Two or three years ago, a strange topic about organization skills, de-cluttering and mind like water exploded on the Internet. It was about GTD, or Getting Things Done, a methodology for boosting productivity invented and shared by David Alled in his book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity [aff link]. This phenomenon lead to a sudden surge of new blogs, with 43folders.com of Merlin Mann becoming the icon blog for this trend. Soon, other useful and very popular blogs appeared. At that time even yours truly was a GTD wannabee and one of my very first posts in this blog – and one of the most popular, I must say – was about GTD for people in transition countries. GTD posts and blogs where spreading over the internet at light speed. It was the Golden Era.
But now the hype is over. Merlin Mann has switched his 43folder.com and we must re-learn how to use what was once the Internet Bible of the common GTD’er. Icon GTD blogger Brett Kelly handed over his popular GTD property Cranking Widgets Blog to a new voice, Andy Parkinson and in recent posts claim he cured his addiction for this technique.
GTD hype is over for good. But the benefits are here to stay. In this post I’ll outline what was left from GTD in my productivity rituals after the drop of the hype.
There are at least 4 different things that somehow survived the golden era of GTD in my organizational behavior. Let’s take them one atÂ time:
Emptying your RAM
And getting rid ofÂ “open loops”. In GTD terminology an “open loop” is a thought that is not solved, hence keep popping up in your head all the time. Solving this “open loop” is a matter of taking it out of your head and storing it in a trusted system, for further processing. This is something I kept and found extremely useful.
I don’t know about your brain, but my brain is not a rolodex for sure. I prefer to use my brain for doing creative stuff like writing, coding or something like that. I also use it for learning, either by absorbing information, either by experiencing. I don’t want to be bothered in these processes by unsolved “open loops”.
I kept the habit of breaking projects into “next actions”. In GTD jargon, a “next action” is the next physical action required to move forward a project and it doesn’t have nothing to do with the logical structure of the project, most of the time. For instance, if your project is to change your plumbing, the next action will be “look up phone number of the plumber in the agenda @phone” and not “call the plumber”.Â “Call the plumber” comes next to “look up the phone number”. Pretty logical, of course.
Next actions are a fantastic glue to my flow. After I created and constantly sustained the habit of breaking my projects into next actions, something nice happened: I started doing stuff instead of organize my day all day long.Â It’s not rocket science, but it’s effective.
2 minutes rule
If something can be done in 2 minutes, just do it. Do not postpone it, do not procrastinate on it, just do it, it’s only 2 minutes of your life. That’s another GTD rule, used during your weekly or daily review. I adopted this in most of my activities and it proved to be a win. Even in simpler situations like doing errands or searching the net, if something new to do came up suddenly and it doesn’t go over a decent limit of 2 minutes, I just do it in the moment.
There are of course situations in which I just capture the idea and store it for further processing, but after two years of practice I realized most of the things I have to do can be done instantly. Needles to say that my procrastination plummeted lower than Dow Jones last year. I even had to came up with some productivity tips in order to enhance my procrastination skills, that’s how low it is.
Work in context
The GTD approach about contexts is that you should append to each of your action a specific context and when you’re in that context, peruse your actions list and do only what you can do @Home or @Office or @Computer. I do have a list of GTD contexts and I do most of my work in those contexts.
But the list is highly simplified and it doesn’t have more than 6-7 contexts. I don’t change them often and to be honest, I tend to melt them most of the time. Working from home is surely helping me in that.
So what went out of the system? What are the things that I don’t use anymore from GTD?
To be honest, I never had one. Never saw the use for this although I’m sure David Allen had some very good reasons for recommending it.
This one is out without first existing either. Never had the urge of putting labels on my files. I remember though that labelers were pretty neat stuff in the golden era of GTD.
I had a deck of office trays labeled (without a labeler, of course): Inbox, Do ASAP, and Someday / Maybe. I still have that deck on my desk, but the inboxes are slowly starting to melt. I started to experience the feeling of only one Inbox spread over several media. I have it spread on my email, on my task application (OmniFocus, that is), on my real desktop in my office, and so on. Everything that comes into my focus is transferred in this melted Inbox from where it is processed as for the GTD rules. The rest is just storage.
I deliberately let this process of inbox melting to go on. I never felt the need for an inbox separation. I tend to embrace things totally and process them in a single batch. This inbox melting process is closely related to the last thing that slept through my fingers in the process of internalizing my GTD habits.
The GTD recommendation is that you have a daily review and then a weekly review. I never managed to have them EXACTLY like this. I’m quite honest about that and I don’t think it’s a great loss. I do my reviews whenever I feel the need. Sometimes I do several reviews on a day, sometimes I do only a weekly review, sometimes there are weeks until I do another review.
The things that matters the most for me is not the speed of reviews, but the quantity of trust I put in the system. If I trust my managing information system, I can put my focus on the creative activities (or I can just have a life, for instance). I realized that chaos is not dissolved if you do stuff repeatedly, but rather if you immerse yourself in what you do deeply enough to let everything else outside. That’s the way it works for me.
Well, after 2 years of being a GTD’er I am finally at peace with my own interpretation of Getting Things Done methodology. I’m even happy that I had the courage to write a blog post called Astrology And Getting Things Done.
What are your experiences with GTD? Are you a follower? Do you do things by the book or are you just adapting the book to your needs? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.