Brief update on Getting Things Done


Today was the first full day spent trying to implement David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD, background here) system in my everyday work life. Well, sort of everyday — I’m not teaching right now, which makes the day atypical, but I’m busy with before-the-semester-starts projects and that makes me busy enough. The two days before that were spent cleaning and reorganizing and generally getting myself physically set up to use GTD. It’s been a very interesting experience. I will blog on this at length later, but here’s a few bites for now:

  • I shelled out $24.95 to upgrade my factory-installed version of OmniOutliner from the Standard to the Professional version. I’ve been really impressed with this software — very simple and flexible — and the Pro version is even nicer. A killer app for college professors and well worth the money. Then I installed Kinkless GTD, which is a little quirky but I’m liking the centralized way in which it handles contexts and projects. It’s a little wonky with iCal and my Palm Z22, though.
  • The core concept of GTD — getting everything off your mind except those things which are truly next in the queue, and moving everything else to the trash, a filing system, or an Actions list — is quite liberating. I no longer feel the depressing "to-do list guilt" that comes from making out a prioritized task list each day, only to get less than half of the day’s tasks completed.
  • One nice side effect of GTD for parents of young children is that you don’t have to be at full mental capacity to be in control of your workflow. I’ve gotten only seven hours’ sleep in the last two days, thanks to my young child, and I was still on top of everything today — because I only have to actually think about a small portion of the stuff I need to do. This is a good system for the sleep-deprived, in other words.
  • I like how GTD forces you to think of Actions as actions, and not as amorphous phrases — "Set up mailing list for advisees" versus "do a better job of staying in touch with advisees".
  • I have had an enormous amount of stuff in my office that was just crap.
  • Clearing out all that crap, and being left with a clean desk, zero emails in your inbox, an alphabetized filing system, and an organized bookshelf has an amazingly salutary effect on how you approach work in general.
  • Before poring over Allen’s GTD book and some related blogs, I never really considered the idea that dissatisfaction and unhappiness in my job might have a lot to do with nothing more than how I handle the logistics of workflow. When I spend all my mental energy just trying to keep my to-do list organized in my head, where will I get the energy to care about students — as opposed to letting out a heavy sigh and getting annoyed when they drop in unannounced, because I have so much to "do"? Nowhere, that’s where.

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