Sunday, 13 December 2009

Getting Things Done

I read "Getting Things Done" by David Allen a couple of years ago, and quickly adopted many of his suggestions. And for a while it really seemed to help me to organize my life and, well, get things done. But then things started to drift and my productivity dropped off. Why did this happen?

When I first started to implement my GTD system, I looked around for a desktop tool that I could use at home and at work. Since I use Ubuntu and MacOS X at home, and Windows at work, it had to be a cross platform tool. That narrowed the range of options down drastically, and I eventually landed on Thinking Rock, a Java based desktop tool. This worked reasonably well, except for the fact that I had no way to automatically synchronize my task list across the various computers I was working on. I considered writing a plugin for Thinking Rock to allow me to do the synchronization but, for one reason or another, never quite got round to doing it. Instead I implemented a manual workaround.

The workaround entailed me using yet another tool, Things, for the iPhone. I divided my task list into things I had to do at work, and things I had to do outside of work. For the outside of work tasks I used Things. I had it in my pocket at all times, which meant I could refer to it, add new tasks etc whenever they came to mind. Then I set up a daily reminder on my Outlook calendar at work to prompt me to work through the inbox in Things, and re-key any work related tasks into Thinking Rock.

Like I said in the intro above, this worked well, for a while. But soon I started to get lazy. Having tasks split across 2 different tools meant I never had one consolidated list to check to see what to do next. In addition, the overhead of re-keying tasks into Thinking Rock at work, whilst fairly minimal, soon also became a problem. There are some days at work when my behind has barely had time to settle into it's chair groove before the phone starts ringing and the various demands of working in a big corporation shout to make themselves heard. So I'd miss the odd day here and there, with the here and there moving ever closer together. Until finally I removed Thinking Rock from my list of applications that automatically starts up on login, and went back to my old system of making notes in Tiddlywiki.

So, that brings us up to a couple of weeks ago, when I decided that I needed to re-assess my approach. I had read somewhere about a web-application called Remember the Milk that also had an iPhone app. On a quiet morning at work, I searched for it in Google and signed up for a free account. After playing around with the interface for a while, and adding a few test tasks to see what it could do, I decided that it had potential. I downloaded the iPhone app, played around with it, and liked it as well. Then I read this article on Lifehacker which reviewed RTM and gave an excellent introduction to its features. After reading that I took the plunge and signed up for a professional account.

I have now been using RTM for about a week and I couldn't be happier with it. It has revolutionized the way that I manage my life, and made me much more productive. I wouldn't be writing this blog now if I hadn't taken that plunge a week ago. Why? Because having all my tasks in one place, regardless of whether they are for work or for home, has greatly simplified things. I now only have one place to look to see what to work on next. I don't have any manual processes to synchronize things. It all just works. It's like the difference between dating someone whilst living apart, and moving in together. When you are in the dating phase, although you may spend every night together it's still either at your place or her place. When you move in together, it's our place. You still spend every night together, but the relationship is completely different. It's non-additive. It's greater than the sum of its parts.

Looking back I can see that the reason my GTD system broke down was because of the required manual synchronization effort. Now that I have my pro Remember the Milk account linked to an app on my iPhone, I have one consolidated task list everywhere, and I feel that I can really, seriously, get things done.

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