On Imporance of Starting Over

I seem to be the casual writer, and there is nothing wrong with that. Important thing is to be able to fix some time an really write something in the semi-regular basis. After all, I'm the semi-regular runner as well, but I still run more then the average person.

Never give up in trying to be better then you are. This is very christian attitude as well. Nobody's perfect. It doesn't mean you don't have to try - over and over - to be.

I have transferred it to my "productivity fitness" - sometimes I fall off the wagon, fell bad about it and stop trying.

This is wrong.

To be honest, even the brightest do that. Look at Merlin Mann - probably the most educated guru in things modern productivity. He was not been able to finish his GTD book. For what reason? Nobody knows. He - less the then anyone. And one can feel, how down and out he was feeling, when he realised he could not do it.

And although Merlin Mann failed this one project - he did not give up on the whole productivity philosophy. On the contrary. He learned from his mistakes, allowed himself to try new things (Back2Work), allowed himself to drop many projects - like his famous blog 43 Folders.

After all, the productivity is a toolset, far more important goal - is to be defined by you. What do you want to be? What can you achieve? What greater goals are still in your vision?

GTD will not answer these questions for you, you still have to think, decide on next actions and projects. What GTD will help you with is inventory. It will help you park the results of this thinking, so that you don't have to do the same thinking over and over again.

GTD is simple efficient toolkit to manage your thoughts. It's not even about your actions and projects. Those action lists, project lists, context list, waiting fors - these are no more then the verbalised thoughts. Brought together, organised in the logical buckets, so you can easily keep track.

The thinking is the key.

You have to think. More then you used to, but less then you're afraid you must

This phrase coined by David Allen in my mind represents all the essence of GTD.

2 Hour Rule

There is a famous "2 Minute Rule", which Alex has described in his recent post GTD with 10 sheets of paper.

During the course of my PhD struggles I have learned to love another rule, which I consistently apply when I need to achieve the meaningful progress. Welcome to my "2 Hour Rule".

Distractions, like butterflies are fuzzing 'round my head

This line from the Paul McCartne's lovely song catches the essence of modern society problem. I have yet to meet a person who would argue she's too concentrated and doesn't need to focus.

More often then we care to admin our anxiety comes from the simple routine: we, the intellectual workers, sit down to do this one thing (suppose we know what we're trying to accomplish - a pretty bold assumption). We boot up our computer and… check our E-Mail. Say we're lucky today, and there are no fires to extinguish. Now, let's finally do this one thing - it's an article, annual report, project draft - whatever.

We sit there and try to write something down. And we sit there a little more. After sitting there for 10 minutes we're bored and with the presumption "Nothing's really coming to my mind - let me just do this other thing" we open our Facebook / News Site / Other junk, that has nothing to do with the task at hand.

Boom! Welcome to the road to ruin.

By the end of the day, after surfing the web for 8 hours in these 10 minute intervals, you're devastated. Your brain is so tired of these constant distractions, all you can think of is just getting home. But guess what - this one thing - still not done. And you're feeling guilty. And tired. And bored.

Radical Solution

My suggestion is nothing more then common sense, but it's been working for me very well.

I set the timer for 2 hours. In that time I don't:

- check my E-Mail
- surf the web (other then researching for the task at hand)
- make calls
- play with my iPhone

What do I do? Well, I sit there and try to work on this one thing. The first 40 minutes are very important. Just like with jogging, you really need to get into rhythm. Just like with jogging, the temptation to stop after 2-3 kilometres is huge.

Your brain is out of the comfort zone of constant switching its focus. It's finally doing what it supposed to be doing - actively thinking, focusing its attention. And sadly enough your brain is out of practice.

All you have to do - is just keep pushing. After 20 - 40 minutes the first results will come. After an hour you'll get into the flow. The time will disappear, you won't be looking at your timer constantly. You'll be just there - doing.

After two hours you'll thank me for writing this down. Because you'll finally get this one thing done. In 2 hours. After trying for days.

You're welcome.

GTD with 10 sheets of paper

Get 10 sheets of paper. It is time to build your system.

Capture

Use three sheets for the brain dump. Write all the things you need and want to do, one item per line. If you need extra sheets at this point, take them.

Once you are done write the following titles on three other sheets: "Projects", "Actions", "Waiting for…".

Time to Process and Organize

For each item on your list follow this logic

  1. Can this be done in 2 minutes?

    Yes → Do it.

    No → GOTO 2.

  2. Can you delegate this to someone else?

    Yes → Do it AND write a follow-up task on your "Waiting for …" list. Use this template "[Name of the delegatee] follow up re [task delegated]".

    No → GOTO 3.

  3. Is the item a single action or a part of a larger project?

    Single action → Add it to the "Actions" list. Start it with an actionable verb and rephrase it as if delegating to someone else.

    Larger project → Write the envisioned outcome of that larger project as a sentence to the "Projects" list. Then add to the "Actions" list the next physical action you will have to do to complete that project. Remember, start with a verb and rephrase as if delegating to someone else.

  4. Is there one more item on the list?

    Yes → GOTO 1.

    No → Great! Good job!

Now Do something from you "Actions" list. Strike it out when done.

Every evening Review your "Projects" and "Waiting for…" lists to see if anything new needs to be added to the "Actions" list. Remember, start with a verb and rephrase as if delegating to someone else.

What is GTD? - Try out GTD in 5 minutes!

GTD Promise

What is that thing we talk about on this blog? What idea hides behind these simple words "Getting Things Done"? How can you benefit from applying the principles of this system?

GTD promises the relaxed control over your life. Imagine the world, where you know that the thing you're doing right now (reading this blog - thank you very much!) IS the thing you're supposed to be doing at the moment… No thoughts about that E-Mail you need to write, that person you need to talk about and… did you buy the New Year's presents yet?

Wait! Where are you? Can you do anything about the presents right now? No? Then relax! And GTD will help you do just that.

Exercise

I won't go into long agonising theory here. I want to try this stuff out instead.

Take a piece of paper - yes, right now - I'll wait… Got it? Seriously - get that paper - I promise, this will change your life! Got it now? Great! Now I want you to write down 5 things that are most on your mind - little, big, in no particular order.

To help you out here, I'm ready to write down 5 things that are on my mind at the moment:

- call Alex's friend about Dan's Book
- finish the chapter in the programming book
- call Maria to ask when she has time to go to the gym
- learn the factory design pattern
- play ice hockey while in Moscow

Great, now you know what I'm up to! I hope your list is ready too, because we're about to do some magic.

Now would you please look at the first item and ask yourself these two questions:

1) What am I trying to do? What is the final goal of this. When can I say I'd finished it?
2) What is the next physical action to move this forward?

Be careful with your answers. Try to be as concrete as possible! Take a look, that's how I'd answer these questions about my first item:

- call Alex's friend about Dan's Book
    1) What am I trying to do? - Well, there's that book I bought in Germany for my friend Dan. And I want it to be transferred from Moscow to Voronezh, so he could enjoy it. I'd mark this as finished, when Dan has the book and tells me "Thanks, I love you!" =)
    2) What is the next physical action? - Well, I need to call this dude in Moscow that is leaving for Voronezh on 30th. Do I have the number? Aahhhh, nope, Alex gave me the number, but it is buried in our text messages. Great! What is the next action? Find the number of the dude in the text messages!

Did you catch the windy road my mind went to find an answer to these simple questions. Can you see the benefit of this? What supposed to be a simple thing - just call Alex's friend - turned out to be a project. And the next action IS NOT calling him, but rather finding his number.

I guess I know now, why I haven't called him already - and this thing is STILL ON MY MIND! Unconsciously I knew something was missing. But only when I put that on paper - I could figure out what.

Ok, final touch. Take two pieces of paper and write on them:

- Projects
- @Computer (reads as AT COMPUTER)

On the "Projects" paper write down your projects - the things you are trying to accomplish. In my case this would look like that:

- Projects
    - Deliver the Book to Dan

On the "@Computer" list write down the next actions, that must happen there. In my case again - the text messages are saved in iMessages on my Mac, so I'm writing this down:

- @Computer
    - Find the number of the Alex's friend in todays messages.

I'm writing this from my iPad, I am not at the computer. Guess what?! I can relax =) There is nothing for me to do at my iPad except for writing this post.

But next time I am at my Computer (@Computer) guess what would be the first thing I would do INSTEAD of checking my Facebook page? I would look at the @Computer paper and remember - Yes! I wanted to find the number of that fella.

Fazit

Sound silly? Well it all is common sense. Until the day my friend won't get his book. And that would be because I didn't call that dude. And why didn't I call them, slough I had my phone ALL THE TIME with me?!

Oh, right! I didn't have the number…

On Processing

Jogging in my old neighbourhood today I've been listening to the latest episode of the Back to Work. In this episode Merlin Mann continued his splendid series on the topic of Getting Things Done with a very subtle thought: Troubleshooting GTD.

There is another word for it I've just learnt yesterday from my russian friends - "unfuckup the project".

What Merlin was saying is that GTD is all-or-nothing system. It may be painful for some of us to hear, but it's true. That was your bad news.

The good news - once you've done ALL of it, and kept it current - you're going to fly. My experience todays shows that even moving to the second stage - Processing - can make the whole difference in the world.

I've been trying to read something very very complex today, when I realised I just haven't been paying attention for the last couple of pages. There was some time to spare, so I decided to do something meaningful, after all, I've just listened to Merlin ranting about "IT'S ALL OR NOTHING" the whole morning.

So I took my iPhone and opened Omnifocus App. There were 64 items in my inbox. I was scared, angry and pissed. Mostly at myself. And just a little bit at the loud music in the coffee house.

After I trashed a couple of those items I realised how WRONG I was approaching the whole Processing phase. In the stupid mind of mine I was resisting the phase, since I thought I would have to DO all of those 64 actions.

When I've actually began processing, there were a bunch of stuff I just deleted. Either the projects were finished, or cancelled, or the golden thought turned to be a puff. The majority of inbox notes went to two of my lists: Someday Maybe and Reading List. The later is the variant of the first, but for all the reading material I might, could, should, ought to read… Not this week, but someday.

And the 2% of the inbox turned to be some new relevant projects I am actually committed to start THIS week. And this is golden - to be able to free yourself from all this junk - just enough to get focused on the REAL things that matter.

Sounds like common sense? Well, it all is.

Until you're buried under the 64 feet tall inbox and afraid to open your Omnifocus - so your once in the lifetime opportunity may be staked somewhere between the dentist appointment that was due two weeks ago and the movie you'd like to see someday.

Sounds familiar? Then do the processing!

On Agreements

I come visit my friends and family in Russia every year on Christmas. Besides telling each other stories we've collected over the past year, exchanging presents and chatting about the new Apple gadgets, we talk about plans. This gives me a unique position, as I can compare the plans these guys had a year ago with the reality. And with the plans they have this year. This comparison is quite educational, so I have decided to share my thoughts on this topic.

Internal Agreement with Yourself

Today I have met my friend who quit her job a year ago in the aspiration to become a graphic designer. A year has passed by, - she tells me, - and now I feel depressed, because I have not reached this goal of mine. I'm miserable, - she adds with the sad undertone.

It's Holiday Season so I give my friend a piece of GTD. For free.

When we made plans to meet today, - I say, - you told me that you'll be waiting in Starbucks at 17:00, right? She nods. What if you could not make it at 17:00, or not at all - what would you do? Would you just leave me there? No, - she answers, - you'd hate me if I did. I would call you and we would come up with another time, or we'd cancel the whole thing altogether.

Exactly! - I was feeling very exciting then, because at that point I knew I could pull off the metaphor I was going for. So, - I continue, - we'd still never meet at 17:00. This is the fact. But how come everyone is feeling OK about that? I don't hate you. Why? Because you let me know. You renegotiated the agreement with me.

How is the agreement you made with YOURSELF is ANY different? You promised yourself you'd become a graphic designer last year - but… life happened in between. You feel terrible. Why? Because along the way you just never called yourself and renegotiated this internal agreement.

Grand Finale

As the year is coming to an end I would take the story that just happened today and apply it to every agreement I made with myself. I had huge plans for this year. Some of them failed. Other came to be - which I have never planned in the first place.

So on the 31st of December I will sit down and read the things I've written last year. And put them into perspective. And compare… And… renegotiate. This will be hard. But I think I'm a pretty good negotiator.

Because I know myself better then anyone else does.

Communication Thursdays

I followed Merlin Man's advice (one of the Back to Work episodes) and now am trying to be in touch by actively framing "being in touch" as physical action.

Every time a person wants to have "a chat over skype" I go to my calendar, open the next Thursday and say - "What time do you want to chat"?

If you being serious about keeping that special bond with someone you close to - friend, family member, you lover (?) - but are not living in the same city - just set up the reoccurring calender entry. Every two weeks on thursday at 7 p.m. you have a skype call with your family.

That makes all the difference in the world! Trust me, I tried and it worked.