How I manage my GTD Stuff

Last time I talked about GTD and why it helps a knowledge worker. Today, I’ll describe how I personally manage the GTD system – the tools, habits and the quirks.

Disclaimer: How I manage is what works for me. It may not be the same for you. The intent is to give you example of an implementation. The process is more important than the content. Had there been a one-size-fits-all implementation, GTD probably would have prescribed it.  

I use electronic tools and external (cloud) storage of data (tasks, emails, documents etc.) for efficient access. My system has the following pieces:

– My Capture Lists
– Calendars
Evernote

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Dare you work from home!

Yahoo! recently banned work from home. The news made splashes and attracted backlash.

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To me, it looks more an effort to rectify the inefficiencies in Yahoo organization that have creeped up over the years than a productivity statement. It looks remedial and reactive. If so, the Yahoo-wide ban on working from home is an overkill. It is doctoring the symptoms rather than addressing the cause. If not, and it is actually the company’s vision of how Yahoo engineers should work, the move may backfire.

I am not a big proponent of work from home. You won’t find me canvassing for it on campaign trail. Work from home is a privilege not a right. Organizations are social structures to make people work together to achieve its goals. Getting together under one roof certainly looks the most efficient way to get people to work together. Kids go to school – they don’t “study from home”. Hospitals need patients to come over – they don’t “heal from home”. Passengers don’t “fly from home”, lawyers don’t “argue from home” and prisoners don’t “serve their term from home”.

So what’s the problem?

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Long Walks

I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me.
— Noel Coward

Sir Coward was known for his wit. But there is some germ of truth in every humor and this quote is no exception. It is always good to have some time and space to one self.

We tend to get more done when we have uninterrupted time to ourself. Good ideas come in lonely long walks. We solve problems in morning shower. We take a long drive on our favorite country road to clear our mind. Even, a brilliant idea or solution is there as we wake up after a good long sleep!

All this is true. We generally do our best when abetted by solitude and a conducive environment. But these observations do not have to sound as mythical as they do. They are actually grounded in the basic principles of productivity and time management.

There are two common attributes in all these scenarios – the long walks, the picturesque drives, the morning showers and the uninterrupted sleep – that help explain why they are effective for our productivity and creativity.

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Parkinson’s Law to our Advantage

The United States Congress averted a major tax hike and expenditure cut – the so-called “fiscal cliff” – by reaching a compromise deal just before the deadline of January 1, 2013. “Just before” practically was the start of January 1.

It was a tough milestone considering there was a divided Congress and political polarization on economic issues. However, the deadline was known for ever, practically built into the system and the backdoor negotiations for the compromise deal were in full swing for many weeks. Yet, the deal was reached at the eleventh hour – only when the hard deadline was at the door. Interestingly, there have been similar eleventh hour deals on fiscal deadlines over the last few years.

parkinsonThis is an example of Parkinson’s law in real life – famously known as Work Expands to Fill the Time Available. Everyone involved kept on negotiating and trying to get their way in the deal until they could do that no more. Usually, we expand the work required to achieve some goal based on how much time we have. We adjust our focus and plans accordingly. We define the complexity and scope of the task if we can based on how much time we have.

There are many other real-life examples. Cricket matches finish in the last over. Projects end at the last minute. All news in the world magically fits into the same 16 pages of a newspaper. Meetings consume all their allotted time. We reach office just in the nick of time. Deals are reached at the last minute. Storage requirements increase to fill the storage capacity. Our expenses adjust to fit our income.  Given any deadline or constraint, we carve an execution path in such a way that we finish right at the end. Not before, not after.

There are two very interesting corollaries for Parkinson’s Law.

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Note better

Remember the university days with long lectures in even longer afternoons? Somehow a metric of being attentive was taking notes – lots and lots of notes. You looked busy and felt smarter. The more your scribbled the better you felt. You used to take notes with a propensity that could make a journalist who forgot his recorder at home envy you.

taking_notesAs the semester progressed, your notebook grew fatter and you happier. You felt confident that this mountain of text just needs a cursory glance at any time and the entire lecture would replay in your mind. After all you wrote it and there is so much of it. Heck, you can even give the notebook back to the professor as a souvenir. So you wade through the semester and slept in comfort with the knowledge that you have your savior.

The only problem was that when you actually reviewed your notes later they did not make much sense. You can recognize your handwriting – after all who can write that awfully bad. But you cannot understand it. You seem to be gazing at this mass of text that is coming out of the page and simply caressing those areas of your brain that deal with solving cryptographic puzzles.

Apart from many other things that can be contributing to this unsavory situation, a major one is the lack of structure in your notes. Your focus was on recording the words spoken – and that too as much as possible. More the better. While it started neatly left to right, top to bottom but soon you were patching white spaces – as if any white space left would mean something missed. You did not realize that your scribble speed was far less than the professor’s delivery, so there may be pieces of the lecture that you may have completely missed in your enthusiasm to fill the notebook. You are neither here nor there.

Ouch!

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