I’ve been tinkering with my GTD system in the two weeks since I first posted about it; I’m quite pleased with the system, and wanted to talk a bit about how it’s going and the changes.

First: I really am getting things done. Simple things that should get taken care of immediately are, in fact, getting taken care of immediately: before, I would have forgotten them or put them off for no particular reason, now I’m doing them and finding that it doesn’t take any more time in my day. And I’m also getting some important, larger things done that I’d been putting off for months: in particular, we’ve finally gotten our dryer vent fixed, but the piano is also getting tuned this week and I’ve gotten all my 2007 dependent care reimbursements in.

The dryer vent is a real success: I’ve known for a while that it was important, I’d even thought about what I’d do about it (in particular, decided that I didn’t feel like fixing it myself), but I hadn’t actually done anything concrete. Following what I remember as good GTD style (I still haven’t reread the book), I wrote down my next action (google for handymen near Mountain View), which I got around to doing a few days later. And then I wrote down my next action (call the handyman I’d decided on), which I got around to doing a few days after that. And once that had happened, we set up an appointment, he came and looked at things, and he came back and fixed it the next day.

All I needed was to find half an hour to do some googling and make some phone calls. Once I’d reduced the problem to that and written down the action items in a place where I am reminded of them multiple times a day (and, in particular, am reminded of them at times when I have a few spare minutes), it got taken care of in a couple of weeks.

The nice thing about that, too, is that it didn’t depend on guilting myself into being more active than I can sustainably be: guilt was involved, but it was a small amount of actionable guilt, and guilt that I could ignore for a few days if I really was too busy to act on it.

In another pleasant surprise, my Todo list isn’t spiraling out of control. In fact, right now there are a grant total of four items on it. And that’s not a sign that I cleared it out before writing this blog post: the same four items were on it yesterday evening, and I made the decision that catching up on my blogging was more important than acting on any of them. (But, assuming it doesn’t take to long to finish this blog post, I’ll work on two of them once I’m done writing this.) Four is shorter than the norm over the last three weeks, but the list has never been too bad, and when it’s been longer, it’s been full of trivial stuff that gets cleared off almost immediately. (“When I get to work, write down X in my calendar and send an e-mail to Liesl about Y.”) (In fact, I just added a fifth item in that trivial vein, to write down something on the calendar when I get downstairs!)

I have made two changes to the cards that I’m carrying around in my pocket. The first is that I’ve moved the Projects list out of there and onto my computer. (Actually, I have one list at home and one at work.) Projects are longer-term, so the lack of backups if I stored them in my pocket bothered me. I frequently want to add notes to a project, and there’s no easy way to do that on a physical medium without dedicating a card to each project, which I didn’t want to do. Also, I’m not actively working on more than a few projects at any given time, so there’s no need to have reminders for all of them in my pocket: I have the next action items for the (few) active projects in my Todo list, but everything else can be stored in a location that I don’t have immediate access to. (If I think of something project-related while I’m out and about, I just add a Todo item with the thought, telling me to transcribe it onto the Project list.)

The second is that I’ve switched from a case of 3×5 cards to a Levenger Circa notebook. (Their “Hipster PDA” model; I also bought some tab dividers.) Which I’m very happy with so far: it’s noticeably less bulky than the case I had been using, to the extent that I barely feel it in my pocket most of the time. And the design is great: the cards are just the right thickness, I love the clean look of the pages with lines of just the right strength and spacing, and the Circa rings let the cards rotate very easily. I’m still a bit worried that it might not be quite sturdy enough, but it’s held up well in my pocket for the last week, so I’m optimistic.

My Projects file grew a lot a couple of weeks ago, as I kept on thinking of things that I’d been meaning to do at some point; I’ve dutifully been adding them to that file together with notes on them. (Typically including a next action, though I haven’t been dogmatic about that for projects that I know that I’m not going to get around to in the next couple of months.) It’s still entirely possible that it will turn into yet another list of tasks that grows in an unbounded fashion, but the rate at which I’m adding new items has slowed down noticeably over the last week, and I’ve also completed a few projects and carried out one or more steps on a few others. So, even if I’m adding to the list faster than I’m removing items from the list, I am at least removing items from the list faster than I’d been doing in the days when the list was purely in my brain.

I’ve refined the Tickler list a bit. I don’t think I need a daily tickler list: my schedule just isn’t that busy, and my Todo list and my work calendar handle that granularity fine. So I have a weekly tickler list for the next couple of months, and monthly tickler slots after that. (And yearly tickler slots after that: Miranda has to renew her passport in 2010, I have to renew mine in 2012, Liesl in 2015.) I noticed one mistake in the way I’d been using the tickler list: initially, I’d entered the next steps on a few projects on my tickler list, even though the dates I entered the reminders for didn’t correspond to any triggers related to those projects, because I knew I didn’t have enough time to work on those projects now but wanted to work on them soon. But that’s a bad idea: it muddies the purpose of the tickler list, forecasts like that are likely to be inaccurate, and scheduling myself to be guilty about something in the future is pointless. The correct thing to do is to look over my Projects list every weekend, and think a bit about what’s most important right then and about how much time I have available right then. (Taking into account the tickler items from that week, which really are important right then and which will affect my available time!)

I still have the Shopping and Blog items lists in my pocket. The Shopping list isn’t getting much action, but I tentatively think that’s okay; it’s not hurting anything, and I think it still serves a purpose. (At some point I’ll either pass an Indian grocery store and buy some ground coriander or we’ll start running low at home and I’ll promote that item to the Todo list!) The Blog list is more problematic: it is growing, and shares some characteristics with the Projects list. But, for now, I think having it in my pocket is the right decision, for two reasons: for one thing, if I don’t get around to blogging about something for a few weeks or months, my thoughts on it will go stale, so blog topics should have a significantly shorter lifespan than projects. Also, I find myself occasionally wanting to take long notes on thoughts about a potential blog topic when I’m just sitting somewhere, and I’d rather not have to transcribe those notes into another list when I get back to a computer. I’m not completely convinced that that list will stay in my pocket forever—in fact, “Where should blog topics list go?” is one of the bullet points under the “GTD” item in my Projects list—but for now I want to experience the current setup a bit longer, to get more of a feel for its strengths and weaknesses.

I will close with my current list of bullet points on the aforementioned GTD item. And then I’ll post this, and remove one of the bullet points from the list!


  • Read book!
  • Blog about moving projects list, once I’ve got a bit more experience under my belt.
  • Make projects/tickler available via a vcs to multiple machines?
  • Where should blog topics list go?

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