From GTD to Time Block Planning

jcarucci

Registered
I've been using the GTD system since 2003. It has worked well for me, but the world of technology and work has changed a lot since then. The biggest thing that has changed is the ubiquity of the internet and computers in our pockets. The idea of contexts has almost completely fallen away for me. No need to have a Phone or Computer list. With the pandemic, the idea of a Home and Office list has also gone by the wayside since I've been working from home for over a year now. I've been using the Things app for a few years now to implement my GTD system.

Recently I've been reading the work of Cal Newport and his idea of time block planning. At first I tried doing it with pencil and paper, but didn't like the inflexibility of it, but recently I discovered another application called Sorted. I've been using it for a couple of weeks now and it finally made time block planning work for me. The ease of moving around the tasks as the day changed is what made it click.

I'm also using a Trello board to manage my projects, so I have a visual, big picture view of everything I'm working on. So my full workflow is this:

1) Using Drafts as my capture tool
2) Trello to organize projects, it also has a Backburner column for things I'm not ready to deal with (like a Someday/Maybe list)
3) Sorted for the ground level tasks, next actions if you will

Why do I like using 3 different tools instead of just 1 (Things)? I found one of my biggest issues was that my task list inevitably grew too large. I would be turned off to a list of 50-100 tasks to choose from. With my current workflow, I end my day by planning out what I will work on tomorrow. Every task that makes it into Sorted has a time estimate. I make sure that each day has a mix of the longer 1-2 hour tasks (the Deep Work in Newport's terminology) as well as a few smaller admin-type tasks that are still necessary to move projects forward. If I end up finishing everything I planned the day before, I can grab a few more tasks and work on them too.

In Sorted, my main list of tasks is called This Week and has about 20 or so tasks that I plan on doing this week. I make sure this list never goes beyond 20. Either something has to come out to make room for a new more urgent task, or I just park the task in the Backburner column of Trello. I find reviewing a list of 20 tasks once a day better than what I was doing with Things, trying to choose from 50-100 tasks several times a day.

Seeing my meetings and tasks together in 1 timeline has been making it easier for me to schedule more time on deep work and spending less time on shallow tasks, which are easier to accomplish, but in the end aren't as important.

Anyway, I still think the principles I learned from my years of practicing GTD are still in play. Especially the idea of capturing everything and having regular reviews.
 

mcogilvie

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Thanks for the report. I’ve played with Sorted, but it seems like extra work to me. The whole time blocking thing seems to me to appeal to people who want more structure than GTD provides, but if it floats your boat, go for it.
 

Sarahsuccess

Registered
I realize I’m picking up on a somewhat old thread.

In Sorted, my main list of tasks is called This Week and has about 20 or so tasks that I plan on doing this week.
Wouldn’t it be more in line with gtd methodology to have a tag called “important”, rather than a list called “This Week”. To be able to keep up with the fast pace of this changing world and changing priorities, wouldn’t that be best practice? It seems to me that would make it easier to respond to changes in the environment and change priorities more nimbly.


With my current workflow, I end my day by planning out what I will work on tomorrow. Every task that makes it into Sorted has a time estimate. I make sure that each day has a mix of the longer 1-2 hour tasks (the Deep Work in Newport's terminology) as well as a few smaller admin-type tasks that are still necessary to move projects forward.

Isn’t the idea of time blocking to set aside a time of day to work on a specific project or context? (Or I suppose if a specific next action takes a long time, that could be time blocked too.). Isn’t that different than what @jcarucci describes here? The app Sorted doesn’t seem to lend itself very well to time blocking in that sense, or does it? It seems to lend itself to putting tasks on a calendar, and unnaturally scheduling tasks which is not in line with gtd methodology. It would make it harder to react to changes during the day and shift priorities as necessary. Do experienced gtd’ers agree? Can Sorted be used to productively time block?

I came to this thread because I was searching for opinions on the tool Sorted 3, the iPhone app. I like how it seems simple to view tasks by projects (lists) or contexts (tags).


I’d appreciate opinions and feedback on the Sorted 3 app and my reactions to @jcarucci’s post.
 

jcarucci

Registered
I realize I’m picking up on a somewhat old thread.


Wouldn’t it be more in line with gtd methodology to have a tag called “important”, rather than a list called “This Week”. To be able to keep up with the fast pace of this changing world and changing priorities, wouldn’t that be best practice? It seems to me that would make it easier to respond to changes in the environment and change priorities more nimbly.
You're right, items on "This Week" sometimes get pushed off to the following week because things do change during the week. I will make this change.
Isn’t the idea of time blocking to set aside a time of day to work on a specific project or context? (Or I suppose if a specific next action takes a long time, that could be time blocked too.). Isn’t that different than what @jcarucci describes here? The app Sorted doesn’t seem to lend itself very well to time blocking in that sense, or does it? It seems to lend itself to putting tasks on a calendar, and unnaturally scheduling tasks which is not in line with gtd methodology. It would make it harder to react to changes during the day and shift priorities as necessary. Do experienced gtd’ers agree? Can Sorted be used to productively time block?
I have actually changed my workflow. Sorted now just has my calendar items and what I call my Deep Work tasks, basically long 1-2 hour blocks of work on a project. I now also use Things as a place for what I call admin tasks. What you would normally call a task in GTD. I know it must seem crazy to have 2 apps for keeping track of my work. But one of the reasons I do it this way, is that the big ticket items were getting lost in the many small admin tasks that pile up in Things. So now Sorted has a small number of tasks that I will do during the week, that I consider most important. Whereas Things is the app where I have complete capture. During my weekly review, some of these items in Things will get promoted to Sorted as important, deep work tasks.

Every day I have a 1/2 hour to 1 hour block which I call admin and that is when I turn to Things to knock out the small things, like send an email to Joe or call Betty.
I came to this thread because I was searching for opinions on the tool Sorted 3, the iPhone app. I like how it seems simple to view tasks by projects (lists) or contexts (tags).


I’d appreciate opinions and feedback on the Sorted 3 app and my reactions to @jcarucci’s post.
 

Jim

GTD Ninja
I agree with you @Sarahsuccess — using "important' as a tag makes more sense, from a GTD perspective.

From my interpretation, GTD is about looking at unscheduled (but organized) lists, and going with what your intuition or "gut instinct" tells you to focus on.

The Sorted app seems to be a list manager that pushes you to schedule your tasks and projects. That feels like unnecessary micromanagement to me.

If I was to implement time blocking into my GTD system, I would simply put an appointment called "work" or "focus" into my calendar, to lock down "doing" time. When that time arrives, I would look at my list of projects or a list of my next actions, and let my intuition guide me to which one is the most beneficial to tackle at this time.
 

GTDengineer

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In Sorted, my main list of tasks is called This Week and has about 20 or so tasks that I plan on doing this week.
The same 20 item limit could be applied to your projects list. Everything else is someday/maybe.

A next action list is not the same as a task list. A task may have multiple actions, making it more similar to a GTD project. A next action has no inherent duration, as it’s more of a bookmark where to start within the scope of a larger task/project.

Within the sorted app, what will you do if the duration that you planned to complete a task is not long enough? You will have to give yourself a reminder where to pick up the task at the next opportunity. This is the “next action”.

So, in my view, you will still need to maintain your GTD style next action lists, potentially with a context for “Sorted”.
 
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Sarahsuccess

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You're right, items on "This Week" sometimes get pushed off to the following week because things do change during the week. I will make this change.
Ok, In a digital app such as Sorted, the distinction between a list and a tag can blur, but conceptually, in gtd I would think of “important” as a context (tag) that can be changed as necessary, rather than a list. Im curious how that will work for you.
I now also use Things as a place for what I call admin tasks. What you would normally call a task in GTD.
I don’t know of “tasks” as a gtd term. In gtd there are next actions, projects and projects plans. (There is also capture, where the next action is not yet defined.) There can also be checklists of routine, repeating actions. I don’t mean to pick, but tasks (there, I used the word!) like email joe or call Betty are (technically) called next actions in gtd.
I know it must seem crazy to have 2 apps for keeping track of my work. But one of the reasons I do it this way, is that the big ticket items were getting lost in the many small admin tasks that pile up in Things. So now Sorted has a small number of tasks that I will do during the week, that I consider most important. Whereas Things is the app where I have complete capture. During my weekly review, some of these items in Things will get promoted to Sorted as important, deep work tasks.
If your system is working for you then please ignore this. I would think its less labor intensive and more productive to use tags such as “important”, “deep work”, and “small admin”, but keep all next actions in one tool.


Every day I have a 1/2 hour to 1 hour block which I call admin and that is when I turn to Things to knock out the small things, like send an email to Joe or call Betty.
I agree with this use of time blocking. Not that each next action is scheduled, but rather a block of time set aside to do next actions.

It sounds like you are using Sorted for your calendar and important items and Things for overall capture & lists.

Kelly has some posts where she describes using an index card for important things to get done that day, besides her regular digital tool. (You can search “index card” in this gtd forum) Kelly, I would be interested to hear your input/feedback.
 
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Sarahsuccess

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Are you saying that GTD calls for such a tag, or just that it's a less dramatic divergence from GTD? Because it does seem to me to be a divergence.
In the 2015 gtd book on page 29, DA says “Finally, if any one of the previous links is weak [capture, clarify, organize, reflect], what someone is likely to engage in at any point in time may not be the best option.” It seems the gtd ideal is to have lists clarified, organized and reviewed so that one can make intuitive decisions about what to choose to do next [engage].
How do people choose what to do, and keep focus on priorities in the real world? Id appreciate feedback.
 

mcogilvie

Registered
In the 2015 gtd book on page 29, DA says “Finally, if any one of the previous links is weak [capture, clarify, organize, reflect], what someone is likely to engage in at any point in time may not be the best option.” It seems the gtd ideal is to have lists clarified, organized and reviewed so that one can make intuitive decisions about what to choose to do next [engage].
How do people choose what to do, and keep focus on priorities in the real world? Id appreciate feedback.
I am in the process of fixing a failure to carry out all 5 workflow steps on a few projects during the busy time at the beginning of the semester. I’m dealing with it by tagging those projects and some others as “urgent projects”. The point is not to prioritize the next actions of those projects, but to make sure that that capture, clarification, organization and review are done more frequently than weekly (daily) for those projects. I don’t know yet if I will find this helpful beyond the next month or so. I use Things 3, and use due dates and stars on next actions as guides in intuitively choosing next actions.
 

Gardener

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How do people choose what to do, and keep focus on priorities in the real world? Id appreciate feedback.

In my case, I keep my current lists (as opposed to my Someday/Maybe lists) short enough that anything on them is important. Now, it may be "do this soon or there will be consequences" important, or "keep working on this because steady work is what makes life goals happen" important, or "of the countless not really important, purely pleasurable, things I'd like to do, this is my favorite right now" important.

I don't think that tagging things as important is a part of GTD, but I can't speak to how people who have longer lists arrange their focus on what's important to them. My solution to that problem is short lists.
 
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