After reading how David Seah is managing with his implementation of GTD, I thought I'd take a look at my own system to see how things are going. If you haven't heard of GTD (Getting Things Done), I wrote a review of GTD some months ago on my other website. I also recommend checking out Merlin Mann's "43 Folders" and the Official David Allen website too.
I started using GTD in my final semester of university, and I'm quite sure it's the reason I managed to stay (relatively) sane in those final few months. As much as I hate to admit it, I was incredibly unorganised in my first few years, so any kind of system would have made a big difference. I'd heard a few developers talking about GTD on some game development forums, so thought I'd give it a whirl. Whilst I didn't achieve a "mind like water", I did manage to reign in all my tasks into one place. Considering the position I was in before ("mind like whirlpool"), I was quite pleased.
The bits that work
The Two Minute Rule
Like Dave, I find the two minute rule to be incredibly useful. I would often look at even the smallest of tasks and decide “I'll do it tomorrow”. Not a good habit. There's only so many times you can put a task off until it becomes urgent, and getting into the “I'll do it tomorrow” habit is a sure-fire way of getting yourself into trouble.
Taking up the two minute rule helped me to break this habit, and made me far more productive. Anyone who suffers from procrastination will know that once you're started, nearly all resistance vanishes. Thrashing through a list of two minute tasks often left me with more energy to pursue the bigger tasks.
The Someday/Maybe List
This was another simple change that I've employed. I have a lot of ideas, and I usually think of new ones when I'm supposed to be doing something else. It surprised me that I'd never thought of keeping track of all these ideas in a single place. The "Someday/Maybe" list is a place for me to make a note of all these fantastical ideas, and writing them down means I won't be distracted by them whilst I'm working.
Having an "In" Tray
University generated a lot of actionable items, such as coursework, research subjects and a small forest's worth of lecture notes. Before I had an in-tray, they used to just sit in my bag and wait for something to happen. As you can probably imagine, this was note the most effective system in the world.
Contextual “To-Do” Lists
My time was generally split between four places – university, home, walking through town and sitting on the bus. Dividing tasks into contexts instead of subjects eliminated a lot of mental sorting when in different locations. For example, if I needed to buy something, I would put it on the "@Town" list, which I'd check when in a position to do some shopping.
I also had an "@Bus" list, as the journey lasted around an hour, so it was a good place to revise my notes from the day and plough through a list of small tasks.
The bits that don't work so well
I like the idea of the "next action", but I like to plan further ahead than a single action. Writing software can be a very daunting task, and there's often a whole heap of things that need to get done. Next actions are often very small, and it doesn't seem like the best way of managing a large scale project.
Perhaps keeping track of all this is beyond the scope of my current GTD system, but I know other developers have used it to perhaps some tweaking is in order.
Keeping It All in One Place
I regularly switch between the computer and my desk, so finding a way of storing these tasks and projects has become quite a challenge. I'm still a fan of using paper, but it's much easier to modify tasks that are being managed on the computer. Sometimes I find myself writing the same thing on paper and on the computer, which is very frustrating.
Whilst to-do lists do the work of deciding what needs doing, they don't help with when it needs doing. The calendar can remind you of deadlines, but there seems to be a gap between the action and the deadline. In a way, this is connected to my problem with GTD's management of projects and my own tendency to plan things out quite thoroughly.
How do I fix these things?
Over the next few weeks I want to modify my entire system to iron out these problems. My current plan is to keep a project plan at the front of each project's folder, and to schedule my day into hourly "blocks" where I can work through the project's list of tasks. Project milestones will get added to the calendar, and I'll trial a completely paper-based system.
Has anyone else encountered these problems with their own systems (either GTD or something different)? If so, how did you remedy them?