I've tried to adopt the Getting Things Done method a few times already. Every time, it wasn't a success. I wasn't applying most principles and fell back to noting things down on a collection of small papers. This time, I had a huge advantage: at work, I'm sitting next to Étienne, a big proponent of GTD. He inspired me to try again and answered a lot of questions I had during my adoption.
This time, I chose Omnifocus for my GTD experimentation. It's a bit expensive to buy the three flavours but I was committed. I'll be talking about my experiences via Omnifocus but you should not focus too much on the software. You can adopt GTD with paper, with another software, whatever works for you.
In january, I started the capture part. That's when you note down in your GTD system everything you'd like to do. You need to create that habit and do it every time something pops in your head. I use three main methods to collect:
- When I'm in front of my computer, I use the ^⌥Space shortcut to open the Quick Entry panel
- When I'm not in front of my computer, I use the iPod Touch app
- When an email requires some action, I send a message to the mail drop address
I got a huge inbox but I was ok with it because I knew collecting was the first part to get right. There is a big relief in knowing that everything you need or want to do is explicitly written somewhere. You're not afraid of forgetting something anymore.
Capturing your thoughts like this also allows you to stay focused on the current task. You don't have to do that new task right now, you don't have to explore that idea yet. Just trust the system to remind it to you later.
To start this, you may also want to start by doing a mind sweep: sit down in front of a piece of paper, no distractions, half an hour and write down everything that comes to mind.
Once you have this exhaustive list of things you want to do, you process it in contexts and projects. You also flag some items you deem important and put important dates for those tasks. I only started doing this mid january. The tricky part for me was creating the projects and contexts.
In GTD, Contexts are things you need to achieve a task. It could be a location, a person or an object. I'm not really using the contexts because most of the time, I just need to be in front of my computer to accomplish work related tasks. I may need to tweak this again but for now, I don't feel the need to dive more in that area.
- Errands: When I'm neither at home nor at work
- Home: I don't have an office context because I can work from anywhere. I have a few tasks that require me to be in an office (like printing) but not enough to warrant a full context.
- People: A nested list of some people and also a phone context
- Technology: This is where you'll find most of my tasks. I have a nested email folder.
- Waiting: When I'm waiting on something else to happen.
Let me give you three example of real projects:
Fixing a bug
I try to do this a lot :) So I have a template project that I copy when I intend to work on a bug. This is a sequential project, meaning I need to achieve a task before the next one is available.
- Find a fix: Well that sounds dumb but this is my first step
- Write tests: Even though I may write the tests as I fix the problem, I still keep this reminder to make sure I wrote enough tests
- Test on a phone: I will certainly have done this while developing but for small fixes that look obvious, I have been bitten by not testing on a real phone. Hence this reminder.
- Put in review: Uploading my patch and explaining my fix.
- Wait for review: This is in a waiting context so I can forget about this project until I receive an email about that review. If it's not good, I'll add a task for each comment to adress.
- Wait for green tests: In a waiting context too because you shouldn't land something if the tests are not green.
- Land patch and clean branches: When all is good, I can land my work. This is usually where I'll clean the branches I had to create.
- Close bug with link to commit: This is the last step so that people can track the work later.
Feedback on Openweb articles
The crazy hard worker that Nicolas Hoffmann is wrote a few articles on modern CSS practices on the OpenWeb group. I told him I wanted to read them and provide some feedback but I have no idea when I'll come around doing that. So I created one task per article. It's out of my mind but I know I'll do it one day because I have this reminder.
This is not a project per se. But when someone talks about a topic they like, I try to take a note of it. Then during the review process, I mark it as due a few days before the actual birthday.
In addition to these kinds of projects, I have a few projects called "Work :: Miscelleanous" or "Personal :: Miscelleanous". That's just things I need to do and don't really fit in a project.
Flags, deferred dates and due dates
This is how I have things popping up for attention. I try to use due dates as little as possible because otherwise, one day you end up with 10 things urgent to do and you get stuck. So only tasks that have a hard deadline (like filing taxes) get a due date.
I use flags for the tasks that are important but without a real deadline. During my weekly review (see below), I'll flag things that I want to do next week.
The capture phase was really refreshing because I knew everything was stored somewhere. Via the process phase, it's even more relaxing because I know the system will remind me when I need to do something. That completely changed how I think about being overwhelmed. Before, I had this blurry collection of things to do in my head. They were all collapsing and I had no sense of what was important to do or if I was forgetting something that matters to me. Now, when I feel overwhelmed, I know it just means I need to spend a bit of time in front of Omnifocus to process my inbox.
In february, I started doing reviews more often. First every two weeks and now every week. This is another step that gives me a great deal of comfort. This is when I'll decide what I want to do next week and put flags or due dates on things that I consider important for the coming week. I will also delete some items that I don't feel like doing anymore.
And this is the biggest part of GTD. Actually doing stuff. If you spend all that time in a tool to organise your tasks, it's not for the sake of it. That's why I did it gradually, to not spend too much time finding the perfect workflow.
I'm really happy with my adoption of the GTD method. It's not perfect, I'm still tweaking here and there.
I encourage you to try it. Reach out to me if you'd like to discuss it, I'd be happy to!