Thursday, March 19, 2009

Organizing your time: How I chose to implement GTD

David Allen strongly suggests that you empty your brain and dump it on a trusted system, which enables to free your mind and enables you to focus on well, getting things done.
By emptying your brain, he actually means doing this both for your personal life, and your professional life.

I just don’t function like this. I needed a way to handle information overload at work, and that’s it. My personal life is not that busy. Well it is, but it’s not like I’m receiving 300 mails a day about my grocery list.
If I forget to buy shampoo, big deal. I don’t really care, and neither does my wife. I guess it’s a personal choice on how to live your life. I have to be so organized at work, that I’d rather just feel like I’m on holidays when I get home. There are of course exceptions, more on that later.

Actually, I don’t like the term GTD. I didn’t need a method to get things done, I’m getting things done all day long, thank you very much. I’d rather call GTD: “Handling information overload” and that’s what I’m keeping from the method: guidelines on how to gather data efficiently and retrieve information very fast when I need it.

I have to use Outlook at work (and it’s a pain, btw), and most of my information comes in one way or the other in my inbox. I used to set up a complicated filter system to sort email and redirect it in the appropriate directories. Didn’t work. I had to scan multiple directories, could not track the status of a particular mail, it was just a mail. I actually created folders based on who sent the mail. I wonder why I did this, and why everybody does this. It’s just plain dumb.

My setting looked a bit like this:

GTD actually made me realize that I had to sort email by project (duh) AND by status, and this was a lot less obvious.

The final implementation looks like this:

I practice the 0 inbox philosophy.
Every mail is either purely informative and goes in the appropriate project, or actionable and goes into the Act section.

  • NextAction is what I have to do today. Typically has no more than ten mails in it.
  • Action are the actions I have to take, but not today. Roughly 20 to 30 mails in it.
  • InProgress basically explains itself, can grow pretty large.
  • Incubate is the special section when I can’t decide what to do. This basically gets cleaned every 3 month ;)
  • Reminders is a shortcut to the mails I use all the time, like procedures and so on.

Please note that I change the normal behavior of Outlook, and display the number of emails in each folder instead of the unread count.

I don’t have a Finished folder. Every finished action goes in the appropriate project, and I spend ten minutes every morning doing a daily review of all these folders. A weekly review, as advocated by GTD isn't enough for me given the fast-paced environment I work in.

Since information comes to me primarily in the form of mails, this works perfect for me. I email myself with the info that I get by other mediums.

This post is getting long, so I’ll explain later why Outlook is not optimal and what would be my perfect setup.


dannielo said...

If you'd like a tool for managing your time and projects, you can use this application inspired by David Allen's GTD:

You can use it to manage and prioritize your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
A mobile version is available too.

Loïc said...


Thanks for the link, the application seems nice.
My favored setup however if I have the choice, is gmail using GTDInbox. I'll explain later on :)

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