thriving on deadlines



My super power is dealing with emergencies. I thrive on deadlines and don't freak out if I need to call an ambulance. I always make it in time for a train or flight, even if I wake up after the taxi already left.

Working in a newsroom, I'm the one to deal with major events or changes in a story right before deadline. When a famous person died, my boss was all "oh, no!" and I stepped in to ask another reporter to write the story. (I'm sure my boss would've gotten around to that about 30 seconds later.)

The downside of this is that I tend to not deal with things until they become emergencies. Which, for better and worse, I've learned that I can handle.

Since I've discovered GTD, I'm realizing that this probably has something to do with being able to keep my mind clear. The possibility that there will be something more important than what I'm currently working on, in an emergency, is so microscopical that I can keep everything else out of my head.

Any ideas on how I can use this insight about myself, in terms of improving my GTD practice? Aside from the obvious, that a clear mind is helpful… :)


One of the aspects of the threefold nature of work is doing work as it arises and it sounds like you're nailing that one. *high five*

But when you review past emergencies, can you identify any that had you planned for and dealt with them then they wouldn't have become emergencies? Maybe a home repair that should have been dealt with as routine maintenance months earlier. Or sometimes people put off physicals because they don't want to deal with doctors until a situation becomes a medical emergency.


Is it inappropriate for me to mention that this is pretty much a textbook description of one of the superpowers of people with ADHD?

Whether you have ADHD or not (I'm pretty sure I do), it might be useful to start by looking up coping strategies for people with ADHD, or coping strategies described by people with ADHD, or GTD for people with ADHD, etc.


GTD since 2017
Hi @Ulrica ,

I can absolutely see your problem. It was the same with me, being extremely productive when under stress - but actually that's not much fun ;)

I would recommend two things:
  • Use a tickler system to remind you of things before they have a chance to blow up
  • Do your weekly reviews to stay on top of your commitments
That way it should be easier to stay in motion when life strikes at you (which should happen a lot at your job ;)).



That's ok, the thought has occured to me as well.

If you can relate to the situation(s) I'm describing, is there anything in particular that has helped you when implementing GTD?

Random thoughts, from the ADHD point of view, so I'll be talking about me, because it's not my place to diagnose you. And only a few of them are tied directly to GTD.

- I believe, based on the book Driven to Distraction and other things, that one problem is that the ADHD brain fights tooth and nail against doing things that are not rewarding--or, to use a different word, things that do not provide stimulation to the brain. Emergencies are stimulating, so the task that has become an emergency is suddenly interesting to your brain, while for weeks or months it wasn't.

- This may mean that while the organizational elements of GTD are great, the "mind like water" might, conceivably, actually be a problem.

- For me, I seem to be able to swap "stimulating" with "rewarding". I struggle to find some way, any way, to make those inherently unstimulating tasks rewarding.

- For example, when I couldn't get myself to reliably write fiction--a personal goal of mine--I spent some time figuring out why I did regularly daydream fictional scenarios, and why I didn't actually write. I figured out what rewarding elements the daydreaming had that the writing lacked, and I added it to the writing, and I'm writing, regularly.

- The book "Organizing from the inside out" is the only book I can immediately think of that addresses the question of changing tasks to include what YOU find rewarding. Not what you should find rewarding. Not what your coworkers or your mother or the average person finds rewarding. What YOU find rewarding. It only talks about organizing and housekeeping tasks, but it still could be interesting as an example of analyzing one's own preferences and rewards--maybe the mindset could be applied to other things.

- I've found that I get infinitely more done when I minimize the number of things I'm doing simultaneously--when I minimize Work In Progress, to use the Kanban term. It may be impossible to entirely keep myself from task switching, but if I'm switching between three projects instead of sixty, I'm far more likely to get something done on even the more boring of the three.

- So I keep my GTD lists small. Very small. Smaller than those of anyone else I've ever heard of. See "minimize the number of things" a few items down. I have lots of Someday/Maybe and very very little in my current lists.

- But the organizational elements of GTD, IF you can force yourself to keep up with them, should absolutely be valuable. If you can easily tell what you need to do, you're one step ahead of the distractions. You don't want to see that cool project that you want or even need to do someday, when your current "boring" task should be to force yourself to start your taxes.

- I mentioned your current "boring" task. I try to make those short lists include a little bit of high-priority boring and a little bit of interesting, even if the interesting isn't a high priority.

- I find "done" to be rewarding. For some reason, my brain tries to keep me from getting to "done"--it points to other tasks, it pulls harder and harder the closer I get to finishing a tidy completed unit of work. But if I resist and get to done, I experience that as rewarding. And each "done" seems to be making the other "dones" easier.

- By "done" I don't necessarily mean entire big projects. I mean finishing the bite that you've chosen. Get that one load of laundry finished from collected from the hampers to washed to folded and put away. Get that bug fix finished from initial investigation to coded and tested and documented and delivered. (Or out for peer review, or whatever "done" is within your power.) Get that nearly-done memo DONE instead of putting it aside to edit later.

- Returning to the tax example, find those scattered tax documents, put them in a folder, put the folder somewhere you can remember, and write yourself a GTD project where you instruct yourself to figure out which ones are missing. Then congratulate yourself on the first step of the do-my-taxes project being DONE.

- You might discover that you don't find "done" to be rewarding. But give it a try; there seems to be science that our brains do enjoy "done", and that they find unclosed loops to be a strain.

- There are the usual ADHD bags of tricks, most of them stimulating things. Caffeine, or prescribed stimulants. Sensory stimulants--music, fidget toys, the loud noise of a coffeehouse around you, walking while on a phone meeting.

- If I'm going to sit myself down to do something boring, I set myself up with what I need--a Coke, a carb-based snack, loud music, maybe a fidget toy if the task is one, like reading or paying attention to online training, that doesn't require my hands. I bought a foot-based fidget toy for tasks that do require my hands; I don't yet know if it works.

- Some people find visual or tactile things to be rewarding--they might be more likely to keep practicing GTD if they're using a beautiful leather-bound notebook and a fountain pen to do it with. That's not me, but it's the sort of thing to discover about yourself, and again I point to Organizing from the Inside Out.

So my summary is:

- Find the reward.
- Limit work in progress.
- Pursue "done".


GTD since 2017
Thanks! Yes, it's rather that changing plans and having to suddenly run off in a different direction is the normal situation. ;) It must seem in a way as being "driven by latest and loudest", but there is reflecting on what's newsworthy in comparison to all else that's going on.

I could try putting reminders in my tickler system, more often than once a week, to at least do a quick review on the most urgent projects.

That's absolutely OK as long as you know what you are not doing. Think of an ER or a police station. They have latest and loudest all the time but they knowhow to prepare for that. You will also always make sure that the batteries of your camera are charged in case you have to leave urgently ;)

In certain jobs you simply have a different ratio of the three aspects in the threefold nature of work. Just make sure that you satisfy all of the appropriately :)


frank F

I can also relate to what you are saying - am also very good with dealing with emergencies. The downside is that many more personal things are falling off the edge. This is where GTD is coming in handy - it helps you put on the same the work related, "really important" things with those which are "only for you". You might be surprised how many of those things are in the back of your head and would benefit from being captured and included in your list of priorities. It really helps you focus more on life holistically, if this makes sense.

frank F

Yes, that makes sense. Even if you in some way separate work from personal things, you still think about your responsibilities outside of work when you're supposed to be working and vice versa. That can create a lot of stress.

I've realized lately that routines and structure has never been what I'm really looking for. I just want (and need...) a safety net. Creating checklists and tickler reminders for doing X, Y or Z every now and then, at a reasonable frequency, is likely better for me than putting pressure on myself to create a habit.

Except for when it comes to doing the weekly review. That might just be the exception that confirms the rule. ;)

Exactly - you probably are very work focused and then from time to time think "I should also be doing xyz".. it is exactly this stress which you want to avoid by capturing this (this is the mind like water thing - you don´t need to think about this any more because it is in your system already and you make a conscious decision what to do about it. Mind like water is buddhist methodology BTW)

Personally I also use the tickler system to get a reminder at a later time again. Basically for things which are not so important right now but I want to be reminded later again in order that I decide what to do with it. At some stage I´ll do it or bin it. I am using a fully electronic system (cloud based, so I can do all of this on the computer, and on the phone)


I'm looking into the option of having several lists/subcategories instead of one list
If it helps I have 57 different someday/maybe lists. The ones oyu mention like books, sometimes by author, some for locations and some for areas of focus.


I'm currently reviewing my system for someday/maybe and I can see that I haven't been processing those kind of things appropriately. Probably because I still somehow believe I "don't have to deal with it right away". I'm looking into the option of having several lists/subcategories instead of one list (ie, mess atm). Instead of putting "buy/read magazine X" on that list, I'll have a "magazines I might like to read". The same for "cooking techniques I might like to learn", "clothes I might like to update my wardrobe with" and so on. I will see if there are too many lists instead, but the way I've had things up until now is definitely not working for me.

Yep. One large advantage of this is that often an entire list becomes essentially ONE item, in terms of review.

For example, you might have had six dozen books scattered through your someday/maybe list. If you convert that to one list of Books To Read and one monthly tickler "Consider choosing a book from Books To Read", you've essentially converted six dozen items to one item. You don't really even need to review Books To Read--it's handled by that tickler.

And dividing into lists often also often has the advantage of separating things by urgency level. "Cooking techniques I might like to learn", or "clothing I might like to update my wardrobe with", and many other similar lists, are extremely optional, so you don't even need to look at them in your weekly review--you could look at them monthly or quarterly, or refer to them in ticklers, or just let them sit around until you suddenly find that you have time to expand what you're doing.

I have 13 lists in my "actionesque lists" folder, and 14 in my "just plain lists" folder. I glance at "actionesque" when I review, while "just plain lists" don't necessarily get reviewed, though they may be referred to in actions, such as my "Consider choosing a book..." example.


late to the party here... but much of the GTD system works for me, and yes, I have ADHD. But I was diagnosed very late in my life -- my 50s. I was fortunate to have a job where "living in the moment" has been lucrative -- outside sales. Every moment is a new experience, every sale a rush. However, I had a great deal of trouble finishing "projects" that would take more than a day or two to complete -- until GTD. What works and what does not work for me:

Works: Understanding the difference between a project and a task. HUGE awakening
Works: "Next Actions" list, updated weekly. Have a grey highlighter that I use to cross off completed items. Very rewarding!
Doesn't work: Digital planning and task managers. I cannot handle too many "inboxes," and digital devices lead me to distraction. The pen keeps me focused.
Doesn't work: the massive initial "Brain Dump" exercise, collecting stuff from every facet of my life all at once. My mind creates work for itself when I sit down to write EVERYTHING my mind thinks is an open loop in my life. I pick only 6 areas to review: family, home, dog, finances, health, friends. I leave room each week for emergent tasks, and I keep a short list of weekly, monthly tasks to do.
Works: Limiting active projects to 6 total, and only 3 on any given day -- if that. Everything else goes to "someday" list (not specifically from GTD, but in fact a key point from Momentum planning). Also focus on just getting a minimum of 3 "next actions" completed each day. If I waste the rest of the day, well, I got 3 important things done.
Doesn't work: "waiting on list". It becomes another inbox - an open loop of its own. I just keep the single inbox and running list of next actions. If it's not crossed off in grey, than I'm waiting for someone to do it. I do indicate on that list if it is delegated. Again, with a weekly review, I'm better able to follow up.
Works: Pomodoro for crappy daily tasks like laundry or emptying the dishwasher.
Works: Trash. My favorite thing to do is get rid of things cluttering my home and mind.


Limiting active projects to 6 total, and only 3 on any given day
I actually have a Focus project list that I tag actions with.
I use the Focus project list daily to re-engage with the small list - reload them into my brain.

I also created an @Active context that I pull those 3 or 4 tasks for the day - it's the first place I look for what to do next.

"waiting on list".
I had problems with this list too. I wait until I'm distracted by something before it went on the list (How many packages do I have coming? What do I keep wondering about when it will get done? , etc.) After I gathered waiting for items only when my attention went to them, I found a pattern of items that I needed to track on waiting for - it was very focused with a narrow purpose.

the massive initial "Brain Dump" exercise,
I ended up with such a massive list over and over that I eventually discarded because it was unreviewable. It became its own distraction.

One thing that did help: Meg Edwards suggested that I mind sweep by room. For some reason, place has huge relevance for me mentally. My ADHD is less amplified when I do things in the same place and have places for different activities. When the mind sweep was spatially anchored, I was able to keep it manageable.

I cannot handle too many "inboxes,"
I had trouble with too many inboxes until I got some 3x5 cards and wrote each one of them down, one to a card and topped it with a card marked "Inbox Location Clearing Cards" and clipped them together. On Wednesday, I toss that stack into my physical Inbox in my processing space. I physically hold each card. I confirm that I have cleared them once in the last two weeks. Otherwise, I have the card to keep me focused until it is cleared.

I don't think about how many inboxes I have anymore. In fact, areas that clutter easily ended up on the Inbox list - so a whole bunch more items got trashed earlier. If an inbox stays empty, I only look at it once a week for a second. If not, I can easily add a next action to clear that inbox or stick the card in my pocket (or both).
I use a complication on my watch for this - a great app. Helps me pay attention to my puppy Rosie frequently throughout the day.

The pen keeps me focused.
There is nothing like using pen and paper for the clarify and organize step.
But I was diagnosed very late in my life -- my 50s.
Me too - it made so much make sense from my earlier years.
late to the party here
Me too. Welcome.
Hope this rambling helps - your post helps me.