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Why do I spend more time trying to GTD than GTD?

September 29th, 2006 Leave a comment Go to comments

So, like many others in the “knowledge worker” biz, I have terrible problems organizing my time. It often feels like I spend 90% of my life in front of a computer, and that 50% of that time is devoted to wondering what to do next. This is all complicated by the fact that I try to divide my computerized existence into a few different modes — job mode, art mode, relax mode, personal-improvement mode, etc.

Enter GTD, which you can google if you’re up to it. Check out 43folders for lots of articles on the subject. No, I never read or even bought or even saw David Allen’s book, figuring that I seem to teach myself everything else, why not this?

Anyway, the idea is that you have projects and contexts. Projects are, for instance:

  • Cycling ’74
    • Bugs
    • Jitter
      • Current version
      • Next version
    • Max
      • Current version
      • Next version
    • Email
    • Research
  • Tax Year 2005 (US)
  • Tax Year 2005 (DE)
  • Teaching in Hamburg
    • Some subprojects
  • German Class
  • Musicmaking
  • Phototaking

and so on.

Contexts are things like:

  • Home
  • Office
  • Shopping
  • Writing
  • Reading
  • Computer
  • Email/Call
  • Go/Meet

So under each project header, I have a number of tasks. Think of the project as the thing to accomplish, and the tasks as the steps to get there. Each task gets a context. The idea being that I can view this all as a hierarchical list of projects, or as a flat list of tasks belonging to a specific context.

The basic idea is that you plan in projects, but do in contexts (e.g. “I am at the OFFICE, what is on my OFFICE list?” or “I have a few moments which I could use to send an EMAIL. Who do I have on my EMAIL list?”). It seems totally bone-headed, right? The thing is, it’s an enormous relief to write something down and be able to forget about it until the moment when you need something to do. At which point, you dial up your context and there you are.

So, naturally, there are plenty of tools for this stuff. I’ve been using TextMate a lot recently, and had this weird idea that I wanted my entire life to exist in the one program (I am, in fact, writing this blog entry using their MarkDown module, but that’s another story). There are in fact 2 GTD bundles for TextMate, and I was having some luck with the GTDAlt bundle, although I was spending a lot of time making modifications in Ruby so that it worked with Remind, let me set up repeated types of tasks, etc. Anyway, after a couple of weeks, I moved over to Kinkless, which, although imperfect, does the trick for me, and syncs nicely with iCal (although I can’t get the freaking alarms working). Actually, this is the entire point of this post.

Because the iCal alarms weren’t working for me, I ended up spending a good 24 hours of time modifying and hacking together found bits of Perl code to parse iCal calendar files, format the to-dos so that Remind could read them and send notifications to Growl, and so that I could display the info on my desktop using GeekTool.

And I guess this is the sad truth of the entire matter. One spends so much time working ON the system, that the work WITH the system becomes secondary. Perhaps I exaggerate, and perhaps this is a specific “programmer’s problem”, whereby one believes that efficiency and direction in life is just a few lines of Perl away, but nevertheless… I must admit, I have been “Getting (some) Things Done”, and in a less rough and tumble fashion than I have my entire life up to this point.

I hope the perfect solution comes around eventually (in the form of a charming companion who will simply tell me what to do, perhaps?), but until then, I think it’s all working well enough that I can get back to work.

If anyone wants my iCal->Remind scripts or my Remind->GeekTool recipe or my Remind->Growl script, give a shout. I do highly recommend Kinkless for this stuff. OmniOutliner Pro isn’t the perfect info manager (I want to be able to attach multiple notes to entries in my system, which isn’t really allowed, although I can work around that), but it’s serving my (admittedly modest) purposes.

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  1. July 20th, 2007 at 20:26 | #1

    I would like to do exactly what you are doing. Have already googled around and only found unsatisfying bits. If you have the ical-> geektool scripts I would kindly ask you e-mail it to me. Thanks.

  2. Daniel
    May 3rd, 2009 at 15:32 | #2

    It looks like I may be a bit behind the times here but I’m having trouble getting remind to display with Geektool and I’d be curious to see you solution … that is if you still have it handy!


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