Great ToDo list/Evernote article


Just read a VERY interesting blog post on  It is VERY interesting first, because of the blogger. Check this intro/address/job out:

Salvatore antirez Sanfilippo, programmer, Via F.Alaimo 2, 92023 Campobello di Licata (AG), Sicily, Italy.

Second reason for VERY interesting: the post is about how Salvatore does todo list (note, singular, just one todo list) in Evernote.

Salvatore antirez Sanfilippo TODO

I like this because:

  • It is simple
  • It is focused on a single note to keep track of
  • It synchronizes across computers transparently (use 4 computers daily, this is IMPORTANT)
  • It is simple, did I mention that?
  • It puts weekly reviews on a diet, a daily diet, … hmmm seems like this could be very powerful for the, ahem … GTD weekly review “challenged”

Try it, you’ll like it!

bill meade


Restarting GTD: The Bow Wave


I saw this great article on bulbous bowed ships a month or so ago. The key illustration in the article is of the natural bow wave of displacement hulls (green below), the bow wave of the submerged bulbous bow (blue line) and the resultant combined wave (red line).

Figure 1 – Source:

Bulbous bows reduce the drag on ships. The energy savings can be huge, like 500%. Since reading the article, I haven’t been able to stop reflecting on how GTD reduces drag … like a bulbous bow. Wait, stay with me now! And, I’ve been exploring analogies between how GTD works and how bulbous bows work. In this post, I’m going to explore how the analogy fits, and use the analogy to articulate some of the visceral sensations I’ve experienced in (re)starting GTD.


So what?

This analogy allows me to articulate some of the visceral sensations I experience when re/starting GTD. And, it was a stepping-stone for me to quantify component costs of organizing that I experience.

Visceral Sensations:

In the beginning I was disorganized. For example, my wife said “I have to have a door that I can close on Bill’s office, then, ‘it’ is OK.” This starting point is represented with the green line on Figure 1. As I implemented GTD I had a sense that the hills I was climbing, were flattening out (shift from green to blue in Figure 1). The bow wave became less steep. Work began to flow without drama, I was able to stop using todo lists. Crises slowed down, and then, for the most part, stopped. I developed a “situation awareness” of all my projects that allowed me to prioritize my time dynamically, and cut down dramatically on stress and energy drain from work.

Now the quantification part.  To try and put an equation around my experience, I set up costs of organization as follows:


Equation 1

Just for the sake of illustration, I’ll subjectively make up scores for these costs before I got on the GTD wagon. Assuming there are 2,000 working hours in the year, I would apportion the hours in each category as:


Now After:

My costs of organizing before GTD were substantially higher than they are now. My current costs of organization I would guess are as follows:


I admit this is an anecdotal comparison.  But let’s not forget the point, I’m trying to get a handle on how to articulate how GTD has freed up time and mental strain.

Back to visceral sensations:

My dominant visceral sensation from shifting to GTD was a sense of relief. Let’s compare before and after and see why:


Comparison 1

Table 4 displays each of these elements with my subjective sense of what happened.


Table 4

OK, so this comparison before and after GTD compares the green with the blue line. Before has lots of drag, after has a ton less drag, huge savings in time and energy and clarity. Actually, one of the hardest things to describe well about GTD, is the feeling you get as you calmly work through next actions and projects, and realize that you are catching up.

Read that sentence again!

How long has it been since you had the hope of being caught up? I’ve spent my adult life behind. But as you implant GTD and find the right mix of digital/paper/people/reading to keep you humming, you begin to have a glimmer of hope that you can get everything done. Viscerally what this feels like to me, is being under water, like 10 meters under water, and being short of breath.  You are down and you know you need to go up, you force yourself to be calm as you swim as fast as you can. At some point, you realize that you are going to make it to the surface before your air runs out. That point of realization, is what going from the green bow wave to the blue bow wave *feels* like.  As you implement GTD, you start down wave from the green line.  You begin to see light.

In my first cut at implementing GTD, this release sensation, and the feeling of being on top of my work for the first time in my adult life, was very powerful.  Almost intoxicating.  My wife said “Why are you so happy?” after the first week of GTD.  As I fall off the GTD wagon, and then get back on, the seeing light sensation is not as great.  But, it is still there.  After getting back on the wagon over December 2011, I’ve had a month of clear mind.

Even though I have a clear mind, I find that I am confronting many bad habits picked up in decades spent being behind.  For example, I find that when I think about prepping a class meeting for my quant methods undergrads, I automatically and instinctively panic, start feeling guilty for not having the prep done already (even though I haven’t had time to do it, guilt is free once it become part of habit).  So panic, fear, and guilt are there for many tasks I have to do.  But what I’m finding is that so is a quiet side of my mind.  A calm, confident side of my mind.  This calm/quiet/confident part of me over this past month, has taken the tasks away from my habitual panic, guilt, and fear side.  I find myself saying “Why am I feeling guilty about this, I have a ton of time to get this done.  Oh, and another idea I can put in that class…”

Seeing the light, having the hope of catching up, allows me to SPEND my time before the task, much more productively.  Instead of worrying, I’ve dropped the worry, I’ve shifted to reflection.  As I reflect on the class I need to teach, I find that I am able to use the information on where the minds of the students are, and develop smaller, more focused Excel exercises.  I am much more in touch with the students when I’m not self-criticizing about not being omniscient.

The blue line is hope.  The blue line is GTD flow.

What About The Red Line?

Here’s a refresher on Figure 1:

Figure 1 – Source:

I think the red line is a metaphor for what happens when ahem …, “a certain person” falls off the GTD wagon. Immediately, I ooops, … “they” become less efficient, “they” have a visceral sense of the bow wave of daily work, becoming steeper. This kicks off panic. Panic decreases clarity and increases self-criticism. In the face of chaos and criticism, interruptions become drop everything crises.

Speaking of crises, how does one’s boss know to walk in during panic chaos and self-criticism moments? “Whoops” the person has another “suppository project.” Drop EVERYTHING NOW!


When you implement GTD, you have many visceral responses. Because GTD works on both subconscious and conscious levels, these visceral sensations are important signals. Signals that you are making progress. Signals that you may be back sliding. When you get into GTD work flow, you have a sense of stress relief, a sense of time slowing down, a sense of clarity of mind, these are good. All nourishing to, … mind-like-water.

However, I find that some people I help implement GTD, respond to these positive visceral sensations, with a lot of self criticism. Self criticism as you implement GTD drives you from the blue or red curve, back to the green curve. Exhausting. That is what falling off the GTD wagon fells like.

I hear questions like “I thrive on chaos. What will I do if I don’t have chaos in my life to thrive on?” These can really drag over-thinkers to the green bow wave in a hurry. Remember, if you can’t get everything done, the most likely cause is that you are not organized enough. When you get organized enough, you surf down from the green bow wave, to red, and if you buckle down, to the blue. You can feel it. You will feel it, just focus, breathe, and organize. When you panic, organize more, and then get back on the wagon.

bill meade

Restarting GTD: Sleep Hygiene


In the undead-GTD-odessy that was 2011 for me, I learned a big lesson about sleep.  A friend recommended INNER PRODUCTIVITY to me and I devoured the first three chapters.  On reflecting why I was so ill at ease, using the tools in the book, I came to the realization that I was just … exhausted.

Having come across William Dement’s THE PROMISE OF SLEEP at a used book store, and having purchased it, I resolved to start reading about sleep.  The top 10 resulting implications about sleep and GTD:

  • If you have sleep debt (yes, your brain keeps track) monkey mind is A LOT more likely to strike, … and become your default mode.
  • Sleep debt kills.  Specifically, Dement claims more teens die from falling asleep at the wheel than from being drunk.
  • Alcohol and sleep deprivation are a deadly combination.  Dement claims that most teen drinking deaths are kids falling asleep at the wheel after drinking.
  • It is OK to ask your doctor for sleeping pills for those nights where the boss is a jerk, the admin is incompetent, and you know that you are not going to be able shut an eye until a randomly selected moment 5 minutes before you need to wake up.  Sleeping pills picked up an indelible stigma in the 1960s.  Read Dement’s book, then make the “Dement deal” with your doctor that you’ll get 30 pills and you won’t refill the prescription without an appointment to talk about how you used the pills.  You’ll use about 3 pills in 3 or 4 months. Not every night, just the nights you must wake up refreshed.
  • Look around.  If you are suffering sleep deprivation, there is someone in your immediate contacts, who is suffering more.  My example, I had a student, one of the brightest I’ve ever had, who was missing class, who I almost ran into on the way to the final exam, because he made a poor driving decision.  This poor guy had sleep apnea even though he is a scholarship soccer mid fielder. Skinny as a rail.  The opposite of Jabba the Hut.  Anyways, when you encourage one of your more sleep deprived colleagues to get a sleep study done, they come back to you and say “It is $5,000 and my insurance won’t cover it.”  
    • *Note* An automatic adjusting CPAP machine is $500.  The only reason that sleep studies are the $5K sheep in the throat of the snake of buying a $500 sleep machine, is that hospitals have learned that they can extort $5K from insurance companies at will.
    • How can this be?  Because insurance companies have learned that the pain in the butt nature of sleep studies creates better than even odds that insurance customers won’t do a sleep study, even if the sleep study is covered.
    • Welcome to American health care where the lawyers don’t care, the administrators don’t care, and the doctors can’t afford the emotional space care. Interlocking incompetence.  Ridiculous.
  • If you put sleep first, the sun will still come up in the morning.  Everything gets done.  If you are doing GTD, everything more than gets done.  But you need to discipline yourself to put your brain’s well-being first.  Nothing else can happen if you are not taking care of the cabbage.
  • Having lost sleep, you reach the panic stage of stack overflow a lot sooner than when you are rested.  I think doing a weekly review while you are tired is a big mistake.  You can’t trust yourself when you are stupid.  Every 24 hours of sleep you loose cuts your IQ by a lot, like by 25% to 50%.
  • Project planning must be done while you are rested.  If you get that “I can just cram this planning in in the 20 minutes I have” point, you are past done.  When you hear yourself say “I can cram…” it is time to put the planning down until you can come back with your mind intact.
  • David Allen talks a lot in GTD about deciding what you do based on energy.  If you go into the day with low energy, then you are only going to be able to do clerical tasks competently.  You need to be caught up on your sleep debt to do the important but not urgent tasks.
  • When you put sleep first, the people around you somehow magically stop freaking out, and compensate to fill in the gaps that you probably think would cause catastrophe.  I don’t think sleep is safe to talk about at work.  Silence is success.  But, it has been my experience that when you realize your real limits, and start acting within them, it all works out.  Even if you are working for the 4th worst boss you’ve ever had.

Sleep, can’t live, love, or flourish without it.  Sleep is GTD infrastructure.