Noisy Deadlines

productivity

This is a series of posts with reading notes of the book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen.

Chapter 15 – The Path of GTD Mastery

The GTD methodology is a lifelong practice. David noticed that people can have different levels of maturity:

  1. Employing the fundamentals of managing workflow.

  2. Implementing a more elevated and integrated total life management system.

  3. Leveraging skills to create clear space and get things done for an ever expansive expression and manifestation.

We start with the basics, making small adjustments, dealing with our day-to-day reality, and then we progress to look at higher horizons (long term goals and objectives, vision and life purpose).

Mastering the Basics

  • Learning to capture EVERYTHING, big or small, into a trusted system
  • Using a “Waiting For” category for deliverables
  • Using “Agendas” lists to capture and manage communication with others
  • Keeping a simple and easy to use reference system
  • Keeping the Calendar as “hard landscape”
  • Doing Weekly Reviews

Graduate Level – Integrated Life Management

  • A complete, current, and clear inventory of projects
  • A working map of one’s roles, accountabilities, and interest both personally and professionally
  • An integrated total life management system. Custom tailored to one’s current needs and direction, and utilized to dynamically steer out beyond the day-to-day
  • Challenges and surprises trigger your utilization of this methodology instead of throwing you out of it

At some point, David says, “projects will become the heartbeat of your operational system”. They will be a reflection of our roles, areas of focus and interests. You might start customizing your system to better fit your needs.

Post Graduate – Focus Direction and Creativity

  • Utilizing your freed up focus to explore the more elevated aspects of your commitments and values
  • Leveraging your external mind to produce novel value

Once the details of our daily lives are taken care of, there will be more space and focus for more creative thinking. A good example is unearthing items from our Someday/Maybe lists when we feel we are ready.

Conclusion

As David Allen mentions at the end of the book, the GTD methodology validates much of what is common sense. The merit of this book is that it is extremely practical while at the same time explaining the principles behind the methodology. Plus, the GTD methodology is super flexible and can be tailored to fit our own needs and preferences.

After 10 years applying this methodology, I can confidently say that it has had a powerful impact on my life. It has helped me manage day-to-day mental clutter and execute significant, life-changing projects. All of my major life changes were once captured in a Someday/Maybe list.

For me, GTD goes beyond task and project management. It's more about figuring out what makes my work meaningful, living mindfully, and keeping my head in a good space. It's not just about being super productive—it's about making life feel worthwhile.


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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

This is a series of posts with reading notes of the book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen.

Chapter 14 – GTD and Cognitive Science

In this chapter, the focus is on the intersection of cognitive science and the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology.

This chapter cites a Belgium academic study that analyzed the GTD methodology using working theories from cognitive science. Essentially, our minds are designed to have ideas based on pattern recognition, but not to remember everything.

The book “The Organized Mind” by Daniel Levitin is also mentioned to illustrate why we need an “external brain” to help store and maintain huge amounts of data. When we use our memory as our organization system, our minds will become overwhelmed.

The Belgium academic paper describes the science behind the act of externalizing our thoughts so that our minds are more effective. Externalizing information, such as using lists and reminders, can offload cognitive demands on memory, allowing the mind to focus on higher-level thinking.

“Your mind is for having ideas, not for holding them.” — David Allen

Another point that has been studied is the relieving cognitive load of incompletions. Uncompleted tasks take up room in the mind, which then limits clarity and focus (scientific paper here). The paper also proves that the completion of the tasks are not required to relieve that burden on our minds: what is needed is a trusted system that guarantees the tasks will be triggered when appropriate.

GTD helps in managing cognitive load by providing a systematic approach to externalize and organize thoughts, reducing mental clutter and enhancing cognitive performance.

David Allen also discusses that the Flow state (or “being in the zone”) is facilitated when we use the GTD approach: having clarity, clear goals, and single-tasking. Other psychological benefits of the methodology involve goal-striving (desired outcomes) and psychological capital (PsyCap). Using the GTD methodology sets us up for more optimism, a sense of self-efficacy, hope and resilience.

Wrapping up, the chapter shows how GTD is like our personal brain manager, helping us sort out our thoughts, clear up mental mess, and boost how well our brain works.

” ... when all of our potentially meaningful things are captured, clarified, organized, and reflected upon, the more mature, elegant, and intelligent part of who we really are can show up at the table. That produces experiences and results that can't be beat.” — David Allen


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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

This is a series of posts with reading notes of the book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen.

In Part 3, Chapters 11, 12 & 14 David Allen gives more insights about the power of the key principles: capturing, next-actions and outcome focusing.

Chapter 11 – The Power of the Capturing Habit

One of the most powerful habits I've learned with GTD is writing things down, either manually or digitally. In this chapter, David lists all the benefits of this practice and explain why uncaptured open loops take up mental space. We feel negative feelings (overwhelm, anxiety, guilt) when we see our incomplete to-dos because we are breaking agreements with ourselves. And the book presents ways to prevent these broken agreements:

  • Don't make the agreement: in short, just make fewer commitments, practice saying “no”
  • Complete the agreement: just do it! Use the 2-minute rule as much as you can
  • Renegotiate the agreement: lower your standards, keep the agreement, put it on a someday/maybe list

“A renegotiated agreement is not a broken one.” — David Allen

The act of doing a mind sweep always make me feel better. And that's because when I unload all those thoughts, I'm automatically renegotiating my agreements with myself. I probably didn't notice the full potential of this habit when I started, but now I know how valuable it is. I've recently discovered that if I do a quick mind sweep at the end of my work day, I feel much better! As David Allen suggests:

“I suggest that you use your mind to think about things, rather than think of them”. — David Allen

Chapter 12 – The Power of the Next-Action Decision

Always ask this question: “What's the next action?” Why? Because if forces:

  • Clarity
  • Accountability
  • Productivity
  • Empowerment

It's a quick exercise to define what doing looks like. I identified myself when David Allen mentions that the most creative, sensitive and intelligent people are the ones who procrastinate the most. Because we tend to fantasize scenarios about what is needed to complete that project, along with all the negative possible outcomes! We freak out and give up!

Another interesting note is that we might be repelled by our to-do lists:

“… not because of the contents per se, but rather because sufficient appropriate thinking has yet to be applied to them.” — David Allen

Chapter 13 – The Power of Outcome Focusing

The key message of this chapter is that we can't define the next action until we know what is the desired outcome in the end.

And it can apply to small, mundane things or to big life goals. Some good questions to always have in mind:

  • What does this mean to me?
  • Why is it here?
  • What do I want to have be true about this? What's the desired outcome?
  • How do I now make this happen?
  • What resources do I need to allocate to make it happen (What's the next action?“)

The challenge will always be: defining what done means and what doing looks like.

—-

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

This is a series of posts with reading notes of the book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen.

Chapter 10 – Getting Projects Under Control

This chapter is all about informal, straightforward planning and the tools that can assist us in this process.

David identifies 2 types of projects:

  • Projects that Retain Attention: These are projects that continue to demand attention even after determining their next actions. They require a bit more advance planning.
  • Projects for which ideas just show up, ad hoc: These are projects where ideas spontaneously emerge. They need a designated space to store these ideas for later use.

Next Actions about Planning

Some projects will need next actions to trigger more in depth planning. David outlines potential next planning steps:

  • Brainstorming: Useful when the project is unclear. A potential next action might be on the @computer or @anywhere list: “Draft ideas about Project X.”
  • Organizing: If there are scattered notes about the project, the next action could be: “Organize Project X notes.”
  • Setting Up Meetings: Often, scheduling a meeting with involved parties is the next action that propels the project forward.
  • Gathering information: Sometimes, reaching out to someone or researching a topic is crucial. Next actions like “Call X regarding his thoughts on...,” “Look into the topic of X...,” or “Review reports understanding X...” can capture these tasks.

Thinking Tools

Write things down!

Regardless of the method, it's important we have a means to capture thoughts. David suggests various options: paper and pads, easels and whiteboards, digital tools (text, outliner, mind mapping apps, spreadsheets, etc).

An interesting point from David Allen is that larger screens are better for planning:

“I suggest, however, that the value of smartphones and the like is for the execution of the results of thinking – not for generating creative thought. For that I want more space, not less.” — David Allen

Project notes can be stored in various locations, from a paper folder for loose-leaf pages to digital tools like mind mapping and outlining apps or the Notes section of a task manager. Whatever works!

My thoughts and lessons learned

I've always struggled a bit with project planning and notes. I tended to skip the “planning” step and jump into execution right away. Format and location were challenges too; I thought I needed a rigid process for capturing thoughts. I believed that all projects should have a Master Project Note, in a specific format, stored in a specific folder.

However, I've learned that project planning can take various forms, depending on the project. Sometimes, jotting down ideas by hand on a notepad works best, while other times, creating an outline with the necessary steps is more effective. The key is flexibility. This took some time for me to learn.

Now, for more complex projects, I still create a Master Project Note. It includes the project's start/end dates, related focus areas, and notes using the Natural Planning Model as needed. However, for most projects, I rely on notes in Nirvana or none at all. It's all about using the available tools as we see fit.

I think the ending of this chapter encapsulates the idea:

“The key is to get comfortable with having and using your ideas. And to acquire the habit of focusing your energy constructively, on intended outcomes and open loops before you have to.” — David Allen

—-

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

After spending some time using a Time Block planner and paying closer attention to how I kick off and wrap up my workdays, I've had some cool insights:

  • Apps Aren’t the Culprit: The problem is almost never the apps I'm using, it is how I'm using the system and my own habits.
  • Review Regularly: Things will fall through the cracks if I don’t do my reviews periodically.
  • Time Blocker Magic: Planning the day with the Time Blocker has been a game-changer for maintaining focus. It’s totally fine to tweak the plan multiple times during the day (just like Cal Newport suggests).
  • Shutdown Ritual: The end of day shutdown routine is non-negotiable—it guarantees a smooth transition from work mode to relaxation.
  • The Nirvana app works like a charm for me, it's distraction-free, simple, light and powerful.

I renamed my start and end of day routines and now they look like this:

Morning: Plan the Day (do my Daily Review)

  • ☀ Open physical notebook and insert the day
  • Check Calendar: what do I need to do today? is there anything I need to prepare for?
  • Process Inboxes (E-mail, NirvanaHQ): Clarify: Is it actionable? What is the context – Organize: is it part of a project? Energy? Time?
  • Check Next Actions List and move items to Focus list
  • ⭐ Check and update my Focus List
  • ⏰ Open my Time Block Planner and plan the day. Schedule time for defining work if needed
  • Engage: Filter context and begin work!

End of Day: Shutdown Routine

  • Capture: Quick mind-sweep of tasks I failed to capture and add them to the Inbox.
  • Process: Meeting Notes from the day.
  • Check off any completed tasks.
  • Review my Calendar for tomorrow: Do I need to prepare anything? What things do I want to achieve tomorrow? (Flag them to the ⭐Focus list, add notes on my Time Block Planner)
  • Say to myself “Shutdown Complete!” and mark the checkbox on the Time Block Planner.

I added the morning Daily Review and the Shutdown routine to Nirvana as a daily recurring task. They show up in my Focus list every day:

Snapshot in time: What is on my Focus list today

These routines are inside the notes section in Nirvana as a checklist so I can check them off if I want to:

On some days, things go smoothly, and on others, chaos reigns.

On the good days, I take a solid 30 minutes to plan my schedule down to the nitty-gritty. But when chaos strikes on the bad days, I glance at my calendar, block off meeting times, and dive headfirst into urgent tasks. After lunch, I do a quick ‘post-mortem’ assessment, tweak my time blocker, and figure out where to focus my energy for the rest of the day.

I’ve learned that aiming for perfection is counterproductive. While checklists serve as a helpful template, I play it by ear and adapt as necessary.

One of the best insights I had this year is to embrace flexibility while still having some structure.

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

This is a series of posts with reading notes of the book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen.

Chapter 09 – Engaging: Making the Best Action Choices

This chapter is all about deciding what to do at any given moment. It examines on what was presented in Chapter 02 in terms of the 3 primary frameworks for decision-making:

  1. The Four-Criteria Model for Choosing Actions in the Moment

  2. The Threefold Model for Identifying Daily Work

  3. The Six-Level Model for Reviewing Your Own Work

1. The Four-Criteria Model for Choosing Actions in the Moment

This is about what we have available at the moment and what can we do about it.

Context

I think context is what mostly differentiates GTD from other productivity systems in terms of how to organize our tasks. The principle here is that it’s easier to have lists already sorted out to act on: “what could you possibly do, where you are, with the tools you have?”.

I find this works pretty well to organize the next actions list and avoid looking at a super long list. This is the first criteria to decide what to do next: what do you have available right now?

I mainly use the basic contexts suggested by the book (at home, computer, errands, anywhere, etc.) but we can also be more creative and have lists tailored to how we work. It could be a “quick win” list with actions that are easy to complete, or “surfing the web” or “before trip”.

Another important note is that the contexts can change over time, and it’s okay to create new ones and delete old ones. They are very flexible, contexts can be anything that suits the way we want to look at our lists. But it’s also important to keep it simple. If we need to think too much to input something in our systems, we end up not doing it at all.

Read more...

I’ve had some rough weeks these couple of months in terms of dealing with my own anxiety. I’ve had ups and downs: one week I’m thriving, the other I’m overwhelmed. The past two weeks I’ve been feeling everything is great: I’m not feeling overwhelmed, I’m sleeping well, I have no pain or aches, I’m not having racing thoughts, and I’m not drowning in worry.

In my therapy session this week, my therapist asked me why I was feeling better, and what has changed that made me feel this way now?

I looked back at my journal entries and my weekly notes and came up with 4 reasons:

  1. Journaling in the morning and protecting my morning routine: I skipped some of this routine and my days became out of focus, filled with anxiety and stress. My morning routine became my rock, I really feel out of wack when I miss it. It consists of moving my body (usually Yoga, but also stretching and body weight exercises), meditation and journaling. These 3 combined give me a push to start the day mindfully.

  2. Planning on Mondays: I noticed how important it is for me to do a longer session on Monday mornings to plan the week. I've been using Cal Newport's second edition Time Block Planner, and it's been great! Lots of space to plan the week. And I’m also changing my Monday mindset: Mondays are for planning and catching up, I don't need to accomplish any big tasks on Mondays and that's okay. This helped go through the past 2 weeks handling 5 concurrent projects at work that I thought I wouldn’t be able to manage.

  3. Realizing that I need a Work Weekly Review on Fridays: It needs to be separate from my personal weekly review, and it needs to be before the weekend, so I don't stress about work when I don’t want to. This was huge! After years practising GTD I didn’t realize that I could have 2 separate weekly reviews, and that it would make such a difference to my mental health.

  4. Having the new car situation resolved: It was a relief to be certain that I could maintain my morning routine now that we solved the issues of our morning commute. Not having to leave earlier because of the logistics of taking buses and carpooling saved me a lot of mental stress. I didn’t realize how much this worry was weighting down on me. My morning routines are the rocks of my day! Can't miss them!

So I’m basically back in my groove, writing things down, planning my days and weeks and doing my shutdown routine at work. These routines allow me to be more focused at work and allow me to be mostly stress-free.

All these reflections led me to also rethink my GTD tools (more on that later)😉

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

This is a series of posts with reading notes of the book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen.

My notes on Chapter 08: Reflecting: Keeping It All Fresh and Functional

The GTD methodology aims to have information organized in a such a way that we see all the actions we NEED to see, WHEN we need to see them.

Recommendations on What to Look at Daily:

  1. Look at the Calendar first: check all the day and time specific commitments

  2. Look at the Action Lists: review the lists so that we feel confident we are not missing anything critical

But these lists can become a nuisance if they are not kept up to date. So this chapter dives deep into the famous “Weekly Review”.

Very simply, the Weekly Review is whatever you need to do to get your head empty again and get oriented for the next couple of weeks. — David Allen

The Weekly Review has 3 parts:

  • Get clear: process all collected stuff
    • Collect loose papers and materials (add all to the Inbox)
    • Get “In” to empty: process all inboxes
    • Empty your head: capture anything that pops up
  • Get Current: review calendars and check if all lists are up-to-date
    • Review Next Actions Lists: mark off any completed tasks, add next actions if needed
    • Review Previous Calendar: look at the past 2 weeks to see if there's anything you still need to act on
    • Review Upcoming Calendar: check for any upcoming travel, meetings, events, reminders, etc. to prepare for them
    • Review the Waiting-For list: check if follow-ups are needed, check off completed items
    • Review Projects List: check status of projects, goals, outcomes.
    • Review any Relevant Checklists
  • Get Creative: add any new ideas
    • Review Someday/Maybe lists: is there anything to activate? is there anything that can be deleted?
    • Be Creative and Courageous: after doing this full review it might be easier to capture any new, crazy, thought-provoking idea into the system.

For reference there is a checklist available here.

When and where to do a Weekly Review

For a typical 5-day work week, David Allen recommends blocking off 2 hours on the last workday for the review.

This is something I realized I have not been doing well in my work routine. Because I have my personal weekly review on the weekend, I kinda neglect the review at work, thinking “Oh, I will do it with my personal one at home”. And that never happens. When I'm doing my personal review I'm in another mode, a different mood, and I don't really want to look into work related stuff.

That being said, I now blocked off my Calendar on Fridays, from 3:30pm to 5pm to dedicate exclusively on my work weekly review. My personal review will continue to be on Sunday mornings.

Until then, do whatever you need to, once a week, to trick yourself into backing away from the daily grind for a couple of hours—not to zone out, but to rise up at least to the horizon of all your projects and their statuses, and to catch up with everything else that relates to what’s pulling on your attention. — David Allen

For people with non-typical 9 to 5 jobs or different lifestyles, the review can be done on long plane or train trips, in a favourite coffee shop, during their children's weekend activity (like choir practice), etc.

At the end of this chapter David Allen mentions that it probably takes 2 years of implementing the GTD methodology to get to a point where we are confident about all our horizons (including visions, values and objectives). This might seem daunting, but it really is a long term practice because GTD has the potential to touch all levels of our lives, if we want to.

The next chapter is about “Engaging” and I'm curious to know what have I missed about it when I read it before. I can say that deciding what to do every day is one of my biggest challenges nowadays.


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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

This is a series of posts with reading notes of the book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen.

Chapter 07 – Organizing: Setting up the Right Buckets

Being organized means that we have the things where we need them to be. We have to clarify what that “thing” means to us, so we can easily put it into the right bucket.

This chapter describes seven primary types of things we will want to keep track of:

  • Projects List
  • Project Support Material
  • Calendar actions and information: for things that are time-specific or day specific. It's a hard landscape for things that MUST get done that time. It's not a place for things we “think we'd like to get done”.
  • Next Action lists: groups all “as soon as possible” type actions. A good way to organize this list is by grouping actions by context (more on this below).
  • Waiting For list
  • Reference Material
  • Someday/Maybe list

The categories must be kept visually, physically, and psychologically separate, to promote clarity. — David Allen

And these categories can be kept in lists and folders, be it on paper or digitally.

Contexts

One of the main characteristics of the GTD system are the contexts list, which basically organized next actions into more manageable buckets according to a particular context required to perform the action. A context can be the tool, the location or the situation needed to complete it. It is very useful for longer next actions lists with more than 25 items. I have all my lists in a digital tool (Nirvana) and I use tags for contexts.

The most common contexts are:

  • Calls: list of phone calls to make
  • At computer: to be done when the computer is up and running
  • Errands: for outside trips, when we are out and about
  • Anywhere: for thinking, making decisions
  • At Office: for things that can only be done when we are physically at the office (if you have one)
  • At Home: for things to be done at home
  • Agendas (for people and meetings)
  • Read/Review: for things you want to read when you have time (articles, magazines, documents...)

Contexts are personal and dynamic. We can add or delete them depending on our needs. I also have these contexts:

  • iPhone: for things I can only do on my phone
  • Outdoors: for hikes/walks I want to try
  • Watch/Listen: for videos, podcast episodes
  • Writing: for grouping writing tasks (usually includes blog writing)
  • Yoga-mat: for any Yoga classes I want to try
Read more...

I've had some interesting days this week at work. Without even realizing it, I tested out 3 scenarios in terms of productivity and organization.

Scenario 1: Crazy Mondays

Monday was Monday. It was a little bit confusing and my brain was not up to speed yet: the usual Monday overwhelm situation. I did my Time Blocking later in the morning. But things changed, meetings got moved around. I tried to update my time blocking, but things were happening too fast, so I let go. I didn't follow any of the blocks I pre-planned. But I also took some time to plan the next month. I used my Outlook Calendar to plot out some deadlines, deliverables and project durations. And I printed it out, so now I have it on my board.

Scenario 2: Out of control

Tuesday was weird. I had some emails to reply, emails with information I needed to process, budgets to review and update and phone calls to make. Those took the whole morning. I didn't do Time Blocking at all! It was an empty page! I had a meeting at 2pm, which I only remembered to attend because my colleague sent me a chat message that it was starting (and they wanted my input). That being said, I realized that I didn't have any awareness of the upcoming meetings because I didn't do my Time Blocking. I had a major headache by the end of the day and I felt totally drained.

Scenario 3: A Balanced Day

Wednesday was a more balanced day. I did my Time Blocking, but I only wrote down the meetings and the goals for the day. I didn't time block for emails or calls. I just went with the flow and used my intuition. I made the phone calls I needed to make and worked on the budgets I needed to update. Things were clearer. It was still a very busy day, but I felt more relaxed among the chaos.

Thoughts

I reflected on these 3 scenarios while I went for a long walk after work:

  1. Minute-by-minute Time Blocking doesn't work for my line of work or my work environment. Things always happen too quickly, I have to handle with back and forth communication all the time, my team relies on real-time interactions ad-hoc. It's just the way it is. Construction is a chaotic world, and I rarely have the privilege of taking 3 hours of deep work to focus on one thing only, by myself.

  2. The act of Time Blocking in the morning is useful when I focus on delineating the big picture of my day. What are the meetings happening today? Are there any deadlines? What are the Top 3 things I'll be working on? Even though I have that information on my digital calendar, writing it down by hand on my planner gives me awareness and I feel more prepared about the day.

  3. Having an Inbox and a Next Action list is crucial for my day-to-day work. I need a trusted space where I can dump things to be processed later and where I can store all my next actions and be certain that list will be there the next day. Just for one of the four big projects I'm working on right now, I have 17 next actions this week. I've already logged 48 actions that I've completed since August 10th. It is a lot to handle, and GTD gives me a way to tackle all of this with less stress.

  4. At the end of the day: taking a look at all the items on my next actions for a specific project I'm focusing on gives me peace of mind. It works as a trigger for me to add tasks that have been rolling in my head throughout the day, making sure my capture is complete. It's a good Shutdown routine ritual. I'll keep doing that.

  5. Mondays will always be Mondays. I’m never at my best form on Mondays, so I’m just acknowledging that, and I’ll be more forgiving of myself. It’s a day to prepare me for the rest of the week, so I know I won’t be super productive on Mondays. And that’s okay.

Final conclusion

I like Scenario 3. It's becoming clear to me that I can't really follow a strict Time Blocking routine. The nature of my work is too fluid most days. But I can use time blocking as a planning tool to guide my day. It gives me direction. There will be days when strict time blocking for focused work will work. But my typical day is not that structured, and I'm learning to live with that. So, I'll be having a more balanced approach to Time Blocking from now on.

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.