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GTD is the best

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  • GTD is the best

    I recently took a second look at Sally McGhee's book, Take Back Your Life.

    I started comparing it to David's corpus. Sally has us schedule NAs; David doesn't. Sally's writing for Microsoft Press and teaches GTD for Outlook; David provides us with general principles. Sally works top-down, like Lifebalance or mylife organized; David works bottom-up. Sally wrote her book second; David wrote his book first.

    I had been contemplating a lengthy review of Sally's book, going into the many other detailed nuances between the two authors. But the more I started writing notes on her book, the more I realized the power of beauty of the system David created.

    Let's all be clear on one thing. Virtually no one in the real world gets a prize for being organized. Aside from the life coaches out there, for the rest of us GTD is not an end in itself; it is a means, a tool, an instrument. Professional athletes don't get contracts for having great training programs. They get contracts for running quickly, scoring goals, catching balls. GTD is like a great training program. You won't get a prize for having a great training program but you are much more likely to perform at prize-winning levels if you have a great training program.

    I am almost two years into GTD. I continue to find new reminders daily of how profound and rich this program is. I knew it was good within weeks of trying it. But I never realized that I would find that the depth and subtlety of the program continue to grow over time.

    GTD has not made my life easy. Doing GTD is not easy. But GTD has made my life better and for that David Allen has my heartfelt gratitude.

  • #2
    I, too, have been using GTD for almost two years now and am still learning. I can honestly say that it is infinitely better than anything I've tried before, and I'm likely to be using it for the rest of my life.

    I agree wholeheartedly with moises that:
    "GTD has not made my life easy. Doing GTD is not easy. But GTD has made my life better and for that David Allen has my heartfelt gratitude."

    I now have a system I can trust, and that I know is workable, therefore I'm more relaxed. I know that when I let the system slip, I can get back on board again (I've fallen off the wagon several times and had to get back on again, but now I fall off less often).

    GTD has given me the confidence to tackle projects that were just dreams before, so my life now consists of less drudgery and more fun.

    To all new GTD users I'd say, stick with it and implement GTD across your whole life, not just the workplace. Try not to get disheartened when things go wrong, and above all, do weekly reviews weekly. Frequent reviews really are important if you want to stay in control.


    • #3
      Fortunately alternatives aren't exclusive, so I was able to get a few good Outlook and desktop folder organization tips from Sally's book. I also like the fact that she qualifies her definition of a next action (or "strategic next action" as she terms it) as one with no dependencies. That's implied in David's book, but Sally's is more explicit about it.

      But overall I didn't like the book. By its charter, it's entirely Outlook-centric, so there's no separation between the tool and the methodology -- much like the supercilious debates over PDA vs. paper planners. I also objected to her insistence on scheduling every project and action. There's no distinction between hard landscape and discretionary time, and when the two are blended arbitrarily, the power of the calendar as a focus tool is diminished. I prefer to see what needs to happen today, and make current judgements about what "should" happen today from my action lists.

      The prose was the hardest aspect. Like Julie Morgenstern, I had a tough time wading through the pop psychology and self-help publishing boilerplates (e.g. myth/fact sections, diagnostic quizzes), but ultimately I can say that I learned enough to make it worth the read.

      Of course, I prefer GTD.


      • #4
        I started with Sally's book and feel compelled to finish it. Is there any reason why I shouldn't I feel to set things up like she has them and then move to GTD. Getting through her book has taken me a very long time. I am simply hoping that it will be a benefit. I would like to hear feedback from anyone. Also I would like to see the notes mentioned in the first post in this thread even if it is not complete.


        • #5
          GTD and Sally McGhee's book and approach

          I too have read and studied Sally McGhee's book as part of my GTD quest. Since I am on Outlook 2003 at work, this part of her book in terms of making Outlook more functional is really good. I made a number of changes in terms of folders and processing email. BUT...the biggest difference in the approaches does come down to scheduling next actions. Her premise is that research has shown that if you schedule your next actions (strategic next actions as she calls them), there is a much better chance that you will actually get them done. This philosophy also comes from Harold Taylor -- here is the link to his website:

          Check out his free articles and time tips and you will see this same approach. I have tried this to some extent. Of course, if I have a very important deadline for a project, I have no problem with scheduling a block of time for dedicated work on that project. But I really have not been successful with trying to schedule each next action. What happens in reality, as David Allen so elequently points out in his writings, is that priorities shift so rapidly with constant input of new things that it is really hard to schedule so rigidly. Folks, I have put this to the test and have found it to be true, at least in my work. I spent so much time rescheduling next actions that is seemed to be the biggest time waster. So, my advice is to schedule time blocks here and there if you really need some high-focused time for important projects, but work off of your next action lists.

          I would be glad to discuss this more. I think it is an important topic.

          Best to all,


          • #6
            I like the approach Julie Morgenstern uses in "Time Management from the Inside Out." She suggests using a "time map," with which you plan blocks for particular kinds of activity. Those blocks can incorporate parts of your hard landscape but also consider when you are most productive, when the resources for an activity are most likely to be available, and so forth. The blocks can be more or less hard-edged depending on the nature of your work.

            Some examples:
            Calling the West Coast is completely hopeless before noon East Coast time, since no one will be in. So I have a block of time for West Coast calls right after lunch.
            I'm least productive in the morning, so that's when I do administrative paperwork, inbox processing, email handling, and other tasks that don't require enormous concentration. That frees big blocks for focused work in the afternoon.
            I've also blocked out personal time, time for household errands, etc.

            For me, this approach works well in combination with GTD's context-oriented NA lists, which are similarly oriented toward batch processing similar tasks.



            • #7
              Time maps

              Hi Katherine,

              Yep -- I have read and studied her books as well. Did you know she has a new, second version of her book "Time management from the Indside Out" available now? This works real well with GTD. I am a morning person, so my creative time -- manuscript writing, grant writing, study design, etc. all get funneled into my mornings on my time map. I try really hard to not have meetings during the morning, and direct them along with all of my administrative work for the afternoons. I strongly suggest all to read her books. It is a neat concept!



              • #8

                There are many good ideas in Sally's book. I had been underutilizing Outlook until I read her book.

                What I found most helpful was to insert files as hyperlinks into Appointments and Tasks. I like to keep logs of behaviors that I seek to modify. I can create an appointment as an "all day event" for the next month. I can then insert as a hyperlink the Excel file which tracks what I am eating. Each day I see the appointment at the top of my calendar. I open the appointment, click the hyperlink, and update the file with my recent snack of mixed, unsalted nuts, roasted in walnut oil.

                This is also good in Tasks. If I have a project plan in Excel or Project, I could insert the project plan into the Outlook Task.


                • #9
                  Meanwhile, my success with Sally's recommendation to put strategic next actions on my calendar has not worked for me. I do applaud the focus on doing next actions that have strategic value.

                  My current situation is that we installed a new telephone system--a T-1--at the end of March. It worked fine for 10 days. Last week it went down 3 times. This week it's gone done every day. I have been in crisis management mode. Calendared actions weren't getting done because more urgent actions overrode them.

                  But I was not merely reacting to crises these past two weeks. What I have started doing is using a weekly projects list. It's on my desk right below my computer monitor and next to my Palm cradle. I make a list of projects (subprojects in some cases, actions too) that I would like to accomplish that week. When I get time between phone calls, walk-ins, crises, other work that is required daily and other work that shows up, I work on my weekly goals. When I do my weekly review later this afternoon I will create a new weekly goals list for the week starting this afternoon.

                  I have found David's methods more useful for my particular work situation. If my work situation were different I would put more actions on my calendar. But my world is changing to quickly to fill up my hard landscape like that.

                  When I was putting stuff on my calendar it was too much like the old to-do list that I used to have to keep rewriting day after depressing day. With the stuff on my calendar, at the end of the day I would move the appointments to the next day, or to next week. With David's system, I know they are in my trusted system where I can find them when I need them. But i don't have to keep moving them because the !#$%^& phones went down again.


                  • #10
                    Hi Moises!

                    Hi Moises,

                    I do the same thing as part of my weekly review. I prepare a list of goals/outcomes desired for the week. That is my weekly template to guide what I need to do. But sometimes higher priority, new things come in that were not expected. SO the best plans sometimes have to be altered. THAT is the real beauty of the GTD approach.



                    • #11
                      Scheduling Time

                      Regarding the question of whether one should schedule time to perform actions. In my experience, scheduling actions is very beneficial when done for a small number of actions, becomes less helpful for more actions, and becomes harmful for lots of actions.

                      I have found that by scheduling time to work on two or three projects during a week, I am better able to make progress and feel less stress about falling behind.

                      On the other hand (and I think this is the point that GTD makes), I can't schedule more than a few actions because, if I do, I will end each day with a long list of uncompleted actions and will feel frustrated.

                      In other words, I can decided in advance that I WILL work on project X or Y this week, and set aside time for that, but I can't effectively choose in advance which of my 100 other actions I will do this week. There are too many variables and too many changes in my life to schedule 100s of actions.

                      I think GTD implicitly recognizes the value of scheduling because, in GTD, the only things that are really certain to happen, are those things in the hard landscape. You can raise the probability that you will work on something by scheduling it, but you can only realistically do that for a few items.

                      In a way, calendaring a small number N/As forces you to be realistic about what you will get done and leaves you feeling freer to choose appropriate N/As during your non scheduled time.


                      • #12
                        I am a scheduler and here's what works for me. Most of my next actions are of the less than 15 minute variety. I don't schedule specific next actions on my calendar unless they are over that 15 minute time frame - like drafting a sales manual which will take about 2 hours. Instead, at my weekly review I will look over my lists and see that I need to -say- knock out some calls on Monday before a big meeting on Tuesday so I schedule a block of time for Monday called "@Calls" and I crank through the list at that time. The key to success with a schedule is to be flexible and not to fill up every minute.

                        I schedule about 70% of my day and no, my days don't always go as planned. This afternoon, for instance, as I sat down in my home office to print off some spreadsheets for a product demo tonight, the tornado siren went off. So instead of printing, I shut off the computer and herded my kids and dog into the bathroom to wait out the storm (no damage done). My plan after printing was to go meet the bookmobile to return some due items and pick up some books I had requested, but they called to say they weren't coming because of the storm. So two hours of my afternoon were toast. Was the plan a waste? No. Both items - the library materials and the spreadsheets were due today so that's why they were on my calendar. I gave them specific time slots because I knew I would be at the computer at that time and I knew that I had a window from 4-5pm to catch the bookmobile. Since the plans fell apart, I asked the librarian to renew my books even though I was finished with them so that task could wait. I moved it to the next due date two weeks from now. I used the 4pm slot to get my printing done and since I finished earlier than I thought I would, I decided I will leave a little earlier this evening and swing by the library on my way to the demo and pick up my new books. Right now I have an empty 1 hour time slot so I'm surfing the net and visting this board. So my schedule worked out with minimal fuss.

                        I only put actions on my calendar that have due dates/time frames or deadlines. Everything else goes in the traditional next action list. When I come to an open slot on my calendar, and nothing in my inbox/email then I review the next actions list and make a good choice. I do not hesitate to put appointments on my calendar such my workouts, time with my kids, time to help with homework on the weekdays, dinner/meal plans, grocery shopping, home chores, morning and evening routines, etc. This helps me be realistic about how much time I really have to 'get things done'. If, for example I get a client call just before I planned to go grocery shopping, I can quickly look and see if I can find another hour slot to run to Wal-Mart or if I should schedule to call the client back. (I have no reservations about asking a client to hold on for a second without telling them I am looking at my calendar to determnine if I have time to talk.) If I am booked with meetings and trade shows for the next several days, then I will choose to go grocery shopping and make an agreement with the client to call back at a more convenient time. If it is truly a crisis (very few things are) then I will postpone the grocery shopping. BUT the grocery shopping can quickly become a crisis if we are out of milk an toilet paper! Yes, there are urgent crisis from time to time and I have to react to those, but I am so much more effective and more conscious of how I spend my time when I plan out the obvious priority tasks in advance. Many times I finish a task in less time than I schedule for it and then I turn to my next actions and knock as many out as I can. I don't think scheduling is anti-GTD.

                        And since we are mentiong books, Julie Morgenstern has another more recent book called "Making Work Work" which is well worth the read. Also, "Getting Results for Dummies" by the late Mark McCormack was incredibly powerful.

                        I know this turned into a really long post, but it didn't take me long to type it. Two years ago I set a goal to learn to type faster (I never had typing classes in high school). For a year and a half the next action 'take typing lesson #1' sat on my next action list and never got done. The software was installed and ready to go - all I had to do was take the lesson. About 4 months ago I put "Typing Lesson" as a 15 minute appointment on my calendar repeating 3 times a week. Now I am up to over 60 WPM instead of the 20-25 wpm I had been stuck at since the 7th grade when I first got a computer. Scheduling time has it's advantages.


                        • #13
                          I wanted to add one other thing...

                          It's easier to say no to a commitment when your schedule is mostly full. Before I started 'scheduling the obvious' as I call it, I would commit to things because I *thought* I had an empty schedule.

                          I had an opportunity tossed my way this week that I would love to be a part of, but I truthfully don't have the time. I have other commitments that are BETTER opportunities right now. So rather than adding to my stress and taking on one more thing I don't have time for, I gracefully declined the offer. If, on the other hand, my other commitments had been less than spectacular, I would have accepted the new offer and renegotiated the others. I am also finding that I sacrifice less and less free time with my family now that they are routinely on my schedule.


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by 1drummergirl
                            I know this turned into a really long post, but it didn't take me long to type it. Two years ago I set a goal to learn to type faster (I never had typing classes in high school). For a year and a half the next action 'take typing lesson #1' sat on my next action list and never got done. The software was installed and ready to go - all I had to do was take the lesson. About 4 months ago I put "Typing Lesson" as a 15 minute appointment on my calendar repeating 3 times a week. Now I am up to over 60 WPM instead of the 20-25 wpm I had been stuck at since the 7th grade when I first got a computer. Scheduling time has it's advantages.
                            I did roughly the same thing working with Typing Tutor, with one difference: I made typing practice a daily recurring item for a month on my calendar, without tying it to a time or length. I went from 52 to 71 wpm.

                            I think of training cycles as hard landscape, since the need for consistency is absolute. Sessions don't need to happen at a specific time, but they must happen each day, or some other regular interval, without fail to keep the performance curve rising.