Stopping for Help - by Benjamin EllisThe buzz of a new year is still in the air! With that buzz is a crowd of people making fresh starts and striving to stick to new year’s resolutions – some more recklessly made than others. A larger than usual number of friends and fellows are getting started with David Allen’s Getting Things Done, so it seemed timely to dust off this post and move it from draft to done. I offer this post with my thoughts on getting started, or getting restarted, with GTD, based on the last few years of using and abusing the system.

David Allen’s Getting Things Done has resonated with many a knowledge worker as a methodology for becoming more productive. That has lead to it washing, wave-like, through much of the technology fraternity. There is a growing swarm of tools and applications out there that will bring GTD to your desktop of choice: wiki versions like GTDTiddlyWiki and webserver-based approaches like Tracks. For the Mac there is iGTD, Kinkless GTD (if you use OmniOutliner), as well as many others. There are cross platform tools too, like ThinkingRock. For Windows, you can make a workable implementation with Microsoft Outlook, for which the David Allen Company also sells a plugin to help. So much technology! Before you get side tracked by the technology, I suggest mastering the methodology.

Many GTDers do end up spending more time obsessing about the tools than they do about the methods. Trust me when I tell you, from painful experience, that isn’t going to make you more productive. I’d suggest focussing on these steps:

  1. Really read the book. Yes, there are many useful summaries out there, but they are no substitute for reading Allen’s actual book. If you have read it once, then it is worth reading again. Like many things in life, it makes much more sense the second time around.
  2. Start simple. Don’t go mad on software, gadgets or setting up dozens of contexts, until you have grasped the underlying principles and mastered the methods of GTD.
  3. Write things down and put things in their place. Get over the hump by getting things out of your head and putting them into their place. Once everything is together and organised, you will save hours of scrapping around trying to find ‘stuff’. It is worth the investment of time. Enjoy never missing a commitment because it was on a scrap of paper that got dispersed to the edge of the known universe. See: Never Loose Another Thought Again!
  4. Manage at the level of projects, as well as tasks. Moving up from just a list of things to do, to working at the level of projects, looking at outcomes, is a big step. Understanding why you are doing what you do enables you to do better.

Of late there has been a little controversy about Allen, sparked by an article in Wired. I don’t think that takes away from the benefits of the underlying principles that many have found so useful.

So, as David Allen says, “dive in”. Try not to overthink or over-optimise GTD. Write that projects list and keep those to do lists up to date. Create your intray and ensure that once you touch something, it doesn’t go back in there. Make decisions: Delete it, do it, delegate it, diarise it, file it. You will get things done!