This is a guest post by GTD Wannabe of gtdwannabe.com.
The other day, I was listening to Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero presentation, which was essentially the audio track to a talk he gave to Google employees back in July. It was a great talk, focused on your email, but there were many other nuggets of GTD wisdom in there as well. If you haven’t seen it, or heard it, I recommend you checking it out.
The talk reminded me of the term “advanced common sense”. It’s a great way of describing the whole Getting Things Done philosophy. Of course the term is great – David Allen uses it himself to describe GTD.
Since I listened to that talk, I’ve been contemplating “advanced common sense”, and what parts of GTD really fit under that heading for me. When I first read the book, there were several places where I had “EUREKA!” moments. Places where I slapped my head and said, “Wow, now why didn’t I think of that, it’s just common sense!”. Advanced common sense, but common sense nonetheless.
So, here’s what I think of as advanced common sense from GTD:
1. Write it Down. This just seems so obvious – if you don’t write it down, you won’t remember it. As I was lying in bed this morning, I remembered that there’s something that I really want to be working on – a project that has nothing to do with my normal work, but which it time-critical. I’ve been thinking about it, and forgetting about it, for days now. Time to write it down!
2. Ubiquitous Capture. This goes hand in hand with “write it down”. How can you write it down if you don’t have somewhere to capture it? I’m actually pretty bad at ubiquitous capture. Since I tend to be at my laptop all day, I use that as my ubiquitous capture tool. But I fall down when I’m not at the computer. I do have a palm, which I can use, but it’s not that great. I do have a Moleskine, but I don’t much like writing trivia in it – the book is too pretty to waste on mundanities. Right now, I’m thinking about some kind of disc-bound system, a la Myndology or Levenger Circa. Either way, you need somewhere to capture things, all of the time, not just 80% of the time.
3. Trusted System. It’s really not enough to just capture things. You need to have them organized into some kind of trusted system. You can read about some of my adventures in finding the perfect GTD system over at my blog. Suffice it to say that again, I have an 80% solution. It’s not perfect right now, but it’s darn close. Unfortunately for me, I’m one of those people for whom finding the right system is half the fun, which means I spend more time than I should playing with trusted systems. But the key here is to find a system that you trust. What does trust mean? It means that you’re comfortable putting things into it, being confident that when you need them, they’ll be there for you. For instance, in my current system, I can put in next actions with a deferred start date. I know that when they are ready to be done, my trusted system will present them to me. I also know that I can find what I’m looking for in there, that next actions won’t get lost all of a sudden, etc.
4. A-Z Reference System. Before GTD, I had a filing cabinet. I was very good at keeping files for all of my bills, bank accounts, credit cards, etc. However, I didn’t file anything else. School notes, interesting operating system tweaks, warranty information, user manuals, etc., all had their place, but it wasn’t in one place. Since GTD, I’ve been bringing as much as possible into one A-Z reference system. What’s the point of having a reference system, if you have to figure out *which* reference system you need to be looking in first? Bonus: the same organization used for real-life papers can be applied to your digital files.
5. A File with One Piece of Paper. This particular tidbit of wisdom literally made a light bulb go off beside my head. Before GTD, I had piles of useful/interesting information that had nowhere to go. Each piece of paper was a keeper, but it didn’t fit anywhere into my bills/bank account/credit card filing system. And because each piece of paper was solo, I couldn’t create a file for it. That would be silly. Or would it? When David Allen wrote that it was okay to have a file folder with one piece of paper in it, I almost wept. That is truly advanced common sense. Now, I have no more piles, everything is filed nicely. Amazing.
6. Hard Landscape. I’ve always been a big fan of calendars. But GTD has fine-tuned my use of my calendar. Now, it truly is a hard landscape. It shows me appointments, information about special days, and next actions that *must* be done on a specific day. Things that are fuzzy, i.e., don’t need to be done on a specific day, are *not* kept in my calendar. They go into my regular context lists.
7. Contexts. This was the other big piece of wisdom for me. Although I’ve always used todo lists, they’ve always been short term. They lasted a day, a week, or maybe the length of specific project. Different projects had different lists. If you had asked me a few years ago to tell you everything that I had to to, I would have had to dig through many places to find all of my lists. Now, I have one set of lists, all kept in one place – my trusted system. The advanced common sense here is the concept of contexts. Why look at a list that has a bunch of stuff on it that you *can’t* do, because you’re not at a phone, or don’t have an internet connection? It makes much more sense to separate your next actions, based on where they can be done. I’m also a huge fan of the @waiting for list, and the @someday/maybe list. I treat these as contexts myself; others have separate lists for them, but the intention is the same. These are things that you need to keep track of, either because you might need to follow up on them later (@waiting for) or because you might want to do them in the future (@someday/maybe).
GTD Wannabe is the alter ego of a computer science PhD student. You can read about her exploits in the areas of Getting Things Done, fighting the evil monster of procrastination, and tweaking the pants off of software, big and small, over at the GTD Wannabe blog.