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GTD Getting things done questions galore
October 9, 2005 10:29 PM   Subscribe

GTD - Getting things done questions for people who have 'adopted' it.

Ok, I'm taking the plunge against procrastination and the chaos that is life. I never had a formal system in place, and David Allen's Book (Getting Things Done) seems to make decent sense.

What mistakes did you make/advice would you give me that you made for me to avoid? Have you used any of Allen's services? Did you see him speak?

I'm using a Mac - and stumbled across KindlessGTD (an omnioutliner format.) Did it work for you? fail? Better tools?

I'm toying around with the idea of using VooDoo Pad wiki (a shareware personal wiki) instead, but I can't seem to wrap my head around how to structure it with the context idea (are you using an online wiki? personal wiki? how is it structured?)

I'm not obsessing on the tools; I've started clearing my inboxes across the board and organizing using Kindless..but I can always change.

Have you adopted GTD and found it failed you in some great way?
posted by filmgeek to Grab Bag (24 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
whoops, it's kinkless.
posted by filmgeek at 10:30 PM on October 9, 2005

Forgive me if you already know of this, but Merlin Mann's site,, is an excellent resource for GTD and productivity stuff, especially for the mac-inclined.
posted by rossination at 10:36 PM on October 9, 2005

Great though, thanks ross,

I know about 43folders, lifehacker, mindhacks, amongst others (along with tags around GTD. I also joined two mailinglists I found on yahoo today (one on GTD, the other on GTD + palm)
posted by filmgeek at 10:40 PM on October 9, 2005

For a wiki alternative, there is GTD tiddlywiki which is set up for GTD. Give it a try but I am far from a serious implementor
posted by stratastar at 10:45 PM on October 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

There are a lot of tools and programs and gadgets and widgets, and I'd caution you to remember the reason you began and not to get sidetracked by the wealth of distractions. Like any worthwhile system: Stick with the basic principles, and leave the "added value" packages for the suckers.

I think there are some great ideas in the book. And I think it's amazing, the cult that's formed around it, and how these nutjobs have conceived myriad ways to whitewash the basic principles of the concept. The point is to accomplish goals and to gain time and mobility, not for the system to become an end unto itself.
posted by cribcage at 10:53 PM on October 9, 2005

I admit I haven't been the most committed implementer of GTD, but I'll add that I did much better when I stuck to a very basic index-card based method of Next Action capturing. I am attracted to the idea of computer-based organizing tools, but they've never actually helped me focus and work through my actions the way a physical collection of cards did. (I've used Outlook, GTDTiddlyWiki, EverNote, and OneNote on the computer.)
posted by stopgap at 11:11 PM on October 9, 2005

I paged through GTD but I never got around to buying it. I took some of the principles and started my own system using index cards. It works when I remember to look at them.
posted by mischief at 11:17 PM on October 9, 2005

95% of the deal, it seems to me, consists of three bits of advice:

-- get everything in your life that you want to act on out of your head and in front of you at all times;
-- think of the next thing you can do, in 15-minute chunks;
-- review on a regular basis.

I would very strongly advise against elaborate (and especially high-tech) implementations until you're positive that you have acted out those three bits of advice in the simplest way until they feel absolutely right.

And something about arranging index cards and paper and stacks of manila folders until they start to really talk to you is much, much more satisfying than buying a piece of software.
posted by argybarg at 11:20 PM on October 9, 2005 [2 favorites]

The problem with software is that you don't carry your Mac to the store. Of course, an organizer that ports to your Mac would solve that, but then you have to remember to synchronize your files across both systems.

In the words of Chuck Berry, "Bah! Too much monkey busniess."
posted by mischief at 12:10 AM on October 10, 2005 [1 favorite]

The nice thing about the GTD TiddlyWiki is that it prints directly to 3x5 index cards. Further to cribcage's comment on getting sidetracked, see productivity pr0n.
posted by bachelor#3 at 12:35 AM on October 10, 2005 [1 favorite]

I took some of the principles and started my own system using index cards. It works when I remember to look at them.

I had the same problem - used to forget to bring my Hipster with me a lot - so I sidestepped the need to be more disciplined in this manner by putting everything on my cell phone, which I take with me everywhere. Been very helpful.

Really though, the best I advice can offer is to second argybarg: GTD is fundamentally a set of principles. They're great principles, but everyone is an individual; you need to figure out how to get them to work for you, so don't be afraid to experiment with different things. Make it a part of your weekly review to reflect on how these different approaches to GTD worked for you.

As for flaws, the lack of any kind of reminder system (beyond the tickler) for scheduled events used to kill me, since I can be pretty absent-minded - I remember reading a blog post about how this was the great flaw in the GTD system, but I can't find it - so the greatest thing for me was to get something going (in this case, putting my calendar on my cell phone) that would free me from having to think about where I'm supposed to be at any particular moment. Now, any time I have to be somewhere, an alarm goes off an hour ahead to remind me.

Not having to think about that either was almost as powerful a transformation for me as implementing GTD to begin with was.
posted by joshuaconner at 1:09 AM on October 10, 2005

These systems tend to fail if you don't commit to them 100%, and given the list-driven nature of GTD, I imagine a lot of potential for problems if you're not looking at your lists or putting stuff on your lists.
But as long as you're not afraid to tweak to your workflow (and if you look around online, people are scared to death to do that), you should be A-OK.
FYI, I think all of the sites everyone mentioned are really good, but it might be able to just work with it on your own for a few weeks so you come to it fresh.
I started GTD and my first instinct was to make it calendar-based (which is pretty much what the book warns against). But for me, the principles translate very well to an electronic calendar.
posted by puckupdate at 7:10 AM on October 10, 2005

I have a rule for myself and any great new self-improvement thing I'm doing: I have to earn any gadgets by first making do with the tools at hand. So I've been picking and choosing forms from DIYPlanner and using them in a binder as a sort of planner/diary (remembering what I did last week is sometimes more important that what I think I might get to do tomorrow) and project organizer for work, my phone synched with Outlook for an official calendar, and HandyShopper (which I was already using for shopping lists, but it's just a very nice listmaker) for context lists.

I think I'm mostly going to stick to that method, since it's working and it's cheap. Like anything else, GTD is a "take what you need" methodology, so start with the basics and see if it does anything for you.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:16 AM on October 10, 2005

Here is how I implemented the system for myself. It worked great for a couple of weeks, and then I forgot to follow the steps for a few days and suddenly I was off-track. If you're like me, when you adopt the system, you need to be sure to stick to it every day, or a little negligence will totally derail you. (Fortunately, it's easy to "reset" once you've started once.)

Puckupdate is right: These systems tend to fail if you don't commit to them 100%.
posted by jdroth at 7:23 AM on October 10, 2005

I have been following these GTD stuff for sometime now. For me the biggest time killer are distractions on the web.

i have reduced my blog reading to a minimal set. They are the biggest time suckers. Most of them are good for the writers own life aspiratrions at the expense of rest of us suckers.

Minimizing these distractions helps me with my GTD.
posted by flyby22 at 7:53 AM on October 10, 2005

I use a lightly-adapted GTD system. I tried many programs until I just gave up on them as "too much overhead".

The best way for me is a stack of index cards with next actions listed by context. I seriously love this "system", and carry it with me all the time.

That said, I think you are jumping the gun, worrying about what programs or systems you will use. Do the first couple steps for real, it takes a significant amount of time to get over this hump. Until you do at least the first two, you will forever be backsliding into chaos.

For me, doing the following four things has been life-changing.

1) Get every last piece of paper in your house, put it in a pile, and file it all into new, nicely labeled folders.

2) Dump every last thing you want to do, should do, or are thinking of doing from your brain onto a big list. Break that list down into next actions for things you really are going to do, and formally put aside anything you wont really be doing.

3) Make a list of projects and then review your list of projects against your list of actions on some regular basis (I do it weekly). Ensure that at least one action is listed for every active project.

4) Trust your lists and enjoy your less stressful, I-cant-forget-to-do-X lifestyle.
posted by Invoke at 9:09 AM on October 10, 2005 [2 favorites]

I've started a GTD approach this weekend, too. I've chosen index cards, and am visualizing a Wall O' Card Slots in the near future.

I am sorely tempted to use the computer, but I know that it would inevitably be the wrong choice: it's much too easy to get into geek mode on a computer, instead of actually being productive.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:52 AM on October 10, 2005

I'm in the process of starting the GTD program from a previous AskMe. I was supposed to get going this weekend but its surprisingly hard to want to do this with a hangover. So I'll be starting this week.

First step is to get some index cards and start writing things down.

By the way, its good to know that I'm not the only procrastinator in the house!
posted by fenriq at 10:14 AM on October 10, 2005

I started getting into GTD about 8 months ago, while I was unemployed. Two months later I got a job. I've been a big fan of putting my next actions on cue-cards, and have become known for this around the office. It has worked out quite well and when I let it slide my focus tends to slide as well, so after a few slips I've become ever stronger in my cue-card resolve.

At home I've done a great job of implementing the inbox system and have a filing cabinet and trashbin right next to the computer desk and it works swimmingly.

Not everything has worked as well though. I've tried the wall of cards, and even the little envelops, and although it works good for about a week, all but a few projects get neglected. The real lesson there has been that even though you can organize yourself and all your projects, you still only have the time and resources to focus on a few.

I also have the ubiquitous 43 folders on my desk, I tend to forget to pick out the next day's folder and so sometimes will go a week without checking them. I don't have a lot of date based actions to take so that's partially why, I don't see anything wrong with the system though so I'll try to keep it going.

One last thing, I can't say enough good things about pocketmod. I've tried moleskins and similar, but an agenda that is no bigger than a folder piece of paper is so much more convenient, and the first thing I do each monday is print out a new planner for the week, which serves well as a weekly review as I transcript items from the previous week into the next one.
posted by furtive at 10:23 AM on October 10, 2005 [1 favorite]

I sidestepped the need to be more disciplined in this manner by putting everything on my cell phone, which I take with me everywhere.

But then how do you remember to take your cell phone with you everywhere, given the natural disincentives to doing so?
posted by kindall at 10:57 AM on October 10, 2005

But then how do you remember to take your cell phone with you everywhere, given the natural disincentives to doing so?

I'm not sure what you mean. When I take my cell phone with me, my calendar is with me too, and it'll tell me when I need to be somewhere. But if I don't take my cell phone with me, I have to start worrying about where I need to be and try to remember my schedule for the day, which is not fun, and which I usually fail at.

In this sense, having my cell phone with me is its own reward.
posted by joshuaconner at 11:11 AM on October 10, 2005 [1 favorite]

Sure, you have that incentive now, now that you have your calendar on your cell phone. But you put your calendar on your cell phone because you were already carrying your cell phone with you. My question is, how did you get to the point where you remembered to carry your cell phone with you to begin with, given the natural disincentives to doing so (e.g. the fact that people can contact you wherever you happen to be)? I know carrying a cell phone would be useful a lot of the time, but even on days I know I might need it, I usually end up leaving it at home on the charger.
posted by kindall at 12:22 PM on October 10, 2005

kindall, my solution was to get used to not answering the phone every time it rings (or turning off the ringer). I let everyone know that I only check my phone a couple times a day, and everyone's adapted to it just fine. Also, don't wear a watch and you'll start to rely on your phone for timekeeping.
posted by cali at 1:18 PM on October 10, 2005

given the natural disincentives to doing so (e.g. the fact that people can contact you wherever you happen to be)

Good point, kindall. If that sort of thing bothered me, I'd make sure to get a phone that has airplane mode, which lets you use the other features of the phone without being able to make or receive calls.
posted by joshuaconner at 1:47 AM on October 11, 2005

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