Clearing Your Mind
Pretty early on in my GTD adventures, I realised once of the most powerful habits to develop was to clear your mind. Now, this is easier said then done right? The reason we are looking into GTD methodologies is because we have so much freaking stuff to do and it is stressing us out. But the process is this:
- Have a system.
- Put tasks into the system.
- Forget about the task because you trust the system to take care of it.
The last point is the kicker, if you cannot let go of the task, you will worry about it. Worry clouds your mind, your judgement and your focus. Pretty much everything we don’t want. So, what is my “system”?
30 Days BD (Before Dictaphone)
Now, me being a geek I am pretty much chained to a computer. I use Remember The Milk (RTM) for my ToDo list and task management - it’s a great bit of kit and I recommend it highly.
While I am at the PC, if I think of something that needs doing, I simply flick to RTM, go to my Inbox list and then add the task. I then continue with whatever I was working on safe in the knowledge it will be dealt with.
When I then get to a break time, I then flick back to my Inbox and review the tasks that I have added. Some may already be inadvertently completed, some irrelevant, some tagged and filed with a follow up action, others are just plain crazy and get deleted there and then. But the key points are:
- Once I have added them to the Inbox, they will get reviewed.
- When reviewing, I organise. Cluttered ToDo == Cluttered Mind.
- Once it is off of the Inbox list, I don’t give a crap until it comes out on the Daily ToDo.
Now, this works fine and is really slick, when I am at the PC. However, when away from the PC it would really kind of fall apart.
- RTM have a great syncing application (MilkSync) to sync tasks from your Windows Mobile task list (and other devices, but I have a WinMo one). It works great, but Windows Mobile sucks. The UI is clunky, outdated and it simply takes too long to create a task.
- When away from the PC I tend to get more creative and I have more ideas. So often it’s the one time I need my Inbox list more.
- I would always forget to add tasks when getting back to my PC. Once I sat back at my desk to get back in to work mode, I quickly forget things I am supposed to add.
So, I was having a think about this and then it hit me:
I often talk myself through ideas, why not just record myself while “in the moment”.
Simple is always a “win” with me :) I then set out to by a cheap and cheerful dictaphone.
Enter the Dictaphone
I did a bit of looking around on Amazon and the “Olympus VN-4100PC Digital Voice Recorder” seemed like a good choice. It is relatively low-cost, looked pretty simple and had a model number that made it sound like a child of Skynet. Rocking.
It has been one of those things where I just keep thinking “why the hell didn’t I do this sooner"?” :)
30 Days AD (After Dictaphone)
toy productivity tool arrived and I was very impressed. The interface is really simple and there are some great quick and useful features that make a difference.
- Size and weight - It’s small and light. It fits nicely in the palm of the hand and weigh’s pretty much zero.
- Speed to Record – Blindingly fast. Switch it on. Speak. Done.
- Organisation - It has a handy “folder function” (more on this in a bit).
- Plenty of Storage – unless you are recording your entire day, space is not an issue.
So, how did this marvellous device change my system?
The “New & Improved!!” System
- I carry it EVERYWHERE with me, even to the freaking bathroom. You never know when a good idea will hit. Luck favours the prepared ;)
- When an idea hits, I record it into the appropriate folder (really, I will get to these in a minute).
- I forget about it (unless I am having a brainstorm and then I may record several more related notes).
- As soon as I am back at my PC, I also play back my notes when reviewing my Inbox list. Tasks are then created as normal. One side note here is that it has a headphone out, so I tend to just plug in when in the office to save people listening to my drone on :)
- Once tasks have been created and organised, I then delete the task from the dictaphone (remember – keep the clutter down).
- Rinse and repeat!
Folder Structure on “The Device”
As mentioned before, this particular dictaphone comes with a “folder” feature. Now, it is a really primitive implementation - you cannot make your own but rather it comes with “A, B, C, D” and you can select which folder to save to when recording (it’s quick and easy to switch).
Now, at first I thought it was a limitation, but I ended up using the letters for certain types of notes, which encompasses my note-taking categories which in turn aids a lot in later digestion of them when at the PC.
- Action - Items that need to be done soon that go straight on to the Inbox and then tasks created.
- Blog - Thoughts on what to blog, or when reviewing comments etc.
- Consume - Notes on the current book I am reading.
- Diary – An all-out free-for-all where I may want to just voice my thoughts.. The regurgitation process can help spawn new ideas etc.
I am adding a lot more tasks. For example, just the other day I sat down and played back my notes. I added 11 items in that one sitting. That’s ELEVEN items that I would have genuinely forgotten about (or remembered later, most likely too late). Sounds bad, “not MORE work” right? Wrong.
- I am “forgetting” a lot less. Actually, I am now pretty much remembering everything and it is everyone else that is in the “oh crap I completely forgot about that” boat :)
- My “bright ideas” are actually implemented (or on the list to be implemented later). It’s real nice to actually have a constant stream of “good” output from the old noggin.
- My prioritisation & organisation skills are improving more than ever. More tasks == more need for organising and prioritising them.
- I am distilling information down quicker. When reading books I note all the good bits, this is then easier when doing the post-mortem for the book.
- Talking ideas through is really good for the brain AND communication skills. I have had several instances where when playing something back, I have realised how I stupid I made it sound and then re-worded it. This regurgitation process is so valuable.
- My hands thank you. Writing is slow and is simply extra work for hands that spend a LOT of time typing.
The secret to getting things done is to find a system that works for you and bloody stick to it! I don’t mean a half-hearted attempt at some kind of “routine”. I mean be religious, even fanatical.
My friends often make jokes about how I am always on about how “if it’s not on the list, it doesn’t get done” and thinking I am crazy as I walk around yammering to myself.
But, I do it because it works for me. Sure, it may not work for you, but invest the time to start somewhere and refine your system.