walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

To Do List musings post GTD, EverNote debacle, etc.

I've _really_ been trying to get off of paper for capturing/processing (to sling some GTD lingo), which is to say reminding myself of stuff I think I need to do sometime relatively soon (I'm okay with paper for longer term planning still: there's a lot less of it, and paper assuages some of my ongoing concerns associated with getting stuck in an old file format).

I initially attempted to use Notes on my first iPhone, but had some horrible problems with lost notes, syncing issues, and I forget what all. So I got EverNote, on the basis of many, many, many (seriously, how many) recommendations from people who seemed to think it was Direct From the Deities.

And then I had more syncing issues, and I've blotted out some of it, so I nuked my EverNote account after transferring the notes I still had over to Google Drive, which at least doesn't seem to ever lose anything I put in it. Then I went back to Notes.

I had some more problems, but this time around, they were pretty clearly my fault (previous ones, not so much). I really did finally have to learn how to use cut and paste. Like so many things in my life, once I started using it, I couldn't believe I hadn't learned sooner. To Do notes, however you manage them, tend to involve a lot of shuffling of stuff around (down the list when waiting for someone else; up the list when the next step is identified and up to me -- more about that momentarily) when electronic, or rewriting when on paper. This was another reason for wanting to go electronic: I figured it would reduce the lossage due to rewriting errors that I suffer from.

GTD has a whole bunch of lists for different contexts, and for waiting for versus next actions versus projects blah blah bleeping blah. My setup is a single note: at the top are lists of next actions that I believe I might get to in the next day or so. Next is a running grocery list. After that are things that cannot be done now, but will happen later in the week on a particular day. Below that is the waiting for section. At the bottom is the someday/maybe section.

Cut and paste lets me move stuff up from w/f (waiting for) to the top when appropriate (or delete if there is not further action -- like I'm waiting for a delivery and don't want to forget in case it never arrives in which case I need to figure out why, but once it arrives, there is not always a next action beyond unwrap and turn it over to whoever it is going to), and also to manage the grocery list. When the grocery list gets dire, I'll add a Groceries item to the top of the list, but leave the list where it is. I rarely am able to get everything on it at once, so there's always something on it. When I notice the gas tank is dropping, or the wallet is getting thinner, I'll add Gas and Bank to the list (or on those rare occasions that I have checks to deposit). Then there are larger sized projects like elements of taxes/investments/travel arrangements, making appointments, scheduling stuff for the kids, etc.

The best thing about Notes is that I can access it on my laptop, on my phone, on any of the many iPads, or, in a pinch, any browser (I can get at it through iCloud). To some degree, I kind of don't give a shit which device I'm near. I have _decontextualized_ the ToDo list.

This is _amazing_. I am _so happy_ about it.

The list as a whole remains extremely simple, largely because I don't include most of my life on it (take that, GTD fans!). My mornings have a high degree of structure (get up, get kids fed and out the door with what they need, empty dishwasher from night before, eat, drink tea, walk with M., talk with R., eat lunch, somewhere in there fold the laundry from the night before). My afternoons (normally) have a high degree of structure (meet kids, keep them entertained, make sure they get to the bathroom, fed, beveraged, to any lessons/appointments/sitters). My evenings have a high degree of structure (get kids through their night time routine, load and run dishwasher, load and run laundry). I try to keep the additional stuff to a minimum, because if I don't, I get cranky because I have no time to Play.

One of the things I notice when I read people who are Obsessed with GTD and other time management systems is that there isn't much structure to their day. I actually don't much care for structure (this is about as much structure as I have ever had in my life), but it really simplifies future planning, because it drastically reduces how much time I have that needs conscious thinking about what to do with it. Everything else I Just Have to Do.

Another thing I notice about people who are constantly trying new personal organization schemes is that they are massively over-committed. They really seem to believe they can (someday, maybe) do a whole lot more than I think any ten people ever could. My list stays short because I pre-abandon most oooo-that-looks-like-fun ideas I have. I never track them. At all. Because it probably would be fun, but vanishingly few things are enough fun to justify what I would have to do to participate in them.

The third thing I noticed about people with long lists is that those lists frequently include a bunch of stuff that I would never have bothered to track: I would have just done them. And I think that's because of the whole give-up-pre-emptively strategy. I absolutely cannot afford the time to go to three places to try to buy something, much less get the best price on something, so I don't. Ever. And I only very rarely call and then go pick it up; I have Amazon Prime, it that drastically reduces the need to track non-grocery shopping items on a list. I just buy them, because it takes 2-5 minutes and shows up in 1-4 days (depending on the weekend), and that's faster than I would get it with a trip to the store, most of the time. If I could get a homegrocer.com service equivalent, the grocery list would be replaced with a shopping list on that website, and my list would be simplified even further.

David Allen in GTD keeps making statements about how work in the past is different from work in the present and knowledge work and *snore*, but it's a load or horse shit, really. Work is work. If work is repetitive, you don't need much organization to keep it under control. If work is _not_ repetitive, if you're constantly doing different things in different ways, you'll need a ton of organization to keep it under control. But honestly, back when I _was_ a knowledge worker, I didn't need a ton of organization to keep it under control, because I could take virtually anything and turn it _into_ something repetitive (and today, like the previous three days and tomorrow, I will spend the morning working on the graph coloring register allocator, and the afternoon answering e-mail and working on bugs, type of thing), or into a fully interrupt driven day where I didn't attempt to do anything at all, just sit there, drink tea, read a magazine in a spare moment, and spend the rest of the time yelling at all the idiots lined up at my door with questions.

There is something really different about GTD fans that I probably will never fully understand.
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