Help me GTD: Analysis Paralysis Applications & GTD
July 1, 2014 4:44 PM   Subscribe

Help me implement GTD in a manageable fashion. I get lost in details, and need help keeping track of the pieces. I have access to web apps and a shiny new ipad air. Snowflakes inside. Tell me what has worked for you, and please offer practical advice.

I've read David Allen's book on GTD, am a low-level manager in a financial services industry with ~25 people reporting to me. I get inundated with emails, walk-ins, phone calls, etc. I need to do a better job keeping track of things. I'm committed to implementing GTD, but am struggling to decide which (preferably free) webapp/ipad app to use. Here's more details:

*Company uses Outlook and does not allow forwarding emails outside of organization.
*Tried implementing GTD in Outlook (purchased David Allen's specific Outlook 2007 booklet for this), find it cumbersome with web version of outlook and it prevents ipad use.
*Have tried Trello and Wunderlist but struggle with implementation.
*Would prefer staying away from paper, as I have mild OCD (not a clever phrase, actual diagnosis) and obsess over imperfect writing.
*Have looked at toodledo, nirvana, asana, anydo, todoist, and just get paralyzed when I try to implement.

What has worked for you? How do you keep track of everything? Is GTD the right way to go? I don't want to miss any details. I hate letting other people and myself down.
posted by Draccy to Technology (7 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The trick to GTD is not to implement the David Allen stuff exactly as he does it, but to do it in a way that works for you.

Here's what I do (I'm also a low-level manager), and it works well enough for me:

* email: lots of folders for everything. Part of reading email is filing it away in the appropriate folder. I use a keyboard macros program to hot key the 10 or so most common places I want to file messages. Once you've got mail well filed, you can use your inbox as just a list of thing you either need to reply on or are waiting for something on.

* folders for people: each person on my team has his or her own email folder, so everything specifically related to a single employee is in one place. Then I have subfolders for each year's review documents, etc

* use notes: I don't know what the equivalent in outlook is, but in my mail client I have dozens of note files with handy titles like people's names, projects, etc, and whenever I have a random thought like "Oh, I want to talk to Christopher about X" I add X to my Christopher notes, and the next time I talk to Christopher, I can cover everything on the notes and then delete those lines as we discuss them

* calendar tasklist: my calendar client has a task list feature that I use for big-picture tasks like "prepare presentation on foo" or "investigate xyz for project abc" and then in the rare down moments, I can glance at that list and find a project I can make a little progress on

* team dashboard: we use Confluence for documentation and project management. I have a team dashboard that includes links to common tools or queues my team uses, and has little text areas for each person on the team so that at our daily team meeting I can jot down (publicly) what everybody's working on. It also has lists of projects that people are working on, who's assigned to what project, priority, status, etc. And those are all links to project pages where the next action on the project is documented. My ADC and I meet weekly to review all the projects.

One of the other features of the team dashboard is a space where anybody can jot down agenda items for the next team meeting, and another space where I can jot down things I need to take to the department managers meetings

So that's what works for me. Good luck!
posted by colin_l at 5:54 PM on July 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh, forgot to mention what you're probably already doing, which is that as much as possible, any email on a list gets automatically filed in a folder specifically for that list. Any other email that can be programmatically pre-sorted is filed by a robot as well.
posted by colin_l at 5:57 PM on July 1, 2014

Best answer: I had the same question a couple weeks ago.

The thing that I realized is that it is not the tools that you end up choosing that matter - most of them as it force you to conform to the way they are built and structured anyways. What matters is regardless of what you choose, that you do it consistently.

Don't worry about getting the nitty gritty details down like the book suggests - figure out and evolve your process to what works for you.

I looked at implementing GTD with outlook, but I realized why people say to keep your communication channels separate from e-mails. E-mails are not actionable - tasks are.

Having a separate system to have your tasks, even though might seem inefficient from a process perspective, will force you to think about what concrete task(s) you need to perform.

Here is my process and I changed what I did based on feedback that I got from a question I asked a couple weeks ago:

1) Every morning as soon as I get to work, I pull out my trusty moleskin and my Lamy ink pen (there is something about putting your thoughts down on paper that does something for me, that I've found that the electronic medium lacks). I dump everything I have thought of that I would like to accomplish that day or any other things however big or small that I need to make sure that I do at some point. I have two separate notebooks for work and personal stuff. I use a modified Bullet Journal layout for my books.

2) Then I decide on a 2-3 big things I'd like to tackle for the day and put them on the wonderfully designed Emergent Task Planner template by David Seah. I'll transfer everything again to Trello (I use Trello for work and Remember the Milk for personal stuff). I'll also list my appointments on the schedule and keep the paper on my desk through the day.
My Trello list is divided into
This week
Waiting For
Work in Progress

Flow is left to right, top to bottom.

My personal tasks are organized in RTM and the set-up is slightly more complicated, but follows the same general approach, but with tags, projects, contexts and locations.

This process currently takes me approximately 30 minutes in the morning and I've blocked that time out on my calendar as the first thing I do every morning as soon as I get into the office.

3) At the end of the day, half an hour before leaving, I'll clean out my inbox, create any follow up tasks from the email or anything else that came up during the day (i'll note stuff in any notebook that I have with me), and then transfer those to my moleskin, which I'll review the next morning. I'll then clean out my desk, put away my papers I've collected during the day, and note any major things I'd like to accomplish for the following day. I'll also check on how far I got with the things I decided to accomplish for that day and determine if any of those tasks need to be carried forward.

4) At the end of the week (Friday before leaving - work) and (sunday - personal), I'll do the weekly review and do the process described above, but while keeping a copy of the trigger list to make sure I don't forget anything major that I'd like to do for the week. I think the weekly review is the most under-rated part of the process. This part is crucial to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks.

In essence, here is the tl;dr:
i) Tools don't matter
ii) Keep email and tasks separate
iii) Evolve your process to suit your needs and not the tools themselves
iv) Consistency
v) Weekly review + trigger lists
vi) keep it as simple as you can
vii) Finally - get rid of the notifications and distractions of all sorts
posted by rippersid at 7:21 PM on July 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Check out Workflowy. Of all the to do apps I've tried to use (both simple and specific) it's the one I love most. You can use hashtags to link projects together. Supposedly date-based list items are coming soon. There's a freemium version you can try first, but I jumped for the paid because it backs up to Dropbox.
posted by Brittanie at 9:08 PM on July 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hey there Analysis Paralysis buddy!

Not that having more choices is helpful or anything, but if you're in an Outlook/Exchange environment, you might consider integrating with OneNote, which is now free on all platforms. There's lots of good material about how to get Outlook tasks and OneNote hooked up with each other.

OneNote is more of a "platform" than a straight-up app, so there are many different approaches to using it. But the advantage is that you can cram pretty much any kind of material into it -- text, PDFs, audio notes, web pages, screen clippings, whatever.

It's relatively skeuomorphic w/r/t the notebook, section, page layout. If you've used a binder with tab dividers, you can use OneNote.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 7:20 AM on July 2, 2014

Best answer: It sounds like you've had trouble getting started. I'm no GTD guru, but I wonder if you should implement it in the most boring way, then once you've had more experience, try a program designed for it. I'd use pencil and paper myself, but with your situation, why not just use something like your favorite text editor, or MS word? Tidy, searchable, and you would not be simultaneously learning GTD and a new set of programs. You could keep a list of projects, separate documents for each project containing notes and plans, and separate documents for each of your contexts, containing next actions. Ubiquitous capture is harder with a non-pencil and paper system, but maybe you can do voice notes with a phone. Or perhaps capture on a tiny notepad or folded up piece of paper in your pocket is okay because you'll know that at the end of the day you will type those ideas up.
posted by SandiBeech at 2:35 PM on July 2, 2014

Response by poster: Thank you all. I think what I find hardest is getting started. I already feel behind the eight-ball and it's overwhelming to try to catch-up and get ahead of the game.
posted by Draccy at 6:38 PM on July 3, 2014

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