Noisy Deadlines

GTD

I came up with some questions yesterday about my GTD system when I was bored. I will jot down some notes about the first one:

What do I wish my system to do to support me?

That's a good question because a productivity system should be there to support me. It's how I got into GTD in the first place: I was searching for a way to be more organized and less stressed. I needed a framework on how to deal with all my life inputs and dreams.

So, how exactly can it help me?

Here are some of the elements that I wish my system should do to support me:

  1. Ease of use: I want it to be simple to use. I don't want to spend too much time or energy on managing my system, but rather on doing the things that matter. A good thought experiment is imagining a day when I'm sick: will I be able to use my system then? Will it be easy enough to use it when I'm not feeling 100%? A simple system is more resilient and adaptable to different situations and moods.

  2. Digital and multi-platform: It should be digital, multi platform and sync between my devices (mainly laptop and mobile). I want to be able to access my system from anywhere and anytime, without worrying about losing or forgetting anything.

  3. Reminder system: It should be able to remind me of things. On days when I'm most distracted having a reminder pop-up on my devices really help me not forget important things. Sometimes I need a gentle nudge to get started on a task or to follow up on something. Reminders also help me keep track of deadlines, appointments, events, etc. that I don't want to miss.

  4. Punch list: It should be easy to narrow down next actions into a “punch list” so that I can plan which tasks I will work on each day. One of the key concepts of GTD is breaking down projects into actionable steps that can be done in one sitting. This helps me avoid procrastination and overwhelm by focusing on the next thing I can do. Having a punch list of these next actions also helps me prioritize and schedule my day according to my energy, context and goals

  5. Aesthetically pleasing: It should be fun to use and visually appealing. I think having a system that I enjoy using makes a big difference in my motivation and mood. I like to customize my system with colors and emojis and also it is rewarding to hear a sound when an action is completed. These little things make me happy and keep me engaged with my system.

Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but after reflecting on this question, I'm rethinking some of the tools I use. I knew that the visual appeal was important to me, and I feel that lately it has become even more important.

Here is a quick diagnostic of the tools I currently use:

  • Calendar/Email => Outlook: I see no issues here. It's easy to use. I use the web version of Outlook in both my work and personal accounts. I like how it looks, it sends me reminders, it's available on all my devices. I can sync my personal and work calendars to see whole picture.
  • Task Manager => NirvanaHQ: It's relatively easy to add things to the Inbox. If compared to other tools, processing stuff is not that easy because there are drop downs menus and selections to go through each time. Aesthetically speaking it is not my favorite. Adding emojis to it make it less boring. I like it for its neat organizational buckets and multi platform sync. I can make a punch list using the Star feature.
  • Reference system => OneDrive/Standard Notes/One Note: I enjoy using all these tools. They are multiplatform and accessible in all my devices. I enjoy their user interface; I see no issues. I don't need reminders in these tools.

🧐 So, I am looking at you, NirvanaHQ! I will give it some thought. More later.

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

I couldn't do almost any of my work tasks I had planned for today in the weekly review I did Friday!

I looked at the Nirvana Focus list today and my brain was like:

“Nah, too many things! And look! They are all boring. Can I have my snack now? Let’s grab some tea! ” 🙄

So today was a day I drowned in boredom. I did some quick and easy tasks that showed up on my email inbox. But I couldn't start any of the projects related tasks I had on my Focus list. And I couldn’t revise the list either. I just wanted to wander a little bit. I journaled. I organized some stuff. I read some RSS feeds. I asked myself questions:

  • Did my to-do app (Nirvana) seem overwhelming? => Maybe, I looked at it and I thought “Oh, how boring! And…I don’t know where to start”.
  • Did I have too many tasks on my focus list? => I had 6 tasks listed there, with an estimated duration of 5 hours total.
  • Were the tasks too daunting? => One of them required a lot of focus and energy. And it would probably take me 1-2 hours to complete (maybe more).
  • Were any of the tasks in a tight deadline? => Not really, there were no hard deadlines to complete them today.

So, what's going on?

To be honest, I'm not 100% sure.

But I think it's a combination of the Monday effect with me feeling tired and no pressure from deadlines.

Although I did my work weekly review on Friday, I failed to do my personal weekly review on Sunday. I had a conference call with my family on Saturday night that finished later than I wanted, so I woke up later on the Sunday and that derailed my Sunday routine a little bit. I felt like I was playing catch-up and when I got to work this morning, I still had unfinished thoughts about my personal stuff.

I got a little bit off track. So I woke up already feeling exhausted this morning.

But this whole day of boredom got me thinking about my tasks system:

  • What do I wish my system to do to support me?
  • Where and when do I want to see my system?
  • Do I want my system to remind me of things? How?
  • Do I feel like there's friction in using my system?
  • Does looking at my lists repel me?
  • When is the best time to do my personal weekly review?

I don't have all the answers to those questions, but I feel like today’s experience has brought some things to my attention that I will reflect more on this week and see what happens.

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

For the first time in years, I did plan the next week on a Friday!

I'm finding that the best time to do a Work Weekly Review is Friday afternoon, after 3pm. Now that things at work are at a more manageable pace, I can really appreciate this time for reflection.

I set up a recurring event in my calendar for Fridays at 3:30pm to start my Work Weekly Review. The total duration is 1 hour followed by my usual daily Shutdown Routine of 30min before I leave. That means I have plenty of time to:

  • process my inboxes
  • review my calendar
  • check off completed tasks
  • process my notes
  • update project notes
  • jot down some notes about what is coming up next week (that I will use to make my Weekly Plan)

But today I actually managed to start my Weekly Plan in advance! I usually work on it on Monday mornings, but this time I was able to put it all in there, ready for when I get back to work next week 🥳.

So, I’m calling this my Friday Afternoon Work Ritual and I will try to protect this time as much as I can this year.

This is how I'd like my work to be: manageable workload, clear deadlines, no rush, no emergencies, plenty of time for reflection / reviews. I know it's not going to be like this forever, so I better enjoy it while I can!

Have a great weekend!

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

I don't remember exactly when it happened, but I now can have emojis in NirvanaHQ, my list manager. I’ve always liked some nice visuals in the tools I'm using, and Nirvana is extremely plain: elegant and minimalist. I remember a few years ago I reached out to the developers to ask about emojis and at the time they responded it wasn't possible with the code they were using. Back then I discovered I could use some Unicode symbols, and that's what I did for a while.

Now emojis are working and that made me happy! 😊

I particularly like to have emojis for my context’s lists. I think they add a touch of joy and personalization. So here is how my contexts tags look right now:

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

I've always been an employed worker, working for the public or private sectors in construction. I don't have any experience running a business or being self-employed, so what I will discuss below reflects my full-time job experiences.

We all have ONE life: we experience the world around us all the time regardless of what we are doing: reviewing a spreadsheet at work or reading a book at home. All these experiences affect our lives no matter what. But we can identify our areas of focus: they are the multiple different facets of our lives. They are like the hats we use on our day to day: professional career, family, self-development, health, friends, finances, etc.

So, I've always thought that managing actions and projects of all these different facets should be together in one tool or system. If I'm doing the weekly review, I should be looking at them all at the same time, for example.

But recently I've identified that I needed to create some separation between my work and personal lives.

I noticed that I was not able to rest at the end of the workday or over the weekend. I was constantly feeling anxious about my work tasks, I had difficulty clarifying my stuff and I was feeling overwhelmed. While doing regular therapy/counselling for a year, I realized I needed to do focus on three things:

  1. Daily planning: plan my day at work to have a more structured routine.

  2. Cut off from work at the end of the day, creating a smoother transition from work to personal activities in the evenings.

  3. Create a separation for my weekends: work-week shutdown.

Phase 1: Daily Review: Plan the Day!

I started with a regular Daily Review in the morning to plan the day. I have this as a recurring all day event on my calendar.

After some trial and error, I was happy using Cal Newport's Time Block Planner to help me do this planning. That does not mean I abandoned GTD: I added this tool to my GTD toolset. It helped me create a more structured routine for organizing my day, and since it is linked to blocks of time, I became more aware of my capacity to tackle my next action lists.

Phase 2: Shutdown Routine

Then, after a few weeks practicing Time Blocking regularly, I started to think about the end of the day routine. It's another daily review but focused on shutting down the day. I was inspired by Cal Newport's shutdown routine and that was a total game changer for me. This practice fuelled my time blocking, which in turn optimized the way I organize my tasks and projects.

I could actually have a restful evening at home with my partner, because I knew whatever I had to do at work was clarified and organized and ready for me when I got to work. But I still felt jittery over the weekends, and I wondered what was wrong: enter the weekly review!

Phase 3: Separate Weekly Reviews

Because I was enjoying this work versus personal mindset separation, I realized that I also needed a work shutdown routine at the end of the work week.

I usually schedule my weekly review on Sundays, but I was feeling this huge resistance to do it, mainly because I didn't want to look at my work projects on a Sunday morning! Then I would avoid it altogether, skipping even my personal review. A light bulb appeared in my mind last October: what if I do a work weekly review on Fridays?

Tah-dah! I tried it and it worked!

Conclusion

My journey towards a more balanced and productive work-life dynamic led me to think differently about my routines. Separating these 2 main areas of focus (personal x work) does not mean they are not integrated. I have thoughts or ideas about work when I'm doing the dishes, but I know I can capture them in my inbox for them to be sorted out when I'm at work. And vice-versa, I capture personal thoughts at work that I will process later. That's one of the core principles of GTD!

After practicing GTD for years, I've never had this ah-hah moment about the weekly review: why not have 2 separate reviews? It seems trivial now I that I think about it, but I guess I was stuck with a fixed mindset.

The three tweaks I mentioned brought me more clarity, making my evening more relaxed any workdays smoother, marking a significant shift in my mindset and productivity.

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

Photo by Spencer on Unsplash

As I think about what I want for 2024, it's not about big goals to be a different or better person. I just want to keep doing my thing and enjoy the ride. My focus will be SELF-CARE 🍵.

Some thoughts on what I wish for 2024:

  • Let this be the year of rest and taking care of myself! My wellness is more important than anything else.
  • Do more of what I enjoy!
  • Being mindfully present with my leisure time.
  • Keep on managing stress. Do less, keep it simple!
  • Keep practising my key routines:
    • Morning routine with yoga + meditation + journaling
    • Applying the GTD methodology
    • Time Blocking at work to manage workload and focus
    • Work Shutdown routine to manage stress
    • Exercise regularly: gotta keep moving!
    • Celebrate progress! 🙌

Here's to 2024 being all about taking it easy, looking after myself, and enjoying the little things. 🌈✨

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

This is a series of posts with reading notes of the book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen.

Chapter 15 – The Path of GTD Mastery

The GTD methodology is a lifelong practice. David noticed that people can have different levels of maturity:

  1. Employing the fundamentals of managing workflow.

  2. Implementing a more elevated and integrated total life management system.

  3. Leveraging skills to create clear space and get things done for an ever expansive expression and manifestation.

We start with the basics, making small adjustments, dealing with our day-to-day reality, and then we progress to look at higher horizons (long term goals and objectives, vision and life purpose).

Mastering the Basics

  • Learning to capture EVERYTHING, big or small, into a trusted system
  • Using a “Waiting For” category for deliverables
  • Using “Agendas” lists to capture and manage communication with others
  • Keeping a simple and easy to use reference system
  • Keeping the Calendar as “hard landscape”
  • Doing Weekly Reviews

Graduate Level – Integrated Life Management

  • A complete, current, and clear inventory of projects
  • A working map of one’s roles, accountabilities, and interest both personally and professionally
  • An integrated total life management system. Custom tailored to one’s current needs and direction, and utilized to dynamically steer out beyond the day-to-day
  • Challenges and surprises trigger your utilization of this methodology instead of throwing you out of it

At some point, David says, “projects will become the heartbeat of your operational system”. They will be a reflection of our roles, areas of focus and interests. You might start customizing your system to better fit your needs.

Post Graduate – Focus Direction and Creativity

  • Utilizing your freed up focus to explore the more elevated aspects of your commitments and values
  • Leveraging your external mind to produce novel value

Once the details of our daily lives are taken care of, there will be more space and focus for more creative thinking. A good example is unearthing items from our Someday/Maybe lists when we feel we are ready.

Conclusion

As David Allen mentions at the end of the book, the GTD methodology validates much of what is common sense. The merit of this book is that it is extremely practical while at the same time explaining the principles behind the methodology. Plus, the GTD methodology is super flexible and can be tailored to fit our own needs and preferences.

After 10 years applying this methodology, I can confidently say that it has had a powerful impact on my life. It has helped me manage day-to-day mental clutter and execute significant, life-changing projects. All of my major life changes were once captured in a Someday/Maybe list.

For me, GTD goes beyond task and project management. It's more about figuring out what makes my work meaningful, living mindfully, and keeping my head in a good space. It's not just about being super productive—it's about making life feel worthwhile.


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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

This is a series of posts with reading notes of the book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen.

Chapter 14 – GTD and Cognitive Science

In this chapter, the focus is on the intersection of cognitive science and the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology.

This chapter cites a Belgium academic study that analyzed the GTD methodology using working theories from cognitive science. Essentially, our minds are designed to have ideas based on pattern recognition, but not to remember everything.

The book “The Organized Mind” by Daniel Levitin is also mentioned to illustrate why we need an “external brain” to help store and maintain huge amounts of data. When we use our memory as our organization system, our minds will become overwhelmed.

The Belgium academic paper describes the science behind the act of externalizing our thoughts so that our minds are more effective. Externalizing information, such as using lists and reminders, can offload cognitive demands on memory, allowing the mind to focus on higher-level thinking.

“Your mind is for having ideas, not for holding them.” — David Allen

Another point that has been studied is the relieving cognitive load of incompletions. Uncompleted tasks take up room in the mind, which then limits clarity and focus (scientific paper here). The paper also proves that the completion of the tasks are not required to relieve that burden on our minds: what is needed is a trusted system that guarantees the tasks will be triggered when appropriate.

GTD helps in managing cognitive load by providing a systematic approach to externalize and organize thoughts, reducing mental clutter and enhancing cognitive performance.

David Allen also discusses that the Flow state (or “being in the zone”) is facilitated when we use the GTD approach: having clarity, clear goals, and single-tasking. Other psychological benefits of the methodology involve goal-striving (desired outcomes) and psychological capital (PsyCap). Using the GTD methodology sets us up for more optimism, a sense of self-efficacy, hope and resilience.

Wrapping up, the chapter shows how GTD is like our personal brain manager, helping us sort out our thoughts, clear up mental mess, and boost how well our brain works.

” ... when all of our potentially meaningful things are captured, clarified, organized, and reflected upon, the more mature, elegant, and intelligent part of who we really are can show up at the table. That produces experiences and results that can't be beat.” — David Allen


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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

This is a series of posts with reading notes of the book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen.

In Part 3, Chapters 11, 12 & 14 David Allen gives more insights about the power of the key principles: capturing, next-actions and outcome focusing.

Chapter 11 – The Power of the Capturing Habit

One of the most powerful habits I've learned with GTD is writing things down, either manually or digitally. In this chapter, David lists all the benefits of this practice and explain why uncaptured open loops take up mental space. We feel negative feelings (overwhelm, anxiety, guilt) when we see our incomplete to-dos because we are breaking agreements with ourselves. And the book presents ways to prevent these broken agreements:

  • Don't make the agreement: in short, just make fewer commitments, practice saying “no”
  • Complete the agreement: just do it! Use the 2-minute rule as much as you can
  • Renegotiate the agreement: lower your standards, keep the agreement, put it on a someday/maybe list

“A renegotiated agreement is not a broken one.” — David Allen

The act of doing a mind sweep always make me feel better. And that's because when I unload all those thoughts, I'm automatically renegotiating my agreements with myself. I probably didn't notice the full potential of this habit when I started, but now I know how valuable it is. I've recently discovered that if I do a quick mind sweep at the end of my work day, I feel much better! As David Allen suggests:

“I suggest that you use your mind to think about things, rather than think of them”. — David Allen

Chapter 12 – The Power of the Next-Action Decision

Always ask this question: “What's the next action?” Why? Because if forces:

  • Clarity
  • Accountability
  • Productivity
  • Empowerment

It's a quick exercise to define what doing looks like. I identified myself when David Allen mentions that the most creative, sensitive and intelligent people are the ones who procrastinate the most. Because we tend to fantasize scenarios about what is needed to complete that project, along with all the negative possible outcomes! We freak out and give up!

Another interesting note is that we might be repelled by our to-do lists:

“… not because of the contents per se, but rather because sufficient appropriate thinking has yet to be applied to them.” — David Allen

Chapter 13 – The Power of Outcome Focusing

The key message of this chapter is that we can't define the next action until we know what is the desired outcome in the end.

And it can apply to small, mundane things or to big life goals. Some good questions to always have in mind:

  • What does this mean to me?
  • Why is it here?
  • What do I want to have be true about this? What's the desired outcome?
  • How do I now make this happen?
  • What resources do I need to allocate to make it happen (What's the next action?“)

The challenge will always be: defining what done means and what doing looks like.

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

This is a series of posts with reading notes of the book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen.

Chapter 10 – Getting Projects Under Control

This chapter is all about informal, straightforward planning and the tools that can assist us in this process.

David identifies 2 types of projects:

  • Projects that Retain Attention: These are projects that continue to demand attention even after determining their next actions. They require a bit more advance planning.
  • Projects for which ideas just show up, ad hoc: These are projects where ideas spontaneously emerge. They need a designated space to store these ideas for later use.

Next Actions about Planning

Some projects will need next actions to trigger more in depth planning. David outlines potential next planning steps:

  • Brainstorming: Useful when the project is unclear. A potential next action might be on the @computer or @anywhere list: “Draft ideas about Project X.”
  • Organizing: If there are scattered notes about the project, the next action could be: “Organize Project X notes.”
  • Setting Up Meetings: Often, scheduling a meeting with involved parties is the next action that propels the project forward.
  • Gathering information: Sometimes, reaching out to someone or researching a topic is crucial. Next actions like “Call X regarding his thoughts on...,” “Look into the topic of X...,” or “Review reports understanding X...” can capture these tasks.

Thinking Tools

Write things down!

Regardless of the method, it's important we have a means to capture thoughts. David suggests various options: paper and pads, easels and whiteboards, digital tools (text, outliner, mind mapping apps, spreadsheets, etc).

An interesting point from David Allen is that larger screens are better for planning:

“I suggest, however, that the value of smartphones and the like is for the execution of the results of thinking – not for generating creative thought. For that I want more space, not less.” — David Allen

Project notes can be stored in various locations, from a paper folder for loose-leaf pages to digital tools like mind mapping and outlining apps or the Notes section of a task manager. Whatever works!

My thoughts and lessons learned

I've always struggled a bit with project planning and notes. I tended to skip the “planning” step and jump into execution right away. Format and location were challenges too; I thought I needed a rigid process for capturing thoughts. I believed that all projects should have a Master Project Note, in a specific format, stored in a specific folder.

However, I've learned that project planning can take various forms, depending on the project. Sometimes, jotting down ideas by hand on a notepad works best, while other times, creating an outline with the necessary steps is more effective. The key is flexibility. This took some time for me to learn.

Now, for more complex projects, I still create a Master Project Note. It includes the project's start/end dates, related focus areas, and notes using the Natural Planning Model as needed. However, for most projects, I rely on notes in Nirvana or none at all. It's all about using the available tools as we see fit.

I think the ending of this chapter encapsulates the idea:

“The key is to get comfortable with having and using your ideas. And to acquire the habit of focusing your energy constructively, on intended outcomes and open loops before you have to.” — David Allen

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.