GTD Journey: Is my System too complicated?
I have never asked that question before. But suddenly I felt like I was overwhelmed and that I was spending too much time and energy to manage my lists. So this year I decided to sit down and write a description of my GTD system to understand what was going on.
The inspiration came from a post from Cal Newport in which he describes his “Rooted Productivity“ document. For him, it's a one page document that he keeps in a plastic sleeve on his desk. The idea is to have a “root commitment” that includes all your productivity habits.
GTD is based on 5 steps, which are: 1) CAPTURE: Collect (Inbox) 2) CLARIFY: What is it? 3) ORGANIZE: Put it where it belongs 4) REFLECT: Review and Update 5) ENGAGE: What is the next action? Do it!
Based on Cal Newport's idea, I came up with a description of my system based on the following questions:
- Which tools do I use for each of the 5 GTD Phases?
- What are my Inboxes? Where are they?
- What are my list managers? (including tasks and project lists)
- How do I organize the stuff that comes into my inbox?
- What is on my Calendar?
- What is my reference system? How do I file non-actionable things?
- Core habits and routines: what are the habits that are important to me?
- Periodic Reviews: what are the reviews I have scheduled to keep the system up-to-date?
In doing that I could list all the tools I was using. And I could ask myself:
- What is really working for me?
- Do I have too many Inboxes? Do I process them regularly?
- Do I have too many apps/lists? Could I simplify those lists?
- Do I have clean edges on my system: am I clear with what belongs to the Calendar and what belongs to the actions list?
- Can I trust that my system is going to remind me what I want to be reminded of at the right time?
- Is there any friction in my process?
- How easy it is to do a Weekly Review?
This reflection came in good timing with the end of the year when I like to do a full system review.
Here are some things I felt like I wanted to change:
I used to rely heavily on Evernote for all my notes related to projects, checklists, references, notes. It was scary to acknowledge that after using it for almost 10 years I had so much information in there. And what if I wanted to back up all this information? How to make it available outside of Evernote? It turns out it's not that simple. Since I've been through the process of exporting/importing notes from Evernote to OneNote and vice versa, I don't want to be in that situation anymore. If I want to have a note taking tool, it has to be one that can easily export my data to an accessible format (like .txt). I decided to have most of my support material and notes using good old Microsoft Word/Excel. Nowadays with OneDrive cloud it's easy to access those files when I'm on the go if I need to. But I also wanted something to quickly jot down notes while using my phone or computer. Some quick, hassle free, simple tool. So I started using Standard Notes for that, which is serious about privacy and all the notes are exported to .txt. It syncs on my computers and mobile.
Todoist is great for next actions and integrates with the Calendar beautifully, BUT it doesn't work that well for managing projects for me. I tried it. I insisted on it. And in the end I had friction on my system because of it. I was excited with the Google Calendar integration. But changing projects or actions status from active to someday/maybe has never been smooth in Todoist.
Nirvana is still the best GTD implementation in terms of organizing tasks and projects. It's simple and elegant.
I was never good at Weekly Reviews. I could never keep a steady planning routine. I tried doing it with apps (Trello, Evernote, OneNote) and I could never stick to it.
But I like spreadsheets, so I did some experimentation and created a template for my planning needs. It's for the whole year, separated into quarters and months. I also developed a simple Projects List Log, that gives me the list of all the projects I worked on in a given year. Its goal is to register what is done, rather what is ongoing. Everything that is ongoing is on Nirvana.
Routines and the Calendar
I identified the review routines that are part of my system. They are crucial to keep the system updated and my mind clear. But I've never had a clear identification of those reviews. So now I have a list of these milestones and a guiding checklist for each of them. I put reminders for all the following review routines on my Calendar:
- ⛅[GTD] Startup Routine – Plan the day
- 🌂[GTD] Wrap-up Work – End of Day Mini Review
- ⏰[GTD] Weekly Review
- ⏩[GTD] Plan the Upcoming Week
- 📆 [GTD] Monthly Review and Planning
- 🏆 [GTD] Update My Big Picture Monthly
- 🚩 [GTD] Plan the next 3 months
- 💎[GTD] Mid-Year Review (July)
- 🎉 [GTD] Year-End Review – New Year
By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.