Community Contribution by Erik Hanberg
I lurched into a Getting Things Done system over a couple fits and starts. First it started with two friends who had read the book and were talking it up. I was uninterested in what I thought was a “self-help” book.
But that soon changed when I discovered an Atlantic magazine article about David Allen and GTD by a writer I particularly like, James Fallows. Some of the ideas were interesting enough that I started doing them right away, based on Allen’s quotes in the article.
It took another week or so for me to get a hold of the book, and I fine-tuned my process as I read. I could quickly see the potential of the system, but I thought that it would take a lot more work to really get the system working the way it was described in the book (the collection phase seemed particularly daunting).
A couple weeks later, though, while spending the Fourth of July on beautiful Madeline Island, Wisconsin, I’d done a passable enough job of getting my lists assembled and I was ready to enjoy my vacation. One incredible morning I spent on the front porch of the house: just me, a cup of coffee, the view of Lake Superior, and not a thought in my head.
I was finally clued in to what David Allen had been getting at: with everything off your mind and on paper, you are free to just be. That morning was all the evidence I needed that I should make the effort to fully implement GTD.
The Sunday after returning from Wisconsin I scheduled off six hours and completed a full GTD collection. Suddenly my file system worked, my action items were easily collected, and I was feeling on top of the world.
Amazingly, six months later, I’m still doing GTD. This is unheard of for me. I’m much more the kind of person to become fascinated with an idea, an author, a certain world-view, or whatever other bright shiny thing I latch on to—only to drop it a month or two later for the next bright shiny thing.
But GTD was different because of one important function: the weekly review.
Certainly the feeling of being on top of things is a high sufficient to keep a productivity system like GTD going, right? Well … no. I feel great after burning 300 calories at the YMCA and eating a healthy dinner, but that doesn’t mean it’s any easier to go back the next day.
The weekly review has become an essential part of my week. Using Things for Mac, an action item appears weekly that tells me to do a weekly review.
Cribbing directly from Getting Things Done, these are the tasks and questions I go through one by one:
• Find all loose papers
• Go through last week of calendar
• Go through next week of calendar
• Review projects and action items. Should I add a project for any action item?
• Am I waiting for anything?
• Go through Someday/Maybe List
• Are there any new, wonderful, hare-brained, creative, thought-provoking, risk-taking ideas I can add?
I’ll usually be able to add another 20 action items or so during the review. Some of them are triggered by the review of papers or the calendar (That’s right, I need to get that document reviewed by Tuesday’s meeting), others are triggered by reviewing the project list. (One of my projects is “Enrich relationship with friends.” This usually puts an action item on the list like “Email Aaron” or “Call Phil about games.”)
In the last six months, there have been plenty of bad weeks—bad because I’m feeling spacey, lazy, or grouchy—and I am negligent with logging action items, checking my next action list, and recording ideas when they come to me. Each and every time, the weekly review has pulled me out of it.
To make sure I actually do the weekly review, I make it as pleasant as possible. On Sunday nights I gather all my loose papers and take them into the living room, where I sit in my favorite armchair with my computer on my lap. A glass of wine and music on the stereo are usually involved, too. I’ll tell my fiancée Mary that I’m doing a review and will get a quiet hour of uninterrupted time, although recently I’ve been able to get the whole review done in 30 or 40 minutes.
Some Sunday nights scheduling won’t allow me to have the time to do a review, so I’ll usually bump it to Monday afternoon. It doesn’t have the same “feel good” impact, but I get through it and make it to the next week.
I’ve made it through 25 weeks of solid GTD work. And 25 weeks is a pretty good sign that this is bigger than a bright shiny fad. I’m sticking with it … weekly review by weekly review.