Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Managing deadlines and avoiding "last minute" working

I recently had a particularly productive week just before taking time off work for holiday.  It got me thinking about how I can use GTD to try to get these productive times to happen more often, rather than just before some time off. 

I have heard David Allen say that many people experience that satisfying feeling of clearing the decks only once a year, before they leave for a holiday.  GTD and the weekly review are a way of capturing that feeling every week by allowing you to take the time to clear the decks and gain perspective on your work by stepping back from the daily grind for an hour.  It was interesting to compare how I feel at the end of each review to how I felt just before I left for holiday, and it was certainly a similar feeling of relief. 

However, the extra boost in productivity during the week is not something that I find easy to recreate without the "deadline" of taking a week of holiday.  I think that many people find that they tend to be a last minute worker and need the pressure of a deadline to get things into gear.  I certainly have a tendency to do this and am trying to use GTD to help me to be more willing to get things done earlier, and therefore reduce the stress of having that looming deadline.  I use the weekly review to see deadlines ahead of time (often at least 4 weeks) and try to at least get started on items early, even if they are finished closer to the deadline.  This approach has certainly reduced my stress levels and given me more thinking time for more complicated projects, something that can be lost if you only start when the deadline is close.

The satisfaction of the productivity boost and being able to tick off a good number of actions from my lists is something that I hope to hold in my memory to give me the impetus to achieve this again, but without the deadline.  It's not realistic to think that I can do this every day of every week - that would lead to burnout - but if I can find a way of entering this mode every so often that would be a great way to push things forward.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Old and dusty actions

Recently a challenge was started on the GTD Connect forums surrounding "old and dusty" actions.  I'm sure we all have these lurking in whatever system we are using to organise our lives - those items that have been sitting on the list for far too long and, for some reason, just haven't been done.  The thread was a great nudge for me to get going on some items that had been going stale on my lists for longer than I would like to admit!  Months in some cases! 

The silly thing was that once I sat down and just got on with it, the tasks actually didn't take that long and weren't as difficult as I had imagined.  It's amazing how often an item can grow in your mind into a far bigger deal than it really is.  Taking that step to "just do it" is often not easy but once finished it can give such relief.  I was surprised how much some of those relatively innocuous items had been gently annoying me and it felt great to tick them off as done. 

Do you have an item that has been silently nagging at you?  Go for it, do it and get some relief!!

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Using incubation lists

I am currently experimenting with an incubate list for items that I want to get to soon, but not right now.  My lists for work had become too long and I realised a couple of weeks ago that some of the items just didn't have a high enough priority at the moment to be on my regular action lists.  The question was where to put them so that I could be sure that they would be reviewed often enough.  I had recently read a thread on the GTD Connect forums about incubating to "month X" and placing the list in the tickler to be reviewed at that point.  This really made sense to me so I have given the idea a try from April to May.  I made the "incubate" list in mid-April and placed it in my tickler for 1st May, with a reminder in outlook to check it on that day. 
The list worked really well - I had much tidier and more focused actions for April that really helped me to engage with my lists (see also my post on coloured paper!) and could be certain that the items I had incubated would not be forgotten.  When 1st May came round I brought out the list, scanned through it and put a couple of the items back onto my action lists.  The rest stayed on the incubate list to be looked at in 3 weeks time and went back into the tickler (with the appropriate reminder).
This list is obviously a version of Someday/Maybe, but feels more active.  I have always struggled a bit with the Someday/Maybe list.  I can see its value and wish that I could utilise it better, but somehow I always feel slightly nervous about it for items that need to done at some point, just not now.  I'm very happy to use it for items that I'd like to do, but don't actually matter if I don't get to them.
The incubate list is definitely the best route I have found so far to stay comfortable with that "not now but later" type of list.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Fun with coloured paper!

I often read about the amazing gadgets that people are using to run their GTD system but I'm an old-fashioned type and have been using paper to run my system for at least 2 years now.  I find paper works brilliantly for me. A few years ago I had my lists in excel and they just weren't particularly attractive. I found myself being reticent in wishing to look at them and use them. Paper and pen is just more comfortable somehow.
 I have just reinvigorated my lists at work by printing lines onto A4 coloured paper and using different colours for different contexts.  It's made them really enjoyable to work with - a simply change that has made a bigger impact than I expected.  I have surprised myself at how much more engaged I feel with the contents of the coloured lists compared to the "boring" white paper lists.  The tasks haven't changed at all and yet I am convinced that I have been more interested and productive since the change.  The brain works in strange ways! 
Aside from just enjoying the look of the colours, the change has a practical purpose which allows me to find my different contexts more quickly, as each has a different colour.  I think this has definitely helped me to improve my processing speed.
I guess that sometimes the old saying "a change is as good as a rest" really can ring true.  So I would recommend that if your lists are feeling a little stale, then even a small change can help you reconnect and get back on track.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Changing up contexts

While completing my weekly review last week I made a fairly radical change (for me) to the way my lists are managed.  As I reviewed my @office list, which had extended to over four pages and was not pleasant to work from, I made the decision to change things up and split the contexts.  It's not something I would normally do.  The @office has been working well for me for a couple of years so this was a pretty big step, but it was worth it.  My workload has been steadily increasing over the past 6 months and one office list just isn't quite cutting it anymore.  So I now have 3:
- @office
- @websites
- @minutes
These are the contexts that make the most sense given what I have on my plate right now, but I am giving myself the freedom to change them up as things shift around, and return to just one list if things calm down.  I already feel much more comfortable and more engaged with my lists and managed to get an action done yesterday afternoon that had been on the list for rather too long!
 
It took my review to get me thinking at that higher level for long enough to realise that I needed to make the change. The review is such an important part of my GTD journey; it gives me the chance to hold back the world for an hour every week and check that everything is on track.  I often find I am my most productive in the hours after the review, secure in the knowledge that what I am doing is what I should be doing, and what I am not doing can wait.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Working on Areas of Focus

The 20,000 ft level, which David Allen terms Areas of Focus, is a really interesting and useful area to engage with for many reasons.  I was working with GTD for about 6 months before I turned my attention to this area, but I have maintained it fairly well ever since and try to review both my professional and personal Areas of Focus once a month.  I keep them in a mindmap (using a free software called Freemind) and find that they are much more comfortable to review and work with in this format.  My Areas of Focus give me an overview of areas I want to maintain and reviewing them regularly allows me to keep a good balance of projects within my system and check that no area I deem important is neglected.  This doesn't mean that I have a project for every area all of the time, but it does remind me to check in and make sure the area is reviewed for any projects or actions that I might need to add to the system. 

I recently embarked upon a project to write a statement about each of my Areas of Focus, personal and professional, following a piece on the David Allen Company Forums by one of the coaches, Julie Ireland.  The idea is to envision success and write about how it would look and feel.  I thought it would be good to share my first statement here.  This is for one of my professional areas and it was great to go for wild success without any inhibitions:
I am working efficiently and proactively for the department making my scientists' lives easier. They feel confident that they can give me tasks and know these will be completed without fuss. My office is tidy but comfortable and an excellent workspace to complement my GTD system. The office is welcoming and my colleagues feel comfortable in asking for my help. The stationery area is tidy and items are well arranged and easy to find. I enjoy my work and manage my hours and workload to ensure that my health remains good and I have a good work/life balance.  
I felt really good after writing this and it has given me a feeling of greater purpose in my work.  I am looking forward to taking the process forward with my other areas over the coming weeks and months.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Capture tools

Collecting thoughts when you have them is a key part of the GTD process and there are many articles out there about capture tools.  I recently read a blog post by Andrew Marvin on the subject on his website andrewmarvin.net.  It's a great round-up of apps for i-phone as well as "old school" pen and paper. 

I have just been lucky enough to win a David Allen Company Notetaker Wallet so will be testing this out as my capture tool for the next few weeks.  The pen geek in me is already impressed with the pen which has a funky telescopic mechanism!  I'll be sure to report back on how it performs...