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.

Reviewing your year

A quick one today. I was rereading David Allen’s Making It All Work last night, to review how exactly I should do a review of 2014. I kept coming back to this quote. I can see David and his wife, in my minds eye, sitting at an old wooden table somewhere in the countryside, going through this process and clarifying both their past year and the next to come. Doing so over a terrific cup of coffee. Enjoy.

My wife and I go through a rather unsophisticated exercise in this regard at the end of every year. First we spend about a half hour taking an inventory of everything we accomplished and everything noteworthy that we did that year. Major projects completed, new places we traveled, significant events that we experienced—all are just dumped out into a long list. We discovered several years ago how well this stock-taking provides a refreshing sense of completion and acknowledgment. During the next half hour we simply ask ourselves what we would like to have on that list at the end of the following year, and capture those goals on another lis

An interesting description of what consciousness is

I’m reading The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, by Daniel J. Levitin, at the moment. I’m early on in the book, but it’s already been very good. If you enjoyed Getting Things Done and other things of that nature, you’ll enjoy this one. It looks at how the mind works and why approaches like GTD work. I wanted to share a couple of excerpts I’ve found interesting so far.

Consciousness itself is not a thing, and it is not localizable in the brain. Rather, it’s simply the name we put to ideas and perceptions that enter the awareness of our central executive, a system of very limited capacity that can generally attend to a maximum of four or five things at a time

This one was good, because it talks through some more recent findings about how the brain works. The book mentions that we often have this idea in our heads that certain thoughts happen in different areas of the brain. It turns out a lot of thoughts actually happen amongst different networks within the brain. I’ll need to keep reading to really understand this, but this paragraph about consciousness struck me as being helpful.

To recap, there are four components in the human attentional system: the mind-wandering mode, the central executive mode, the attentional filter, and the attentional switch, which directs neural and metabolic resources among the mind-wandering, stay-on-task, or vigilance modes.

This one appealed to my more logical side. There seems to be four main components to how your brain manages what you’re paying attention to. Included in these four things, is actually the mind-wandering mode, which is that state that occurs when you’re not working directly on a task. Whilst we’re often derisive about this mode, it’s actually crucially important. We can’t possibly focus all the time and so the mind-wandering state is very important for recovering energy and maintaining a broad awareness.

Ping me on if you wanna chat more about this post.

Writing and Responding: Reflections on taking some time out

My parents, Janet and Doug, came and visited Rose, Edith and I in San Francisco earlier this month. They were with us for two weeks, which was terrific. To celebrate their visit, and to make the most of it, I took two weeks of annual leave. In that time, I disconnected from ‘work’ things and just focused on being in the moment as much as I could with my family. But a strange thing happened along the way. I got the urge to write here on this blog again. It felt good to be back.

And so, I connected again but in a different way. In coming back to work at Yammer early this week, I caught up with Matt Partovi to sync about a few projects we’re working on. In the early minutes of our catchup, I explained what I think is the difference. Whilst on vacation, I wasn’t focusing on ‘processing’ all of the various things that come at me each day. Don’t get me wrong – I love what I do – but the processing bit can consume me during the days. Whether it’s responding to yammer messages, emails, instant messages or calls there’s a lot to consume. Without that, I was more able to focus on doing some writing. I wouldn’t say the posts of the last week were particularly terrific, but there are a couple I am proud of and that have continued to give me pause for thought here and there. The difference is that you’re not writing, or spending keystrokes, on responding to stimuli but pausing and considering the world and producing something to try and explain that. To try and take what’s in your head and describe it for people. To create.

None of this is particularly earth shattering or new. Indeed, it’s mostly the same kind of thoughts that echo through the famous GTD series. Jason Shah also nailed today with this tweet.

We’re fast approaching the end of the year, which brings with it that special time when often our minds turn to thoughts of creation. What do you want to create in 2015?

How to do a weekly review

I’ve written before about the challenge of Getting Things Done. I’m often writing about it, because I’m often trying to get better at it! Those of you that have read, or tried to read, David Allen‘s book will know the feeling that comes when your mind begins working too hard to keep track of the things you’ve agreed to do.

This year, I want to get better at being mindful, and an important part of that is feeling like I’ve implemented the GTD system better. I’d say I’m pretty good at getting to Inbox 0, and generally processing things but I’m not great at delegating or renegotiating things that find their way onto my list and keeping them current. After a time, I stop trusting the lists because they cease representing an accurate and current account of what I need to do.

Weekly Review

So, it’s with this in mind that I sat down today to figure out some simple questions I can ask myself every week to better keep my system up to scratch. Essentially, how to do a weekly review.

Here’s what I’ll be trying tomorrow for the first time:

1) Gather

Gather everything from your inboxes (email(s), calendar, yammer, letters). Put them where they belong in your the relevant lists.

2) Be Clear

Am I clear about what’s happening this week? What have I previously agreed to make happen this week? What’s in my calendar? Is everything ready for those events?

3) Clean

Is my system clean? Am I stuck with anything that I’m not sure where to put?

4) Current

Is my next action list current? Is there anything on this list that is old or needs renegotiating?

5) Complete

Is it complete? Is there anything that’s not in the system that should be?

I’ve never nailed the weekly review, so will see if this helps me at all. How do you do your weekly review? Anything I’ve missed?