Getting Things Done: Update

Chris Sells pinged me today to ask about GTD.  Actually, it was kind of funny... he sent me an email with the subject line “You've done this, what can you tell me?“  And the body was a link.  That's it.  When I first saw the subject line I thought it was spam, or even <gasp> porn spam.  Chris sure does know how to pique your interest with a headline, doesn't he?  Heh.  Anyway, I've been meaning to post an update, so thanks Chris, for the questions!

I'm impressed with the GTD system, but as a practical matter it doesn't give me more time in my day to do the work.  Once I figure out how to clear away some of the meetings for focused work time, I'm thinking it will be a leap forward.  The biggest “aha” for me was learning to think about the next action every time I touch something.  I used to leave stuff in my email inbox that I "needed to deal with."  Of course it quickly got out of control, and it was totally overwhelming because it was just "stuff".  Now, whether it's replying to an email or a project task I'm doing, I think “What's the next thing I need to do?” as I finish it - on the email: do I need to create a waiting for task (which the addin makes incredibly easy) with a reminder in two days or do I need to delete the original, and on the project task: is it make a call to someone or prepare for a meeting? Storing the next action makes it easy to deal with things in context, for example 1:1 agenda items. Or phone calls. The task list that got created from all the email that I cleaned out of my inbox is long, but it's not as unapproachable as my old inbox was, because I know what the next action that I need to perform on every single one of the tasks is. The decision tree for next actions really makes sense to me, and I'm deleting a lot more than I used to.  The set-up cost for this is high, but in my opinion, worth it.  Someone who didn't have the mess that I did when I started would have an easier time of it.

The other “aha's” are personal, I think (Chris asked about “aha's“)...  The ease of mind that it's given me to have a clean desk and office.  The realization that, for me, a pile of "stuff to do" is an invitation to procrastinate.  The confirmation that I have way too many meetings.  And the “Hey, there's a light at the end of the tunnel!”  That kind of stuff.

Here's what has changed, even without there being more time:

  • I know what I'm not doing, where before I had this amorphous worry that I was missing important things (and I was).  When I do have time to do work (rather than just check mail between meetings, or add action items after meetings), I can make choices based on the entirety of what I have to do.  It's a long list at this point, though.

  • I'm on top of 1:1's, both agenda items and follow-up, much more than I was before.

  • Using "Waiting for" tasks is really helping me stay on top of follow up that I have to do.

  • I haven't collected any paper on my desk since I cleaned it off.  A clean desk is a nice benefit that I didn't expect - I feel like I have more breathing room. (But I haven't been through all the junk that was on my desk, bookcase and floor yet, either. It's sitting on the floor in my office still.  I also rearranged my office after I gathered all the junk up, it's much nicer now - you can see in the window again!)

  • I empty my email inbox, or very close to it, every day. 

  • And because of that, I've gotten better at responding to mail that only needs a quick response. 

So, I need to schedule some blocks of time to finish going through the papers and to make a dent on the important stuff on my task list.  I think I also need to talk a hard look at whether I absolutely must do everything on my task list.  Maybe the "Next Action" on some of it is Delete 😉  I also need to re-read the chapter on projects, I think I'm missing something there.  And I need to get in the daily review habit.


For me, the book and Outlook add-in were absolutely worth it, even if I don't make any more progress than I have already (and I expect to make more!)  I understand from Tommy, though, that some of the add-in functionality doesn't work if you use Word as your email editor.


Comments (14)
  1. Adam Kinney says:

    Thanks for the comments, I too have started to read David Allen’s viral book. So far it looks promising.

  2. I’m just now starting to get comfortable with the ideas in the book. I didn’t realize that I had my own system, but I did. It worked well in terms of not dropping important things. But there was a mental cost associated with my old system because it meant I had to keep a lot of things in my head.

    My productivity has actually dipped while I’ve been learning how to implement the system and make it work for me, but it’s starting to come back online.

    One thing about emptying stuff out of my head (and I still haven’t convinced myself that I can trust the system completely yet, so stuff isn’t entirely out of my head): I got a great deal of value from holding lots of items in my head — lots of things that came from associations among these items that wouldn’t otherwise occur.

    If I use this system the way it’s supposed to be used and free up my mind to spend time on strategic items rather than purely tactical ones, I need something to replace that loss of association.

    I think mind mapping may be it. It should actually be even better because, up to now, the associations have been only been lucky and random. With mind mapping, I can start driving it.

    Only problem? There’s something fundamental about mind mapping that the people who practice it all take for granted and don’t communicate to those of us who are used to analyzing situations linearly. I’m reading Tony and Barry Buzan’s "The Mind Map Book" but even here it’s clear that they’re expecting some insight or intuitive understanding from me that I’m missing.

    Another key component for me about implementing the GTD system: OneNote is going to be an incredible help. The Outlook add-in is useful for the mechanics of the GTD system, but there’s no facility to handle the planning aspects of projects, and Outlook is, for me, a very unnatural way to go about it. OneNote, on the other hand, works very well. It’s also a great place to pull things to store. I’ve got a complex set of folders in Outlook but I actually hate my storage scheme. There are too many opportunities where a given message could go in multiple folders and the system encourages me to save stuff that I really don’t need to save. Yet there’s so much in it that the idea of weeding and cleaning is too daunting. OneNote is going to get me out of this, one I spend enough time thinking critically (and maybe mind mapping once I get the gestalt of the thing) about what to put where, why, when, and how often to look at it again.

  3. Ralph Poole says:

    I agree with Laura. I am fairly new to the system but I now empty my inbox every day and I transfer my to dos to an action list. I have much better control of my time and I am not letting things slip. The Outlook add-in is an essential part of the process for me since I spend most of my time at my computer. All my "processing" is done in one single place, so setting priorities and staying focused is a real benefit for me.

  4. Omar Shahine has a great post today about his Getting Things Done experiences. I’ve seen a number of Microsoft folks and bloggers picking up on David Allen’s methodology in the past few months and the reports are almost universally positive. Read Omar’s post for some insight into how great an impact GTD can have after only a couple of months. Getting Things Done 2 months later It was about 2 months ago that I started using the Getting Things Done system. First I bought the book, then I got the software, then I organized my life and now I’m a lot happier for it. LauraJ just wrote a post on how GTD has impacted her, and Marc’s blog has many useful posts on the subject. I feel almost exactly the same was Laura does, so read her post and then come back to mine. David Allen has been blogging (as reported here and elsewhere some time ago). Yesterday, he posted about the idea of finding a "pause button" for your life to allow a time for reflection. Here’s an excerpt: What are your "pause buttons"? I was on stage with Beverly Kaye this morning in Phoenix, and she mentioned a…

  5. Colin says:


    I encountered on your blog by chance and noticed the post about the book GTD. I have just got my copy today so am looking forward to reading it. One question maybe someone could help me with – what is Outlook Addin you have mentioned? Where can I get it?

  6. Tommy Williams should look at Boswell or something like it. It would seem a useful too for dumping associations out of your brain iand into a trusted sytem. Once input (or imported from source files) you could simply search the database for keywords and all of the association would appear.

    Good Luck!

  7. I am a disorganized mess at times. Papers everywhere, things stacked up on top of each other with "plans" of organizing them. So when I saw this book Getting Things Done making the rounds online and getting some rave reviews….

  8. “Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.” Gertrude Stein.

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