Reinventing the wheel

Blanka Dibtr

GTD Connect
Have you ever worked on something really hard and enthusiastically - only to find out that you have already done it? When you try to rearrange the furniture in your house, move everything out and then move them back into the exact same place because that is the best setup.

As the new year started and together with that a new phase in my life, I felt the need to refresh my GTD system. Like buying a fresh new paper notebook in the "old" days. Up until then, I used:
  • To Do App on my iPhone as main IN and the Next Action Context lists,
  • Apple notes on my phone and Mac for references, someday/maybe lists, shopping list shared with husband
  • Google Tasks for work
  • multiple calendars synced in iCal
But this time I saved my lists from To Do and deleted the app and started to play around with a few tools, including the good old pen and paper.

I knew that I needed something that fit the following criteria:
  • Capture tool on the go: that has to be my phone as I most often leave the house with only my phone and keys - no handbag for a notepad or anything else.
  • Errands list to be available on the go, again, has to be my phone.
  • Calendar and shopping list I need to be able to share with my husband
I really wanted a paper diary to work, but as it is not in sync with anything, the number of meetings I get with links to join, that it cannot be shared in real-time, and there are no timely notifications... Well, the risk of issues raising from being "out of sync" seemed to be disastrous. My calendar stayed as it was.

I tried to use the paper diary for at least the tasks - like back in the days at the Concierge Desk of the 5-star hotel I interned at: list the tasks under today's date, cross off completed ones and copy over the remaining ones to the next day the next morning. That used to be a great trick to do a handover and review at the same time. Well, for a "one-man-show", it is a bit of an overkill, especially since most Next Actions tend to stick around for a few days/weeks. Plus it is not every day I can sit down to write that much!

Since the Notes app was already containing much (references, shopping list, someday/maybe), I thought I could have my Next Action Context lists added to this as well. But the lack of notifications compared to To Do and the manual deletion and move of the crossed-off items, together with the lack of clear view of task notes... it was daunting to try to get used to.

I tried many of the "productivity and time management" themed apps, like Structured or Planmore, but I felt that they are trying to force me to plan all these Next Actions when all I really need is a trusted place for my lists. And what lists are those? I tried to rethink that, too.

I had more or less the standard ones:
  • Errands: for anything to do outside the home that is not on a calendar
  • Calls: for all phone calls to make with notes of the actual number to dial and opening hours where needed.
  • Computer: now this had everything that needed a computer - but, there were things I could have done on mobile as well. Like any research item - I would preferably do it at the desk on the computer, but if I had 20 minutes to kill on the road, I would do it on mobile. However having these on "Anywhere" list would mean that I should be "Anywhere" to engage with it, and I am always "Somewhere". I just renamed it to computer/mobile.
  • Home: anything that has to happen inside the house (I have no garden) - however there are two distinct sub-categories for me: what I can only do when I am on my own, and what I can do while the family is at home. Maybe "prefer to do" is a better phrase. But separating them would not make sense as it is really a preference and not Limiting Criteria - so it stayed as it is.
  • Waiting for: anything that I should follow up on if not heard from (especially online orders), to be reviewed weekly.
  • Read/Watch: these lists were in Notes as most are "nice to have" - the "must do" got on the computer or home lists.
  • Project list: the title of projects that are checked to have a next action moving them forward.
  • Someday/maybe: lists in Notes, reviewed weekly/monthly
Then I got my two special lists:
  • Cannot do right now: those next actions I really want to put on one of the above lists, but something is holding me back. That is usually a dependency that is out of my control, but it does not push it out as far as to get on Someday/Maybe.
  • Stuff for when I really have time: these are actions that I am keen to do, but they are time-consuming, and I know there is not much benefit to be gained by them and I should focus on more productive things. It is the list I reach for instead of killing time with mobile games or social media.
I reviewed my requirements, lists and apps that I found and guess what? I did not go back to To Do but pretty much ended up with a copy of the same in an app called TickTick.

The only real improvement was that I reviewed my whole system from all angles and reassured myself that it is as good as it can be. And that was all I really needed to have a fresh start!