Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Simple Lessons from "Getting Things Done"

I just finished reading David Allen's phenomenal "Getting Things Done". I'm still practicing and experimenting with his techniques as I try to implement his system. My implementation is still a work in progress, but I wanted to note a few quick, yet simple takeaways from the book:
  • Psychic RAM: Open loops (e.g. that doctor's appointment you've been meaning to schedule, that bill you have to pay, that errand you have to run, etc...) drain our mental energy when they are only stored in our heads. And it's counterproductive since our brain usually reminds us of these open loops when we are least likely to be able to do anything abou it. Instead, your psyche is bombarded with constant reminders ("Oh yeah, I should really do that."). Allen argues that you collect everything. Don't store all these commitments in RAM; commit them to disk, to a system that you trust ;) 
  • Agreements with yourself: If you agree to meet someone for a date, and they stand you up, you feel bad, right? Well, those same negative feelings occur whenever you stand yourself up. You tell yourself you're going to finish that essay tonight and then you don't. Is it really a surprise that you feel torn up abou that? There are three solutions to this: 
  1. Make fewer, more meaningful agreements (i.e. don't just say "yes" without a thought) 
  2. Renegotiate agreements if circumstances change ("I was going to write the essay tonight, but I just remembered I have an exam tomorrow. That takes precedence and I choose to delay the essay")
  3. Keep them. Just do it ;)
  • Next Actions: All big projects or undertakings are composed of single atomic actions. Often times, big projects or wishes will be festering in our minds because we haven't taken a few seconds to clarify what our next action is. You want to buy a house? "Gee, that sounds hard, better not think about it right now." Well what would get me one step closer to that goal? "Hrm, I don't really know what neighborhoods are good or what prices I should expect. How much down payment do I need? But wait, Bob just bought a house. He must have some good tips. Let's call him up and ask him about what neighborhoods he's looked at or what price ranges are realistic". Not knowing leads to not acting. So ask: "What's the next action here?"
  • As I said, I'm still working on transforming some of these techniques into daily habits. But I'm really excited to give this a try. I'm currently trying to build my collection centers around Evernote, Gmail, and Google Calendar. I've also tried having another dedicated Posterous for this and a private Twitter stream to capture quick thoughts, but I haven't been able to make those into habits yet. If anyone has had success with other productivity tools or happens to have a Pensieve, please share :)


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