Self-Organized

I’ve owned a copy of Getting Things Done for at least a year or more and I’ve read it several times. Soon after getting the book, I had a fitful start struggling with Palm software. Then I thought that I’d try it using OmniOutliner—great tool, use it all the time, but couldn’t seem to carry the laptop everywhere and sometimes it didn’t seem worth the effort of getting it out, waking it up, and starting OO just to write “Mail letter on way to work tomorrow.” So I just meandered through my days, all disorganized-like.

Oh sure, I had a little sketch pad that I carried around and would jot down things ad-hoc but I endured tremendous stress because I always felt like I was forgetting something or like I wasn’t using my time effectively. And I was and wasn’t, respectively.

So I decided to get serious about GTD. It was mainly inspired by Merlin Mann’s recent post about getting started. I printed out the excellent advanced workflow diagram (PDF) to replace the less sophisticated one from the book (no longer available online, hmm) and I read through some of the links he provided for further inspiration.

It wasn’t until I chanced upon his Hipster PDA post. That was the linchpin I had been missing earlier. Rather than wrestling with software and computers, I should use index cards and my favorite pen. That freed me from thinking about the form of my getting things done and to concentrate on using it. Plus, I can carry it in my pocket and it never runs out of batteries.

Well, a few days later and I’ve got it pretty good. My work inbox is at 1 message (a reference to an action item that I need to start) and my whole work email is down to 1724kb of my 75MB allotment! My home email (in Mail.app) is down to two messages: one action item and one receipt for an online purchase that I’ll discard once I receive the item.

More importantly, I feel less stress. I know exactly what I need to work on and I write stuff down as soon as I perceive a need to act. I’ll probably give an update after I do my first weekly review.

[UPDATE: At Merlin Mann’s request, I’m going to address some of the customizations I’ve done to the main GTD system.

1. I haven’t had to do anything of the sort. I use the stock buckets and most of my nerdery goes into work, home, or computer buckets depending on the context. For example, I’ve got some features that I’m working on for our new online banking system. Those are obviously work. My computer action items tend to be things that could be done at work or home, like starting a list of tasks to do for my daughters’ birthday party.

2. I’ve only been doing this for a week now, but I’ve been reading about the system and cogitating on it for over a year now. I see myself creating a lot of lists in the “someday/maybe” category and have already started one called “websites to build” that will be ongoing. Ad-hoc lists will exist for as long as they’re needed and no longer.

3. I’ve got my “next actions” category divided up into contexts. Features and work projects get their next actions on there. Bugs and quick fixes get tracked in FogBUGZ because they need to be tracked across the team. If I were doing it myself—the bug tracking—then I would still maintain a separate bug tracking application. It’s my feeling that it’s fine to have separate repositories for certain things as long as they’re limited and you close those loops thoroughly. If you need to work on a bug, you know where to look. It might be appropriate, if the bug is big enough, to put a next action in your “work” category about it.

4. The only cool hack I’ve done is integrating my calendar into my Hipster PDA, which consists of “next action,” “projects,” “waiting for,” “someday/maybe,” and “calendar” index cards separated by brightly-colored index cards. The calendar has one card per day and perhaps 10 extra cards. The day cards exist only as needed, so I don’t have a card until September 22nd. On the day cards, I list appointments or time-sensitive events in chronological order. If I have to add a 4 o’clock appointment, I would put it nearly 3/4s of the way down. All told, I’ve probably got 15-20 cards total so it easily fits in a binder clip. (All of my phone numbers are stored in my cell phone and Address Book.app, in case you’re wondering.)]

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