GTD: Interim Update

I’ve only been back on the Getting Things Done (GTD) wagon for one week now, and I’m simply awed at how much I’ve gotten done, and on how many different things. Although I’d been using GTD before, it’s now painfully obvious that I wasn’t using it properly.

In my earlier attempts, I never quite grasped a couple of the essentials of GTD. For instance, I thought I had to plan out all of the major steps for a project up front, because I confused GTD with some other systems I’d studied before it. That’s not the case though, I only have to figure out what the next immediate action is on each project at any particular time. Correcting that misunderstanding alone has helped immensely, I don’t feel like taking on a new project is such a chore anymore.

The idea of breaking out actual physical actions has helped too. For example, I had several things on my actions list that were described as “Research X.” That’s all well and good, but I never made any progress on those items because “researching” something is too nebulous for a next action — when I went to my list to see what I should do next, I unconsciously skipped right over those because they weren’t things that I could do immediately. I had to break each of those down into actual physically-doable steps, such as “see what Google says about X” or “check out book on X from library.” Once I realized that and re-worked those nebulous action items, I rushed through them so quickly that my head was spinning.

(Both of these are described, at length, in the Getting Things Done book. I’d read it several times, but for some reason neither one sank in properly until the latest reading.)

One specific improvement to MonkeyGTD has also helped a great deal. When you put in a “tickler” as a future reminder, and the day you said to remind you of it rolls around, a flashing *ticklers* appears at the top of the screen. I normally hate things that flash or move on the screen because I’m very easily distracted, but this is good because I can’t ignore or forget the ticklers anymore — so long as I look at MonkeyGTD (which I do every morning, and throughout the day), I’ll be reminded to do whatever thing was listed. It’s better than my old Palm’s calendar alarms, because it’s day-specific and not time-specific.

Another thing that helped was setting up a physical tickler system. I never thought I needed one before, but this time I realized that I was already using a disorganized form of a physical tickler system anyway — I would put things that physically required my attention soon (such as bills) on my laptop’s keyboard, where I had to move them several times a week in order to take the laptop anywhere. (I use an external keyboard when I’m at my desk, it wouldn’t work otherwise.) It wasn’t a very good system, because when the pile was more than a couple items deep I wouldn’t immediately see anything below the top one, but I was regularly reminded of it, so I was able to limp along with it.

The physical tickler system that David Allen describes in GTD is far superior. It splits things up into the particular days and months when I need to be reminded of them, and a MonkeyGTD tickler reminds me to process it each morning. I still use the laptop’s keyboard, but it’s my in-box now, and it gets cleaned off daily. 🙂

The result: I presently have twenty active projects, everything from a research project that I’ve been working on for five years now down to identifying a particular song. Five of them are repairs, most of which have been on my to-do list (and immobile as a boulder) for months or years. Three are urgent government paperwork things that I previously would have left until the last minute and then scrambled to finish in time. I’ve made progress on every one of them in the last week.

Even better, five of my active projects are new, things that I would have thought myself too busy to consider before, but that I can not only consider but also complete now. 🙂

And the best thing about it is that it’s almost effortless! Whenever I find myself at loose ends, I pull up my MonkeyGTD page and look it over, and dig into whatever catches my fancy at that moment — whatever I have the time, energy, and interest to do. I find myself making progress on things without ever having to invoke willpower or trick myself into doing them. I wish I’d known about this system when I was in school. I’d have had a lot less stress and a lot better grades. I wish I’d gotten it right when I first read it, the last few years would have been a lot more productive and enjoyable. But I know it now, and now that I’ve gotten it right, I won’t have any trouble keeping it up.


  1. For implementing GTD you might try out this web-based application:

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar. A mobile version and iCal are available too.

    Hope you like it.

  2. For implementing blogposting spambots, you might want to check if your bot has already posted the same comment to the same blog.

    Hope you like it. 😉

  3. Great post!

    I went through the same thing a couple of months ago. Tried GTD before but never really hit a state of flow with it. I went back to try it again, reviewed my notes and the things I missed hit me like a brick.

    I dumped my old GTD tools and went back to pen and paper for 2 weeks. That worked much better than before, but I missed search. So, I reviewed the available tools again and re-found MonkeyGTD.

    The UI in this version of MonkeyGTD is too cluttered compared to earlier versions, but I still love it. It works best when I think of them as super powered 3×5 cards.

    I love your idea on how to make research a physical action, “see what Google says about X” or “check out book on X from library.” A lot of my work is research oriented and I’ve been trying Next Actions like “Research X and write a one paragraph summary”. I think adding in the specific research area will help even more.

    Thanks for the tip!

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