Getting Things Done – codemac

Getting Things Done is a book by David Allen about personal productivity.

I have many feelings on the topic – but the best intro I’ve found is Erland Hamberg’s excellent summary and overview.

My workflow largely revolves around using Emacs and it’s fantastic Org-mode. This document describes my approach to using GTD in my life, in ever more increasing detail as I have time. Consider this a living document of my GTD process.

Collect

Collection is the first part of the GTD process. My philosophy has been one of having the confidence that I record what is important.

Here is a list of my inboxes:

• Work Email via GMail.
• Personal Email via Fastmail.
• Physical inbox at home.
• Physical inbox at work.
• Physical inbox folder in work bag.
• USPS Mailbox at home.
• Notes, audio, and pictures via Google Keep.
• Outstanding messages in various apps on my phone.
• Plain text via the Inbox heading in my gtd.org file.
• Downloads in my $HOME/downloads folder. • Any file that is not a directory in my $HOME dir.

That should be everything. It’s too many, yes, but none of these can really be consolidated easily. That’s ok as long as I can be explicit. It’s important to me to be honest and actually check all of them to get IN to zero.

I attempt to get these all to zero at least once in a 24 hour period. By keeping these to zero, I know I’m aware of anything that should have my attention about within a day. Sometimes this isn’t frequently enough. Also my phone is the worst of all of these as it’s the most difficult to get content into and out of.

Process

The act of processing is to transform an item in your inbox to an element of your GTD system. This is not the same as organizing, but when your system is well oiled it can feel that way.

I have the following types in my system:

Next Actions
A next action is the next physical action that takes more than two minutes to drive something forward. This is usually something like “Draft email to Bob” or “Call Sally about work”. It is the meat & potatoes of GTD.
Waiting For
This is how you track what others are supposed to get to you
(no term)
Projects
(no term)
Project Support Reference
(no term)
Reference
(no term)
Trash

Organize

I keep all of my GTD system when it’s fully reviewed as a series of org-mode text files organized as the following:

• ~/org/_archive - Archive file locations. These are populated weekly as I archive completed tasks, and yearly when I do a full trim of my larger text files in my yearly review.
• ~/org/_attachments - Org-mode attachment files. These are synced to my phone as well, but honestly I rarely use them. Most of the time I just use links to Google Drive.
• ~/org/_attic - Old stale org-mode files from previous set ups. I put these “up in the attic” so I can refer to them again if I feel I’m reinventing the wheel or anything silly.
• ~/org/_editorial - Journalling files. I have an org-capture template that allows me to record journal entries, and I don’t want them in my larger notes.
• ~/org/_notes - General plain text reference, searchable though the emacs deft interface.
• ~/org/_www - Any websites I’ve authored in Org-mode, including this one.
• ~/org/calendars.org - An auto generated calendar pulled in from my work and personal Google Calendar. This allows me to see my full calendar within org-mode agendas.
• ~/org/gtd.org - My main GTD file, has everything.
• ~/org/work.org - Clone of the main GTD file, but for my work life, along with any work specific plain text reference.

Next Actions

Next Actions are stored as Org-mode TODO items, placed in work.org file for anything work-related, and gtd.org for anything else. I would love to have one file, but this makes it easier for me to keep work-confidential information only on work machines. Emacs has something called TRAMP where I can read the remote file locally, but never actually store it locally. I haven’t succeeded in using this, so I just maintain a separate text file for now, and hope that’s a clear enough divide.

The main gtd.org/work.org look like:

* Perspectives
* Projects and Outcomes

* PROJECT Finish up this long post about my gtd setup
:PROPERTIES:
:CATEGORY:
:CREATED:  [2020-10-05 Mon 15:37]
:END:

** Actions
*** TODO This is an action specific to the parent project, let's pretend it's a phone call :PHONE:
** Archive :ARCHIVE:

* Agenda
* Next Actions
** TODO This is a todo that requires me to be at a computer                     :COMPUTER:
:PROPERTIES:
:ID:       e195847a-e05e-40f5-b83c-7dd134a265c7
:END:

* Inbox


Agendas

An “agenda” list is one you keep per-meeting or per-human. The most common to keep is one Agenda list for each person who reports to you at work, along with one for your boss. In your personal life, it’s common to keep one Agenda file for each immediate family member, room mate, and partner.

To Do state machine for Org headings.

The TODO state machine I use is pretty basic:

TODO -> ( STARTED | NEXT | WAITING ) -> ( DONE | NVM )

Contexts

Contexts are merely Org-mode tags that I use without inheritence, and that are all mutually exclusive from one another. I’ve never used a system with multiple contexts per next action, and I don’t think the complexity would help me.

I’ve been experimenting a little more with contexts recently, as my old INTERNET context is now the vast majority of my time. The experiment is currently splitting the INTERNET context into three different groups, COMPOSE, HACK, and INTERNET. They are all described below.

• AGENDA - For anything that I need to discuss with someone else.
• ERRAND - Errands around town, sorted by store.
• HOME - Physically require being home.
• INTERNET - Anything that is not COMPOSE or HACK that requires internet.
• COMPUTER - Anything that does not require an internet connection. I take long bus rides and flights a lot, this is a useful list for me.
• PHONE - Any phone calls I need to make. Short and sweet, but requires me to be in a location where calls are easy, and I have my headset.
• WORK - Physically requires me being in the office. This is also useful for printing/scanning as my offices usually have much better printers and scanners than I do at home.

Projects

Org-mode TODO items, with the todo keyword PROJECT in a simple list. One in gtd.org for personal projects and one in work.org for work projects.

These are the two headings I currently have:

• ~/org/gtd.org::* Projects and Outcomes
• ~/org/work.org::* Projects

For any next action that I want to be specified as part of a specific project, I include it underneath the project’s heading. This allows me to use org-mode based searches for all kinds of fun searchengs:

• find all projects that do not have a task that is currently actionable.
• find all project that have tasks that have not completed in a long time
• find all tasks that do not have an associated project

Reference

For my reference, I have two filing systems. One digital and one shrinking physical.

• Alphabetical files in Google Drive for larger things I need to be able ta ccess from arbitrary devices.
• Many plain text files in ~/org/_notes that I search with deft, but it’s basically a glorified grep. This is moving to Joplin so it’s more easily searchable on the go .
• Physical file folders at home in a filing cabinet. – as of 2020-10-05 these are now scanned using my mobile phone, and uploaded to Google Drive.

This is it, sufficient in most ways for me. The largest missing functionality is that of managing attachments / images / things that are not plain text but that contain very actionable things. Today I currently just use org-mode attachments, but this does not work well in environments where my laptop is unavailable. I’ve considered going completely back to paper over this one significant issue. The digital deficiency is too large to manage paper, however.

Someday/Maybe

Someday maybe I rarely use anymore. Goal setting and being more realistic is helpful. The biggest category of thing I really keep track of is stuff in a file called “recommendations.org” in my _notes directory. I also just delete many things.

Deferred/Tickler File

I don’t use a real tickler file anymore. I only have two systems for managing future tasks & reminders:

• Org-mode SCHEDULED: & DEADLINE: dates.

The org-mode dates mean that the items appear in my calendar for the scheduled day/time, or \x days before my deadline is due.

Google calendar reminders I’ve been using less and less. My phone’s notifications are not a trusted system, it is too flaky.

Do

How do I actually do things I put in these files? Largely I’ve been following a simple but effective process for action. It still succombs to my own boredom, but no amount of text files or process will resolve that.

The Saver’s Frog

The S.A.V.E.R.S. Morning Routine

This is the morning routine I have memorized that has helped me realize what I actually want my days to begin like. I don’t track this as a habit anymore, and I don’t follow it perfectly, but it really helps set my day up in the best way possible. The SAVERS portion is what I learned from the magical morning books people have been writing, though do not believe anything the write about it’s benefits. This list is not ordered.

• Silence: Starting each day with meditation
• Affirmation: I remind myself what I like about myself. I found these initially to be very stupid, but they’ve started to become incredibly meaningful to me. No, I don’t believe in the Secret.
• Vizualization: See how my day will go in my mind if it were to be my best day. This has had a surprising side effect of really helping me pare down what I will actually get done in a day. Once I see the meetings, the distractions, the fun, the friends, I realize I don’t want to get everything done, I just want to get the right things done.
• Exercise: This is my least favorite of the list currently, but something I know I need to be better about. When I do exercise, it’s like +5 int, +5 wis, and +5 cha for my character.
• Reading: When I actually read things that help me, this helps set the day right. I’ve begun to stop reading news until the afternoon, and I read something that is either inspiring or at least educational.
• Scribing: Writing in a journal is something I still struggle to regularly do, and has been something I haven’t always liked my whole life. The value I get out of it when I do however, is immense.

Eat the Frog

Once the day has begun, I try to pick a single, ugly, terrible thing that is deeply on my mind that I’m avoiding. Then I do it. This has the effect of either kicking off something I’m procrastinating on, or getting something off my plate that I’m dreading.

Work Priorities

At work I plan by the quarter, half year, and do roadmaps at the ~2 year granularity. This means that

Review

The review section of GTD is the most under utilized, and yet actually the most interesting part of the system.

Weekly Review

C-a r w for weekly review

Yearly Review

Date: 2020-10-05 Mon 00:00

Created: 2020-10-05 Mon 15:53