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

 

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

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

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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.

What is Evernote Clearly?

Evernote-Quick-Tips2

Clearly it is … not all that clear … what Clearly is …

Evernote has a web page at: https://evernote.com/clearly/guide/ that shows you how Clearly works and what you can do with it.

WTGTD?

Given that Web Clipper exists … why does Clearly exist? And do I really need Clearly?

Q. Why does clearly exist?

A. I don’t know.

I *speculate* however, that there is a technology industry programming story novella behind why Clearly exists in parallel to Web Clipper. So, here we go …

In the big inning, was Web Clipper. Evernote *intuitively* understood that they needed an on ramp from the internet. So Web Clipper was developed. I *hypothesize* that Evernote whipped the slaves (in as much as Evernote can whip slaves who the company pays to have employee houses cleaned twice a month) to get Web Clipper done quickly.

This is not that big a deal except, creating Web Clipper created a team with a common bond of being whipped slaves (who have their houses cleaned for free). Programmers anywhere in near approximation to the word TEAM require me to point out the mother of all knowledge-worker-team books PEOPLEWARE by DeMarco and Lister. Because software teams are special, awesome, and if they release a product, powerful in nerd culture.

Then someone not on the Web Clipper team had an idea of making a “more pure” tool to bridge from the internet into user databases.

*Aside*

No. I do not have any leaked proprietary information Evernote. I’ve just seen this happen many times, at so many companies, that the finger prints of this kind of bifurcating product effort, do not even belong to the individual perpetrators. They belong to class events.

For example, I worked for a general manager at HP who built a high performance team around his product. The high performance team got their product (a not-HP3000) to out-perform the HP3000.

Unforgivable.

Sin.

/*Aside*

So, in our novella, the *insiders* are the Web Clipp-istas. And, the outsiders are the Clearly-purists. Once you have true outsiders within a company’s software ecology, you have evolved a new species of team that defines itself in being “not” the defacto internet-to-Evernote team. The result of two software teams doing similar but-politically-separate things is …

yts3hd2

Source: Cafe Press Your Team Sucks

For example … IBM’s “black” team (DeMarco & Lister Kindle Book L1849 Chapter 19). A gelled team inside IBM that delighted in making other software teams cry.

Think of the Web Clip-istas as Bill Clinton, and the Clearly-purists as the Republican party. As the republican party develops TRUE differentiation, Bill Clinton would shift to “the middle” and suck out the differentiation’s soul like a dementor … 

I_got_your_back-600x500
Source: PrestigeDetail.Ca

So, now we know the ecology of two teams running in parallel inside Evernote, why does Clearly exist? Well … initially, it was because Clearly did something that Web Clipper did not do (stripping out useless screen elements). Today, however, Clearly exists as the reading-R&D function for the Web Clipper team.

Wait, what?

Web Clipper has moved to incorporate the functionality developed by the Clearly team. So now with clearly you have A LOT OF OPTIONS (see red arrows) about what to capture …

Sandboxed_applications_for_GNOME__part_2_and_Microsoft_Word

… and, Clearly, has few options.  When you use Clearly, it is cleaner than using Web Clipper because Clearly takes you right into the “simplified article” view (2nd red arrow above). Usually this works. Sometimes not. When “simplified article” does not work, Web Clipper is head and shoulders above Clearly in functionality.

So, Web Clipper by having Clearly’s “back” is the superset of functionality. And clearly, is the cutting edge.

Back to the question: And do I really need Clearly?

The simple answer is “no.” All a GTD person needs is Evernote Web Clipper. Evernote Clearly though awesome, though powerful, though it be ahead of Web Clipper, is the product of the marginalized software team.

Web Clipper in its myriad options (red arrows in image above) has more capabilities than Clearly. More to learn in the short run, but more simplicity in the long run because you only have to learn one tool.

Web Clipper folk, time to find something more cutting edge to do at Evernote.com! Web Clipper’s product manager is the “Bill Clinton of Evernote” and resistance is futile. Bill will assimilate you.

Bottom Line for GTD people:

Install Evernote Web Clipper, and ignore Evernote Clearly.

bill meade

Invitation to a free “Getting Re/Started with Getting Things done” Workshop

 

ALPFA Portland Get Things Done and Increase Productivity Eventbrite

https://alpfa-productivity.eventbrite.com/#

Hey!

I’m delivering a 90 minute workshop this Thursday morning for ALPFA Portland.  ALPFA Portland has graciously given me permission to invite any RestartGTD people who will be in the area, to come, have breakfast, and geek out on organizing tips tricks and traps.  

Click the eventbrite.com link above for details.  If you want to come, RSVP at eventbrite and then come! 

bill meade
drop me an email (bill@basicip.com) if you have any questions