Advertising
Advertising

Trapeze Artists, A Japanese Sedan and Achieving GTD Nirvana

Trapeze Artists, A Japanese Sedan and Achieving GTD Nirvana
Car

Personally, I’ve never owned a Honda. I have many friends who own or have owned them, but I haven’t had occasion. But almost without exception, folks I’ve known who have owned them have all shared one common opinion about their cars: you can drive them until the wheels fall off.

When I imagine the ideal GTD implementation, one thing keeps coming back to me – the idea that it works so well, I forget it’s there. If you smelled another car analogy, you’re well on your way to a career in private investigation…

Advertising

Many (if not most) of us own cars. We get up in the morning, get cleaned up and dolled up, then we stroll merrily out to our vehicle. We hop in, turn the key in the ignition, shift it into gear, and push the gas pedal. Most of us don’t think much about all of the engineering and craftsmanship that went into the various mechanisms and systems that made those things possible. The great part about that? We don’t have to – the hard work has been done by people much smarter than me. The same is true of GTD – David Allen spent nearly two decades (according to the book) fleshing out the various aspects of his methodology. He did the work (and, perhaps more importantly, made the mistakes) so you wouldn’t have to.

The good news is, this type of a high-level, not-worried-about-the-plumbing existence is well within your reach when it comes to GTD. You can operate above your system, sort of like a trapeze artist floats gracefully above his safety net below. He knows it’s there on a subconscious level, but he’s generally more focused on how many mid-air somersaults he needs to do in order to get the crowd on their feet. In my mind, this is the ideal for all GTD practitioners.

Advertising

Ok, back to the car analogy. Capturing information, processing inputs and reviewing your commitments should be as reflexive as your morning commute. There are really only two instances when you should need to get under the hood and muck around:

  1. “Changing the Oil” – Regular maintenance like your weekly review, The kinds of things that don’t indicate a problem, but keep everything running smoothly. Endeavors such as these, while they can sometimes be an inconvenience, will go a long way toward avoiding things like #2.
  2. When the “Check Engine” light is on – If you car begins to show signs of breaking down, it’s time to dig in and root out the problem. Sometimes this just means a mental sweep – a tune-up, if you will. Or it could mean you need to replace your muffler bearings or get yourself a new rotary girder. The point is this – if your brakes stop working, you don’t just toodle along merrily on your way to the office. Once you manage to stop the car and change into a clean pair of pants, you deal with the problem at hand.

There is also, of course, the period of time spent getting acquainted with your car. For the first week or so after you acquire it, you’ll find yourself driving places you don’t necessarily have to, going the long way to the lemonade stand or just sitting in the car while it’s parked on your driveway. You want to get acquainted with this new “tool” of yours – find out which buttons do what and so forth.

Advertising

All this cryptic and fanciful talk of cars boils down to the idea that GTD is meant to support you in what you need to do. As long as you perform your regularly-scheduled maintenance, you’re that much closer to the elusive “mind like water”.

Brett Kelly writes computer programs and drinks coffee in southern California. At The Cranking Widgets Blog (RSS), he writes a great deal about GTD, productivity and various other lifehack-y topics. For more interesting and thought-provoking musings about the attitudes and habits that make up GTD, check out his series called “The Mind of GTD”.

Advertising

More by this author

Trapeze Artists, A Japanese Sedan and Achieving GTD Nirvana What You Should Know Before Starting GTD Sharpen Your GTD Chops by Teaching Others The Macaroni and Cheese Project

Trending in Featured

1 How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques 2 How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators 3 How to Master the Art of Prioritization 4 How to Find Your Passion and Live a Fulfilling Life 5 What to Do in Free Time? 20 Productive Ways to Use the Time

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on September 18, 2019

How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

What to Write Down

Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

Advertising

Dates of Events

Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

Names of People

Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

Theories or Frameworks

Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

Definitions

Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

Arguments and Debates

Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

Advertising

Images

Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

Other Stuff

Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

Your Own Questions

Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

1. Outlining

Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

Advertising

For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

2. Mind-Mapping

For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

Here’s the idea:

In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

3. The Cornell System

The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

Advertising

About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

The Bottom Line

I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

More About Note-Taking

Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

Read Next