GTD Slacker Drowns in Own Disorganisation: Community Devastated

In late 2005, out of desperation and after a few months of feeling like I couldn’t make head nor tail of the JCB-loads of projects I had on, I ordered and read David Allen’s Getting Things Done. I’d first heard of it from some truly zealously organised people and I thought if I could gain a tenth of their organisational skills, I’d be well ahead and leaving the pile of mud I felt I was on. [For those unfamiliar with GTD but curious, here’s the basic workflow chart.]

Some months on, I’ve had flings with just about every productivity software for Mac, web-based or else. Quickly running through them, this is what I thought of them:

  • Thought I’d be brave and start with the paper low-tech version, as David Allen had given me the urge to leave fiddly technology behind and just throw everything on paper as soon as it crossed my mind. As it stands, I type a lot faster than I handwrite, and I’m much less likely to let my laptop dissapear below stacks of invoices, printed spreadsheets and other desk junk, so I deemed it best to keep it on my computer’s desktop if there was any hope of me keeping this up.
  • Having used Basecamp as a single free user before, I thought I’d give it a second go, hoping GTD would help me make better use of it. Not bad, but seemingly I’m a slightly forgetful idiot, and I would slack and forget to log in for a couple of days, letting the more random selection of tasks take over again. Nowadays, I’m a light Basecamp user for work purposes and for shared tasks with others, but not as productivity tool for myself.
  • Next I went for the other extreme, the complex kGTD: Kinkless GTD harnesses the power of OmniOutliner Pro to become a hefty productivity tool. Unfortunately, I started spending more time organising kGTD and playing around with it than working, which was completely counterproductive. To put it simply, I was worrying about the cup rather than enjoying the coffee.
  • I tried the classic text file recommended by so many users as a low-tech option, but it just turned into an immense disorganised list, causing me to forget priorities by just going top-down through the tasks.
  • At the moment, I’m in a steady relationship with Mori, which I’m sure I could use it as more than a glorified stash of text files. But I’m also having an affair with DEVONnote, though we’re still just flirting and I haven’t figured it out yet.

So I’m still hopping around, looking for the ultimate app. I came across the demo for Thinking Rock, which seemed structurally so tightly organised based on GTD that I couldn’t go wrong, but haven’t yet installed it or played with it beyond looking at their demo. It’s not visually the most pleasing thing I’ve ever come across but it looks like it’d do the job.

What I need from a GTD app:

  • Easily throw ideas to be processed as they happen (brain like a sieve means everything needs to be written immediately) so that the inbox of ideas doesn’t distract me any further
  • Good structure of multiple projects
  • Forcing me to deconstruct projects into tasks rather than think it’s too much hassle to break it down any more because it’s fiddly to do so
  • Good archiving of old done tasks, for when I start doubting myself about whether something was done or not and when (brain like a sieve… Is there a theme here?)
  • Hopefully, good looking and easy to use

What are your GTD apps or techniques of choice? Any advice for a slacking GTD user?

I do feel I’ve gained in mental organisation and planning from the book and its concepts, as well as from reading the blogs of some true GTD geeks. I’ll follow with another post of my top GTD/Productivity tips, but leave me yours too!

8 thoughts on “GTD Slacker Drowns in Own Disorganisation: Community Devastated

  1. Pingback: twopointouch » Not getting things done

  2. Ade

    Hi! I’d never heard of GTD until reading your blog post, but having looked at tht flowchart, it’s exactly what I do 🙂 My method of choice is to have a two-page spread in my A4 lined pad, usually lurking beneath or in front of my laptop (as a wrist rest). On this I write down each task that needs doing.

    * Spatial organisation. I think this is pretty key to it. If I have a certain project going on, I can scribble down stuff in one corner of the A3 area. I can always find another space for a clump of related stuff if needs be. I tend to have four main columns – Misc, and then one for each of the three projects I’m on.
    * I can physically cross stuff out when it’s done. This is a very satisfying feeling and is probably the main reason I use a real live bit of paper. Especially if a task has been on there for months or years, and you finally get around to doing it.
    * Independence from PC. Sometimes my PC is rebooting, crashing or whatever, and it’s a good time to take stock and look at what needs doing. The downside is the need to carry around the pad, but I do that anyway.
    * Can invent own random symbology. I tend to put asterisks next to tasks that need doing that day. Little arrows next to tasks which *really* need doing that day, because I didn’t get around to doing them the day before when they had an asterisk. “TD&M” and various other acronyms which are meaningful to me, stating where I can look up further information about the task if I forget what I meant.
    * Trivially easy to scribble down new stuff, which I agree, is the most important feature of any sort of organisational system.
    * Overwhelmingly busy looking A3 page. If anybody comes to my desk, they *know* I’m busy.

    * Need to copy it out every couple of weeks, when the A3 page becomes totally, completely choc-a-block. This is arguably a good thing as it means everything has to pass through your mind at least once a month. Quite often when copying it out I find that one or other task has become unblocked, and I can do it in a flash, and not bother copying it across.
    * Sometimes forget what I meant. Usually each task is about four words long, which is usually enough, but sometimes not. This is a particular pain with e-mails for some reason – I guess often because you get lots of similar e-mails from one person about the same subject. I’ve recently taken to writing down the date/time the e-mail was received, in tiny writing, so I can uniquely identify it.
    * I don’t have a separate system for long-term stuff that I might want to do one day in the future. Instead, this gets copied out dozens of times before I eventually do it, or it’s become so old and irrelevant that I strike it off. This doesn’t really bother me; it’s an incentive not to leave lots of old stuff hanging around.

    Disadvantages you might expect, but that have never bothered me:
    * Inability to refer to URLs, add extra notes, etc. etc.
    * Lack of a separate “delegate” list. Instead, once I’ve successfully delegated something, I cross it out and write “Nag Vero” (or appropriate) next to it in small writing. I rarely have to come back to it, but again, each time I copy stuff out two weeks later, it goes through my brain enough to figure out if it’s been done.
    * Lack of structure to tasks etc. Shrug!

  3. Hal

    Moleskine notebooks are quite popular for that sort of thing.

    Not sure about software to do it though, I find I’ll spend more time planning something out than actually doing it.

  4. Marc

    I’ve been told to carry a notebook and a pen to company meetings. Last time I had a piece of paper at a company meeting I ended up making a paper robot with it. I don’t think my new boss knows what he’s up against.

  5. pa

    Well..teachers use teachers’ daily planning books..still good old fashion 8 periods-a-day sheets..and use as required..lists of bad students or late assignements..TG i’m finished with that part of teaching..gute nacht!!

  6. Chris Campbell

    I suppose the delay in replying means that I’m not as much of a GTD person as I want to be. I really want to start using kGTD, but I haven’t gotten around to it. The odd thing is that I’ve been using a few Moleskine notebooks to do planning. The one that I love now is the hybrid pocket 18-month planner. It has a weekly calendar on one side and lined notepaper on the other side. So I write date-related stuff on one side and notes and things to do on the other side.
    For teaching I’ve set things up in Basecamp, but I have to make sure that I keep using it and updating it or I’ll fall of the wagon again.
    One thing that I haven’t checked out by installing yet is Tracks which is made with Ruby on Rails by “but she’s a girl…” so blog-wise she’s compatible with “that canadian girl”. Tracks is built around GTD and may strike the perfect balance.
    But the solution I think is to just do as much as you can and try not to think about it too much. The perfect tool doesn’t exist and probably never will, but for some reason we keep deluding ourselves that it is out there somewhere… but maybe it is…

  7. Pingback: that canadian girl » Blog Archive » A Handful of Tips for the Self-Employed

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