Getting Things Done - Six months on

Getting back into "Getting Things Done" (GTD) is one of my secondary goals for 2019. So far I've managed to keep up my weekly reviews and keep my system (mostly) organized.

The last time I really used GTD successfully was during university. I wrote a retrospective in July of 2006 but things have changed a lot since then. I graduated, moved to the US and started working as a freelance software engineer.

A lot of what I wrote then still holds true, but there have been major changes to my daily routine. There are no fixed class schedules, no exams to revise for and no commutes to and from campus. Thankfully GTD can adapt to changes like these.

What's working

The two minute rule

During processing, any task that will take less than two minutes should be done there and then.

This is still one of my favourite things from GTD. It stops small tasks from ending up on a list and either being done too late or not at all.

It's particularly useful during weekly reviews. I usually complete half a dozen tasks during the review process alone. These tasks can range from "Email X about Project Y" to "File away letters from the bank".

Weekly reviews

Beeminder has been my friend here. I have a goal set up to make sure I complete a review every week, and I haven't derailed since I started it. I can't pretend I look forward to weekly reviews, but I'm not putting them off the way I used to.

The weekly review tool on FacileThings has also been a huge time saver. I had my own checklist for weekly reviews, but sometimes I wouldn't give items the time they really needed. The FacileThings review shows everything I need, when I need it.

Projects (kind of)

I've been taking the GTD approach to projects - i.e. if a task requires more than one action to complete, it's a project. It takes some getting used to, but it keeps project actions fairly manageable. Even though projects can end up being quite small, it's satisfying to get them organized and completed.

At the moment I have 48 active projects and have completed 24. I'm still working on getting some external projects into my system.

Getting stuff done

The biggest success by far is that I'm actually getting stuff done. There have been a number of small small projects I've wanted to complete for ages and just haven't got around to. Having them in a system where I can see and review them has stopped them from getting lost in my daily routine.

I've completed over 250 tasks since starting with FacileThings in April, which includes a vacation in June.

What's not working

Contexts

I use tags to limit my tasks by area (e.g. work, personal and free-software), but location-based contexts (e.g. office or store) aren't really worth it for me. The only real time I use contexts is a whiteboard on the door for "things I need from the grocery store".

Projects

I really like how GTD simplifies projects to a "next action" level, but some things just don't fit into that kind of system.

For example:

I'm currently working on a large software project that is going to take over a year to complete. It needs to be split into milestones and tasks. Some tasks will depend on others and parts may need to be delegated as time goes on.

A pure GTD approach doesn't really cover everything that I need to manage.

Huge next actions list

Sometimes it feels like I just have an enormous list of stuff to get done and it can be a little overwhelming.

I think an additional "is this really something I want to do?" question during processing would be helpful here. It can always go on the "someday/maybe" list if I'm not 100% sure.

Getting stuck

It's easy for some items to get stuck. There are a couple of items on my list that have been there for over a month, but they're not really important or urgent enough to work on Right Now.

I'd like to find a better way to balance getting new stuff done vs keeping the list short.

Still not 100% "in"

There are still some external tasks I'm not tracking using my system. Some work tasks aren't tracked, and I have a couple of large projects that aren't on my projects list.

Improvements

Projects

So far the best solution I've found is to treat the project plan as a project in itself and use a separate methodology to create it. It can then be put into my GTD system as reference material and stored on the list of projects. Tasks can be taken from the plan and put onto my next actions list if/when appropriate.

It's still not perfect, but I think it overcomes the issue with trying to fit all projects into the GTD mold.

Work and personal tasks

My work tasks come in via email, a ticketing system, instant messages and occasionally phone calls. But some of it is still slipping through the cracks.

I think because tasks that come in need to be converted before they go into my system, and I don't really like spending time doing that when work needs doing. This is especially true of tasks that are urgent.

I need to tighten this process up, so I need to get into the habit of treating my email inbox as an actual inbox and processing it accordingly.

Daily reviews

Daily reviews might be needed to really keep me on track. I'm not planning on anything too serious, probably just a quick process of my inbox and a check of my next actions to make sure nothing important got forgotten.

Scheduling

I'd like to start planning out my day in advance and schedule time to work on specific projects. I'd also like to schedule time each day to work on cleaning up smaller tasks on my next actions list.


Groundhog Day Resolutions - July 2019

I was on vacation for most of June, so I only set a single goal.

June's Primary Goal

1. Relax

The actual traveling part wasn't great, but the vacation was good.

Primary goals for July

I'm still easing back into my routine so I'm trying to keep things simple this month. However, the year is 50% is done and I need to start making good progress with goals if I want to get things done.

1. Run a total of 35 miles

The training for my half marathon starts on July 15th. I should be running a total of 35.5 miles between July 7th and August 8th according to the training plan.

Cross-training will be bodyweight exercises and swimming.

2. Finish the "Exploring my Emacs packages" series

I have three posts left to write.

3. Finish one other goal on my "Other Goals" list

It's hard to plan which one to work on without knowing how much energy and free time I'll have during the month. Most of them are at various stages of "done-ness", but I really, really don't want to finish the year with a bunch of half-finished projects on my plate.

Secondary goals for July

1. Read another book

I read "Hacking Life" on vacation and quite enjoyed it. As with my other goals, I need to make time to actually do them instead of just thinking about them.

2. Add a page for tracking my bodyweight workouts

I already record these using org-mode (when I actually do them), but I'd like a way to view progress over time.


Groundhog Day Resolutions - June 2019

How did May's GHD goals go down?

May's Primary Goals

1. Release a small game

Another bust on the game development front. I worked on some game libraries and wrote some path finding functions, but nothing even approaching a playable game.

2. Research diet and nutrition plans

There is a huge amount of health-related information available online, and wading through it all wasn't much fun. I found a few different eating plans, but I think the first step is to start tracking what I'm eating to get a better idea of where I need to improve.

3. Finish planning my book

I have a list of all the important topics I want to cover for version 1. I'll probably slim it down once things get going.

4. Write a new post every week

I wrote a lot of draft posts, but didn't publish every week. I'm still calling it a win, but I should have been more specific and said "publish a post every week".

5. Finish planning my "Other Goals" list

Everything on the "other goals" list now has more information and a rough list of targets.

Primary goals for June

Relax

I'll be in the UK on vacation for most of June. My only goal is to relax and spend time with family and friends.


Groundhog Day Resolutions - May 2019

I kept April's GHD goals pretty simple, and it (mostly) paid off.

April's Primary Goals

1. Put my goals somewhere visible

I put all of my goals into FacileThings. They can then be linked to whatever tasks I'm working on. The goals page on FacileThings lists every goal, along with their related projects and tasks.

It would be nice if reviewing goals was a part of the built-in weekly review, but it's still possible to do manually.

2. Research half marathon running plans

I went with Hal Higdon's Novice 1 plan. Originally I thought an 18 week plan would be a better idea, but I think training from June to October might be a little much.

3. Publish a new post on this site once a week

I wrote several blog posts on sodaware.sdf.org that I'd been putting off for a while. However, I only managed two for this site, so I'm counting this goal as a failure.

4. Release a project

I did a soft release of MaxCop, a small utility I wrote for finding style issues in BlitzMax source code. It's not something I expect anyone to actually use, but it was nice to get it out in the open.

Primary goals for May

Release a small game

The last few weeks I've been playing around with developing software for the Atari ST. The ST was the first computer I ever properly programmed, and it's been fun to go back to making things in the same way I did as a teenager.

For May I'd like to release a small game. And this time I mean small.

Research diet and nutrition plans

I played three games of soccer in a week and it took me another week to recover. I'd like find a diet that will give me the energy to train, but will make my recovery times a little shorter.

Finish planning my book

I haven't touched this project for the last few months, which isn't an effective strategy for getting it done. I want to have a complete chapter list planned out in time for my next GHD review.

Write a new post every week

Doesn't have to be for this site, but I want to keep the habit going.

Finish planning my "Other Goals" list

It's nearly halfway through the year and there are still goals that don't have any kind of plan. By June I want to have a rough roadmap planned for each goal. They don't all have to be planned in minute detail, but I want to at least have an idea of how much effort is going to be involved in completing them all.


Notes on FacileThings

I wanted to try out some GTD-oriented tools as part of my "get back on the GTD wagon" goal. A few appeared frequently in my searches:

Each one supports a varying degree of GTD-ness, but FacileThings stood out as the most GTD-oriented. I've been using it for a few weeks now and have some initial thoughts on it. Overall I've been very happy with it.

What I like

  • It's heavily designed around GTD. The full process of capturing, clarifying, organizing and doing is built right into the software.
  • It supports the more high-level parts of organization, such as goals and "areas of responsibility". Tasks can be assigned to a goal and/or area, and can then be filtered appropriately.
  • The weekly review tool is a huge time saver. Each step has instructions, along with the tools required to complete them. For example, the "review your projects" step lists all projects, and each one can be checked quickly from the same page.
  • There are integrations for Evernote, Twitter and several cloud storage providers. Reference material can also be stored in Evernote and accessed from projects.
  • The dashboard lists reminders, calendar items for the day and all appropriate next actions. It can be filtered by tag (e.g. `work` or `personal`), along with time, energy and urgency. It also has a graph of tasks completed for the current week. It will remind you if items have been sat in the inbox for too long without being clarified.
  • There are keyboard shortcuts for accessing each part of the app.
  • Projects can have sub-projects. Projects can also be put into "waiting for" status, which is very helpful when working on client projects. Projects are highlighted when they are missing a next action.
  • Has a tickler file.
  • Has an "analytics" section that contains a lot of statistics. Things like how much is being collected, how much is being processed and how much is being done. It's a good way to find stuck projects and things that may be better suited to the "someday/maybe" pile.
  • The "Focus On" button in the top right can be used to quickly filter everything to goals and areas of responsiblities. So you can say "I want to work on goal X right now" and it will filter tasks and projects accordingly.
  • Can send emails have them go straight into the inbox.
  • Can be set up to email daily and weekly reports.
  • Shows you estimated time to complete projects and lists. So you can get a rough idea of how much time is needed to clear your entire next actions list (assuming you set estimated times).

What I don't like

  • Overall appearance isn't quite as polished as other tools out there.
  • Jumping to projects is done via dropdown menu, rather than a dedicated button, which isn't as smooth as I'd like. However, there is a keyboard shortcut to jump to the projects page.
  • It's not as keyboard-friendly as other tools. For example, Nirvana has keyboard shortcuts for adding projects and next actions from any page.
  • There isn't a way to import data from other platforms or via CSV/Text file
  • It's very expensive compared to other platforms. The current price is $84 a year (if paid in one go) and there is no lifetime option. For comparison, Nirvana is $50 for a lifetime subscription.
  • It's a little sluggish in places. Closing a task can sometimes take 5-10 seconds.
  • There's a Ruby API client, but there's very little documentation. I'd love a more complete API, and would especially like some webhooks for when tasks/projects are completed and weekly reviews are finished.
  • Not free/libre. I like to own my data and prefer self-hosted solutions.