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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…

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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Last Updated on January 13, 2020

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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