GTD on Vacation

Editor’s Note:  Here’s a post from new contributor Erik Hanberg.  When he wrote me about this and said that he was going on his honeymoon with no more advance planning then the tickets home I thought to myself poor man – he’s going to come home a divorcee… Apparently he chose more wisely that I had in my marriage or else his devotion to GTD is a magic elixer for travel trouble with a spouse but it seems he managed to survive the trip unscathed and actually had a little fun in the process.  This post is also a good example of doing something with GTD that I need to learn to do myself; that is use if for things that you want to do too- not just things you have to do.  Welcome home, Erik and thanks for the entertaining post.

Two Return Tickets, No Reservations.  What could go wrong???

A three-week honeymoon to Thailand and Cambodia … what need is there for GTD, right? On my main list of “contexts” for my tasks–home, office, phone, email, online, read/review–there was little I could do. I wasn’t at home, my phone didn’t work, I had limited access to the Internet, and as for “read/review”–I had packed all my magazines and books that I intended to go through. So again, why would I even be thinking about GTD?

Well, how else was I going to make sure I did the fun things I wanted to do? How else to make sure we had our flights, visas and hotels arranged on the fly? And how else could I make sure that I returned home ready to hit the ground running when I came back to work?

All we had was a return ticket and three weeks to kill…

When my wife and I landed in Phuket, all we had was a ticket home three weeks later. No hotel reservations, no tours booked, no real definite plans–just a flight home. The freedom to let the wind carry us where it would was wonderful, but it also gave me a lot of action items at the start of the trip: apply for a visa to Cambodia, book Phang Nga Bay boat tour, research hotels in Bangkok, etc.

Certainly we could have done a lot of that work before starting the honeymoon, but we both felt a lot better about making decisions once we saw the lay of the land (not to mention that the weeks ahead of the trip were full of wedding planning).

To make it a little easier, I created a “Thailand” tag in Things, my GTD program of choice, that allowed me to quickly separate the 5 or 6 action items I needed to do on vacation from the 150 other items. That said, I was able to check off some items I hadn’t expected, like “get a haircut” and some other tasks that would have been mundane at home but were actually kind of fun and challenging to do abroad.

Be Present

After the burst of planning, the need to plan ahead fell by the wayside and we were able to just be present to enjoy the beauty of Thailand and Cambodia. We explored ancient temples, sampled pad thai from street vendors, and lounged on some of the world’s most beautiful beaches. With limited advanced planning, we operated based on how we were feeling that day. If we were tired of hanging out at the beach, we grabbed a taxi and headed for a remote attraction. If we felt like we hadn’t seen enough of a particular town, we extended our stay another night.

Work and home were far away things, and if I ever had a thought I wanted to remember later, I jotted it down and went about my vacation.

Two Weeks In

After about two weeks of travel, I started to notice I was getting fidgety. Home and work–which had previously felt light-years away–were now suddenly looming. My mind was starting to dwell on projects and tasks I had waiting for me back home. Late one night while on an overnight train transfer I pulled out my computer and–for the first time on the vacation–did a full weekly review. There hadn’t been any need before that, but I found that tucked into the narrow confines of an upper-berth bunk I was in the perfect place to cleanse my mind of the random thoughts that had been distracting me. In less than an hour I added more than 40 action items to my list and a few new projects that had occurred to me on the trip as well.

Going through that short exercise helped me fully engage with the last week of our vacation with no worries about the jump back in to work. It also gave me a renewal of energy. The wear of travel that had slowly accumulated over two weeks was washed away, and it felt like the trip was starting over. The next day I took a Thai cooking class. The day after, I bathed an elephant–a task that doesn’t normally appear on my action list, unfortunately. (If you want to see a short video of my excursion to the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand, check it out here.)

Now that I’m back

Coming back from long trips, I used to feel like I needed a vacation from my vacation. That wasn’t the case this time. Was that GTD? I don’t know for sure. But I came back feeling refreshed, excited, and ready to go.

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