Getting things done

In a recent post over at the Web Worker Daily, Anne Zelenka asked the question: How do you decide what to do from your to do list? The focus was on a couple hosted software apps that help people follow the Getting Things Done process laid out by David Allen.

I haven’t really evaluated either Vitalist or Nozbe, though Vitalist appeals more to my design sensibilities. There are several others that look to be worth trying out, too. What I have been doing for some months now is using a Firefox extension to Gmail called GTDGmail. I hadn’t really heard of the GTD process before stumbling upon this extension and deciding to try it out. Basically GTD is based on the idea that you have to free your mind from keeping track of tasks by getting those tasks out and into something else, often times paper lists. It goes further into saying that you really should only decide that you are going to work and then let your pre-coded tasks determine what you work on. There is more info to be found on GTD at Wikipedia including the following brief intro:

When you process your inbox, follow a strict workflow:

  1. Start at the top.
  2. Deal with one item at a time.
  3. Never put anything back into ‘in’.
  4. If an item requires action:
    • do it (if it takes less than two minutes),
    • delegate it, or
    • defer it.
  5. If not,
    • file it for reference,
    • throw it away, or
    • incubate it for possible action later.

GTDGmail has an explanation I like even better:

GTD has two main aims:

  1. To get all the fiddly little things you have to remember out of your head, and into something more robust.
  2. To give you a view of your tasks that will always answer the question “What should I do now?”

It is designed for lazy people. It is simple and effective enough that anyone can do it, and keep doing it.

In addition, they state that any task that can be done in 2 minutes or less, should just be done right away. (Thus reducing the stress of task overload).

I am not using the full GTD system. I have modified it a bit to suit my needs. The GTD system has Contexts, Statuses, and Projects and while I like the idea of Contexts (where I do things e.g. at a computer, or on the phone) I find that I am mostly using this for tasks that I would do at a computer or that context did not really matter much to me. I usually just click on a status such as “Waiting On” and a project title such as “Refactr Website” and call it good.

I am just now starting to buy into the system and use it daily. There are a ton of customization options and, in one of the neatest aspects of the software, some of these options are configured based on one of three archetype users you tell it you are:

The Empty Inbox
Style: As soon as an item comes in, it is labeled and Archived. The Inbox should always be empty.

The Archive Graveyard
Style: Keep all current items in the Inbox, and put all finished ones in the Archive.

I Love My Inbox!
Style: All items stay in the Inbox. Archive? What Archive?!

I strive to be the middle group but am afraid, all too often, I fall into the last group. All in all, I guess I would say I recommend anyone who feels a bit overwhelmed with tasks to give GTD a try, and specifically the GTD Firefox extension. It can’t really be worse than putting messages in all those folders can it?

  • “vitalist”, what a rip.