Easy GTD

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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.

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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

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

Quick Index of Most-Read Posts

Featured

GTD what processing work is like

Positive Analogy:

  • Funnel = Inbox
  • Cups = projects
  • Detection and routing = weekly review

Negative Analogy:

  • Cups are sorted in a first-in-last-out order (which is what happens to next actions if you don’t do a weekly review).
  • The pre-filtering of next actions vs. drone work is not shown.

Lesson:

  • A lot of the battle of GTD is getting the correct number of cups. Having a place to group things before working on them is critical for eliminating clutter, and for clearing the mind.

How Next Actions Give Work Focus

Source: Cresswood Shredding

Analogy:

  • Bottom conveyor belt is “stuff” to do before GTD. A mix of real work and drone work.
  • Next actions are like the magnetic force in the cross conveyor that separate real work from the drone work.
  • The IN Box is like the bin where the real work is captured (Second 40 and later).

Fear

 

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“Failure does not strike like a bolt from the blue; it develops gradually according to its own logic.  As we watch individuals attempt to solve problems, we will see that complicated situations seem to elicit habits of thought that set failure in motion from the beginning.  From that point the continuing complexity of the task and the growing apprehension of failure encourage methods of decision making that make failure even more likely, and then inevitable.”

– Dietrich Dorner THE LOGIC OF FAILURE, p. 10 

Introduction:

I stumbled across Hallowell’s 2005 “Overloaded Circuits: Why Smart People Under Perform” last week. Key sound bites:

  • “Caused by brain overload ADT [Attention Deficit Trait] is now epidemic … core symptoms are distractibility, inner frenzy, and impatience.”
  • On David Neeleman (CEO of JetBlue Airways) inventing the e-ticket “It seems fitting that someone with ADD would invent a way around having to remember to bring a paper ticket.” 
  • “As a specialist in learning disabilities I have found that the most dangerous disability is not … dyslexia or ADD. It is fear. … When the frontal lobes approach capacity and we begin to fear that we can’t keep up, the relationship between the higher and lower regions of the brain take an ominous turn. Thousands of years of evolution have taught the higher brain not to ignore the lower brain’s distress signals.”
  • “In survival mode, the deep areas of the brain assume control and begin to direct the higher regions. As a result, the whole brain gets caught in a neurological catch-22.”

Hallowell, who is an MD, focuses on fear.  Fear reminded me of the Dietrich Dorner quote at the top of this post. *Note* This quote is the distilled essence of Dorner’s entire book. And then, Hallowell’s focus on fear gave me a flashback to the *RELIEF* that implementing GETTING THINGS DONE has given. In large part, GTD has released me from inner frenzy and fear.

Hallowell’s Prescription:

“Overloaded Circuits” had prescriptions for avoiding Attention Deficit Trait, but unfortunately, they were recommendations given from 50,000 feet.  For example: “Take physical care of your brain, Organize for ADT, Protect Your Frontal Lobes.” 

This kind of “be rich when you grow up” advice is well and good, but, it does not move me to action. I need advice that is operational. For example, on my first reading of GETTING THINGS DONE, David Allen said “get a reference filing system” which spurred me to realize that Evernote would henceforth be my reference filing system.  

Next Post …. Personally Operationalizing Allen/Hallowell:

GETTING THINGS DONE has been powerful in pulling me out of survival mode. But, … by itself it has not been enough to keep me out of survival mode. Over time I’ve incorporated additional tools, William Dement’s THE PROMISE OF SLEEP, Ken Robinson’s THE ELEMENT (Work/Tribe fit), and six other tools. The following pie chart is a map of the other elements that I’ve needed to add to my GTD Macro Trusted System.

 

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Next post I’ll step through the pie chart cherry picking 3 most important operational elements of each slice. See you then!

bill meade  

 

Get “IT” Off Your Desk!!!

 

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Source: Ebay

Introduction:

I’m always on the lookout for paper trays that get paper off my desk, so the entire surface is free to organize 3×5 cards on.  Ken in a comment pointed to a very interesting family of off-the-desk products.  Purpose of this post is to show the product family off and point out the relative cost-effectiveness of these desk accessories compared to say … Steelcase desk accessories.  

The accessories:

In addition to the three tray unit for $40 above, there is a two tray unit for $30 … 

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And a two tray + phone organizer for $40 … 

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A formidable six tray unit for $40 (the unit that Ken alerted me to) … 

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Note that the paper trays are rotated 90 degrees from their orientation in the three tray organizer, so it looks like the trays can be mounted to the tower, from either side, or the tray’s back.  

A rotary catalog + paper tray organizer for $40 … 

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And to mix it up a little, a catalog + phone organizer for $80 …  

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For comparison, here is a Steelcase task light for … $340!   

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So what? 

These desk accessories are significant because, like monitor arms, they allow you to clear the surface of your desk.   Here is my desk before monitor arm: 

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Here is my desk after monitor arm:  

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Having the monitor off the desk surface allows a dramatic increase of usable desk space.  Having a monitor arm allowed me to write on my desk or sort 3×5 cards (my atomic unit of thinking) without restraint.  

My desk surface is an IKEA conference table, so it provides a lot of space.  I used this table for a year and then on impulse leaned over the desk and stretched my arms to see how much of the surface area I could reach: roughly 40%.  I composted this for a few months and then with the help of my cats … 

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I cut out a plug for the mandatory hole in IKEA conference tables, and then diagrammed a semi-circle of 15″ at the middle of the desk:  

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and then cut it out:

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Then bought white edging material at Home Depot that I ironed on to the raw edge of the cut. 

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 With the cut-out I can now reach 80% or so of the remaining desk.  Of course I have lost some usable desk space from the cut out, but I have gained much more use of the remaining desk space.  For example, without the cutout, I needed to push my keyboard 14″ or so from the edge of the desk in order to get my forearms on the table (my perfect ergonomic position for typing).  As I type this my keyboard is about 5″ from the top of the cut out, and my forearms are just wresting over the edge of the cutout.  Comfy! 

So what? 

The signal in the noise of this post is that if you work at it, you can get your desk clear, you can improve the usability of your desk, you can be more organized and more comfortable at the same time.  The more of your desk you can use, the more focused your work can be.  

bill meade  

 

 

 

 

GTD: Before and After

GETTING THINGS DONE (hereafter GTD) has had a big impact on me.  As witness, this post shows as much of the before/after GTD as I can articulate, it will evolve as I refine the post into enough detail to please visual learners (you know who you are John Nieberall!).

Question 1: What is GTD?

To my mind, GTD is a brain hack. GTD may look like a self help book, it may feel like a religious cult.  But, GTD is an approach to organizing that helps you shop around for tools that allow productivity with a peacefulness.

GTD is important because life does not come with an owner’s manual that says “get organized in a sustainable high performance way.”  So people go through school, work, phd programs (I did all three) and never spend a day getting organized beyond coping with the next deadline.

Here is the GTD architecture diagram taken from the PDF accompanying the Audible version of GTD:

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Question 2: What did your life/office look like before GTD (circa 2009)?

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In the garage, I also had a 5 drawer horizontal filing cabinet with 94,000 pages of journal articles, research data, and miscellaneous documents that were too good to throw out but not good enough to use.  Here is the filing cabinet in the garage next to the Y2K water barrel.

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Question 3: What does your life/desk look like after GTD?

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Note that this desk is: (1) large 6′ x 35″, (2) clutter free from the surface up 6″, (3) canted (the front edge is 1″ closer to the floor than the back edge.  I will write more posts on desks and their requirements as taking back my desk was a key stepping stone for implementing GTD.

<<Aside>> the most up to date “after” desk picture is available in the Dungeon Desk post.

Next comes my physical filing system (Target totes) with 5″ book ends in the tote if there are not enough manilla folders to completely fill the tote:

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But, over the years, I’m using fewer and fewer of these totes, and shifting the vast majority of my projects into electronic formats. The reason for this is Evernote. Go buy Evernote. Do it. Do it now!

Nothing has helped me to stay on the GTD wagon more than Evernote. Makes it easier to file documents correctly, than to deal with the clutter, loss, and despair of messy papers.

So while before GTD had the 5 drawer horizontal file cabinet, after GTD I have a modified GTD system:

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To get from paper to Evernote I raked through the 94,000 pages of paper in the file cabinet, and ask myself for each document “Will there ever be a next action for this document?” 80% of the documents were instant “No!” and they went straight into recycling.  The 20% that were yes or maybe, were 17,500 pages which I scanned in a week on my Fujitsu ScanSnap.

Here is my annual capture of reference file information.  The median monthly count of documents captured for the first three years of my using Evernote, is 65.  For the most recent 3 years, the median is 164 documents per month.

Many of the documents I capture in evernote are web pages, the Evernote Webclipper and Evernote Clearly browser add ins have become indispensable for me. I’ve capture 3,336 documents via Web Clipper (to see how many you’ve captured type source:web.clip* in Evernote’s search box). The total for Clearly is 1,441 documents captured (source:clearly*). I use Web Clipper whenever I need to assign the notebook the document needs to be placed in.

Here is my cumulative Evernote document count over the 57 months I’ve been doing GTD.  The jumps happen as I have scanned and recycled, as I Evernote has lifted limits on file sizes, as I’ve moved, and often, when I start a new job. I have 48 gigabytes of information in Evernote as of 2014/10/01. But I’ve paid just $45 a year, which has felt like rounding error. Nothing.

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My final offering to the visual learner on Before/After GTD is a worksheet that covers more pieces of my system (GTDInfrastructureEvolution01b.xlsx):

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Here is a summary view of how I am doing GTD after 3 years:

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See also 5 years of subsequent GTD system evolution in GTD Time Lapse.

bill