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Upgrade Your GTD Calendar and Keep Up with the Times

Upgrade Your GTD Calendar and Keep Up with the Times

    While I love Getting Things Done (GTD) as one of the best time management systems around, many of its user struggle to implement its recommendations.

    The reason? GTD was developed in the 1990’s at a time when email volumes were low, mobile email access was limited, there was no such thing as tweeting and 2 people weren’t forced to do the job of 8. It was invented for a simpler time, and taught users to create lists of tasks tagged by “contexts,” which were mostly determined by a combination of one’s physical location and proximity to required tools.

    Things have certainly changed, and today, some of those who are inspired by GTD’s rules are taking a new approach in order to keep up with life in 2011.

    In the first place, they are, according to Sven Fechner, abandoning the old notion that work is defined by location. Tags such as @Blackberry or @iPad obviously have little meaning due to the mobility of these devices, @Computer seems like a quaint reminder of the days when email was only received at your desk, and with the advent of cloud computing and mobile technology, @Home has become the functional equivalent of @Work.

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    Today, users of GTD have different problems: they are struggling (like everyone else) to keep up with the increasing amount of stuff they want to do in the limited time available. Luckily, there is a solution inherent in GTD’s principles, but it can only be understood by looking at the way strict GTD’ers manages their tasks.

    At the start of any activity, a user of GTD contextual tagging follows this process:
    1. Determine my current context e.g. @Computer
    2. Scan the list of items that are tagged with that particular context
    3. Decide which task to act on first
    4. At the end of the task, go back to step 1

    Frequently, a GTD user must also conduct a “Weekly Review” of all their tasks to make sure that they are appropriately tagged.

    It’s a sequence that’s easy to understand and implement, and the key to making it work is to have every single task tagged with the right context. This approach has worked fine for many, but there are a growing number who are complaining about their inability and unwillingness to conduct an effective Weekly Review.

    What’s happened is simple to explain. As the number of tasks, messages, communication channels and mobile devices has increased, the process of scanning every item on each list has become overwhelming. It is taking too long, they complain: a tedious chore that is not worth the effort.

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    Mental vs. Explicit Schedules

    Something else has also added to the feeling of being burdened.

    All effective knowledge workers engage in some form of active time-planning at certain critical moments in the week: before starting work each morning, on Sunday nights before the week starts, just before they agree to accept a new assignment, and when a breakdown of some kind occurs. At these moments. they quickly scan their mental calendars, and start moving items around in their heads to ensure that they can complete the most important tasks before they are due.

    This juggling act is especially essential for complex activities, such as paying one’s taxes by the April 15th deadline. Most people don’t think only about the big day itself, but also focus on carving out time to complete the preparatory work some weeks and even months ahead of the due date in order to prevent a last minute panic.

    As you might imagine, the most organized professionals don’t do these tasks on their own. They use planning tools such as paper calendars, tablets, laptops, smartphones and web services to help them manipulate due dates, durations and deliverables in an explicit schedule, unknowingly adopting some of the established best practices in project management.

    Curiously however, GTD famously discourages its users from transferring these mental schedules out of their minds. Its most rigorous users only use these planning tools to track appointments that cannot be moved, such as the non-negotiable April 15th due date. Any and all activities that can take place on flexible dates before then, do not belong in a calendar. They wouldn’t, for example, set time aside in their schedules to find bills, purchase software, consult past records and consult tax tables.

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    I’m not sure if this is what the author of GTD intended, but the effect on GTD users on a whole is that they walk around with almost-empty calendars, but very complex mental schedules. Once again, this wasn’t a problem when GTD was developed in the 1990’s. However, in today’s workplace, trying to keep complex and ever-changing calendars in one’s mind has lead to feelings of overwhelm and burden as users are forced to build, remember and recall mental schedules that stretch over several months.

    About 5 years ago, I also thought that my electronic calendar was the problem and tried following the GTD approach to task planning. When more of my commitments starting falling through the cracks, I didn’t understand why, but now I do — it’s too hard to keep a mental calendar in today’s world of ever-increasing tasks.

    The answer, thankfully is not to abandon GTD, but instead to tweak it.

    The Tweak

    The purpose behind tagging tasks with a context is to provide a filter that gives the user a small, manageable range of tasks to choose from. Now that we have more demands on our time, we need different filters than the ones described in the book.

    Today, the key resource constraint is time, and there are already some users who are using temporal tags to help them do this filtering. For example, imagine that you’re in the middle of a tense meeting at 9:30am and you receive a message from your Nanny: “Pick up the milk on the way home from work.”

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    What used to be “@GroceryStore — Pick Up Milk” now becomes “@Mon evening — Pick Up Milk” or even “@6pm — Pick up Milk.”

    In this example, the biggest challenge for working professionals is not remembering what to do once they are at the grocery store. Instead, it lies in remembering to make the detour to the store at 6pm after a day of tough meetings Those who are most likely to “remember” don’t in fact use memory. They use tools like smartphone calendars to make sure they don’t have any conflicts, before placing the item in the 6pm time-slot along with a notifier such as a buzzer, beep or vibration.

    While this solution seems simple enough, the fact is that electronic calendars weren’t built for this purpose, and need to be customized to meet each user’s needs. If you decide to do make this upgrade, it’s a good idea to keep experimenting to see if life does improve by asking the following:
    Question 1 – Am I better off managing my activities in a tool rather than in my memory?
    Question 2 – Am I using the tool in a way that is increasing the odds of picking up the milk?
    Question 3 – Am I able to reduce the Weekly Review by scanning tasks scheduled for the near future?

    These shouldn’t be abstract questions — they should be answered as you experiment with your upgrade to see whether or not further changes are needed, or even a rollback.

    The fact is, there is no longer any one-size fits all, permanent solution to managing our commitments, and we need to keep tinkering to find new ways to get better. Upgrading our systems and the way we use GTD’s recommendations can be fun as we discover new ways to be productive, but we must be willing to change with the times.

     

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    Francis Wade

    Author, Management Consultant

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    Last Updated on September 15, 2020

    7 Helpful Reminders When You Want to Make Big Life Changes

    7 Helpful Reminders When You Want to Make Big Life Changes

    Overcoming fear and making life changes is hard. It’s even harder when it’s a big change—breaking up with someone you love, leaving your old job, starting your own business, or hundreds of other difficult choices.

    Even if it’s obvious that making a big change will be beneficial, it can be tough. Our mind wants to stay where it’s comfortable, which means doing the same things we’ve always done[1].

    We worry: how do we know if we’re making the right decision? We wish we knew more. How do we make a decision without all of the necessary information?

    We feel stuck. How do we get past fear and move forward with that thing we want to do?

    Well, I certainly don’t have all the answers, but here are 7 things to remember when you want to move forward and make positive life changes.

    1. You’ll Never Have All the Information

    We often avoid making important decisions because we want more information before we make a tough call.

    Yes, it’s certainly true that you need to do your research, but if you’re waiting for the crystal clear answer to come to you, then you’re going to be waiting a long time. As humans, we are curious creatures, and our need for information can be paralyzing.

    Life is a series of guesses, mistakes, and revisions. Make the best decision you can at the time and continue to move forward. This also means learning to listen to and trust your intuition. Here’s how.

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    2. Have the Courage to Trust Yourself

    We make all sorts of excuses for not making important life changes, but the limiting belief that often underlies many of them is that we don’t trust ourselves to do the right thing.

    We think that if we get into a new situation, we won’t know what to do or how to react. We’re worried that the uncharted territory of the future will be too much for us to handle.

    Give yourself more credit than that.

    You’ve dealt with unexpected changes before, right? And when your car got a flat tire on the way to work, how did that end up? Or when you were unexpectedly dumped?

    In the end, you were fine.

    Humans are amazingly adaptable, and your whole life has been helping you develop skills to face unexpected challenges.

    Have enough courage to trust yourself. No matter what happens, you’ll figure out a way to make it work.

    3. What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

    Like jealousy, most of your fears are created in your own head.

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    When you actually sit down and think about the worst case scenario, you’ll realize that there are actually very few risks that you can’t recover from.

    Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” Once you realize the worst isn’t that bad, you’ll be ready to crush it.

    When you’re preparing to make a big life change, write down all of the things you’re afraid of. Are you afraid of failing? Of looking silly? Of losing money? Of being unhappy?

    Then, address each fear by writing down ways you can overcome them. For example, if you’re afraid of losing money, can you take a few months to save up a safety net?

    4. It’s Just as Much About the Process as It Is About the Result

    We’re so wrapped up in results when we think about major life changes. We worry that if we start out towards a big goal, then we might not make it to the finish line.

    However, you’re allowed to change your mind. And failing will only help you learn what not to do next time.

    Furthermore, just because you don’t reach the final goal doesn’t mean you failed. You chose the goal in the first place, but you’re allowed to alter it if you find that the goal isn’t working out the way you hoped. Failure is not a destination, and neither is success.

    Enjoy the process of moving forward[2].

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    5. Continue to Pursue Opportunity

    If you’re on the fence about a big decision, then you might be worried about getting locked into a position that you can’t escape from.

    Think about it a different way. New choices rarely limit your options.

    In fact, new pursuits often open up even more opportunities. One of the best things about going after important goals with passion is that they open up chances and options that you never could have expected in the beginning.

    If you pursue the interesting opportunities that arise along the path to your goal, then you can be sure that you’ll always have choices.

    6. Effort Matters, So Use It

    It sounds simple, but one of the big reasons we don’t make life changes is because we don’t try. And we don’t try because then it’s easy to make excuses for why we don’t get what we want.

    Flunked that test? Are you stupid? “Of course I’m not stupid. I just didn’t study. I would have gotten an A if I actually studied.”

    Stuck in a job you hate? Why haven’t you found a new job yet? “Well, I haven’t really tried to get a new job. I could totally ace that interview if I wanted.”

    Why do we make excuses like these to ourselves? It’s because if we try and fail, then we just failed. But if we don’t try, we can chalk it up to laziness.

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    Get over it. Failure happens to everyone.

    And the funny thing is, if you actually try—because it’s pretty clear that most people aren’t trying—then you’ll win a lot more than you think.

    7. Start With Something Manageable

    You can’t climb Everest if you don’t try hiking beforehand.

    Maybe applying for your dream job seems intimidating right now. What can you start with today?

    Can you talk to someone who already has that position and see what they think makes them successful? Can you improve your skills so you meet one of the qualifications? Can you take a free online course to expand your resume?

    Maybe you’re not quite ready for a long-term relationship, but you know you want to start dating. Could you try asking out a mutual friend? Can you go out more with friends to practice your communication skills and meet new people?

    You don’t need to be a world changer today; you just need to make small life changes in your own world.

    More Tips to Help You Make Life Changes

    Featured photo credit: Victor Rodriguez via unsplash.com

    Reference

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