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Using GTD to Establish Habits

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  • Using GTD to Establish Habits

    I’m just getting started with GTD and have blocked out the next couple of days to get set up.

    I have a question about using GTD to achieve goals relating to habits. For example, I have a goal to establish a daily meditation habit.

    I can see that I could put a next action of “sit”, but that doesn’t seem to capture the “daily” part.
    Or I could calendar an item called “sit”. But it isn’t really associated with a time.
    Or I could set up a project of “establish meditation habit”, with a next action of “sit today”. And then a next action of “sit tomorrow”.

    I’m curious if any particular way more effective?

  • #2
    I prefer putting an untimed event on my calendar for about 30 days or so until the new habit is formed. If I skip a day, I delete the event for that day. After 30 days, I can look back to see how I did. I would put Meditate.


    • #3
      A little remembered part of GTD was called, I believe, "Automatic Success Mechanisms." I.e. putting your briefcase in front of the door so you remember to take it. Finding a habit you already have and intercepting it with something else.

      If you want to meditate for a certian period of time each day, I'd suggest you find something you already do that's negative to replace it with what you want, like watching TV or eating chocolate cake. Just make that mental connection TV -> Meditate. Set your TV to a specific channel that will remind you to meditate or something. Sort of like tying a piece of string around your finger.


      • #4
        Interesting question here.

        I have a similar habit: Strength training. I've found my best solution is to put a paper with "STRENGTH TRAINING" written on it in big letters in my Tickler file. I pull it out at the beginning of my day, put it (along with others) on my desk, and work through them as I have opportunities.

        I've also found that I have to set aside a particular time in my day to accomplish certain regular activities. If something is truly important to me, I need to schedule other things around it.


        • #5
          I use Sciral Consistency ( for recurring tasks, including habits I'm trying to establish or maintain. It takes care of the reminder and tracking aspect.

          In my GTD system, I put the upper level goal that the habit is intended to support in as a project, then put the short term goal ("go to gym 10 times in March") in as a subproject. I usually don't bother adding the regular habit to the NA list, since I refer to Consistency instead, but you certainly could do so if you wanted, or you could make the time part of the hard landscape in your calendar.



          • #6
            Update Habit Routine

            I will preface that I'm probably the least organized person you've even come across. I'm also a perfectionist and it's killing my workload.

            I've been trying to do GTD for a bit now and have not been too successful and have been spinning my wheels. I seem to have to have everything GTD figured out, just to get started. I really need a bit of hand-holding.

            That said, how are you habits working out for you? Any results you could share?

            I have about 20 things that I want to remember to do each day. Feeding the dogs type things, walking 10,000 steps, knitting 10 rows on a baby blanket (the baby will be two soon) and other things that really aren't so terribly important in the grand scheme of things, but things that would be okay to skip a day or two so they wouldn't actually be habits.

            Would it fall into GTD if I made a list of these daily tasks, go to the tickler file, pull the list (maybe in a plastic cover sheet/check off with dry erase marker??) and do them as a 15 or 30 minute task?

            Or would it be better to put each one of them in as a separate entity?

            Care to share their successes? Anyone?


            • #7
              Identify where/when habits occur

              I would begin on deciding (in GTD terms) the context of each of these items and where the reminder would be best located. For something like feeding the dog a note on your coffee maker might be the best place for a reminder, personally my dog is more than able to let me know if I forget to feed him

              Something like the blanket sounds more like a project. If you can knit in many places maybe your first action would be to collect all your materials into something you can carry with you. Then you can have a next action in your @Anywhere context to "Work on Blanket". If your carrying with you it might quickly become a habit to pull it out and work in it during some downtime.

              So, basically my advice is to go back to basics - decide where/when the activity you want to become a habit occurs - and then set up a system to reinforce the habit.


              • #8

                Thanks for taking the time to comment.

                I really think I'm trying to work from a to-do list again rather than GTD.

                My one dog will remind me, the other one would starve first. If they'd only eat at the same time!!

                I need to schedule time to work on the blanket...July will be here before you know it. Should I make the blanket an appointment to be sure it's finished in time?

                Here's what happens...I do all the @computer stuff and the day is over...I never to get the @anywhere, @home, etc. projects.

                I really think I need to re-read the book again; I clearly do not have a system in place that works for me. I keep getting stuck and giving up GTD for a day or two in procrastination.


                • #9
                  What I decided to do

                  This thread got me thinking about a habit I need to develop. I want to make sure that I go through a series of stretches each morning for my back and legs as suggested by a chiropractor.

                  I'm terrible at doing this.

                  I decided today to set up a weekly appt with myself (on Friday) to review how many days in the previous week I've done this. My hope is that on Friday I can pat myself on the back for a job well done. After a month of this I'm hoping the daily stretches will have developed into a habit.

                  The danger here (which David warns about somewhere in the book I think) is if I don't do the stretches I'll feel bad and discouraged on my Friday review. I plan to guard against this negativity (if we're not kind to ourselves who will be?)

                  Maybe you could set a goal of completing 3 inches of blanket a week and have a similar review.

                  We can check back next week - I'll do 5 days of stretches - you do 3 inches of knitting


                  • #10

                    Done deal! Let's check in next Friday afternoon. I've made a daily recurring reminder to knit every day.

                    Although, I'm sure we are supposed to be accountable to ourselves, but I need the motivation to get me started! Thanks.

                    Now, I'm really, really, having trouble putting all this office crap in a physical bucket, can't I just leave it where it is and promise to process someday? I'm such a disorganize packrat...this is so painful.

                    I've been reading the forum carefully and there's quite a few good posts that I'm going to try to incorporate. I find having to refer to the book for support very distracting. I wish I'd highlighted the first time through.


                    • #11
                      Airolg, have you seen DA's book Ready for Anything? It lays out GTD principles and practices in very accessible and usable bite-sized chunks.


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by jmarkey
                        I prefer putting an untimed event on my calendar for about 30 days or so until the new habit is formed. If I skip a day, I delete the event for that day. After 30 days, I can look back to see how I did. I would put Meditate.
                        I do pretty much the same thing, with one rather stern difference: if I skip a day, the next day becomes Day 1. It took me 3 times to get to 30 consecutive days of typing practice. Fortunately I enjoyed it.


                        • #13

                          Originally posted by Day Owl
                          Airolg, have you seen DA's book Ready for Anything? It lays out GTD principles and practices in very accessible and usable bite-sized chunks.
                          I bought them at the same time. I assumed it was a reenforcement to the original rather than a restatement of the principles and was saving it for motivational/falling off the wagon reading.

                          I'll read it now then and see if it helps to clear the mud. Thanks.


                          • #14
                            How'd the week go?

                            Well, I did 3 out of 5 days of stretching - so not a bad effort. How'd you do with your knitting?

                            My tracking method worked for me. I set up a recurring event in Outlook for Friday with a note about what I was trying to accomplish. I then listed out the days Saturday - Friday. Then each day I edited this Friday's occurance of the event and put an asterik next to the day if I did the stretching exercises. Since I'll only ever edit the upcoming Friday's entry I'll be able to track my progress (to some extent)

                            As for making progress on the pile of stuff, I had similar problems, I still have one filing cabinet I haven't gone through. But I decided to get as much cleared off as possible and start using GTD to get control of my everyday tasks. I came to realize as I got more of my work life/home life under control that the pile would slowly shrink and be dealt with. I also wanted to get used to the system and start to trust it before I finished going through all my old stuff.


                            • #15
                              An effort, at least.

                              Originally posted by morrisok
                              Well, I did 3 out of 5 days of stretching - so not a bad effort. How'd you do with your knitting?
                              Thanks for checking back and congratulations! Keep up the good work! Your health depends on it!

                              I ended up blocking time to actually do it. I knitted three rows each on Tues, Wed and Thursday, but had to make it a priority--not sure that's a bad thing, but...

                              I think I've finally decided how (given the way I work) to implement GTD, and to get myself out from under my years of "spread it out so I don't forget it" syndrome, and that is to break up the mess into very tiny chunks until I have a place to put the phyiscal inbox. I'm going put the tiny chunks through the entire process from beginning to end so I can appreciate a trusted system. Hopefully then, I'll have reached a point that "collecting" could actually be a two-day event.

                              In another effort to implement GTD for me that I did yesterday was to begin a task list of the daily recurring tasks with checkboxes that I put in a protective sheet (checked off with a dry-erase marker) and plan on putting in my tickler file for that day (1-31 folders) so that I can get into the habit of actually looking in my ticker files! I actually pulled out the 20 folder this morning, but only after the Outlook reminder reminded me!!! I did everything I could on the list right then and there, most are less than five-minute tasks. The problem with that is that I'm not sure where to put the uncompleted worksheet (some can't be done until tonight) and the folder--leave it out all day until everything's checked off??? I did put the folder back so it doesn't get dog-earred.

                              At the same time, I have all these same tasks as recurring Outlook tasks as well, but the list might work better for me because the completed tasks serve (at a glance) as motivation to continue. I know there's a filter on tasks and I might play with that if this doesn't work for me.

                              I'm not sure which version I'll keep, but I need something to trust...I just have to find the one I can maintain easily and be fun for me so I continue using that method.

                              In reality, I probably just need a lesson in logic and stop being emotionally attached to nearly everything that comes into my life.