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

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

Getting Things Done: Reviewing GTD in a complicated organizing program

Evernote_Premium

Source: PixelLight.com

Introduction

I have an artist friend, Mark VanderSys

Better_Light_2011_Owners_Conference_Report

Source: BetterLight.com (2/3 down the page)

who runs a small, extremely high-touch graphics business: PixelLight.com. By extremely high-touch I mean: gigapixel pictures with digital scan backs, heavily customized web sites, and seemingly impossible pictures without parallax (i.e., the entire width of the picture is taken at a perfect 90 degree angle to the subject) and …

Better_Light_2011_Owners_Conference_Report

extremely clean low-retouch photography

Architecture_-_pixellight

New Addition:
The picture at the top of this post is an un-retouched image taken of objects spinning. It was taken with a BetterLight.com digital scan back in a standard 4×5 industrial bellows camera, Mark gave a tutorial at BetterLight where he showed step by step how the picture was taken. Click here for the magic pixie dust demo via an .mov file that shows the process.

Mark and I have been implementing Getting Things Done together for several years. Mark uses a customer requirements planning program, Asana.com, to organize, share, and track his work. Mark and I just spent two hours looking over his implementation of Asana, and reflecting on how GTD lives in very complicated, very powerful systems like Asana.

Lessons Learned

  • Using Skype to share screens is easy!
    1. Get your Skype session going.
    2. Click on the plus thought bubble at the bottom of the screen
    Skype3. Click share screen in the pop up:
    Fullscreen_2014_09_27__3_49_PM4. Continue your conversation while sharing your screen!
  • Complexity of the tool, Asana, Omni-Focus, whatever, expands like a gas to fill your energy and memory, leading to feelings of being overwhelmed. And,
  • … complexity crowds GTD logic out of your mind.
  • When GTD gets crowded out by a tool, we naturally stop managing self-expectations. You are now standing at the top of the GTD off-ramp.

How to implement a new program

  • Get some work into the system. Don’t worry be crappy.
  • Get to know the system, really try to make it work. But, relax. Rome was not built in day.
  • When you get frustrated, talk to your GTD buddy. Getting started with GTD is much easier when you have a buddy. Mark VanderSys is my GTD buddy.

What your GTD buddy will tell you:

  • Slow down.  Rome was not built in a day.
  • Go back to basics. Now that you know a bit about Asana (or OmniFocus, or whatever) it is time to re-read the first three chapters of Getting Things Done. As you go through the chapters s-l-o-w-l-y, write ideas on 3×5 cards, page by page through chapters 1 through 3.
  • Focus on how the program allows each of GTD’s tools to be implemented. Make notes of next actions for doing GTD more fully.

Organizing Work with Hierarchy … and in an Intertwingled World

Amazon_com__Intertwingled__Information_Changes_Everything_eBook__Peter_Morville__Kindle_Store

 

Source: Preface Intertwingled

 

  • Organizing tools allow different kinds of organization. In particular, different kinds of project-next action relationships.
    • Paper
      … with a next action focus, manila folders, creates an implicit one-to-many work hierarchy. One project, one manila folder, and inside many next actions. All the next actions relate only to the project indicated by the folder’s name.  
    • Outline tools
      … like OmniFocus (built around OmniOutliner), Evernote, and OneNote use an implicit one-to-many work hierarchy. That is, you start with a project, and then create N next actions to complete the project. But advanced tools like OmniFocus go a bit further. Next actions can relate not only to projects in a hierarchical way. Next actions can also relate to contexts. So the simple one-to-many hierarchy of project and actions, begins to fray. GTDers are coached to think of projects and contexts as a kind of matrix organization structure, and then next actions live at the intersection of project and context.
    • CRM (Customer Requirements Management)
      … systems like ASANA however, are not limited to one-to-many work hierarchy. Yes, you can create a project and then a task underneath the project. But in addition, Asana tasks can be related explicitly to multiple projects.

      This is a many-to-many link which CRM systems have evolved so that a next action can be tracked in relation to many projects. With many-to-many relationships, CRM allow GTDers to use “more colors of the rainbow” by tracking multiple projects that a next action relates to, but CRM systems shatter top-down one-to-many work hierarchy that a GTD person is used to seeing, and substitute an extra step of running queries, to see the full status of a next action against its projects. Very disorienting … at first.

  • Ugh, I’m feeling scared. Overwhelmed, dizzy. What can I do if I need to use a CRM system to implement GTD in my intertwingled life?
    • Go back up to what your GTD buddy told you above:
      Add_New_Post_‹_RestartGTD_—_WordPress
    • Just be aware of what the electronic system can do. And use GTD within that electronic system, as fully as you can. Don’t force yourself to use too much complexity.
    • Wait. Over time, as you keep your eye on GTD inside the system, you’ll have ideas. For example, you might have the idea in Asana, of doing a query that shows you the next actions in the system, that will move the most projects forward. Might be useful to try!
    • Experiment. Let these ideas come, and then experiment with them.

Thanks Mark VanderSys for a fun afternoon of GTD buddy check in!

bill meade

What is GTD? RestartGTD’s GETTING THINGS DONE technology notable

NotableGTD01_pdf__page_1_of_2_

Introduction

I once worked in Hewlett-Packard future-products-marketing. HP had a tradition of preparing single piece of paper, with writing on both sides, that answered five questions, and calling these documents “Technology Notables.” And while I was at HP, I fell in love with the format.

The technology notable five questions are:

  • What is it?
  • How does it work?
  • What are the benefits?
  • What is the strategy?
  • What are the objections?

Technology notables translate product features, into benefits for customers. Writing notables was a hated job, so I volunteered. And discovered the power of a simple format, to make complex features into understandable benefits.

I don’t know why I haven’t written a GETTING THINGS DONE notable until now. I just had the idea this morning after 3.5 years of writing RestartGTD.com. But, whatever, NotableGTD01.pdf draft 1 is now downloadable.

For GTD evangelists reading RestartGTD.com, this is a document that is intended to be an skull-piercing shell. That is, you can send this to your hardened, cynical, anti-GTD friends who need GTD, but don’t want to listen to you talk about GTD. And, … some of your friends may come around.

Cynics are frustrated idealists. The key to overcoming cynicism is to penetrate the skull and reach down to whatever embers of idealism remain, and to feed the embers oxygen in the form of hope.

When I was at HP, I knew that a technology notable was dialed in once I began to get “Thank you!” voice mails from sales people around the world. Always after they had briefed themselves on a technology notable for a sales call, and then closed a sale at the expense of a competitor. Not a bad result for a Ph.D. in marketing! :-)

——————————————————————————————-

 RestartGTD.com Uglified HTML Version. Click for pretty PDF

Technology Notable      

——————————————————————————————-

What is IT?

A way of looking at your life through the lens of an organization system that accepts and processes work. Developed over 40 years by David Allen in his book Getting Things Done.

——————————————————————————————-

How does IT WORK?

  • By applying pre-processing rules:
  • Is there an action needed? If so, what is the next physical thing that needs doing?
  • One-Idea-One Piece of Paper.
  • If you can do it in 2 minutes, just do it.
  • Plan work naturally.
  • Review work weekly.
  • By separating processing work, from doing work:
    Step 1: Get your work into your inbox … everything.
    Step 2: Take one piece of work out of your inbox and process it based on actionability.
    Step 3: Once all work has been processed, decide what to do next.
  • By using simple infrastructure tools: Inbox, Calendar, Reference Filing, Project Files, Contexts.

TrustedSystem03.pptx-5.jpg

——————————————————————————————-

What are the benefits?

Release of Mental Stress: Having all open-loops processed into project actions, reference files, recycle bin takes an enormous load off your mind. You recover memory until now, wasted with “not forgetting.” And, worry about forgetting stops, adding more mental power. An emergency department doctor who implemented GTD said “I can’t believe how much less stress I’m feeling.” An MBA student who implemented GTD said “I’m not dreaming about work any more.”

Increasing Quality and Quantity of Results … With Reduced Stress: GTD’s system is a container that pre-processes work focusing on actions. GTD distills work to its essence, clarifies tasks, and allows your mind to fully “get around” every work item. Time you spend worrying vanishes, and the mental energy you recover by not worrying and “not forgetting,” shifts via the GTD invisible hand, into closing out projects. You get more done. A lot more if you are prone to over-thinking, and worrying. A spouse of GTD implementer said “Why are you so happy?” More results at less stress will put a GTD smile on your face too.

Death to Guilt: Generalized guilt about work, is the quiet desperation of our time. You achieve the American dream, house, mortgage, cars, kids in evil-and-anti-family team sports (I may be a little bitter about team sports). And you are likely to feel constant guilt over being pulled in many directions. GTD cuts guilt, allowing you to savor blessings, and begin to consciously budget more your life.

——————————————————————————————-

What is the strategy?

To build an organizing system that allows you to maximize your brain. GTD gets your unconscious into the game of processing work. If you are disorganized, your unconscious burns enormous work energy, the unconscious is 90% of our cognitive processing power. And the unconscious is obsessive about what it does: put a picture in front of your eyes and the unconscious facial recognition neurons spin up and fire-fire-fire until the picture is out of view. Have an important piece of work come into your life that you don’t process and put in its proper place, and your unconscious will be on you, just before you go to sleep, to review all the things you can’t forget. Do you enjoy dreaming about work? If not, develop a GTD system, and like the MBA student, you’ll say “I’m dreaming again.”

——————————————————————————————-

What are the Objections?

  • I can’t implement GTD.

True, but irrelevant.[1] Everyone, even unemployed people, fail in implementing GTD. I started RestartGTD.com because GTD success means starting, falling off the wagon, then restarting GTD.

The real question is “What is in GTD that I could implement, that would make my work life much better?” And that system for most people is reference filing in Evernote. Full instructions here.

  • I’ve tried other organizing systems, they did not work, so GTD can’t work.

This is fear talking. “I’ve tried B, so A can’t work.” May be convincing emotionally, but not logically. If you really take a look at Getting Things Done (Chapters 1 – 3), you will find that you are using lots of GTD, successfully, right now. Probably, the previous systems you have tried, are working. But, because you have not processed your work all the way to the edges (including personal tasks as well as occupational), you have not experienced the benefits of your subconscious letting go of worry and letting go of “not forgetting.” GTD for you is likely to put in place one or two keystone infrastructure pieces (Evernote reference filing, in my case), and a couple new skills (Next actions, and project lists). C’mon, you in the game, and … you are almost there!

  • Implementing GTD, or reference filing, or the 2-minute-rule will take too much time and I’ll fall behind.

Gilb’s law is that there is always a way to measure, that is superior to not measuring at all. I think “Allen’s law” should be that: “There is always a way to organize, that is superior to organizing unsystematically.” If you can just get the pile of your stuff, processed into “projects” and “other, “ you increase efficiency and effectiveness enough to pay back initial time costs, in one week! After one week you’ll be at break even. Every week after that, you’ll be at a >1 multiple. Productivity increasing over the long term should be the goal.

Validation Test: How many projects are you working on right now? Take a second and think. Fix a number in your head before reading more. OK, got your number? Double it just to be conservative. Now compute 300 – [2x your number]. The average GTD newbie has 300 projects. 300-[2x your number] = worry, guilt, not forgetting and procrastination. Just process all those 300-[2x your number] projects and you’ll feel a lift, a lightness of knowing what is going on. And you will gain a giddy GTD smile.

[1] If you can implement nothing else from GTD, you can implement asking yourself “What is the next action?” from work events, and using the 2-minute-rule. Which is, if you can do it in two minutes, just do it.

bill

RestartGTD with Evernote Clearly

I’ve Tried Evernote … but I don’t use it

OK, it is possible that I’ve raved about Evernote. Perhaps you installed Evernote and paid for an account based on my recommendation or a step-by-step. But, then … you never reached critical mass with Evernote. And your Evernote account has gone dormant. And, you’ve fallen off the GTD wagon. If so …

This post is for you.

The stumbling block with Evernote is that it comes in two pieces: (1) A database piece that takes care of reference filing, and (2) a web-browser-plug-in that takes care of sweeping all worthwhile internet content into your reference files.

Most people install the database and are so tired after getting their minds around yet-another-software-install, that they don’t go “ALL THE WAY” to having the on-ramp, the web-browser piece, installed. The on-ramp never gets installed, so the database never builds.

If this is you, follow these steps to rejuvenate your Evernote (reference filing) experience.

Evernote_Clearly___Evernote

  • Click “Download for Chrome” or if you are using Safari, you can not install Evernote Clearly. You have to use some other browser. For instance Chrome or Firefox.
  • Or if you are using FireFox you can click “Download for Firefox” like this:

Evernote_Clearly___Evernote

  • Or, if you are using Internet Explorer for Windows, you are in the same boat as Safari users. Sorry. You have to use Chrome, Opera, or Firefox.

Whether you use Chrome or Firefox on Mac or PC, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to install Evernote Clearly into your browser.

Click the download link and take the defaults to the questions that pop up, and then you should see a Luxo Lamp icon in your Mac or PC browser. Look for something like this:

Presentation1

  • Now, you have Clearly downloaded and installed. Let’s go to the world’s ugliest web page: PCMag.com. When you arrive the page will look something like this:

Technology_Product_Reviews__News__Prices___Downloads___PCMag_com___PC_Magazine

Source: www.pcmag.com = Clutterville in the Firefox web browser

Now, either wait, click the the escape key, or click the circled X in the “Signup now….” pop up box. to bring the web page to the foreground of your browser. Now you’ll see this:

Technology_Product_Reviews__News__Prices___Downloads___PCMag_com___PC_Magazine

Source: www.pcmag.com in Firefox

Next, find an article like “AMAZON FIRE PHONE NOW ONLY 99 CENTS” and click on it. If you need help finding the article, follow the red arrow here:

Technology_Product_Reviews__News__Prices___Downloads___PCMag_com___PC_Magazine

Source: www.pcmag.com in Firefox

When the article comes up with all its fireworks of flash (thank you IBM!), it will look like this:

Amazon_Fire_Phone_Now_Only_99_Cents___News___Opinion___PCMag_com

Source: www.pcmag.com in Firefox

Now, click on the Luxo Lamp icon in your browser. and you will see this:

Amazon_Fire_Phone_Now_Only_99_Cents___News___Opinion___PCMag_com

Source: www.pcmag.com in Firefox, via Evernote Clearly

No flash advertisements. No advertisements of any kind. Just the pictures from the core of the article, and the text. Next, click the Elephant icon. This will save the article into your Evernote database. Don’t worry, you can delete it easily, once you see it in Evernote.

Anyway, when you click on the Elephant icon you will be asked for your Evernote username and password. So get those out if you don’t have them handy, and then fill in the dialog box. The dialog looks like this:

Fullscreen_2014_09_08__7_48_PM

Enter your user name and password. If you have Evernote’s two factor authentication turned on, then you’ll see this additional prompt:

Fullscreen_2014_09_08__7_51_PM

And you just need to fill in the numbers and click “Continue” and then your screen will look like this:

Amazon_Fire_Phone_Now_Only_99_Cents___News___Opinion___PCMag_com

Where now we can have some fun. Click on the highlighter icon underneath the elephant icon at top right. Then, select the title of the article. Your page will look like this:

Amazon_Fire_Phone_Now_Only_99_Cents___News___Opinion___PCMag_com

And if you open Evernote, and then synchronize it with your cloud database, the note will look like this:

Evernote_Premium

And, the note will be editable!

You can use clearly to read notes, highlight them, and after you add new highlights, Evernote Clearly will re-synchronize the new highlights into the note in your Evernote database. Cool!

But … it gets better!

Not only can you strip annoyances from the web page, you can also set the default font size, and page style of the pages you read. To do this, click once on the “Aa” icon at middle right of the Clearly-processed web page:

Fullscreen_2014_09_08__8_03_PM

You can pick the page style from “Newsprint” or “Notable” or “Night Owl” or “Custom” and the fonts as “Small” or “Medium” or “Large” and …

if you mistakenly highlight a passage (Sign of Genius!) you can mouse over the passage and a small circled x will appear that you can click to delete the highlighting. Here is large font size, newsprint, with the circled x appearing on “fire-sale price of 99 cents.”

Fullscreen_2014_09_08__8_07_PM

To highlight notes already in Evernote, select the text and if you are on a mac, type Ctrl + Command + H. If you are on a PC type Ctrl + Shift + H.

Evernote.com is constantly working on the highlighting to make it smarter. I’m hoping before long we will be able to highlight in multiple colors. And, that we will be able to insert sticky notes on top of the web pages we capture.

RestartGTD

Take the trouble to get Evernote Clearly working, and you will go a long way to restarting your Evernote GTD use. It is SO EASY to capture web pages in Evernote. Then, when you need to send a friend a link, you open Evernote on your computer, type in the two words that will search out the web page you are looking for, and then click the saved link on the page. The saved link is available in the note when you are not editing the note.

Evernote_Premium_and_Add_New_Post_‹_RestartGTD_—_WordPress

Click on the note at left, then click on the link that pops up over the top of the note. This will open the original web page, so you can see the link is still working. Then copy the link, and paste it into an email to your friend. Or tweet. Or Facebook post.

Once you have the most vital source of information (the web) functioning as an on-ramp for your Evernote database, I defy you to not use Evernote. And once you are using Evernote, your reference filing will get better. Better to the point where you are doing GTD reference filing.

Because reference filing is a capstone GTD skill. Evernote will pull you back into GTD and hold you there. Hold you because it is easier to do reference filing in Evernote, than to live in a blizzard of paper, browser book marks, and desk clutter.

Number 1 Reason GTDers Don’t Use Evernote … after installing Evernote

False Start in Swimming Competition
S
ource: Corbis

TLDR:

You can do both GTD and Evernote if:

  • You read only chapters 1-3 of GTD, then
  • implement Evernote as your reference filing system,
  • don’t forget to install three Evernote add ons,
  • be well rested when you work (don’t sleep walk) and
  • focus on doing one new GTD skill (reference filing) well, before adding others.

If you don’t do all these steps, you … will … fail and then likely stop using both GTD and Evernote. Failing does not have to happen.

/TLDR:

Reason #1: Too Many Changes At Once

The only reason for time is so everything doesn't happen at once.
- Albert Einstein

OK, you’ve picked up GETTING THINGS DONE (GTD) and you read the first three chapters. You stopped, considered my explicit instructions (see step 4) not to read the rest of the book for a year. In fact, when I give away GTD (I’ve given away over 50 copies so far) I physically cut the binding at chapter 4, and then do not give the last part of the book … until a year later. iPhoto

But most people do not buy defaced copies of GTD, or cut their books. So, they get excited in the first three chapters, and with boundless (temporary) energy, read the rest of the book. Embarking on a mission to change years of organizing habits, in three days. Prepare thine head … to be pulled off.

Even unemployed people can’t implement GTD in three days, a week, or even a month. I’ve seen them try. Changing everything at once is too much “shaking the jello.”

For example:

  • Gathering work into a reduced number of  inboxes
    =new jello … shaking.
  • pre-processing inboxes without doing the work simultaneously
    =new jello … shaking.
  • Setting up separate project and reference folders
    =new jello … shaking.
  • And in the middle of all this shaking GTD jello, you are becoming tired, overwhelmed while excited, so you are basically sleep walking, while continuing to read and continuing to decide to shake more jello because David Allen has given you hope.
  • Hope is something you have not had about organizing your work in say, 3 years. Hope at this point, inebriates.
  • So, you set up an Evernote account, downloaded Evernote, install Evernote, check that Evernote works. Evernote is (sleep walking) working!

But, implementing GTD is such an overwhelming experience, after you get Evernote installed and running, you sleep-walk back to read GTD chapters 4-13. More jello!!!

Then you take a break. Spontaneously your hope from reading GTD, begins to dissolve in guilt. Wait, what?

Trouble with the GTD editor. 

Captain Awkward calls it JerkBrain. I think of it as my internal editor. In THE WAR OF ART, Steven Pressfield calls it resistance, whatever you call it. As soon as you learn some of the tools of GTD, something inside your head will begin to fight against you implementing any of the tools of GTD. An this internal counter-GTD force, will begin piling up guilt in your mind.

A growing sense of guilt, combines with growing exhaustion from trying to reorganize all organizing tools … at once. And it is inevitable. You are going to have to stop implementing GTD and rest. And once you rest, JerkBrain, internal GTD editor, RESISTANCE, whatever you call it, sees its job, as keeping you from going back to GTD, and doing more implementing. One force in your head wants to implement, the other wants you off GTD the wagon.

And in this subconscious battle zone, enters the thought of installing Evernote. Or, … OneNote, … OmniFocus, … Dropbox, … Google Drive, … Google Apps, … maybe even buying a ChromeBook, … whatever. On the left hand side of your head, you have a list of many new GTD tools to implement: inbox, project list, project folders, 2-minute-rule. And on the right hand side, you have a list of many applications programs and systems to implement.

The key to actually implementing GTD is concentration. Concentrate efforts on fully implementing one GTD aspect, an aspect that will get you a big enough payoff, to shut down JerkBrain/GTD editor/RESISTANCE. For me, the one big thing was reference filing.

But, when you are tired, overwhelmed, and barely back to GTD after a night of sleep, or a weekend of family, or the latest big-baby-drama in your life, the automatic thought about reference filing is:

“Reference filing, no big deal.”

This.

Is.

Wrong.

Reference filing, the green box in this image, is a keystone skill of GTD.

Snapshot-10412-1030-AM-2.png

Not a mote, reference filing is a board in your eye. A board because if you are going to make the switch to GTD, Step 1 is to get (currently) useless paper out of your face. Going to paperless reference filing with GTD is a HUGE payoff. You will be able to find information in 15 seconds, that you currently are too discouraged to even try to look for.

And once you can find all the paper that your brain knows you should be able to find. JerkBrain/GTD edtior/RESISTANCE will be shut up long enough, to let you get some work done. And, the work will go faster than you are used to, because you can actually bring together ALL the key information you know you should be able to find, and get quick wins.

Did I mention that reference filing is not trivial? Hope I remembered that!

Reference filing setup requires:

Reference filing is a HUGE challenge. But if you can implement Evernote for reference filing and suddenly have all your key information available, you will:

  • Clear your desk of paper (“So there JerkBrain!”)
  • Clear your office of file cabinets (“Hah GTD editor!”)
  • Allow you to find anything in your old paper files in 15 seconds (this is HUGE it allows your subconscious to trust your change to a new system where subconscious does not need to “not-forget” all your important historical materials).
  • Give you a quick win to overcome cynicism in yourself, and in your peers (it is much better to hear “Why are you so happy?” after a week from your spouse, than “You were all diarrhea mouth about GTD, but nothing has changed. What is up with that?”).
  • And set you up to be successful implementing later pieces of shaking GTD jello.

*Note* having an Evernote account, having Evernote installed, and having Evernote running, is not having an Evernote reference filing system.

Installing Evernote while sleep-walking makes you miss three key components of Evernote’s dominant design.

  1. Evernote Web Clipper.
  2. Evernote Clearly. And
  3. Evernote Skitch.

Without all three of these tools your GTD system will leak all your internet information. As the internet is now the largest source of reference materials, this omission is sin. One byte of data about this …

A Clearly Example:

Last weekend I helped a friend who had bought Evernote Pro based on an enthusiastic Evernote demonstration two years ago. But after installing, she did not use Evernote. When I reviewed her Evernote installation, Web Clipper, Clearly, and Skitch, were not installed. So, we installed them  (2 minutes) and then I pointed her to PC Magazine (single most cluttered web site on the internet) and demonstrated Web Clipper and Clearly. When she saw that in one click:

– she could strip all clutter and advertising from web pages, and
– she could highlight passages in web pages, and
– that the web pages automatically save into Evernote, and
– that Evernote automatically put documents in folders where they are wanted,

she said:

“Clearly all by itself makes using Evernote worth it.”

Read that sentence again!

Summary:

I’ve heard that of all the people that attend the $800 GTD seminars, only about 17% actually successfully implement GTD. If there is an 83% failure rate implementing GTD, and in the middle of that failure there is this “Reference filing, no big deal!” trap where you run into:

– a ton of short term setup,
– need-for-un-wavering-attention,
– budgeting time to work while being well-rested, and
– significant costs,

There is no way you can reach Evernote critical mass. Heck, 83% of people don’t reach GTD critical mass! Changing one organizing habit at a time, is a TON of work. 83% of people succumb to JerkBrain/GTD editor/RESISTANCE.

So, if you want to implement GTD, plan on doing so part time. Budget mental resources in advance to confront JerkBrain/GTD editor/RESISTANCE. But most importantly plan to be patient. Plan to slow down.

And, did I mention, plan to slow down. Organization is a skill like personal training. You got fat over a long period of time. You will not get lean in 3 days. Your physical trainer will manage your expectations for you. But with GTD, you don’t have a personal trainer. You have to manage your own expectations.

Pick the one GTD tool that will give you the highest payoff, implement one tool well, and then move to the next tool.

GTD’s tool payoff precedence for me has been:

  1. Reference filing
  2. Getting a real desk (see Restart GTD’s best-selling-post: Perfect GTD Desk)
  3. Natural project management

Good luck! If you have questions, post them below this post. So far, this is the most read post on RestartGTD. Everyone has questions about reference filing and GTD. Everyone who starts implementing Evernote will run into a roadblock. Roadblocks are the keys to the masterpiece.

-bill

And these three tools take at least a year to master. After you implement these three, I deputize you to read chapters 4-13 in GTD. But, … not until then.

bill meade

In Box Zero Disease: A conversation from RestartGTD Part 4

Introduction:

This post is part 4 of a discussion that evolved out of the observation that when some GTDers get to InBox-Zero, they get sick immediately after.  “InBox-Zero-Disease” is the name we’ve developed for this.  The idea of coming up to, but not all the way through InBox-Zero, to avoid InBox-Zero disease sparked a discussion of self-reprogramming to avoid falling off the GTD wagon.

Dave Findlay’s words are in bold left justified.  Bill Meade’s responses are not-bold and are indented from left by one tab stop.  Hope you enjoy!

From: Bill Meade <bill@basicip.com>
Subject: Re: Thanks for blogging on Restart GTD
Date: November 2, 2012 3:33:54 PM PDT
To: Dave Findlay <david@findlay.id.au>

On Oct 30, 2012, at 6:18 PM, Dave Findlay <david@findlay.id.au> wrote:

Hi Bill,

Thanks for writing back! I wasn’t expecting a comprehensive reply with an essay like that. You’ve raised some interesting thoughts:

The thoughts come naturally from conversations and sharing.  I wish RestartGTD had more sharing (*hint* *hint*).  I love it when readers write in and ask questions (*hint* *hint*).  I don’t have great answers, but I’m willing to look stupid in order to move my GTD implementation forward.

– When you talk about “beating the world for traffic”, I think of crunchy blogs full of “top ten lists” and 400-word click-bait articles that don’t say anything. I’m so glad restartgtd isn’t one of those.

I’m glad that someone thinks it is *not* one of THOSE BLOGS!!!

– Great advice on avoiding the trigger while capturing most of the benefit. I’ll give that a go — an almost-there weekly review in good health is way better than an immaculate review and being unwell.

Getting to the cuttinge edge of “mind like water” has been a very slowly acquired skill for me.  I’m doing a two-step dance between my GTD infrastructure, and how my brain thinks.  Gradually, I’m evolving from a sporatic mind-like-water to episodes in GTD flow that are becoming longer.  GTD is re-programming that takes time.  I advise newbies to GTD to not read chapters 4-end of GTD.  Just to get the basic model, and then get reference filing under control.  I have not been able to reprogram all of my brain subsystems, at once.  So I think one GTD thing is enough to change at a time.

– What we would actually do once we arrived at panic-free work. That’s a fascinating insight. I’d always thought that “If only I could get all this finished …” but I wouldn’t have a clue what to do upon arriving at “finished”, due to the behind-as-normal phenomenon you mentioned. So, we’re conditioned in so many ways to strive for something (getting our work done), and also programmed to self-sabotage our efforts to attain it.

I could really feel the tension between getting my mind cleared, and then allowing old habits to kick in and derail GTD, when I first started trying to implement it.  I think our counter GTD habits are school-driven, work-driven, family-driven, competition-driven, to always be on, always having the distilled essence of our genius flow neatly and continuously from our mouths/fingers/pens/keyboards.  This perpetual trying harder gets in the way of an optimized evolutionary path of increasing organization.

Insidious! No wonder falling off the GTD bandwagon is so common — it’s like we have to get down deep and rewrite some of our internal scripts before we have a hope of staying on it for any length of time. This, then, might be the real work of sticking with GTD: rewriting the scripts that make you fall off (converting away from being a herd animal, like you mentioned).

*Ding* *ding* *ding* this is the kind of insights that I’m after!  Great observation Dave!!!

Yes, we should be talking on RestartGTD about:
• Identifying habits that run us off the GTD wagon.
• Ideas and techniques about how to re-program these habits (i.e., re-write the scripts).
• Philosophical approaches to re-programming.  NLP, wack-a-mole, whatever…

Not sure exactly how to do this, other than maybe to approach it obliquely by asking related questions until we reach the AHA! moment, or introducing ourselves to small GTD wins to prove it’s not so scary.

Stopping bad habits is one piece of the puzzle.  But I think also, that GTD people should be talking about the trial and error changes we make, and why our brains decide to, or not to, adopt the changes.

For example: I’ve talked before about my initial “cut over” from mess to GTD via putting my entire work and thought life into OmniFocus.  After a few days of having my entire world waiting for me when I sat down to my desk, I found that I was avoiding sitting down to my desk.  Then, relistening to GTD I *think* I heard Allen say “If you get too organized, your brain will refuse to use your system.”  But, I’ve not been able to put my finger on the page number.

Since then, I’ve evolved my GTD system by:

  • Cutting 100% back to 8.5×11 paper
  • Cutting 100% over to 3×5 cards
  • Dropping the use of contexts for task lists
  • Adding manila folders in “clumps” (i.e., the Target Totes where I keep related folders)
  • Falling REALLY HARD for Salvatore Sanfilippo’s daily, weekly, monthly, task tracking format which I added “eventually” to in lieu of a “someday mabye” bucket. And unlike Salvatore, I don’t use this format in Evernote, instead I’m using it in OmniFocus.

So, I’ve ended up with about a 70% electronic system.  My brain didn’t like 100% electronic 3 years ago, however, it is ok with my 70% electronic system today.  Over time I feel like my brain has aspects of a pendulum swinging first to 100% elctronic and then when it gets some experiece, swinging back to paper, then settling in to the right of middle.

Fitting new infrastructure tools into our GTD routine is a separate function from re-programming bad habits.

As for Task Zero … I’ve never been there. I’ll have to try it and see what happens, although having now framed it like this, observer bias will probably make it much less interesting.

As I said, I’ve had students email me after.  I have friends call me when they were approaching task-zero.  Both kinds of email ask me “What should I do.”  And I think the answer is reflect on what you are feeling mentally, and if you can, why.  This is a great skill taught in INNER PRODUCTIVITY in order to track down reasons for procrastination.  I think reflection *might* allow us to drill into why being caught up makes us uncomfortable.  And then, to what the source habits of the “always behind” mentality are.  This too, we should be talking about on RestartGTD.  But again, the conversation is too one sided.  Help me out anyone?  Please?

– Trying harder as a vestigial function. Haha! It’s true — and we’re in a great place when we realise “trying harder” to handle the constant load of inputs cannot be done. The firehose can’t be switched off, partly because so much stuff is open-ended. You get assigned a project, and nobody has defined what “finished” looks like, so you get all visionary, thinking “I could really go for it and create something world class with this project”, and in so doing we create extra inputs and agreements for ourselves.

In addition to finish-line uncertainty, I’m certain we have too many projects.  I know I do.  In GTD when I saw that the average person has 100 projects, I had a leap of recognition.  But killing projects before they can damage your schedule, energy, and mental work load is a skill I need.  Projects are just easier to accurately cull in retrospect once they have starved to death.

Then the lizard brain tries harder and quickly succumbs to overwhelm.

The lizard brain is the “Limbic system” which is at the top of the spinal cord.  It is the center of self knowledge and the center of emotion (I remember reading this but can’t think of the cite, forgive me please).  Our self knowledge increases reluctantly when we need to learn things about ourselves, that are upsetting.  Like “Why my wife divorced me.”  10 years later the realization “I was an asshole to her.”

Does some of this “upsetting=reluctant learning” apply to our understanding of GTD?

  • It can be upsetting when you realize how disorganized your life has been.
  • It can be upsetting to have to re-negotiate your identity not as a spazmodic participant in your own life, but as an active cause of your own life’s evolution.
  • It can be upsetting having to face up to negative criticisms “You would be awesome if you could ever get your mind under control!” we’ve had over our lives.  Especially when these criticisms are true.

– You talked about your next GTD challenge being to create a feedback mechanism to help you regulate the amount of work you handle (really, the volume of inputs you choose to address?).

In thinking about this for a couple days, I think there are two issues: First, having a closed loop feedback signal that indicates when I should turn off.  For example, not having enough time to exercise would be a good signal for me.  Not having enough time to entertain friends.  Not having time to spin down.  I’ve always taught my kids that “Meades need downtime every day.”  but I have not been practicing what I preach.

And in addition to time feedback.  I think I need a second feedback signal directly at “sources of escalation.” For example, jobs are always wringer-cranker-uppers.  I think I need a bright line in the sand agreement to shut down when the job escalates.

So, when I feel an escalation of stress and work (escalation and stress come hand in hand), I need to stop.  Rethink.  Move the fulcrum over.

Is work this kind of stressor for you Dave?

That’s tricky. I guess most people (men, especially) don’t find out they’re doing too much until their wife complains they’re never around, or their kids react/rebel, or they develop a chronic health condition. The only way I could think of to regulate that is indirectly, by putting some external speed-limiting measure in place, like the number of hours you choose to work. That might not create a quantifiable feedback signal (“work left over on Friday afternoon” isn’t useful once you’re tackling bigger projects, and several at a time), but it’d lead to intuitive regulation — over time either you have too much to do so you’re forced to cut back, or you feel like you’ve got extra capacity so you look for areas to expand in. I could be oversimplifying.

This is a great example.  I’ve always had jobs where I was home at the time the kids got out of school.  Then until after dinner when I went back to school to teach in the evening.  I could not have raised a small children while working at HP.  The norms of “be at your desk, always be in a meeting” were overpowering.

Right now, I’m working on never getting to the point where if Beth calls, I say “I’m sorry, can’t do that, too slammed.”  Beth called me on “playing the slammed card” a couple weeks ago, and it was way-useful for me to start attacking the pace at which I’m working.

– Feel free to post the email on your blog. It’d be interesting to see what comes of it. Feel free also to edit for brevity and flow as needed.

You are not the long winded one, … I am.  :-)

– There’s only one winery around here, and no Zinfandel that I’m aware of — but some of that is grown a little further south in the Granite Belt region around Stanthorpe. I’m not well versed on fine wines (coffee is my gourmet drug of choice), so you’d be welcome for a visit if you’re in the area. It’d be an education for me.

That is right, Zinfandel likes to be stressed and grow on rocks.  Gourmet coffee will work just fine!

Mel-bunn. Hehe, it should be renamed according to tech startup naming conventions: Melbn. Then we’d be pronouncing it right.

LOL thanks for the tip!

Thanks again for the correspondence.

It is a pleasure corresponding about GTD!  I hope others (*Hint* RestartGTD readers!) will join in, and that we all benefit from the communion of kindred minds!

bill meade

Warm regards,

Dave

In Box Zero Disease: A conversation from RestartGTD Part 3

Hi Bill,

Thanks for writing back! I wasn’t expecting a comprehensive reply with an essay like that. You’ve raised some interesting thoughts:

– When you talk about “beating the world for traffic”, I think of crunchy blogs full of “top ten lists” and 400-word click-bait articles that don’t say anything. I’m so glad restartgtd isn’t one of those.

– Great advice on avoiding the trigger while capturing most of the benefit. I’ll give that a go — an almost-there weekly review in good health is way better than an immaculate review and being unwell.

– What we would actually do once we arrived at panic-free work. That’s a fascinating insight. I’d always thought that “If only I could get all this finished …” but I wouldn’t have a clue what to do upon arriving at “finished”, due to the behind-as-normal phenomenon you mentioned. So, we’re conditioned in so many ways to strive for something (getting our work done), and also programmed to self-sabotage our efforts to attain it. Insidious! No wonder falling off the GTD bandwagon is so common — it’s like we have to get down deep and rewrite some of our internal scripts before we have a hope of staying on it for any length of time. This, then, might be the real work of sticking with GTD: rewriting the scripts that make you fall off (converting away from being a herd animal, like you mentioned). Not sure exactly how to do this, other than maybe to approach it obliquely by asking related questions until we reach the AHA! moment, or introducing ourselves to small GTD wins to prove it’s not so scary.

As for Task Zero … I’ve never been there. I’ll have to try it and see what happens, although having now framed it like this, observer bias will probably make it much less interesting.

– Trying harder as a vestigial function. Haha! It’s true — and we’re in a great place when we realise “trying harder” to handle the constant load of inputs cannot be done. The firehose can’t be switched off, partly because so much stuff is open-ended. You get assigned a project, and nobody has defined what “finished” looks like, so you get all visionary, thinking “I could really go for it and create something world class with this project”, and in so doing we create extra inputs and agreements for ourselves. Then the lizard brain tries harder and quickly succumbs to overwhelm.

– You talked about your next GTD challenge being to create a feedback mechanism to help you regulate the amount of work you handle (really, the volume of inputs you choose to address?). That’s tricky. I guess most people (men, especially) don’t find out they’re doing too much until their wife complains they’re never around, or their kids react/rebel, or they develop a chronic health condition. The only way I could think of to regulate that is indirectly, by putting some external speed-limiting measure in place, like the number of hours you choose to work. That might not create a quantifiable feedback signal (“work left over on Friday afternoon” isn’t useful once you’re tackling bigger projects, and several at a time), but it’d lead to intuitive regulation — over time either you have too much to do so you’re forced to cut back, or you feel like you’ve got extra capacity so you look for areas to expand in. I could be oversimplifying.

– Feel free to post the email on your blog. It’d be interesting to see what comes of it. Feel free also to edit for brevity and flow as needed.

– There’s only one winery around here, and no Zinfandel that I’m aware of — but some of that is grown a little further south in theGranite Belt region around Stanthorpe. I’m not well versed on fine wines (coffee is my gourmet drug of choice), so you’d be welcome for a visit if you’re in the area. It’d be an education for me.

Mel-bunn. Hehe, it should be renamed according to tech startup naming conventions: Melbn. Then we’d be pronouncing it right.

Thanks again for the correspondence.

Warm regards,

Dave

David Allen 2 minute 30 second Audio Podcast: How to get back on the wagon (Allen’s title = “At least you have a wagon”)

Snapshot 10 31 12 11 21 AM 10 31 12Source: Amazon.com

Introduction:

Click here for a David Allen audio podcast on getting back on the GTD bandwagon.  Interesting high points:

  • Allen says even he falls off the GTD wagon
  • Keys to getting back on the GTD
  • Give yourself permission to get back on the wagon
  • Block the world out
  • Sit down
  • Just do it
  • Getting back on the wagon is not that hard, not nearly as hard a starting GTD

Give yourself permission?

When I heard Allen say this, I immediately thought of a children’s book, “The Story About Ping” BY Flack and Wiese (1933).  From Wikipedia here is the plot:

Ping is the name of a domesticated duck who lives on a riverboat on the Yangtze River in China. He gets sent out every morning to forage along the river with his relatives, and is expected back every evening. The last duck on the boat would get a swat with a stick and one day he is the last duck. He is afraid to return and spends the night on shore. When he awakens his boat is gone and he is soon caught by a boy on another boat where he worries about becoming their dinner. After some time the boy lets Ping go just as all his duck relatives are getting back on Ping’s boat nearby. Ping rejoins his family and happily receives the last duck swat.

And also from Wikipedia I learned that Captain Kangaroo read  “The Story About Ping” once a week for 17 years (along with Stone SoupMike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, and The Little Engine That Could  all of which had longer runs on Captain Kangaroo).  I suspect the Captain taught me The Story About Ping! :-)

Mapping The Story About Ping to RestartingGTD:

  • Fear of the swat
    • = fear of weekly review and/or
    • = fear of letting go of denial and admitting “I am off the wagon” and/or
    • = fear of “THE SCARY INBOX”
    • Shutterstock 6126868 Source: Purchased from Shutterstock
  • Night on shore and the boat is gone
    • = Denying being off the wagon by ‘legitimate’ distractions
    • = Beginning to work without a trusted system because of guilt
    • = Old nightmares about being someone’s “dinner” return
    • = fear of getting back on the wagon being just as hard as starting up GTD for the first time
  • Back with family and taking the swat
    • = If you can just sit down do whatever you are fearing, the swat is surprisingly small
    • = Once you are home it is very good … mind like water on the water … GTD without quack ups … I could go on ….

bill meade