Saturday, April 24, 2010

April - GTD and Toodledo #12: Breaking the system

Try as I might, I haven't been able to overcome a problem, I haven't fundamentally stayed in the styem; rather, I've relied on a notepad file that I can open with a few keystrokes and the superfast entry of a few lines of text.

When I have something new, I simply insert it where it goes in the priority list.  There are some clear positives to this method, namely speed and... okay, there's one positive.  Speed.  Tools whose only virtue is speed are pandering to laziness, however, which brings me to the downside.

The downside is that the notepad only contains the things I put in it right at the moment, and when I did a minor desktop icon cleanup the other day, this happened:

I know it's small.  I didn't want to show my desktop icons, but here's the gist of what you see.  I had a desktop with lots of icons.  I drug them around into groups before moving them to where they go, and the group in the lower left shows 5 notepad files - notepad files of the same kind that I'm talking about as my 'emergency' files.  This means that not only do I have a 'current' notepad file which isn't one of these, but there are 5 other files, containing what one could only assume were the most important activities I could be working on at the time - relegated to the status of ignored desktop crap.

Want to know the scary thing?  I actually put it as a line item in my current notepad to review those old notepad files to make sure there's nothing forgotten.  It would be a safe bet to assume there ARE forgotten items that will elicit a loud "D'oh!" from me when I read them.

So - I'm NOT getting the GTD benefits when I do this.

Not that we've looked at the ugly sympton, what's the root cause?

I was using a system proffered by a Toodledo power user in the forum, with folders indicating the GTD elements of inbox, action, waiting, etc. and Stars indicating next actions, applied only to actions.  The original scenario I sought to emulate used custom searches for next actions.  I did this but found that there were too many next actions for me to comprehend consciously, the very problem which GTD seems to avoid,  and occasionally there were clients, etc. for which I had NO next actions for certain time periods.

I added tags and made lots of custom searches but this meant I had to look at all the searches.

Hmmm.. both scenarios still had me using notepad and receiving no benefits.  So, I culled the next actions back from the things I could to next to the things I WOULD do next.  This reduced the number, but at this time, remember I had custom searches for many areas.  When I ditched the custom searches (AFTER having culled the next actions), I found a manageable list.  WHOOOOOOOO!!!!!

So, if I had followed instructions, ostensibly, I would have saved time.  This isn't the case however - it was a matter of needing to try it in earnest to really understand the shortcomings personally to be able to make the plan work.  I had to feel the pain of the personal evolution.  This is indeed something that Toodledo tell you, essentially in the deceptively simple advice to 'try it out and experiment'.  But maybe I'm thick and just had to experience it myself.

So now, the next key was using tags as the sort priority and getting intimate with the collapse function.  This, miraculously, gives me a project list.  Who knew?  Probably lots of people.  But again, I had to do it to really 'get it' and I've found this to be a common thread running through the GTD story of many successful users.

(again) must avoid temptation to stay in system
Project list is attainable when sorting by tags and collapsing.
Collapsing is a great way to keep everything visible but not overwhelming
I'm aware that with all this I haven't actually talked about doing work, and I'm still concerned that this process, though definitely progressing in effectiveness, will be something that I effectively move from the development phase of into the doing phase.  I get secretly worried that I'll work out the perfect system and still just not feel like working, but I really don't think this will be the case.  I enjoy working, I just don't enjoy the fear of forgetting something or being overwhelmed in minutiae.

30 days with GTD and Toodledo

This is what its all base on, BTW, David Allen's Getting Things Done.  I listen to the audio instead of turning pages - it's a great way to make useful time of my commute, and unlike novels, I enjoy listening to these kinds of books more than once - making the purchase worthwhile for me.  Borrow a copy if you can and talk to that person for tips!


  1. If you’d like a tool for managing your time and projects, you can use this application inspired by David Allen’s GTD:

    You can use it to manage and prioritize your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
    Comes with a mobile version too, and with an Android app.

  2. Dannielo,

    I tried it a while back and wasn't thrilled. It's probably just personal preference and would work for others, but I wasn't keen on the interface and the site didn't really look... modern? Sounds really judgmental, I know, but when a site and tool looks like it was designed by engineers I'm not usually happy with the flow of things.