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Early stages of using GTD - what' working, what isn't yet

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  • Early stages of using GTD - what' working, what isn't yet


    I'm about 6 weeks into using the GTD system (well, about half of the complete system) and I thought I'd share what's working for me, what isn't and what I still want to achieve. I'd be interested to hear if any others have had a similar experience of using the system and if you have any hints/tips to accelerate my adoption of the system:

    What's working
    - Flushing out everything to be done has worked really well, altho' I still have some corners of my work life to explore and all of my personal life. However, I buy into the concept that getting it all out of my mind and into a system makes the total workload easier to handle

    - My email handling has improved considerably - primarily due to the '2 minute rule', i.e. if it takes less than 2 minutes, just do it.

    - Related to the above, the discipline of inbox triage, i.e. start at the top, never put something back, works really well with email, even though it's very tempting to break. It's a great habit to form.

    - When specifying actions & next steps, making them tangible and specific is a real help and has caused me to focus. Previously, I suffered from the vague AI definition e.g. 'do project X'.

    - Keeping a master action list is working well, although I needed to add a priority scheme (A-D) and I have also added a 'Must do today' daily subset since my total list is approaching 200 items.

    What's not working (yet)

    - My master AI list is ever-increasing, mainly due to the volume of >2 minute emails I receive. This is a worry.

    - I haven't mastered the project list yet. I have one, but my use of it is flakey. I tend to concentrate on the next action list and the expense of the proejct list.

    - Setting time asise to maintain these lists - I haven't got into a routine yet

    - Meetings draining time. Using GTD has highlighted to me that it's probably impossible to deal with my current workload. My typical day is meetings driven (about 6 hours a day on average, with peaks of 9 or 10) with an addition 100-150 emails. Using the system has clarified that the system alone won't help me deal with my workload and that I need to do something more fundemantal to stay on top, e.g. delegate more or be more ruthless about attending meetings.

    - Overall, I _feel_ like I'm getting more done, just by the # of AIs I achieve but I'm not sure if I'm actually being more effective and adding more value. I'm certainly more responsive that I was but I worry that there's no easy way to measure the increase in overall effectiveness.




  • #2
    what's working for me

    I am tiptoeing into GTD as I am only following a few things out of the system but that's probably me I still have the book in the stack that beside my bed and as long as it stays on that stack, there is always the possibility that I might adopt more of the system over time.

    First the big things: I think David is spot on when he says that you need 100% focus on the thing at hand -whatever that might be. Not being able to do so is not just unproductive, I found that it tires me out too. For me, that getting tired bit was the bigger revelation and motivation for getting myself more organised.

    Here are the things that are working for me:
    * Email handling: Improved significantly. I used to keep the Inbox as the place where I would store my actionable items too. This got me down the path of obsessing over my inbox and clearing it up. Now I let my inbox just be. Whatever is not actionable in 2 minutes and needs some kind of action moves to a ToDo folder which I try to clean up every day.

    Every other week, I ruthlessly delete all email in the inbox > 6-8 weeks old.

    This single practice has helped me tremendously in taking control back over my email and I would say that alone has more than paid for the price of the book.

    * ToDo list categories: Though I did have most of the categories set up, I did not have a "Waiting For" category. Creating "wait for" category in my palmpilot has relieved quite a bit of unseen stress from my day.

    What hasn't worked/hasn't been tried seriously enough
    * ToRead folder: I have set it up and file stuff there but I haven't been able to instill the discipline to print stuff off it and keep it ready for the small chunks of time that become available throughout the day.
    I guess this problem is easy to fix if I 'invest' in a quality laser printer at home.

    * List of projects: I made a list but found that I lacked the discipline to review it consistently. Then I made a list of people and tried to review it as most of my projects are done with / through other people. This too hasn't worked so far mainly because lack of a schedule to review the projects.

    What I am trying (and seems to be working) in its place is creating broad 'themes' for each day of the week. Let me give an example. I have a number of projects which are geographically spread. So I theme my week in terms of the regions where this project might be happening. Monday: Japan, Tuesday: China etc. I have added these themes to my calendar (as private entries) so I automatically take a look at them when I look my calendar. Then I try to schedule the reviews of 'Japan' projects, meetings with 'Japan' people on Monday and 'China' for Tuesdays and so on ...
    Currently I am having 2 themes for each day - one from my professional life and one from my personal life (e.g. Mondays are days for keeping up with email-friends and Tuesdays are for family etc.)

    Other idea/comments on earlier post
    * Todo list: For me, the list (including all categories) has never grown beyond 25-30 items - primarily because I expunge old items > 4 weeks. I haven't seen a list of 200+ items and I don't think I can cope with it. I will be too overwhelmed just to look at it.

    * Meetings: I have found that scheduling meetings back-2-back leaves me breathless as I invariably have a few ideas, action items from the meeting just ended. If I cannot act on these, it becomes the background noise which distracts me from my current meeting. Now I typically schedule 20 minutes more for each of the meetings. 10 minutes before the meeting to think about the agenda and what I want to achieve out of the meeting and 10 meetings afterwards to deal with the stuff that arose from the meeting.

    * Effectiveness: This brings back the question of 'doing right things' vs. 'doing things in the right manner'. I guess we need both. David Allen's methods can help with the latter. For the former (choosing right things to do) , I am afraid there are no standard answers/cookbooks and it will vary greatly from person to person, anyway.

    I guess as long as I am at peace doing the task at hand and can give it my full attention, that's all I am asking for.

    Cheers and good luck!


    • #3
      small bit of advice from someone still struggling to get completely wrapped into GTD

      The weekly review is key to connecting projects to next actions. I still struggle to set aside the time to do this. But when I do, I feel so much better about what I need to do and what I am not doing

      For those stuck in back to back meetings frequently, check out tips and tools sections for David's tips on how to deal with meeting notes.

      This is a big help for those times when my day fills up with meetings, scheduled and unscheduled.


      • #4
        new at projects

        Hi, I'm new at using the system, too, and found some things helpful, others difficult.
        The "waiting for" list I like best, it regularly keeps itself clear and in order. The "next actions" are pretty good, but tend to get cluttered, so I'll be grouping them soon.
        Oddly enough, the "calendar" has been a big problem: the way things go here, I thought I'd need a daily schedule, a list of regular actions for each Day of the Week, and then a calendar of dates, with a note of what to add to every month. Too complex!
        So I'm relegating most of the routine things (which I remember anyway) and the things to add regularly, back into the Projects Support area, under a project named "System: Weekly Review". I'll just make the coming week or two complete with usual actions, and update as I go along.
        The other problem area is the Projects list, and Projects support.
        I noticed in the paperback book, "Getting Things Done", p.157-158, a helpful section on Subprojects, and when to list them on the Project List, and when to put them under Project Support.
        But the system doesn't seem to handle well the kinds of things that keep recurring; say, every several weeks, the same project will come sailing by again, though in a new edition. I'm thinking of listing Roles that I take, instead of Projects, the goal being to maintain each Role tolerably well; and put each one's projects or sub-projects under Project Support, and let them become active whenever they do.
        And that's the point: I don't want to spend too much time searching for "next actions", and want a way to keep the weekly review simple, so that I'll actually do it!


        • #5
          THe good and the bad

          I am about two weeks into the system and I am noticeably more productive. Especially with my email. My email box stays on 0!!!!! Yipppeeeeeeee!!! What I am having problems with though, is because I am using outlook to manage my GTD habits, I run into a problem when a I am not here at my home office. One of my biggest issues is formatting some list that will give me a better picture of what I should be doing short term. The current list that I print out really gives me all of my tasks....forever. Right now my list is 3 pages long (that I print up and take with me everywhere.) However, I still have not completely gathered everything and processed it yet. I'm trying to mange my job, my buisness and my personal the list is gonna be huge. Ideally I would like to see a list that really just takes into account the next 7 days and the things that are due ASAP (with no specific due date) I really don't want to have to look at things that I'm not even gonna start doing for a month!!!



          • #6
            Three Little Letters...


            It will be your decision to go with Pocket PC or Palm Platform (I and David Allen prefer Palm, nudge, nudge) but no other tool is capable of carrying around the volume of information you are talking about - and controlling what you choose to see and not see on a daily basis.

            You can control this by how you define your categories; or you can control it by setting preferences in the device itself to "Show Only Due Items."


            • #7
              Re: Early stages of using GTD - what' working, what isn't ye

              Hi, folks!

              I'm a few weeks into using the "Getting Things Done" (GTD) way of using reminders, and want to share what helped me overcome two obstacles that were bogging me down.

              (In case you're wondering, my system is elegantly paper-based and not so very large; I hardly ever travel; and have a plenty of projects, of which perhaps only a half or so are one-time projects, the rest being a of the pesky Recurring Project type, difficult for this beginner because they become inactive and then recur, over and over, in slightly irregular cycles. Astronomers might be familiar with some stars that behave in this way ... )

              My "Calendar" was bogged down because I was including reminders of things that are too routine to need reminders.
              I now keep the Calendar clear of those, so that I can see what I need to see, putting elsewhere the things that are so routine that I rarely need reminders for them.
              For example, the daily schedule changes with the day of the week and the season of the year, but is familiar: I have a choice between keeping that on a simple reference page, or on a support page for a project for tickling the calendar for seasonal changes in schedule. Having a place for Routines which are so familiar as not to require frequent reminders is a big help in keeping the Calendar clear.

              My "Next Actions" lists and "Projects" list were also turning into bogs. It turned out that I needed a way to handle projects that keep repeating, but only after some weeks of inactivity. I really didn't want to rewrite all their reminders!
              The solution that finally dawned is to assign all the information I didn't want to re-write for such a project to a place under Project Support, to list the Project only when it's active (that's when I'll use the Support) and only as a brief entry, and of course to post the appropriate Next Actions and Calendar tickler reminders ony as needed, while the project is active. This way, the Calendar and Next Actions lists clear up as the actions are done, the Project list is cleared of each Recurring Project each time it becomes inactive, and most of the information for a Recurring Project is safely tucked away in a Projects Support place, where it needn't be re-written.
              Morever, the reminder for reactivating such recurring projects is one of the Roles (or Areas of Responsibility), which also needn't be rewritten.
              I've begun a list of my Roles (or Areas of Responsibility), and under each Role I list the titles of its recurring projects. At the weekly review, they will remind me to see whether any of those projects will become active soon; if so, I will mention them on the Project list, which in turn will remind me to tickle the Calendar and perhaps begin using the Next Actions lists. When a Recurring Project is finished (for this time around), it's crossed off the Projects list, same as action reminders get crossed off (from the Calendar or Next Actions lists), when they are done. It's not much trouble to add or delete the names of projects from the Projects list, and the rest of the reminders are safe under Project Support, ready for the next round.

              Three things helped most in all this.

              One was Dave's reminder that the Projects list isn't meant to hold plans or details about projects (p.155, paperback), which for me suggested not using the Projects list to keep track of when a recurring project was last done.

              Another good help was the section, "What About Subprojects?" (p.157 - 15 which suggested that there is flexibility about some kinds of subprojects (in whether to list them as Projects, or keep them with Project Support) and led me to consider the latter. These two clues helped me see that I had been abusing the purpose of some of the categories (Calendar, Next Actions, and Projects) and caused me to seek a further distinction, and to ponder the purposes behind the categories and the system: we're basically sorting kinds of reminders, so that they will appear when and as needed, so we need to distinuish them by kinds.

              The third clue was the mention (in some of our Forum postings) of "roles" that some people use in their systems: I don't know much about the alternative systems or what they mean by "roles", but this helped greatly, nevertheless, for it suggested what Dave calls "Areas of Responsibility." I am coming to prefer to substitute the shorter and handier term, "Roles." These Roles or Areas are very handy for my problem with recurring projects, because these Roles serve, during the Weekly Review, as the steady reminders (which don't need re-writing!) of projects which are alternatively active and inactive, over their somewhat irregular periods.

              I hope this posting will be of help to readers who need more clues or emphasis on using Roles (or Areas of Responsibility) to relieve the burden from the Calendar, Next Actions lists, and Projects list, or who
              want to adapt the GTD system to their Recurring Projects.

              My thanks to Dave and to my fellow Forum posters for a system of reminders that is refreshing and clear, and for all the help in adapting it!



              • #8
                Not sure if this will help:

                There are 'projects' on my project list that are recurring not one of's. Project Name is prefixed with an 'R'.

                With these instead of placing in my tickler files they go in a 'Recurring Project' file binder. The binder and tab has the needed project goal/steps to complete the tasks. Index is basically the TOC.

                Some due to legal requirements, I will place a single sheet with the dates of start/completed/next scheduled. This way I have at a glance an overall listing of the project, last time it was started/completed.


                • #9
                  Recurring projects

                  Thank you, Aderoy! I believe it does help.

                  For clarity, I would ask:

                  Does "TOC" mean "top of card"? (I'm supposing the recurring projects binder is paper-based.)

                  You don't need to tickle a date, to re-start each recurring project, is it enough to see the Projects List at your weekly review?

                  Best regards...


                  • #10
                    Re: Recurring projects

                    Originally posted by Seraphim
                    Thank you, Aderoy! I believe it does help.

                    For clarity, I would ask:

                    Does "TOC" mean "top of card"? (I'm supposing the recurring projects binder is paper-based.)

                    Table of Contents.

                    Each recurring project is listed there, last completion date in pencil (so to be changed). On the first page of each project is the complete listing of dates started / completed and next run in ink.

                    Second page is the project goal, executive overview .

                    Next page(s) are the details, steps, prelim work that must be done and of course lessons learned is the final page.

                    Most of the recurring projects have 3 pages plus any supporting. Thus far none are greater than 25 pages.


                    • #11
                      Recurring projects

                      Thank you! That's clear and helpful!