Getting back to Getting Things Done

Getting Things Done (GTD) is one of those things I keep meaning to get back into but never really get around to. I used it for a couple of years when I was studying at university and it was a huge help. I never reached the "mind like water" level, but it helped me keep track of most of what was going on.

Lately I've been feeling a little too disorganized. There's a growing mountain of things I wanted to do and haven't, there are incomplete projects lying around and I've missed deadlines.

It's time to get things done.

A little bit about GTD

GTD centers around three important things:

  1. A well-defined process for handling incoming tasks
  2. A trusted system for organizing them
  3. A regular review for maintaining things

Sounds reasonable when it's written down, but what does it actually mean in the real world?

My daily routine

During a regular day I usually end up with one or more of the following:

  • Support tickets from clients. Some urgent, some not-so-urgent.
  • Chat messages asking for more immediate issues. Or just to ask questions.
  • Meeting requests.
  • Regular mail (usually bills).
  • Emails asking questions, requesting estimates, giving feedback or any other number of things.
  • Social messages (think "any plans for the weekend?")

And this list doesn't even include those random "oh yeah, I need to get X done" or "I really should fix that" thoughts that crop up during the day.

GTD calls these open loops.

If I let all of these pull me as soon as they come in, nothing gets done. But I also can't remember everything. A big source of stress for me is having to remind myself of what I should be doing and what important things I can't forget.

This is where the well-defined process and trusted system come in.

Without a process to sort things into the correct buckets, everything ends up going straight on the "must do now" pile. Without a system of organization that I know I'll use, I'll constantly worry about forgetting to do things.

Getting started

GTD breaks down into three stages:

  1. Capturing – getting things out of the brain and into a system.
  2. Processing – deciding on what to do with every single open loop.
  3. Reviewing – looking over everything tracked in the system and making sure nothing is left out.

The initial round can be extremely time consuming (and a little intimidating). Capturing every single open loop, processing them and storing them in the appropriate places takes time and patience.

It gets easier with experience.

I'm under no illusions that GTD is a perfect system or that it will solve every problem. I will probably never reach inbox zero or a mind like water, but even a limited implementation cuts down on some of the background noise in my mind.

This week I'm starting on the first step - capturing everything.

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