Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Getting Things Done

I’ve had occasion in recent weeks to talk with a few people about personal productivity, and about how to manage competing priorities and get work done. There are a variety of systems and products out there that promise to help get you organized — Jim Estill’s thoughts on Time Leadership come to mind, as he did a great presentation on it to the Primal Fusion team while I was there. An approach that has worked well for me for several years comes from the book Getting Things Done, by David Allen.

I was introduced to Getting Things Done indirectly in 2005 while working at Platform Computing; my manager at the time left a printed copy of a New York Times article on my desk. “Meet the Life Hackers”, by Clive Thompson, provides a great overview of the problems with, and possible solutions for, dealing with information overload. As I recognized from personal experience that information overload is an issue, I spent some time tracking down many of the references in the article. One of the things that I found was Allen’s book, which resonated for me when I first read it, and which is well-worth reading if this topic is remotely interesting to you.

(As an aside, those of you who are familiar with GTD may have guessed that the reason that I’m able to cite Thompson’s article after so many years is because I’ve implemented a reference system to keep track of useful things like the article.)

I won’t describe GTD in detail here, as many others have done so elsewhere. I will say that the keys to its success for me have been the inbox, where I put all the bits of information that may otherwise interrupt me during the day, and the weekly processing of inbox items into projects and tasks that can be completed in particular contexts. I’ll also say that truly understanding the power of GTD may be elusive based on just a description or on just reading the book. It was only after I had tried it for a few weeks that some of the nuances started to make sense to me.

Early on I used a variety of GTD implementations. Some used files on my computer, others were paper-based. At one point I created a database implementation in Filemaker, including a mobile version for my Palm PDA that synched with a version on my Mac. It worked reasonably well and was fun to build.

The GTD solution that I use now, and have used for quite some time, is OmniFocus for Mac and iPhone, in combination with Google Calendar (along with a physical filing cabinet for reference items). There are other tools available, but OmniFocus has worked well for me, and Omni is a pretty cool company.

Having finished this post, I can now mark it as “done” in OmniFocus!

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