Categories | Community Contributions | Software
My income mostly comes from two areas: writing and web development.
Doing both, I’ve discovered certain similarities of work between writing and coding. Each has certain activities that can take a really long time. And in both, it’s often important to attack those activities in large chunks of time. I’ve come back to a writing project after a break feeling like I’ve lost my understanding of the structure of the piece. The same is true in web development, where I can keep track of div tags and CSS classes easily when I’m working, but find it difficult to sink back in after a day or two away.
Knowing that a single task–like “Finish Chapter 10″ or “Validate Test Site” may take many hours of my time–changes how I use GTD.
Most effective, and most obvious, has been using my next action list to write notes on new problems that occur to me while in the middle of those big tasks. I’ll see an error, maybe, realize it’s repeated around the site, and rather than fix it then, make a note and stick with the task I’m working on. I’ve done this with writing too. If, while writing Chapter 6, I realize that I missed something in Chapter 4, I’ll make a note and go back and fix it later.
I’ll also try to do a mini-review after finishing a long task. If I’m writing fiction (which, alas, I’ve yet to publish), this has given me some interesting next actions–one still on my list reads “Henry asks Arthur to find the blackmailer.” (Hmm, with plots like that, maybe there’s a reason I haven’t published.) But it’s specific enough that I remember what’s supposed to come next.
Using GTD while writing and coding has had some difficulties, though.
One is that having really long tasks on my list is that those tasks can seem daunting. I know they’re going to take a long time, but the task can’t effectively be broken up into smaller chunks. In that case, I’ll create an action item that says something like, “Continue work on About template.” When I’ve finished for the day, I’ll mark it as done and then create a new item that says the same thing. It’s a little redundant, but sometimes just being able to mark something as done can feel really good.
Probably the hardest part of having such long tasks on my list is the backlog it creates. I normally have 160 or so next action items, but recently it’s been more like 200. It’s been making me feel behind, which I’m not used to. How odd that even though I have a complete picture of the tasks I need to do, I’m still conscious of how many are pending, something that wasn’t true 40 action items ago.
But maybe those difficulties just come with the territory. Could I have written 37,000 words in the last 6 weeks without GTD? Complaining about the tasks that piled up in the meantime doesn’t make sense, since they wouldn’t have piled up if I hadn’t been so productive.
In other words, it wasn’t my GTD system that swelled my next action list, it was the hours and hours I spent writing. GTD just lets me keep track of it all.
Eric Hanberg is a regular community contributor to GTD Times. You can also follow his personal blog, with musings on the arts, technology and politics.