Update (11/04/2022): About a six months ago, I migrated my knowledge system from Google Drive to Notion. Currently I use Asana for action items and Notion for information and refernce.
Update (2/12/2018): I’ve moved away from Todoist toward Asana near the end of 2016. I’d had enough of the crummy keyboard shortcuts. Asana’s are a little less terrible.
Update (18/10/2016): I’ve stopped using Evernote in favour of Google Drive. More info on that here.
I’ve been using David Allen’s Getting Things Done from the time I had it explained to me, by a friend, nine years ago. In that time, my system has changed, morphed and evolved as I hacked on it and custom fit it to me. At it’s core, it’s still the GTD system.
In explaining my system, I often feel I’ve forgotten something or didn’t go into enough detail on something. This is why I’m writing this post. That being said, my system is always changing so this is a snap shot of what it looks like today.
Okay. Blah. Blah. Blah. Get on with it. I know.
If you aren’t familiar with GTD, at it’s core, it’s these five things:
- Capture - Grab what you are thinking about
- Clarify - Expand and drill down on that captured thing
- Organize - Put it in the right place
- Reflect - Review your places
- Engage - Do it.
When I started the process in 2005, I sat down to capture everything. My friend told me his kick off process which I used. It was an amazing experience.
I started with a Sharpie and a stack of Post-It notes. I then picked something as my ’thought pile’ from which to work. In my case, it was an armchair. I then emptied my brain. As an idea came to me I would write it on the Post-it or walk across my apartment to grab what I was thinking about and put the item or Post-It on the armchair.
I did this for a couple hours. In the end, I sat there in amazement at what I was carrying around in my head. I wish I had taken a picture. The seat on the chair had things piled to the top of the seat back. The entire chair and stuff on the chair was completely covered in Post-It notes.
I felt euphoric. I felt high. It was as if a huge weight had been pulled off of me.
I started with a pen and paper GTD process, but will never do that again. It has too much drag, or slowness, in the system. I moved from pen and paper to Evernote. This worked pretty well, but still had drag for me.
Don’t get me wrong!
Evernote is an excellent tool (It is not! Read this) , I was just using it wrong. I currently use it as a place to store long term information, project ideas and plans, along with reference notes. It’s a fantastic “list of lists”. I digress…
I spent a bunch of time trying out various TODO and GTD Apps. I landed on Todoist.
PROTIP: When trying out GTD tools make sure they have an export/backup/download your data feature. I spent a Sunday morning typing from one into another.
Todoist is pretty good and has a nice Android app which is critical for my process. My only real complaint is their keyboard shortcuts. They are super crummy. @Todoist: Shift+Click isn’t a keyboard shortcut!
So, what does my process look like? Glad you asked! When something pops into my head, I try to do it immediately. I generally can’t, so I grab my phone and type it into Todoist’s inbox. Occasionally, if I can’t type or it’s a longer idea, I’ll open the voice recorder and speak my idea. It’s then captured and I can go do what I’m doing.
Once a week, I have a “weekly organizing session”. Sometimes, I do them twice a week. In these sessions, pillars 2, 3 and 4 are worked. Before I start, I do a mind sweep. I dump everything out of my brain into my buckets or inboxes. I then sort my inboxes in the following order:
Physical Inbox -> Voice recordings -> Evernote inbox -> Todoist inbox
The process for sorting my inboxes is 2 and 3, clarify and organize. As I go through each item in the inbox, I follow this decision tree:
- Each “item” -> Actionable or Not-Actionable.
- If Not-Actionable -> Trash it / Incubate it (projects you are actively thinking about or pre-planning, without a hard deadline) / File for Reference
- If Actionable -> What’s the next step? Is it multi-step -> Project. If not -> Do now ( Under 2 mins) / Delegate it (VirtAss) / Defer it.
“Not actionable” items I try to trash. If not, they likely go into Evernote. If it’s in my physical inbox, I take a picture and tuck it in there with some notes of clarification.
If it’s actionable, I try to do it immediately. If I can’t do it right now, I defer the item or add it to a project. If it’s defer it goes into Todoist. If it’s multi-step (and more than 2 steps) I put it in Evernote as part of a project and add the project’s next step to Todoist.
I have a little “Projects” notebook with sub-notebooks for each project. One sub-notebook is called Incubator which acts as an inbox on my crazier or uncertain ideas. They sit there until I flesh them out a little more and decide to action on them or trash them.
When, or more likely if, I finish processing all of the inboxes, I move to my projects. I trust that all of the things in my Todoist buckets are organized and clarified already, so I skip it. I go through each project and make sure they are broken down to single steps. I’ll then make sure the next step is in Todoist. After this I’ll go look at the incubator for anything to pull out into a project or trash.
That’s the organizing session process. That is the core of my GTD process.
Recently (the last couple of years) I’ve been trying an experiment with a “Life Plan Backlog” (used to be 15 then 5 year plan) as well as a “One Year Plan”. I found I wasn’t getting to my projects enough. I also found I was thrashing because I would work a tiny bit on each of them and finish none of them. I’m hoping this will be a way to focus in on a few each year.
Also, very recently, I moved all of my technical TODO items into a web based bug tracker. They were long running items that just created noise/drag in my TODO. They aren’t really project items because they might be one-offs items like writing some computer code or reading an article or fixing something.
Whew! So, that’s really it in a nutshell. Other than the grooming process, I grab things out of my “1 Year Plan” TODO items in Todoist, if I have some cycles to do something. If I don’t feel like working on something, or have the time, as I like to tell myself, I’ll look at other projects’ TODO items. Well, that’s what I should do. To be honest, I usually work on whatever is tickling my fancy at the moment.
I’d like to point out that this article was very hard to write. Mostly because, as I wrote, I wanted to go off and start working my TODO lists and projects. 🙂
If you have any critiques, comments or ideas for improvement, please let me know! I’d love to improve this process.