Sunday, March 29, 2009

getting things right with getting things done

I have more than a passing interest in organisational and productivity tools and concepts. Most of my life, I've made repeated attempts at finding the synergy between being productive, organised and creative and I've used many tools in the past to find the magical formula that works for me.

It's not always simple as I'm also easily bored with too much routine and tend to knock my life out of whack - usually unconsciously - just to shake things up and experience a new direction. This means that I will have a system down to a fine art and be ticking along with it really well and then voilá! A new life experience and pattern changes the "rules" for using the tool and I'm thrown for a loop and subsequently get myself into disorganised trouble once more!

It's kinda fun for awhile...that chaotic roller-coaster ride...but really annoying if left like that for too long. The internal war for balance between chaos and order, forever rages in my dramatic heart.

From when I was a little girl, with a penchant for sticky-taping complex numbering systems onto the backs of my extensive collection of books; to early adult hood with various fetishes for tidy pantries, linen closets, Debden Day Runners and Palm devices; I've climbed back on - and fallen off - the "Organised & Productive" wagon many times. I envy people who can stick with it consistently over the long haul but for me its a lot more ad hoc and spontaneous. No one system ever stays with me ubiquitously and I'm always on a learning curve, or quest, to find one more that will match my current life choices. Oh - and I am a ridiculously slow learner too btw - so a 2 year stint of no cohesive organisational tool to speak of, when I already know the value of having one, is quite "normal" for me!

That being said, I swoon with delight in an office stationery store and you would most likely find me buried in the planners and organisers section (both digital and paper), perusing the wares with a kind of crazy, lustful glint in my eye. I love the look, the feel, the innumerable possibilities available to that Organisational, Control Freak part of me, with that kind of stuff!

Getting Things Done is one methodology that I love and that I often talk about in this blog. I have mentioned in recent weeks, that I have fallen off the GTD wagon these past two years. Essentially, one of those right-angled Life turns I made in recent years, subsequently changed how I used the system and because of that I lost "faith" in my original trusty Palm Tungsten E2 and when it died, its successor, the very plain bottom of the pile Palm Z22. Palm was my tool of choice for capturing and processing the stuff in my head, until I lost focus and wasn't as reliant on it as I had been due to my changed life-style patterns.

I still use my plain no-frills Palm! Don't get me wrong. I will still put an appointment into the calendar and I use the Memo function pretty much ALL the time because I can hide the private stuff. You know? Like personal medical information etc. I love the notepad too for quick jotting of phone numbers and the like. It is a brilliant device. I love all these aspects of this technology and will most likely continue to use an electronic organiser for that sort of thing for many moons to come.

Where I've fallen down is in managing my Tasks Lists on the Palm. I just don't look at it enough to keep my next actions in front of me. I "forget" to trust it as my external reminder system. There has been a breakdown for me in using the Palm everyday for the everyday stuff. I'm not entirely sure why because it is the most logical device in my mind for this sort of list making efficiency. However, there are a few issues with my little basic Palm that may be contributing factors. For one thing, The model I have chosen seems to be really clunky for directly putting in the information. I can't sync it at work as my PC there doesn't have the software installed and I have yet to find out if I can have permission to do that. The interface of the Palm software, on the computer, is a bit cumbersome too. It's just not fluid enough and a little bit unattractive so of course I don't use the context task list functionality on it like I used to with the old E2 back in the day.

Solving this dilemma has required a multi-pronged approach in figuring out exactly HOW I currently operate and finding a complimentary tool which will be a natural context task list capture tool without sacrificing what I already use the Palm for. It has to be quick to use, almost instant. It has to be mutable and easily up-dated. It has to be highly portable and light. It has to be as simple as possible. It has to be cheap. It has to be Stupidity Proof!

I spent a lovely afternoon yesterday cruising the web and reading up on lots of GTD ideas for capturing those ideas and next actions or project ideas. Notebooks are fine to a point but I refuse to get a crook shoulder, carrying around the lumpy Day Planner type diary or even a largish notebook. I did that years ago for a long time and my back and shoulders thanked me when I finally gave up the heavy paper and leather planners grafted to my side!

I had designed and used a small list styled notebook once before and had spent hours sectioning it off into list headings... but of course, there is always a certain amount of wastage of both space and paper with this idea. It didn't last very long! Too fussy not to mention really messy in the end! It did have a few pluses going for it - being the immediacy of its availability - always at hand - and easy to check up on etc.

Then I remembered Pocketmod from a couple of years ago and searched it out again. It's been quite cleverly updated so I played around with it for a bit and learned a lot in the process of printing and folding of the little "book" made from one sheet of paper. There was still a "problem" with that though. The pocketmod is designed for American Letter sized paper...which is slightly smaller than our standard A4 paper here in Australia, so my pocket mod needed trimming and for some reason, things never quite aligned like I wanted them to in the printing. It always came out messy and scrappy looking! The widget on screen for customising some of the pages also didn't appear to work on my computer/printer set up. That was frustrating!

About ready to give up, I ducked over to YouTube, while following some pocketmod links, and happened across this variation on the pocketmod theme. And AHA! moment. I figured if I could put my various context task lists as headings, instead of the days of the week, it might actually prove to be a useful tool for me.

Experimenting in Word, I learned how to align the text in such a way that when the page was printed, and then subsequently folded, the wee headings for my task lists were neatly at the top of the little space created by the folds in the paper. When folded as per the "db pocket planner" method on YouTube, no trimming was required, it opens out for "at-a-glance" viewing of my different lists and it's really easy to quickly throw in a notation. I even printed the headings on the reverse side to recycle the page when the front gets too full or messy. I figure I may only need to print a fresh page off every other week or so. Its a simple matter of refolding the other way to use the reverse side of the paper! Very frugal! :)

Of course, I don't even really need to fuss around with printing out the headings on this tool. The simple fold and write method could work just as well. There is for me though, a innate need for a little bit of sophistication which has a sharper than average edge to it. The headings typed onto the sections look good. It has a less "scrap-paper" kind of feel to it by typing in the headings. That's just my personal choice though. For every day use...writing the tasks, quickly, by hand with a pencil is going to be the usual method of capturing things. The printed headings just gives it a bit of personal tool cred for me is all.

It looks great. It's so insanely simple and best of all...I felt really pleased and excited to have found potentially, the "right" tool to help me get back into GTD. Even if I don't use this system permanently and end up with another one down the line - I do have rather high hopes this basic little "book" will prove to be an invaluable aid and addition to using my über basic Palm. I'm hoping to upgrade both Palm and mobile phone to an iPhone in a couple of years so I want to ensure I have a workable strategy for capture and action reminders until then.

One of my biggest failings these past couple of years has been capturing the stuff I need to process and think about. To get it out of my head into a place I trust. Even something as simple as forgetting to put a blimmin' shower cap on the shopping list has been an irritant of growing proportions of late: I'd only remember I needed one when I went to grab the very old loose one in the bathroom! Ugh! So last night...on my "@shopping" section of my little capture list, I wrote "shower cap". For things like this, that vague feeling of "I've forgotten something" will hopefully disappear forthwith! :)

The list will live in my wallet so its guaranteed to be with me pretty much all the time and within easy reach. The idea is that it's a working document always in flux. At present I'm using pencil so that done tasks can be erased to leave room for new ones.

It may seem like it's fussy but I don't think it is, really. At least not yet! I "thought" my original notebook idea was going to be simple too but it also had some pretty strong limitations. The use of a pencil does help though. Like for instance - I just went and did some grocery shopping, I got what I needed from the list (including that bloody showercap! yay!) and when I got home just erased that part because items on other sections of the list are still pending.

I could probably fuss around by typing the lists into the main doc in Word and then deleting the done items off and reprinting and refolding, but that doesn't seem very 'Green' or all that efficient in my circumstances. That could change though too, as I ease into a rhythm with this new tool. Maybe anyway. Time will tell if this tool is workable for me over the long term. It's true that the size of this small booklet limits the number of things you can have listed at any given time. I'm not sure yet if the size will prove to be a major disadvantage and I am already suspecting it could.

This is, however, meant as a quick reference tool for the various contexts I'm most likely to be in, like going shopping, running errands, stuff to remember to take to work, things to do with and for the kids etc. It's a mutable, transient capture device to jog my memory. Anything more substantial than a discrete next action is likely going to need recording into a proper project planning tool. I'm looking into Ta-da Lists for that kind of thing at the moment. Baby steps etc.

The key should be that I instinctively trust this little pocket list as a sort of "external brain" so I don't actually have to contain any of this information inside my head. And when it boils down to it that is the crux of the GTD mantra! DON'T keep it in your head! Put it - the stuff you think about - somewhere outside of your head where you know you'll see it, and be free to decide (or do) later when the time is right.

So beta testing of my new 'pocketmod variant context task list capture tool' is off and running. I'm excited to try it and that's a good sign. If it doesn't work - it's back to the drawing board to figure out a new option! :) Edison Theory in Action!

1 comment:

Steve said...

I too have delved into the depths of self help - get yurself organised get things done make a change etc etc. Look. Humans weren't designed to live in the kind of world we have created for ourselves. No wonder we feel stressed. Any attempt to make ourselves good at getting things done is going against human nature. Now. How about totally and thoroughly enjoying every second of your life, every breath, every god given moment now THAT is the book I wanna buy! THAT is the course I wanna go on. Must put that on my...where is it personal development category list.