Category Archives: GTD

Keeping The Focus

In my last posting on attaining goals we looked at maintaining an All Projects list and a Current Projects list. However even my Current Projects list is too large to be easily manageable with eight projects on it, six of which are active.

To be really productive you have to be focussed and this means concentrating on one project at a time. Every time you switch projects it takes some of your productive time to get into the mind set for that project, pick up the tasks and get yourself organized. All this is time that is not actually moving the project forwards. If you spend your time doing a bit here and doing a bit there then you’ll make little progress across a broad spectrum of projects. This can rapidly become demotivating as seemingly little progress is made on any front.

With the index card system it’s easy to maintain the focus. Every morning, as part of the morning routine, review the Current Projects list:

  1. Has a waiting project become active? Then mark it as active.
  2. Is an active project now waiting for something? Then remove its Active sticker
  3. Which project is needs to be focussed on now? Mark this project with a different colour.

Here’s my Current Project list for this morning:

Current projects list showing project focus

This immediately puts me into the mind set I need to do focussed work on this project and makes the project stand out from the rest. Every time I glance at the Current Projects list I know just where I must focus my attention. Once I’ve completed all the tasks I can on this project then I’ll move the Focused Project sticker to the next most important project and start to focus there.

Soon we’ll look at breaking goals and projects down into the individual tasks needed to get them done and looking at how these fall into the organization structure.

Daily & Weekly Review Routines

I wanted to highlight an excellent posting by Leo over on on the subject of creating daily and weekly review routines.

I disagree somewhat with Leo’s assertion that David Allen leaves out structure from his Get Things Done (GTD) philosophy, personally I found it highly structured; but perhaps that’s just my mind imposing my structure on it, as Leo has done in his article.

Anyway, give the posting a read, I’m sure you’ll find it useful.

Keeping Track of Goals

If you’re anything like me you’ve probably got dozens of on-going goals or projects that you went to get done. How do you keep track of all of these and ensure nothing gets missed?

Part of the answer is in having regular reviews; but then you need to have something organized to look at when it comes to review time. Now you can either go high-tech (computerized) or low-tech (paper based) in this and there’s often an on-line debate as to which is better and what tool is best for the job. It’s not what you use that matters, it’s making it work for you that counts.

My current goal tracking system starts with an All Projects list.

The All Projects list is used as a high level overview of all the goals I want to achieve. An entry on here ensures none of my goals slips under the carpet and gets forgotten about.

I was amazed when I wrote out my All Projects list that I had so many things I wanted to get done. It was no wonder some things never got addressed – there were just too many of them to keep them all going around in my head. Here’s the first page of the list in full and thumbnails to the second and third pages if you want to take a look:

All Projects List - Page 1

All Projects List - Page 2 All Projects List - Page 3

That’s one big list of projects; but some of these aren’t active yet. In fact I’ve only got eight active projects out of this list of thirty one. When I decide I’m going to address a project or a goal I move it onto a Current Projects card.

Current Projects

Now I can see the eight goals or projects that are currently active and need me to spend some time on so that’s narrowed the field down somewhat. However some of these projects are temporarily on hold so I use transparent sticky tabs to highlight those projects that can be worked at present:

Current Projects Showing Active Projects

At every review this shows me which goals I should and can be addressing now. At review time I can check my All Projects list for anything that has come into scope and needs further work; these get moved to my Current Projects list. I then check my Current Projects to see which projects need my immediate attention and which are on hold.

In a future post I’ll be looking at how the project cards integrate with task lists and to-do lists. Until then I’d love to read how you manage your high level goals, particularly if you’re using a low-tech system.

Goalpro6 Reviewed

For many years Goalpro (version 5 and then version 6) was the bedrock of my personal productivity system. The software provides facilities to manage everything from goals down to tasks and time too; but there are some facilities lacking and I feel the product has reached its end of life.

Review of Goalpro 6
Rated as 3/5 on May 23 2007 by David Hollingworth


Thumbnail of Goalpro6 screen shot
I came upon Goalpro (5 as it was then) when I first started to look for some software to manage my personal productivity. At that time many software packages only offered a very simple to-do list with limited or non-existent nesting of tasks. So I was very impressed with Goalpro’s feature list which allowed me to set goals, break these down into tasks and then to schedule these tasks in a built-in calendar that synchronizes with Outlook. It seemed to have everything I needed.

When you first start the program you’re introduced to the subject of goal setting through a Goal Setting Wizard. This takes you through the stages of setting goals and the defining the support structure for the goals. The support structure includes defining the tasks that will accomplish your goals and also adding a rounder definition of the goals by identifying the challenges and resources that will be required if you’re going to achieve your aims. Finally you can add personal and corporate mission statements and values to your plan.

Having set up your goals using the wizard you’re free to add or modify these at any time using an outline tree of all of your goals and tasks. As part of your daily routine there’s a configurable set of reports you can display or print, a management screen that displays tasks that have passed their due date and a very useful “Sufficient Support” wizard.

The concept of Support in Goalpro is that every goal and sub-goal must have a number of tasks assigned to it in order to achieve the goal. By default, when you create a new goal, it is set requiring at least two sub-goals or tasks. If a goal doesn’t have the required number of supporting sub-goals or tasks then the Sufficient Support wizard will flag this goal as requiring attention. You then have to create new tasks for the goal or reduce it’s required support. This is a great way of ensuring that all goals have a valid next action assigned to them.

There’s various motivational tools built into Goalpro including a chart that shows how efficient you are at maintaining your Goals support, completing tasks on time and doing your daily reviews. It’s a great boost to get those lines up to 100%. You can also create goals that are activity based, like “Run 2 miles a day” and then track your progress against your targets.

As well as the whole goal and task setting and scheduling side of things Goalpro also has a built in journal with topics and a very useful scratch pad for doing brain dumps. Items in the scratch pad can then be highlighted and turned into goals or tasks at the click of the mouse.

Goalpro6 has a great many things going for it and there’s not much I don’t like about it. One of the things it definitely lacks from a GTD point of view is that there’s no contexts. Tasks are just tasks and there’s no simple way of splitting them according to where they can be done. Whilst you can filter the task list by major goal you can’t filter the tasks by context.

Another thing that’s a bit of a turn off for me is the rather cludgy interface; it really doesn’t look like a modern Windows application. It works OK; but I don’t find it very appealing to look at. It’s also very restricted in terms of data interchange between applications. You can synchronize with Outlook OK; but there’s no import / export features to exchange data with tools such as MindManager or even MS-Project.

Another mark against Goalpro6, and this is a big issue for me, is that there doesn’t appear to be any on-going development. This version has been out for some years now and even though there’s been a couple of maintenance releases in that time there’s not been any new functionality added to the product. Based on what I’ve seen I have to ask myself, “Has this product reached the end of its roadmap?”.

The final criticism I have of Goalpro6, and I feel this really underlies the previous point, is that I reported a very annoying bug that causes the application to crash whenever I lock my desktop. You don’t loose any data because everything appears to be saved as you type it; but it’s still very aggravating to have to restart Goalpro every time I leave my desk unattended, which is pretty often each day.

All round it’s a very useful tool and stood me well for a long time and I’d probably still be using it today if there were better import / export facilities, the user interface was nicer and I thought the product was going somewhere. However, based on these criticisms, I can only give it three stars.

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Choose What To Do

A recent article from Mark Forster came up with a useful idea for those of us who tend to get distracted away from the items on our to-do list by other less productive pursuits.

Mark suggested that rather than use a time log, to record everything we’ve done; use an “event log” to record everything we’re about to do.

What advantages does this have over a time log? Basically if you have to stop for a second and write down what you’re about to do before you do it then you have to make an active choice as to what it is you’re going to do. So when I complete this posting I might write down:

21:57 – surf on over to gamestar

and I must just stop and think, “Hang on, I still need to sort out the laundry. Gamestar will have to wait”.

You get the idea? I’ve made an active choice as to what I’m going to do rather than just let the fancy take me where it will.

In the next day or so I’m going to give this a try and I’ll report back how I got on.

Book Review: Getting Things Done by David Allen

After a few years implementing the ‘Getting Things Done’ (GTD) methodology by picking bits up here, there and everywhere online I thought it was high time I bought and read David Allen’s quintessential volume on personal productivity.

I thought there might be some snippets in the book that I’d not picked up before. I was not disappointed.

The book contains a huge wealth of information about implementing a GTD process for managing your (my) life, from the big picture down to handling the details.

From the stuff I’d read online I did think the book would take me on a minimalist crusade and have me setting up a productivity system using index cards, rubber bands and spring clips. This was not the case. Whilst Allen does mention the relative merits of electronic and low-tech tools the book seems to go out of it’s way to avoid discussing any particular method of implementing GTD. At points this might leave the reader wondering, “Just how to I do this in practice”, though in general the examples and suggestions are sufficient to allow the imagination to reach it’s own conclusions on how a particular chapter might be realized.

The book is divided into three main sections. The first deals with an overview of the concepts that lead to the GTD methodology. It introduces the reader to the idea that you can get your life and all its inputs under control. One of the most useful chapters for me was on planning projects. This was information I felt was missing from other productivity books I’ve read recently that seemed to be more focused on the tasks. Here Allen was encompassing the big picture too in a way the feeds directly into a GTD system.

The second sections is a step by step process for setting up your trusted GTD system. Here again I discovered a lot about the GTD system. One of the big things for me was the importance of creating a trusted filing system that’s simple and fun to use. This is an area of my life that is currently total chaos and is desperately in need of a make over. As well as the practical aspects of this system Allen reinforces the idea of getting all the open loops out of your head and into a ‘trusted system’ in order to free up the mind to be more receptive and creative.

The final part of the book revisits some of the concepts introduced during the practical sections earlier in order to reinforce the power of the simple constructs. So there are chapters on the power of the Collection Habit, Next Actions and Outcome Focusing that look deeper and the reasons why these practices work so well.

There’s so much in this book that I know it demands at least another reading, if not more. A full blown GTD system may not be for everybody; but I think that anybody who has more than a few tasks or projects to organize would be better off using a trusted system to manage the tasks than relying on the vagaries of memory alone. I certainly am.

I give this book five stars: * * * * *

Getting To Your Goals

Once you have set a goal you need a path to take you to it. This is where your task lists and your ‘trusted system’ come into play.

Without some tasks, some actions, we’ll never get to our goals. Goals don’t accomplish themselves. So for my cycling goal I have the following tasks:

  1. Get the bike out of the back of the shed.
  2. Service the bike.
  3. Find my riding gear (or buy new stuff).
  4. Devise a suitable route that’s going to give me my target 30 miles a week. This is probably 3 x 10 miles or maybe 2 x 15 miles.
  5. Start building up the mileage.

How will I ensure that these tasks get done? Put them into my trusted system. The ‘trusted system’ is whatever methodology you choose for managing your goals and your tasks provided you trust it completely. If you don’t trust it to give you the tasks as and when you need them it will never work for you; but will work against you instead. More about trusted systems and how I work mine in a later posting.

I know I’m not going to be able to get on my bike and just cycle 30 miles. In fact I’ll be lucky if I can cycle 300 yards (metres); but I know that if I can get to point 5 then the battle is half won. The other half is making it a habit.

My Top Goals

I was planning to introduce goals over time, along with some theory and tips about goal setting; but Leo over on Zen Habits has forced my hand by asking the question, “What are your [my] top goals?“.

As ever Leo’s posting is provocative and not to be denied an answer so here goes:

  1. What are my top goals?
    1. To be my ideal weight (12st 6lbs)
    2. To live in a cottage by the sea
    3. To earn more than €100K a year
    4. To run a successful life coach business
  2. What productivity system do I use?
  3. My productivity system is based strongly on GTD with a few principles adopted from Mark Forsters book “Do It Tomorrow”. The main idea I use from Do It Tomorrow is the Closed List that tightly defines what I’m going to do off my prodigious to-do list each day.

  4. What habits have I learned to support this?
  5. The main habit I’ve developed is to dump every idea about anything that needs doing straight into one of my in boxes as soon as it occurs to me. Now that I trust my productivity system I know that once an idea or task is in an in-box, doesn’t matter which one, that it will get done. This has freed my mind from the constant jumble of; “Must do this”, “Must do that”, Musn’t forget about x, y, z” so I have much less stress and much more freedom to come up with creative stuff.

Tools vs Systems

I’ve seen some debate recently on the question of the tools we use to get things done and the systems we use to get things done.

Leo, in his ZTD Habit 1:Collect expounds the virtues of simple tools (paper and pen) over complex tools (PDA, organizers).

Over on Glen rounds off a posting on ZTD with the comment:

…the tool isn’t going to make you any more organized.

It’s all about the system, baby.

I actually believe it’s about both and that you need both to be productive.

Suppose I have two pieces of wood and a screw I want to use to join them together.

Firstly I need a tool to do this task (someone hands me a screw driver at this point); but the tool is no good without a system.

The system is that I put the pointy end of the screw driver into the recessed head of the screw and turn it in a clockwise direction.

So the job gets done because I had a system (turning my had in a clockwise direction) and a tool to implement it through.

I agree 100% with the idea that the simpler the tool the more likely it’s going to be used and that’s why I have a small notebook for dumping my tasks into as they spring into my head. That tool supports my system.

Big Rocks!

Over on Zen Habits Leo has proposed some interesting variations on the GTD methodology, calling it Zen To Done (ZTD). I’m not going to reproduce Leo’s material here; but I would like to expand on the areas I’ve found the most use.

One of these is in the area of choosing which tasks I’m going to work on. I’ve felt that one of the shortcomings of most of the productivity stuff I’ve read has been that they’re very hot on getting the stuff into your trusted system; but not so hot on getting it out again.

By that I mean they don’t offer a lot of advice on how to decide what to do next.

Leo’s suggestion is to look every week for the Big Rocks. These are the projects or tasks that I have to get completed over the next week. These are the things that I choose to focus on and these become my weekly goals. So at each weekly review I look for 2 or 3 Big Rocks and then at the tasks that are contributing to these. It’s those tasks I have to get done next week.

Next comes an interesting part. As part of my weekly review I used to block in time for the tasks I wanted to get done so I knew from my calendar each day what I should be doing morning and afternoon. GTD recommends the calendar is only for the “hard landscape” that is things that are immovable like meetings, appointments etc.

As I’ve been adopting GTD over the last 12 months I’ve also followed this suggestion and worked off my Closed List instead of my calendar. ZTD, on the other hand, is suggesting I should go back to blocking in time for my Big Rocks.

I think, for now, I’m going to avoid using my calendar for scheduling Big Rock time and continue to work off my Closed List. I’ll let you know if this changes and why.

Now, where did I leave those rocks?