Why to-do lists don't work

"You end up with a huge, growing, indigestible lump of unactioned items which gets tranferred day after day. Many of these will never become urgent or important enough to get actioned. And yet if they don’t need doing, why are they on your list in the first place? First rule of time management: the question is not what priority something is, but whether it needs doing at all."

Simplified GTD

From Study Hacks - a blog for college students: Getting Things Done for College Students: The Full System, a simplified GTD streamlined for folks who don't need the "full meal deal" presented in the book. I found this article particularly interesting as the system it describes is fairly close to the 'GTD-lite' I am evolving for my own personal use - I'm not a busy executive type, I work on my own time at my own schedule and am adopting GTD mostly for personal reasons. (A need to gain control and impose discipline on myself.)


Community promotion?

Has anyone considered promoting this group via the LJ community promo group?

<says the newbie as he jumps in with both feet.>

I'm ramping up to start GTD myself, and will be posting in my own LJ as I build my system - I'll post links here if the moderators do not object.


How to get over email

Email is just so, like, hello? Here are keithlard's top tips for not being, you know, all 2006 on it.

  1. Have one inbox. Gmail can pull mail from several different accounts into one. Read it via the web interface or download it to your favourite email client.

  2. Keep it empty. Every time you look at your inbox, process it to zero. Delete everything except what you need to archive for future reference. Label or star things that need action, but archive them. Your inbox is not a to-do list.

  3. Check it once. Do your email in the morning, then close it for the day. Don't have it auto-check or notify you of new emails. Ask colleagues to phone you if they need to reach you urgently.

  4. Reduce your input. Get off mailing lists you don't read. Use a junk filter. Set up rules to divert mailing lists and newsletters into a folder or auto-archive them, then set aside time once a week to read them.

  5. Reduce your output. Email begets email. Restrict your emails to five sentences. This forces you to write clearly and stick to the point. Don't have discussions by email: just get together and talk, or teleconference. Don't copy emails to people who don't need to see them.

Confession time

Please fill in the blanks.

Father David, forgive me, for I have sinned. My last weekly review was ____________ ago.

If I do a mind sweep today, get all of my open loops out of my head, clear down my inbox, renegotiate any commitments I can't keep, and get back up to date with my system, I will feel ______________________________________.

Most Important Things

This is a nice tip that I picked up from the Zen Habits blog. One problem a lot of people have with implementing Getting Things Done is that having captured all the open loops, desires, tasks and projects in their life, they are faced with a bewilderingly large to-do list. As quoted in The Book:

I am rather like a mosquito in a nudist camp; I know what I want to do, but I don't know where to begin.

— Stephen Bayne

Leo Babauta suggests that you start each day by picking your three Most Important Things from your list, and making those your top priority. This actually really helps, and by concentrating on a smaller set of tasks, you're more likely to complete one of them. It also reduces the temptation to cringe and slide off to some other easier job.

GTD is often thought of as a tactical system for dealing with day-to-day tasks, but David Allen makes it quite clear that there is no point in doing lots of actions that don't get you anywhere. The idea is that once all of the daily urgent-but-trivial stuff is off your mind and onto paper, it gives you psychic breathing space to think about your higher-level goals in life. If you want to achieve something that takes six months, that means a long sustained focus on achieving lots of little steps towards it, with one eye on the ultimate purpose. Again quoted in The Book:

You've got to think about the big things while you're doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction.

— Alvin Toffler

I use the same prime-focus trick with my projects; at any one time, I have three Most Important Projects. Every day, at least one of my Most Important Tasks is aimed towards completing one of them. It makes it a lot easier to decide the MITs for the day: just look at your three projects-in-focus and identify the three corresponding next actions.

It might sound over-complicated if you're not a GTDer - isn't this pretty much what most people do anyway? Yes and no, because if you keep everything in your head, the three things most on your mind will be the loudest-shouting: "REMEMBER ME! REMEMBER ME! REMEMBER ME!" and not necessarily the most strategically important. Clearing everything out onto paper - at a minimum, just one big sheet of paper - gives you a helicopter view of what's going on, and helps you decide what's really important, and not just urgent.
  • Current Mood

Google Calendar

I find it a bit sinister the way Google wants to take over your whole life, like a sort of corporate stalker who hangs about outside your house and if you come out it pretends it was just passing by chance. I am worried that Google will start dressing like me and faking pictures of us together in Photoshop.

That said though, I really like the Calendar application. It is simple and easy to use, and does just what I want. Here are some tips and useful things I have discovered about Google Calendar, write in if you know any more.

  • Email notifications - by default Google Calendar pops up a window to remind you of appointments, but you can set it to email you up to a week beforehand. Good for birthdays. You can also get a daily agenda emailed to you; go to the Settings page, select the Calendars tab and click Notifications for your calendar. Check the box marked 'Daily Agenda'.

  • Holiday calendar - to get public holidays, click Add in the Calendars section and select 'Add a public calendar'. Select the 'Browse calendars' tab and pick the national holiday calendar that you want. You can customise the colour that events from other calendars appear in, as it is a bit garish by default. There is also a public calendar gallery, to get it just click on the 'Search Public Calendars' button without entering anything. You can get more public calendar feeds from iCalShare.

  • See the next 4 weeks - the Month view is not so useful towards the end of the month, as most of what it shows is already in the past. You can change the time period shown in the 'Next 4 days' view to something else, go to the Settings page and set 'Custom view' to anything up to 4 weeks. You can also click and drag in the little calendar in the left pane to view just the days you select.

  • Import your own calendar - if you use another calendar manager program such as Outlook or Evolution, you can export your calendar to an .ICS file and then import it into Google Calendar. Click Add in the Calendars section and select 'Import calendar'.

  • events feed - if you use the website for sharing and subscribing to local events, you can show these events in Google Calendar. On the My Events or My Friends' Events page, click the 'Subscribe' link and select 'Add to Google Calendar'. Now you need never miss out on drunken men with intresting facial hair talking about CSS and AJAX mashups.

  • Facebook events - on any Facebook events page, click the Export link to save the event as an .ICS file which you can then import into Google Calendar as above. Alternatively you can export a file of all your upcoming events by going to the Events page under Applications and select 'Export Events' and click the link that appears. Unfortunately there does not seem to be any way to get a live feed like with Upcoming, and there seems to be no way to export or get a feed of your friends' birthdays.

  • Weather forecasts - according to the help, weather forecast information is only available for the US, but you can get it in the UK as well if you follow keithlard's secret instrucktions and use a special Masonic mouse clicking technique. First of all, go to the Settings page and change your Country to 'United States', then click Save. Go back to the Settings page and you will see two new settings have appeared called 'Location' and 'Show weather based on my location' with options for degrees Centigrade or Fahrenheit. Enter your location, eg 'London', and select the weather option you want and then Save. You will now see on the Week or Month view that a little weather icon has appeared for each of the next four days. If you mouse over it, a popup gives you a quick weather summary, eg 'Partly sunny in London, England (12° | 7°)' and if you click on it a forecast window appears with details of wind, humidity and forecast for the next 4 days. You can now set your country back to UK if you like and you still get the weather forecast.

  • Gigs from - you can ask to recommend local concerts and events for you based on your musical taste, then see this as a feed in Google Calendar. Go to the Events page on your Dashboard, set your location, then on the right-hand side click on 'Recommended Events' and select 'Google Calendar'. You can also have it feed you events that you or your friends are attending. You may have to wait a few minutes for Google Calendar to actually refresh the feed before it shows up in your calendar.

  • Manage the past - I found this intresting post on Lifehacker about using Google Calendar as your long-term memory. The examples are remembering what you gave people for their birthdays, and making notes of what happened at doctor's appointmints. I guess you could use this for recording details of business meetings and phone calls as well, as a sort of quick hack contact management system.

  • Evolution / GNOME clock integration - if you use the GNOME desktop on Linux you can add your Google Calendar feed to Evolution and see your appointments both in Evolution and in the little pop-up calendar attached to the desktop clock. First, go to the 'Manage Calendars' page and click on the name of your own calendar to see the 'Calendar Details' page. At the bottom click the little ICAL button next to 'Private Address'. This will pop up a window showing a web link that you can copy to the clipboard. Next, in Evolution select 'New... Calendar' from the File menu. In the 'New Calendar' dialog select the type as 'On the Web', enter a name for it and paste the Google Calendar link into the URL field (removing the existing 'webcal://' bit first). You'll now see your Google Calendar appointments show up in Evolution and also in the clock (click on the clock to show the current month calendar and days with appointments will be highlighted. Click on 'Appointments' to see the appointments for each day.)
  • Current Mood
    cheerful cheerful

Dumpster Day

David Allen recommends in Getting Things Done that you purge your files at least once a year, so I thought I'd do that today as a displacemint activity instead of some chores that I do not want to do. It is quite fun actually.

I have a real filing cabinet which makes a massive psycherlogical difference, if you do not have one you are missing out. They are super cheap in fact as this one was only 20-odd quid from Staples, the productivity p0rnographers. Back in the day I did not used to file anything, even bank statemints, until I got stiffed by my landlord over a disputed rent cheque, at which point I went too far the other way and started keeping everything. At one point I had over 10 years worth of files, those horrid cardboard wallets, jammed into boxes, crates and cupboards and robbing me of valuable cubic feet of oxygen.

When I first read GTD I got a real filing cabinet, and switched to open files as The David recommends, not document wallets (you have to take them right out of the cabinet to open them) and not suspension files (too fiddly). I also have a labeller, which again makes you feel a little bit professional, and makes it easier to find things because the labels are more readable than handwriting.

On my Dumpster Day I go through each file one by one and throw out anything no longer relevant; I keep tax-related records for 7 years and most everything else for 1 year, except receipts and warranties for things I still own. This generates an astonishing amount of recycling, and usually halves the size of my files overall. Also it is quite satisfying to consign some things to history; today I shredded and dumpstered two whole girlfriends. It is not often you can say that, at least unless you are a crazed killer, which I am not in case any police are reading this.

My filing system is not complicated either; it is a simple A-Z system as per The Book, stuff relating to my car is in a file called CAR, credit card statemints are under CREDIT CARD and so on. Personal correspondence is filed under the name of the person. Insurance policies are under INSURANCE as I do not want to be struggling to remember the name of my insurance company when I have just been burgled.

Purging your files also generates lots of new projects and actions; or rather, things you didn't remember you wanted to do until something in a file tickled your memory. It's also spurred me to set up reminders for some annual tasks like MOT which I would have long forgotten about if I hadn't noticed it about to come due in the car file. It is also a good opportunity to check up on current bank and building society rates and see if it would benefit you to switch accounts.

I have also purged my computer files, which is even more fun. I have got a good trick for this. For any files you're in doubt about keeping, sweep them all into a big folder on your desktop labelled 'DELETE ON 1ST JANUARY 2008' or some other suitable future date. If it turns out you need the file in the next couple of months, you can still retrieve it. Everything still on Death Row when it comes to the execution date gets summarily binned.
  • Current Mood
    cheerful cheerful

Project Time Tracking Recommendations?

Hi All,
I have a friend is desperately trying to get his life hacked&managed. He is trying to develop his photographer business more (only small pun intended LOL). Unfortunately he is easily distracted. He will spend hours and hours playing with photoshop rather than just doing what he knows needs to be done on a photograph, or go to a forum to look up a reference and end up lost in the posts for hours.
    Is there any open-source, or free, software recommended where
  1. he can plug in a suggested time frame for a project
  2. it will track actual time automatically
  3. remind him of time passed or time remaining automatically

He's hoping a system such as that will help him to grasp time passage and get used to completing tasks.