Getting Things Done: two months later

Two months ago I wrote a glowing review of Getting Things Done. I’m still happily using the system (which, for whatever it’s worth, is little more than a commitment to keeping a list of your projects and the next sub-projects you need to do for each of them). Its most surprising benefit is that “switching costs” are much lower than they used to be. Knowing that I’m not going to forget an important task makes it easy for me to focus on what I’m doing now even if I just started doing it.

Some of the book’s advice, though, is either incomplete or outdated. Here is a small addendum to the system:

(1) Not all projects cleave neatly into next actions, on the one hand, and everything else, on the other. Much of my work is coding and writing. It is not convenient, and usually not helpful, to put “write the next paragraph” on a list and then replace it with a similar item when the paragraph is done. Code is similarly difficult and inconvenient to plan like this.

Rather than abandon the system for these projects, I just try to list all the project-parts that could be done next, updating and deleting as the project progresses. It’s not perfect, but here metaphysics simply doesn’t agree with the system.

(2) David Allen recommends sorting tasks into “contexts” in which sets of them will be appropriate to do: e.g., one for tasks that require a phone. Many of us today, though, have few different physical contexts for work: we work at computers from which almost everything we do is accessible. Now it’s probably better to optimize your next-action-grouping for fast search, not for context-appropriateness. I group mine by rough similarity and relatedness of parent projects; I also have “writing” and “coding” lists for time I’ve devoted to those or just find myself in the appropriate frame of mind.

(3) Many of the tools Allen recommends are amusingly out-of-date. (The technical resources he mentions would make for a nice round of trivia.) I find that Trello is a great way to manage my tasks; it can do the job of most of the technology Allen recommends.