Monday, October 18, 2004

Reading :: Getting Things Done

Originally posted: Mon, 18 Oct 2004 20:27:23

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

by David Allen

A few days ago I mentioned a "paradigm shift" I recently had. I had realized that my category-based system for organizing my life had not scaled well, and I had to change if I was to stay on top of my many projects. My wife recommended Getting Things done, a personal productivity book that has become somewhat of a fetish object.

So I skimmed the book on the bus a few days ago. That very day, I had a catastrophic data loss and my calendar items and todos irrecoverably disappeared from my handheld. Fortunately, I had mapped out my projects recently in Excel, so my life did not utterly disintegrate. But since they're gone, I thought, why not reconfigure them in terms of GTD?

GTD, by the way, is essentially a way to distribute one's tasks and projects into artifacts that are organized so that they do the remembering for you. Socrates may have griped that writing destroys memory, but Socrates' work was not nearly as fragmented or spliced as ours is, and GTD is a testament to the increasing difficulty we encounter in juggling our roles and obligations. Allen suggests that these many roles and obligations are impossible to keep "in our heads," and that doing so keeps us from actually getting things done. So he develops a relatively simple set of rules for dealing with or delegating work. At the heart of the system is the in box, which should be cleared out periodically. Folders include a set of time-based folders -- a "ticker" file marked with the days of the month and the months of the year -- for placing physical reminders of timed tasks. The calendar should have "hard edges": you calendar in things you will get done for sure, not things you think you'll do if you have time. And the to do list is undated; each item is marked by the occasion in which you'll get it done (e.g., @computer, @home, @office) so that when you have a few minutes, you can go down the list and accomplish items. Finally, projects should be broken down into easily accomplishable steps. (Project management, as Allen states, is beyond the scope of the book.)

What intrigue me, of course, are the distributed cognition aspect and the commentary on fragmented work. I'm going to try a modified version of the system and see how it works.

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