, it is more effort to make it into a project than to just do, and be done.
  • Implementation ease: If you can do nothing else in GTD, you can implement the 2 minute rule.

What is the strategy?

Avoiding a trusted system full of minutia. Organized minutia is not exciting to work on, is an energy suck to set up, and a repeat-energy suck to close out.

What are the objections?

  • But if I don’t do it, my spouse will do it.

True with the cat litter and squeegeeing, false with every other two minute task. But please note, that me procrastinating to make my spouse re-recognize a task, and do it, does not harmony make. Before marriage, flirtation. After marriage, negotiation. Harmony is negotiated.

  • Maybe I’ll feel like doing it later.

Aha! The “inventory theory” of motivation. The more you let pile up, the more motivated you will be. The flaw in this theory, is that the more that piles up, the less motivated we get. I knew someone once who checked himself into a mental hospital. When I found out I asked him “I’ve felt a lot of times like I was close to the edge. What is going over the edge like? And his response was “I had so much to do, I could not do anything. I sat on the couch for a week, and then realized I needed to check myself into a mental ward.”

David Allen has cast his lot with mowing down small tasks immediately to prevent work piling up. Cutting real work out of “stuff” is 1/2 the genius of “What is the next action” that got you into the 2 minute rule boat to begin with. Following through on 2 minute tasks is the other half.

  • But … but … I could delegate it!

Nice try, but sorry. Since the task can be done in <2 minutes, it is too much overhead to track, and it is too much overhead to delegate. Just do it.