Friday, December 31, 2004

GTD: Processing Stage completed!
Whew. That took a whole lot longer than I thought it would. A few factors contributed to it's length. One: I chose to Process every single thing I could find and think of at work and home. This created a Very Large pile in my inbox. This factor I think was 50% of the reason it took so long to process. Two: Since my office is at home, it is difficult for me to completely sequester myself for hours at a time. Not because it is physically impossible, though. This well built office (if I do say so myself) can keep all "house" sounds out when all the doors are closed, and I have the ability to turn off phones and the computer. The problem is that I have this really good excuse for peeking my head out of the office door and wandering the house: Aidan (here doing his best "Magnum" pose). This is an internal problem having nothing to do with the GTD process or my physical location. Three: As I commented here, it was discouraging to come face to face (again!) with my own procrastination. Oh, and I went on vacation to Miami. That held things up, too.

Here's what my credenza looks like After InBox Processing. (Before)

The pile in the left most box is only Next Action items. Those are the items that have been "deferred" while I'm in the middle of the GTD set-up process. Three of the four file boxes are in use holding Reference Files, Incubating Files, and Action Reminder Files.

Before starting Chapter 7: Organizing, a few more observations about the Processing stage. As I went through the InBox, I realized that I had put reminders for actions in almost every place I could in my office. I hadn't realized how widespread my reminder system was until I went through it all at once. In no particular order, here's where I found things that were supposed to trigger actions: bulletin board, desktop, booksheves, "deep" physical filing system, stacks piled on the floor, the mini-filing system on my desktop, digital calendar, digital desktop, email inbox, digital to-do list, Quicken, and that only counts my Office. This, I realized, has two effects: one is that for me to know what I need to do next (and feel like I'm not missing anything), I have to look in all of those places. The second is that everywhere I looked in my office, even when I wasn't looking for something to do, I saw something to do. Some folks tell me that they can focus so tightly that they don't need a clear space to work. Regardless of whether I believe that or not (I have my doubts), for me, if I see something that might need to be done, it's hard not to start thinking about it, even if I've already got an open project in front of me. I can (and have) by force of will, focus on the work at hand, but I'd much rather expend that force of will on doing actual project, not just bringing my eyes back to the project.

Practically, what happened was I didn't look in all the places I'd placed reminders for action and so would completely forget about responsibilities I had, until it was the night before/morning of and suddenly I remembered that I needed to write that report, with all the accompanying self-recrimination for not doing it before and frustration about putting myself in this compromising position. One of the things David is trying to build in GTD is a physical place that houses all of those reminders. This won't make up for weakness of will (akrasia, the Greeks call it) in getting up the do-my-work hill, but it makes that hill a little less steep.

Another thing I noted is that previously I'd confused "Processing" as the whole GTD approach. I see now that there's more to GTD than just "getting the In Box to 'empty'". GTD is the system for housing all your action items, the explicit disciplines for looking at and doing those actions, and the physical system for housing the support documents for said actions.

Personally, as I went through Processing, I realized (again) that I really do enjoy strategizing, planning and implementing projects. As projects began to take shape out of the InBox (they'd previously been lost and scattered across the office), I got really excited about being able to come back to them and work hard and well on them. What had been frustrating me was that I would never get to those projects because I would allow the combination of Not-Sure-Where-To-Start, plus Not-Sure-Where-It-Is to stymie me and push me to piddling through my day doing little one-shot "urgent" items. These might be email requests, incoming phone calls, or administration miscellany.

If you've read it, Charles Hummel's Freedom from Tyranny of the Urgent might be coming to mind at this point. Charles advocates this process: Set Priorities, Take Inventory, Budget Time, Implement Plan. David would not argue with this but radically expands it. David has specific advice on how to Take Inventory (Processing). I think that GTD also does a good job taking into account that the other three parts of Charles' approach are in far more tension and dynamic relationship than noted in Tyranny. (The thrust of Tyranny is to help set & evaluate one's life & work priorities, which assist in getting things done. I'd highly recommend it if you need help saying, "No," to things and are looking for a Christian approach to use of time and resources.) In short, GTD does a better job of helping one get things done than Tyranny, but Tyranny is more about life priorities anyway.

Next step: "Organizing - Setting Up the Right Buckets". But there's no sense in doing it on an empty stomach. I'll start that after lunch.

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