Tips from 10 Years on GTD
Last year when Justin and I did the episode of CloudFocus Weekly about GTD we got a lot of response about the stories behind the productivity principals. In doing my research I looked back to the beginning of my journey and realized that in 2014 I would have been practicing GTD for an entire decade. This is my origin story and some advice for those just starting out.
My journey with GTD started after months of paralyzing procrastination that was starting to deeply affect my work and home life. I was putting off everything, knowingly dropping balls but couldn't seem to break the cycle. Each and every thing that I had to do kept building in my head as the days and months went on. It ruined my sleep and kept me at a level of semi-panic. At some point, after months of inaction, I searched for books on procrastination on the internet seeking self help. It wasn't a long search until I found Getting Things Done by David Allen with the hundreds of reviews and accolades. Amazon to the rescue.
While reading the book I was both intrigued, excited and daunted by the sheer amount of work ahead. David Allen talks of taking an entire weekend to get started and that seemed like a huge investment of time. Slowly but surely after finishing the book, I starting purchasing the tools (label makers, file folders, etc) and evaluating places to start my lists. I had always been a Palm user and was currently using the Treo which had an excellent task application. I decided it was good enough to get started so I divided in creating @Email and @Computer lists on my Treo and trying to capture everything that came into my head. It took over six months, but my procrastination was slowly replaced with a sense of control and calm.
The First Few Years
I like to talk about GTD as a journey because while the first read had some impact and helped with immediate things like email and task management, it took a few years of going in and out of GTD for bigger things to really take hold. I re-read the book a few years later and found a whole new set of principals to put into action such as areas of focus and life altitudes. I backed up the book by reading blogs and watching videos by productivity gurus such as Merlin Mann. I upped my task management to OmniOutliner with Kinkless GTD which eventually led me to OmniFocus where I have been ever since.
Ten Years of Tips
After ten years of practicing GTD it has become so much a part of what I do, who I am and the way I approach anything that removing it would be impossible. Concepts like ubiquitous capture, commitments, next actions, and weekly review are now just a part of my DNA. It has led me to read another twenty or so books as well as incorporate other life measurements that now are the foundation of how I approach life. As a manager I have helped coach others in the principals and made it a foundation of our work at Arkus.
It is hard to sum up ten years of anything but here are ten tips on getting started and getting great at getting things done.
1. Don't start with the book. Instead start with David Allen's Ted Talk which is a 20 minute video that if inspires you, go onto the book.
2. Read the book slowly. Take a chapter at a time, taking in some of the things and start practicing them. Write things down.
3. Ask for help. Talk to someone you know to help you go through it. Ask about some of the principals or find an internet community. It is much easier to put things in context with real life examples.
4. Don't overdue contexts. It is my experience that while they are still useful as a planning tool for tasks, they are less useful in terms of lists and views. Technology has made @Email basically anywhere.
5. Try one thing a month. Take one concept like capturing and just work on that one skill for a month, moving on when you feel like you got it.
6. Don't get caught up in the tool. There are a lot of tools out there so find one and stick to it. A lot of people get caught up trying to find the "perfect" one which in itself is a waste of time.
7. Reward yourself with stuff to help motivate like folders and label makers, maybe a paid Dropbox account or Evernote Premium. Calculate the return on investment in terms of your time.
8. Double down on the two minute rule. It is so critical, so easy to remember and to practice there is no reason not to make it the first hill to climb.
9. Don't stop at the book. There are great blogs, podcasts, books, videos and audio series out there that are in some ways better than the book. The Weekly Review series by David Allen (LINK) finally hit that home for me and has helped others that I have coached.
10. Share the love. Nothing solidifies a concept or principle better than sharing it with someone else. Explain it to a spouse or friend, put it out in your social network and see the reaction.
At this point GTD has just become like eating, sleeping or exercising. Something that keeps my mentally healthy and ready to take on all aspects of life.