GTD in earnest

दुःख में सुमिरन सब करे सुख में करै न कोय।
जो सुख में सुमिरन करे दुःख काहे को होय ॥

  • कबीरदास

Everyone prays when suffering, and none when jubliant;
One who prays when jubilant, shall never see suffering.

  • Kabir Das

I have applied (to great effect) a bastardization of David Allen's excellent Getting-Things-Done approach in times of crisis - something I probably should call *Hacking till things get done (HTTGD)

  • Notice that I am stuck and with no end in sight
  • Drop everything else for the next several days and write down everything I need to do
  • While still stuck:
    • Finish very short tasks - dashing out mails, phone calls - launching simulations - updating status pages etc.
    • Find exactly one next-action for each of the larger tasks and do it - cycling round-robin through tasks and adding the next next-action when done with the current task.

I would invariably go back to working haphazardly when not in crisis-mode.

This changed in 2020. Between the baby and the pandemic, I was unable to shut out the rest of the world and go into hyper-focused work mode. HTTGD did help me stay afloat this time, but barely so. If not for an unforseen cancellation of a project at work (which took with its demise most of my task list), I wouldn't have been able to make it to the finish line. (oh - the cancellation wasn't my fault - it was a decision taken several steps above me in the management hierarchy)

I remember the despair in mid-September - days before the cancellation - I couldn't sleep well - and I was failing as a father too because I wasn't able to show the amount of undivided joyous attention the little bundle of joy playing with me deserved.

Now that the worst is behind me, I have decided not to cobble together a gtd-ish system not in times of despair, but as the couplet goes, apply GTD-proper in times of joy too.

And so, I read the revised edition of GTD book and have rediscovered some of the principles that underly the system which I have not leveraged. Also, given that I am significantly more experienced with the real world than I was when I read the book the last time, I was able to immediately spot some places where I can improve on the approach. My renewed application of GTD into my life has the following key characteristics

Capture

Capture should be as quick as possible - I have a "Add Task" button in the middle of my home-screen in Android.

I consciously avoid refining the task at the point of capture (unless done as a part of the weekly/daily review). Refinements include meta-information like contexts/projects/schedules/priorities . GTD should get out of the way ASAP when not working on the system itself.

Any time I realize I am idle, I get the inbox cleaned up before doing anything else.

Review

In GTD circles, most people identify the weekly review as the "make-or-break" factor when it comes to successfully adopting GTD. And I agree. I have a dedicated 1 hour Saturday for this. Each day though, I quickly go through a daily review for a few minutes in the "all-tasks" view of my todo list and schedule things for the day on my calendar.

Work only from the system

Unless something is a 2 minute task, I only work on tasks in the task manager. A place where this has significantly improved my life is when it comes to articles on Lobste.rs or HN. While I still go through main page of these sites and stop by for some comments to see if the article is worth reading, I don't read the articles themselves. Instead, they go into my todo-list with an appropriate context. The same applies to any movie/book recommendations.

Contexts

I have started using contexts differently. I didn't realize their purpose in the past. I used to tag keywords a-la Twitter. The only two useful contexts I had were work and personal, but these aren't a meaningful context anymore given tat I am working-from-home.

My current contexts are primarily used to enable task-batching. I have intentionally kept this a short list so that I can quickly run through the list when switching into that context.

  • outside: I eyeball this list when stepping outside the house.
  • pc: For when I am online and on a computer - doesn't matter if it is my work laptop or personal laptop. Intentionally short since this is my most frequently used context
  • offline: I add this in addition to the pc tag for when I lose access to the internet - however, since the tasks will also be tagged with pc anyway, they would be available for completion even when I have internet.
  • vpn: Tasks which can only be done on the office network. I eyeball this when logging into work for the day.
  • phone: Phone-calls, SMSes, and any other phone-app. I assume internet connectivity for this and I haven't had the need for an offline equivalent yet.
  • household: I am always home, but this includes tiny errands I need to run inside the house - fixing lightbulbs, cleaning cupboards etc.
  • read-it-later Articles I come across on the internet be it (as described in the previous section. I get to this list when idle and my inbox is cleaned up.

Trusted stores

For tasks, I use TickTick. This also serves as my habit-tracker and calendar on my laptops and my Android phone.

For reference material, I currently use Evernote though I am a little unhappy about the situation. Evernote shines at storing documents like bills, identification cards etc. But it sucks at note-taking. Other note-takers like Joplin are great at note taking - but I still have to worry a little about my VPS running out of space when storing attachements.

I also don't have a place to store photos though given that Google recently stopped offering free photo backups. I am considering paying for a OneDrive 1TB account as it would also solve my reference material grievances as Joplin integrates very well with it.

For login and password information, I am very happy with the free Bitwarden and intend to pay the $10 a year to support the project if it serves me for the next month or so without hiccups.

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