GTD: It’s not about the technology

I was about to write a post walking through the new app that I’m using for my GTD (Getting Things Done) this year, but I paused. I paused because over the past year, as I’ve really tried to implement GTD into my life, one of the biggest things I’ve learnt is that the technology you use isn’t that important.

When we think about GTD, there are lots of shiny apps out there which are always promising to make you a more productive person. It’s obvious that it’s not the app that makes someone productive, but the person using the app! However, we often lose sight of that when thinking about becoming more productive, because it’s easy to think that a new shiny app or system will make it different to last time. Will make it better. “This time,” we say. “This time I will be more productive and stick to GTD! This time will be different.”

Last year, my biggest realisation was that GTD is just a number of lists you keep to remind youself of what you’re trying to do. That’s it. It’s that simple.

You make a commitment to yourself to check those lists often enough that your mind trusts them, enough to not remember what’s on all of them all of the time. It’s a slow process, building trust in a framework like GTD because it often feels like you take one step forward before taking two back. I found that being honest with myself and just refocusing on GTD, the framework, much more relieving than searching for yet another app to try and use. For most of last year, I used Outlook for my tasks and it’s worked terrifically well, mostly because I worked at using it terrifically well.

So, I’m trying a new app. I will probably post about it, because I like it so far. It served as yet another reminder to me that the technology we use doesn’t matter. You could equally implement GTD with a paper notebook and get the same peace of mind possible without any of the more modern technologies out there. It’s just a bunch of lists.

Diversity at events

There’s a great post that my colleague, Cindy Alvarez, shared with me earlier today which I wanted to share here. It’s written by the team at Spotify and walks through how they approached running a hackathon that was truly diverse, focusing on gender mostly in their first event. Reading the post, I’d say it’s been a terrific success.

The post reminded me a lot of the themes we would discuss and debate when running Trampoline in Melbourne in the early days. I thought I’d share a few things we picked up on when running these Unconferences, to keep the conversation going. A big hat-tip to Melina Chan and Pat Allan, who constantly had their eye on the diversity of the group we’d be forming through these actions.

The invite process matters. The Spotify article highlights this, but we used to focus on this so much it’s worth highlighting here again.

The channels where you spread the event decide the crowd that will apply. We wanted to expand outside our Facebook hacker groups. So we talked to university teachers, local communities, brothers, sisters, cousins and friends from other cities to push the event outside the usual “tech bubble”.

For us, when we ran the first and second Trampoline events back in 2009, Twitter was the main channel we used to market the event. But we also put a lot of effort into curating a list of all the people we could think of that we would LOVE to be at the event. This list ended up being a mix of friends and acquaintances that we knew had an interesting and unusual story to share and so ended up being quite diverse. We then emailed and personally reached out to many on the list to encourage them to come along.

After the first Trampoline, which we felt was a success, we had to think even more about this the second time around. We increased the number of tickets we made available to 150 and also planned staged releases to help ensure different groups got several chances to book – rather than just the folks that saw the invites go out on Twitter in the first instance. When we released the tickets, we had the first release (around 100 tickets, I think, but I’m most likely wrong here) go in about 10 minutes. After that, we kept the releases going over the next week or so to fill it all up.

I’ll be the first to say that this did add extra friction to the mix. And confusion. I’m not sure we’d approach it in the same way again if we had our chance, but generally it helped make sure that a diverse group ended up coming along, because tickets weren’t being snapped up by people who were generally able to be online, ready to register, at 9am on a weekday morning.

At the next event, Trampoline 3, we implemented a ‘gift ticket’ with registration to help combat this even more. Once you registered, you had an extra ticket that you could forward to someone else, which we encouraged people to use for someone that had never been to a Trampoline. Whilst this was a good idea and worked in some cases, we didn’t see most of the gift tickets get used – so they were eventually returned to the pool closer to the event.

For Trampoline, diversity meant more than the categories we use to define that now. Whilst gender, race, religion etc were all important form of diversity we were hoping to attract was in people’s careers and interests. By that, I mean we wanted to attract people who chose to use the productive hours of their weeks in a variety of ways. That led to some amazing sessions, from how to swim the English Channel, to juggling lessons, to 3D printer displays and barefoot running lectures. We also had a mix of technology talks, career development talks and family/parenting talks. At one event, we had an 8 year old run a session and an 80 year old! It was this diverse group of topics that led to the most interesting event. I think, in hindsight, it led to the attendees also being diverse, too.

I’d finally add that, even with all of this, the group became more homogeneous over time. As people connected at the events and got to know each other they would come back time and time again, which meant the ‘interestingness’ slowed down a little bit. Even so, the events today remain some of the more fascinating and interesting ways to learn about a whole host of topics. It’s been far too long since I managed to attend one!

Run Better Meetings: The Engagement Continuum

A little while ago, I was keen to improve a number of the meetings I was running at work and I happened upon this great video by Col Duthie. Col’s excellent at this stuff and someone I have a learnt a lot from, especially in the art of running engaging (as he would say) generative meetings. It’s a short video but it’s really informed a lot of my recent thinking about ensuring I’m in the right ‘mode’ depending on the kinds of feedback and consultation I’m looking to lead.

Being clear and deliberate about the mode you’re in helps both yourself and the people around you interact with more honesty and clarity. It can really help you to clarify what you’re looking for from the meetings you either run or the meetings you participate in. And we all need a little more clarity in our lives. Thanks again for this video, Col.

**If you’re looking for help in leading a meeting or a workshop, Col has some terrific services in this area. See

Revisting Xiaomi’s strategy and culture

Last week, I posted about a great example of cultural effecting strategy by linking to the latest Stratechery post by Ben Thompson. Late last week, Ben and James sat down and recorded the latest Exponent podcast where they discussed the ideas in the post in much more detail, including many cultural observations that Ben shares.

It’s a great listen and worth your hour. You can find it here: