I’ve always had a difficult time overcoming my friction points in GTD. I devoured numerous blog posts and watched one-too-many YouTube videos. I implemented and then forgot about the different tips and tricks I learned throughout the years. I downloaded multiple task managers trying to find the perfect fit for my GTD practices to no avail. It wasn’t easy and that’s why I understand why so many people give up on GTD. David Allen once surmised that it takes about 2 years to master GTD. It isn’t an overnight success.
My GTD system can range anywhere from a smooth operator to a raging dumpster fire. But that’s just the Game of Life that we all play in. It is a well-oiled machine one day and then a graveyard of stalled projects, stale tasks, and broken promises the next day. There are 5 phases of GTD that must be maintained. Each one presents its own set of friction points I had to overcome. If one of the five phases lag behind, it can create friction that slows down a GTD system. Here are the 5 phases:
I’ve followed Leo Babauta’s ZTD (Zen To Done) mantra of adopting one habit at a time. He has a few more steps to follow but it’s generally the same idea. Focus on one phase until it becomes a habit. I’m learning to master the 5 phases one phase at a time. Have you found any one of the five areas in need of a tuneup? Here are some friction points that I had to overcome.
I didn’t have capture tools that are easily available.
I carry my A5 BuJo and pens in my everyday carry bag. I have my iPhone with me most of the time. Drafts and OmniFocus are loaded on all my computers and can be invoked very quickly to capture my fleeting ideas.
I make sure to have at least 1 capture device available for me to capture all my mad scientist ideas when the moment arrives. It could be my BuJo or my iPhone. I have Drafts and OmniFocus installed on my Macs for more easy access.
I have too many inboxes to check
In the beginning, I lost track of where I captured my notes. I had multiple notebooks all around the house and the office. I saved text snippets in Drafts, Notes, Evernote, and a whole bunch of other note taking apps. It would drive me crazy because I would have to check every app or the desktop to see where I may have a note that I wanted to capture.
Nowadays, I trimmed down my inboxes to as few as possible. I have one physical in-tray at the house and at work. Anything that contains text goes into Drafts. I use my iPhone to take pictures of invoices and items of interest I find when I go outside on errands. I use the iCloud calendar to hold all my appointments instead of switching between Google Calendar, Yahoo calendar, and iCloud calendar. I forward all my email accounts to my gMail account to make it easier to process. Reducing the number of inboxes reduces the stress of wondering whether or not I missed something.
If I leave everything in the inbox, it just becomes one long cluttered list of tasks to do, calendar appointments that float around, and notes that are never grouped. I detest working from my inbox. I need to find a final destination for any inbox items. Here are some places where I put my inbox items:
A popular destination for any junk mail that somehow bypasses my spam filter.
Any inbox item that doesn’t have a next action but is used as project notes for a potential future project.
appointments that I decide to honor. Doctor’s visit, my kid’s soccer games, and the daily/weekly review are a few commitments that I choose to place into my hard landscape.
I start putting any next actions from my inbox into my task manager’s processing.
My projects and tasks needs to go somewhere in my GTD task manager. Everything has a place and shouldn’t stay in the inbox. If I can’t organize all the inbox items, I’ll just have a chaotic list that is sorted in no particular order. Here are some destination points for my inbox items:
Most newly created projects that don’t have a due date first start as a someday/maybe project. I don’t need to work on it. I add it to the inventory of projects that I want to work on later.
Waiting For List
This list keeps me aware of any outstanding items I am waiting for from someone else.
Next Actions Lists
These lists hold a series of single tasks to remember. My grocery list, my wife’s honey-do list, and the odd one-off personal actions list gets filled up frequently.
Any group of related tasks goes into my Projects Lists. I have different folders in my task manager for the various Areas of Responsibility in my life. I have folders in my task manager for
Family as a few examples of different Areas of Focus or folders that I use to organize my various projects.
If I don’t reflect or review about my lists, calendars, and file references, many items can become obsolete on any given day. Reflecting ensures that my system remains fresh. I can trust it because it is up-to-date as best as it can be at this moment. A weekly review used to take 2-3 hours every weekend and was something i didn’t look forward to doing. I realized that not everything had to be reviewed at the same time. Some things needed daily monitoring. Other things can be looked at once a week or even a monthly basis. I set out to figure out what I needed to review at different intervals.
At the end of the day, I do a daily review that processes any new inbox items and I can update any project or list that may have changed since I last checked into my task manager. I clear my mind knowing that I cleared any nagging doubts using the GTD Incompletion Trigger List. I can check on what I did today and start planning any time blocks for tomorrow.
My weekly review gives me a general strategy of what I would like to achieve next week by choosing a handful of MITs (Most Important Tasks) and 1-3 Big Rock projects.
The monthly review lets me review the past month and do a progress report on what I did in the last month. This gives me a floorpan of what I can start working on next month or continue the previous month’s goals.
I’ve always had a hard time with Engaging or “doing” my work. I can be seen fawning over my beautiful projects and lists and will be in the clarifying and organizing phase forever. But all those dreams in my GTD task manager mean nothing if I don’t get to it. I am easily distracted by my digital task manager. There are just too many tasks that are screaming at me whenever I open it.
Organizing my work is not the same as
Engaging in my work. I have learned to differentiate between “planning” and “doing”. If I am staring at my task manager, I am in planning mode. I don’t work from my to-do list. I plan in it. When I want to switch to “doing” mode, I’ll pull a few tasks or projects and create time blocks in my calendar. Then I work from my calendar. Things 3 has a “Today” view that shows what needs to be done today. OmniFocus has a forecast perspective that shows tasks that are deferred or due today as well as any tasks that have a forecast tag assigned to it. The task manager should have a view that is specifically for working. Perhaps a smart list that contains a short list of all the tasks you want to work on today? Every app should have some kind of “today” view.
I will return to my to-do list only if I need to plan for the next day, week, or month. Otherwise, I already have a list of tasks assigned to different time blocks in my calendar. If a task or project isn’t on the calendar, the chances are high that I won’t get to work on it.
Running Like Clockwork
After a decade of struggle, I think I’m finally getting to a point of less friction in my GTD system. I’ve identified some of my friction points in capturing, clarifying, organizing, reflecting, and engaging.
Have you sat down and looked at what’s been bothering you in your GTD system? Keep a small notebook and capture any friction points and situations that you’ve found difficult for the next few weeks. If you don’t identify them then you won’t be able to come up with possible solutions.
If you haven’t solidified a habit yet, a checklist would be a great way to start tracking what’s been bugging you. Here’s a post that can get you started on creating your own checklists to kickstart your GTD system.
Modify the checklist to fit your workflow. Notice which steps you’ve skipped over. You might just find another way around whatever is keeping you stuck. I’ve edited my own GTD checklist to fit my life. You may find that there are some GTD steps that you may not need. Eliminate those and implement new steps in your checklist.
Tell us about some of your challenges or discoveries in this post or create your own post. We’d love to see what you’ve got cookin’ in your GTD kitchen!