Thursday, March 08, 2007


If you look for the world's most popular blogs, the top ones are either blogs about gadgets and new technology, or have something to do with GTD, or both.

GTD means 'getting things done'. It's the opposite of procrastination, and tries to eradicate it from the lives of GTD'ers, which of course makes me a bit sad.

It seems to be an ideology, with the air of a cult around it. The founding father is David Allen who wrote a seminal time management guide called Getting Things Done. On one hand, it has to do with technology and software that helps you manage your time and projects, tackle the daily information load and influx of emails and new tasks, assists you in multitasking and keeping all the balls in the air. But on the other hand it's much more than that, it's not the gadgets and widgets but what you do with them and how you use them. Many GTD-people are in fact decidedly low-tech, promoting the use of paper notebooks and hipster PDA's, to mark the difference between the gear and the idea.

The idea, in short, is that there is a systematic way to organise how you work, keep track of what you are doing and help plan the actions you need to take. Getting the organisation right means that you don't need to spend time thinking about what it is that you should do next, and it also helps you to avoid being overwhelmed by the massive number of things that you need to do.

As I need to get things done (or rather, I need to get The Thing done), I looked into some of the software that is available. I still haven't got around to buying that Moleskine, which would be ideal for me, but as I've also seen and tried a number of time managers (most of which have turned into timewasters or have simply been forgotten) I wanted to get something for my computer that would help in keeping track of things, deadlines, and hopefully make managing all the non-thesis stuff easier so that I could focus more on the primary task at hand.

A doctoral thesis is too large and too static to be managed with GTD, that stuff really only works in an environment where you need to do a number of different tasks each day, have people to call and places to visit, meetings to have and memos to prepare. GTD isn't about project management, it's about life management, and time management.

I do need to sort out my system of project management to get the thesis done, keep track of what I've done and what I still need to do, but I think I'll manage with an old-fashioned to do list and that notebook where I can write down ideas as they arrive. (And mind map software that helps me visualise all the connections between things, and I'll probably move my flipboard to the lab as well.)

But I actually found something GTD-like that might help me with all the other stuff. There's a Firefox extension called GTDGmail, which brings a number of features to Gmail that can be used in living a GTD-life. The system revolves around labeling email in your inbox, sending yourself tasks by email and then it is of course up to you to follow the principle of doing the thinkgs on your list, working from top to bottom and doing anything that takes less than 2 minutes immediately rather than deferring it for later.

I've installed the system and now have to see how it works. I might direct my work emails to Gmail for a while so I can properly testrun this. My main problem is information integration between email, calendar, notes and to do lists, and perhaps this will help, although it doesn't have a calendar in it, so I'm just as likely to miss meetings now as I have been.

(Pic: the action workflow in GTD, by David Allen)

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