I’ve been using GTD for quite a while now. I guess I really started using it in earnest in 2016, but I had dabbled in it a bit before.
Even though I’ve been using it for several years, there are still parts of the system that I sometimes struggle with. The two main parts that still need conscious effort on my part are
- Capturing everything
- Having one inbox
I’ll now try to examine each of these issues in detail.
Problems with capturing everything
Capturing everything is key to being able to get the maximum benefit from GTD. Unfortunately, it’s a difficult habit to form especially if you’ve been keeping track of stuff in your head for years.
All too often, I’ll be walking in a corridor and a student will approach me. The student will then ask me a question or make a request that needs processing. If I happen to have my phone on me, I immediate open my todo list manager and enter the request or question.
Unfortunately, if I don’t have my phone with me at the time, I need to keep the information in my head until I get to my office or somewhere where I can write it down.
All too often, by the time I make it to my office I’m accosted by other students, or a ringing phone or my secretary bringing me something urgent. By the time I’m done handling all the emergencies that have come my way, I may have already forgotten the initial request brought to me.
It still takes a conscious effort for me to hold off doing anything else until I have the request made down in writing somewhere. Of course, having my phone or a notebook with me at all times would solve the problem, but after decades of keeping things in my head it’s sometimes difficult to remember to bring along these tools at all times.
Having only one inbox
The problem with modern work is that you are constantly being bombarded with multiple forms of communications. Email, slack, WhatsApp, traditional paper-based memos, letters and so on.
Having a unified inbox for all of this is virtually impossible. For example, I have an email inbox that I process daily using Inbox Zero. But the emails then go into an “action needed” folder or a “waiting for” folder or “done/keep” folder once I’ve processed them.
In addition, I have my todo list inbox and an inbox in Evernote. If I capture any actionable item, I put it into my todo list. Incoming notes that I haven’t processed yet go into my Evernote inbox.
I also have a physical in-tray that I use to store incoming physical input. I now have at least four different inboxes to look at
- my email inbox
- my todo app inbox
- my notes app inbox
- my physical in-tray
If just one of them is not checked, something can slip through my system. In addition, as I mentioned earlier, I process my email into appropriate folders to handle later. But that means I need to process these folders later. For example, if I put something into my “action needed” email folder, I need to check that folder in addition to my todo list in order to know what to do.
I could always copy a link to the email and put it into my todo list manager, but that seems to be duplicating working. I currently just have recurring daily reminders in my todo list to check all the pertinent folders in my email, notes app and my physical in-tray.
Since my todo list is what drives my work, this allows me to always remember to check all the places I need to check in order to do my work. The problem with this is that I usually like to get a visual idea of how much work I have so that I can schedule things appropriately, but having one item “Check Action Needed folder in email” in my todo list can be extremely misleading if that folder contains several items — it deprives me of having a visual method for determining the amount of work I need to do just by looking at my todo list. Regardless of this shortcoming, this is what I currently do.
My GTD system is still very much a work in progress. Even after three years of continuous practice, and several years prior to that of intermittent practice, I haven’t been able to completely perfect it.
I will continue to work on improving the two areas of weakness I’ve identified above. One idea is to go back to copying links from all my digital applications and pasting them into my todo list app to manage my work in these apps. I’ll have to think more deeply about this and will get back to you with any feedback if I decide to do it. Until then, good bye and stay productive!