Restarting GTD: Sleep Hygiene


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

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

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

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


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Off the GTD wagon? How did that happen?

Re-read to re-start GTD

Does it help to re-read when I need to re-start GTD?

Short answer: Yes.

But, my advice is not to re-read the entire book.  Instead, I advise you to re-read the first three chapters.  Part 1 of the book is the basic GTD model.  This is the data you want situational awareness of so you can opportunistically get back on the GTD wagon.  Less reading means less guilt.  Less guilt means less wasted energy and less wasted time.

What am I looking for on this re-reading?

I get something new from GTD every time a read it.  But, I’m looking for gold and here is my theory of where the gold is hiding:


  • Worry reduction:
    Most tasks that take up significant mental thinking time, are not being converted to results during that thinking time. They are being worried about.  If you divide the time it takes to do a next action, vs. the time it takes to worry about the next action, the result is always less than one.  Simple fixes: 
    • Write the dang thing down so you stop worrying about it.  It is amazing how often I catch myself worrying about a next action because I have not taken the 10 seconds to write it down.  Write it down, stop worrying, and then natural project management determine when the task gets closed out.
    • Or, I can take a morning, and then rake out all your tasks that are taking more worry than work, and get them done.  If I just make a top 10 list of next actions I’m spending the most time worrying about, I can knock them off and have my brain back.
  • Rumination reduction:
    When you get all the projects laid out, and all the sub-components and moving parts laid out, and then you’ve got the next actions laid out, then you will stop thinking about the project.  Instead of ruminating, your mind can shift to productive work or enjoyment.
  • Increased focus:
    When you have a mind like water (and a “desk like water!”) the stuff you work on, you work on more intensely.  You are more productive.
  • Increased efficiency:
    comes from having the infrastructure you need to do your work, where you need to do the work.  Having a GTD desk set up so that it is pleasing saves running down lots of rabbit trails to get simple things done.  I’m really loving the rabbit-trail, station idea from THE HOUSE THAT CLEANS ITSELF in think this through.  That is, when you find to do a simple task like writing a letter, that you have to go three or four places to get the envelopes, the cards, the stamps, the pen, a place to write, etc., Mindy Starns Clark says you have just discovered a rabbit trail.  To eliminate rabbit trails, develop a station of all the supporting materials needed to do the task, that can be kept out of sight near by the task.  My desk is a work station in the Mindy Starns Clark use of the term.
  • Enthusiasm:
    The word comes from two sources: “en” which means in, and “theos” which means god.  Enthusiasm is “the god within.” When you are less worried or not worried, and not ruminating on disaster, focused, and efficient, your natural enthusiasm “pours out power smooth as silk” as James Garner said of Wankel engines.   When you get your full enthusiasm behind an efficient, effective, focused project effort, you build momentum and take people with you.
  • Improved collaboration:
    When people see you on the wagon, they are impressed.  They may not say anything, but humans are hard wired to watch one another and detect any shifts in competitive advantage.  And implementing GTD is a HUGE shift in competitive advantage.  As the people around you start adopting pieces of GTD, like reducing stuff to next actions, you will find that you can engage with them more productively.  Over time this has a big impact on your organizational effectiveness.

So, on a re-start of GTD, try substituting very tight monitoring of your own sensations of worry, rumination, focus, efficiency, and enthusiasm. I am a worrier.  Such a worrier that I did not discover I’ve had panic attacks all my life, until I was 42.  I’ve just always thought suffering through worry was “normal.”  So, today with GTD, I watch my worry thoughts closely, and then when I catch myself worrying, I drill into what I can do to create a re-organized station, to replace the rabbit trail of worry.  Same deal with rumination.  I am prone to thinking and rethinking about an un-articulated next action, without articulating that next action.  When I catch myself ruminating, I ask “What is the next action?”

This self-based approach to restarting GTD may work for you, where trying to transpose David Allen’s template into your life en mass, has failed.  One thing is a lot to change at once.  Once you get your first GTD habit down: say using Evernote for general reference files, then you can work on your second habit.  Piece by piece you can assemble a trusted system.  Just take it a day at a time.  Pick your next piece to assemble.  And remember the phrase:

Illegitemi non carborundum!

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