Most of the time when we look at our TO DO lists we get overwhelmed. It doesn’t matter what software we use: Asana, Trello, Todist, etc., your lists just keep getting longer, making them harder and harder to stay on top of. There are hundreds (probably thousands) of techniques out there that help us break down our lists and organize them. We can categorize them into projects. We can mark them as “someday” or “later” and hide them from our view. We can assign priorities, give them context, and schedule them to reappear later. But ultimately, our ability to stay productive comes down to the actionability of the tasks themselves.
I often find myself trying to figure out what I did the other day. When I was a bit younger, it was easier to think back a few days and remember what I worked on, where I went, what I had to eat, who I spoke to, and so on. However, now (that I’m older), I find my job requires me to jump around so much that all the days seem to blend together. Tasks on my TODO list remain incomplete and I find myself incapable of remembering what I did a yesterday or the day before, never mind three or four weeks ago.
I’ve kept journals in the past. In fact, when I was building Lifeables I used to keep a running journal (using MaxJournal) that I would update periodically during the day. That was very handy for looking back to remind myself why I did something a specific way or for noting ideas as I had them. I kept that journal going for months and it was an incredibly valuable tool. The problem was that it had a very definitive scope, and I only updated it with things that had to do with Lifeables development. At one point I tried to expand it to include general Lifeables business related topics (fundraising, product meetings, etc.), but since I kept them in a separate journal, I almost never remembered to add entries to it.
Let me start by saying that I’m a big fan of the GTD method. I read the first edition of this book back in late 2007 soon after I had finished The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber. At the time I was running my web development firm and was in desperate need of some operational clarity and organization. While I didn’t commit myself fully to GTD all those years ago, I certainly wish I had. The principles taught in David Allen’s book are simple in theory, but sometimes hard in practice, especially for those of us that have had our own “systems” for so many years. It took me awhile, but once I moved on from my web development firm and began committing myself to more narrowly-focused startups, I found the GTD methods easier to apply. It was partly my own maturity, but more likely the fact that we had a project tracking system at my web development firm that was ingrained into my daily life, that made adoption so difficult. Once I started using the core principles of his system, I found my ability to stay organized and make more progress immeasurable.