Monday, January 26, 2009

Yet more GTD thoughts

OK, here's the thing: I've been trying to get my head round the utility of Eston Bond's Moleskine system, which he says is based partly on GTD and partly on PigPog.

Here's a brief summary of how the Moleskine thing is meant to work:

  • Odd pages are numbered
  • Pages 1 - 4 are the contents of the project pages
  • Pages 5 - 123 are the inbox
  • Pages 124 - 189 are the projects
  • Pages 190 onwards are someday

The basic idea, which is taken from the processing component of GTD, is that you take all the things you need to without distinction or prejudice and write them down in the inbox section of this notebook.

Stuff that can be done within two minutes is immediately done. No ifs, no buts, no coconuts.

Stuff that requires a large number of discrete actions to be taken ("go on holiday to France" or "get a new part-time job") automatically becomes a project.

Projects are entered in the Projects section of the notebook.

All those things which you hope one day to do maybe but aren't really likely right now go into someday.


Across each page in the inbox section the following is written:

Date | Task | Ref | Iteration | Project | Wait?

The date and task columns are fairly self-explanatory. The reference number is intended to indicate which page the task was previously entered in. The iteration is intended to indicate how many times the task has been moved forward in this manner.

If something has been upgraded to a project the project reference number is quoted in that column.

If something needs putting off for some reason then the Wait? column is marked.

My first problem is with the idea of moving tasks forward. If you're not waiting on something and not turning something into a project then why are you moving it forward?


The idea behind having a separate Projects section at the back of the notebook seems like a good idea initially: Projects need to be broken down into discrete units before they can be tackled.

But if the projects are all stuck at the back in the Projects section when do you process them?

And also: are you really going to enter discrete steps of projects in both the projects pages and in the inbox pages? Where's the utility of that?

Developing an alternative: WTD

Instead of Getting Things Done why not Write Things Down?

This works in essentially the same way except there are no iterations, references, maybes, or projects.

WTD would focus on discrete actions that need to be taken soon or at some time in the future.

The problem with WTD is it ignores the big picture: an entry like "Get a job" might remain for weeks whilst the lesser tasks that "Get a job" entails like "Write CV" and "Write covering letter" and "Buy stamps" are crossed out one by one.

In fact, this problem highlights a problem with the whole GTD philosophy as I see it: there are always some things that you need to do that you just do without needing to write them down and remember.

I will certainly do some more research into GTD (like buying the book [aha! I knew there was a catch!]), but in the meantime I'll explore my own needs a little further.

Furthering WTD: where's the utility?

Taking WTD as a starting point: what can I do to further my productivity?

Looking at the list of things I've created it strikes me that any stuff (the GTD generic term for "Things You Have to Do/Take Care Of/Deal With") can occupy any one of the following categories:

  1. Stuff I need to do (e.g. "Get a job")
  2. Stuff I don't need to do but would like to do (e.g. "Learn to program with Python")
  3. Stuff I should do but probably won't (e.g. "Organise files")
  4. Stuff I need to do and will do anyway (e.g. "Brush teeth")

As I see it the value in any productivity system lies in it's ability to encourage you to deal with all these categories of stuff.

All the extraneous stuff about references and iterations is all very well but I doubt it actually increases your productivity.

So, I'm going to dump the Moleskine in favour of a smaller and cheaper notebook (also one with diary functionality and maps and a pencil).

I'm also going to do some further research into GTD: I've only really touched the surface and I need to read the book.

I agree with this guy.

I think for my own happiness and peace of mind maintaining an elaborate system of references and iterations is less effective than having an ad-hoc scrawlbook.

And inevitably the ideas of GTD put my in mind both of Taleb's dictum to avoid information overload, and Sterling's thoughts on the Viridian design movement.

Taleb advocates information decluttering, Sterling advocates physical decluttering, and Allen advocates mental decluttering.

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