The focus of the past week has been on Getting Things Done. After what's been probably my busiest academic year so far, I finally decided that my workload was such that I required a rigourous approach to task management. I trawled around for methodologies that would allow me to organize a multitude of different jobs, whilst maximizing the time I could spend with my family. After reading about Getting Things Done (GTD) on Merlin Mann's well-respected 43 Folders blog, I decided to give it a go. There's a nice "getting started with GTD" article on 43 Folders, which summarises the approach thus:
- identify all the stuff in your life that isn’t in the right place (close all open loops)
- get rid of the stuff that isn’t yours or you don’t need right now
- create a right place that you trust and that supports your working style and values
- put your stuff in the right place, consistently
- do your stuff in a way that honors your time, your energy, and the context of any given moment
- iterate and refactor mercilessly
And that's it, really. Most of the week was spent on the first three steps (the creator of GTD recommends at least a couple of solid days), but the effort was well worth it. I started by taking the various slush piles, to-do lists and marked-up journals and papers in my home office, and merging them into one big "in" pile. I then had to do the same with my work and Gmail inboxes, extracting only the "open loops" (i.e., unfinished projects).
I had over 4,000 emails in my Gmail inbox, and working through the whole lot, deleting as I went, quickly lost its appeal. I therefore adopted a "tagging" approach; I created an "@action" tag in red, and then skimmed through my inbox, tagging anything that required an action on my part. Everything was then selected and archived (just "select all", answer "yes" when it asks you if you want to apply this to all conversations, and then hit "Archive"), leaving nothing in my inbox (for the first time in many years). I could then select only the tagged messages, which was much more manageable.
The end result of this physical and electronic clear-out was a car-full of paper to go to the recycling centre, a clean workspace (shown above) devoid of distracting piles of paper, and a fresh outlook on work. I'm already feeling the mental benefit, as I've been relieved of the self-inflicted stress brought on by my subconscious constantly asking "what am I currently not doing?" I've always been quite cynical in the past about "snake oil", management-driven "productivity" schemes, but I can honestly say that GTD is an eye-opener, and it actually seems to work.
I've managed to condense everything down to a list of just over forty "projects" (ranging from "Fix external hard drive" to "Write next book"), most of which have a discrete "next action" attached to them.
I'll be writing more about GTD in the coming weeks and months, as I learn more about the system and (hopefully) realise its potential.