October 22nd, 2012

_Getting Things Done_, David Allen

I bought it used.

Subtitled: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
Publisher: Penguin

Why did I read this? Because I know I need a tickler file. That I am clear on. Unfortunately, I'm having some difficulty coming up with a reasonable implementation of a tickler file, and a lot of people point to David Allen when the subject of tickler files comes up. FYI: tickler files are less fun than they sound like -- they exist to remind you in the future of things that you know about now but cannot act upon until later. Sensible people living Sensible lives would consider this a reminder of all their loved ones birthdays and anniversaries and so forth, and possibly the existence of April 15 (altho probably not -- they probably file sometime around the middle of February and laugh at everyone else. In a kind and supportive way, of course). I'm looking for one because I need to remind myself of a whole string of things that occur on a more or less quarterly basis, but not on the same date. My loved ones know that being loved by me does not involve steady stream of birthday and holiday cards. I'm not sure why they put up with me, but I'm glad they do, and in my more ambitious moments, I think maybe I'll put birthday reminders in the hypothetical tickler file.

Anyway. David Allen's tickler file involves paper (duh) and 43 folders. There is a blog/website/thing with this name devoted to (more or less) GTD (getting things done) type of ideas.


It's not run by David Allen. This, however, is:


At least in book form, GTD is all about turning everything into pform, sticking it in a tray, and then sorting through the resulting gigantic stack until the "tray" is "processed". After processing, there will be paper in the trash can (because you just DID anything that would take less than 2 minutes -- and that's a hard 2 minutes, not the 2 minutes that turns into a half hour, and I appreciate that he can tell the difference), paper in your "reference files", paper in your "next actions", paper in your "projects" list and "project support" files, etc. There will be notations in your calendar (the hard landscape of your days, the things that _must_ be done or they die, not the things you'd like to get done that day, but will roll over to a later day if they don't get done). There will be checklists. Etc.

If it wasn't clear in the paragraph above, There Will Be Paper. Given that my entire declutter/organization mania of the last days/weeks has been oriented to the Annihilation of Paper, I have a Very Large Problem with that. However, I have an imagination. I can overcome that.

I kind of like that David Allen uses a ton of physical adjectives when he is describing things, rather than exclusively visual imagery which is more typical not only of organizational books and self-help books but of writing in general. I particularly like his "going numb" descriptions. I am less enthusiastic about his martial arts analogies. They are poorly developed, in the sense that there isn't enough detail in the analogy to figure out where he's going with it, and whatever he is trying to communicate is not mapping well to my experience with martial arts. His tens of thousands of feet analogy for perspective is visually oriented, but is struck me as effective. I also liked that in his lists of parts-of-your-life he did not feel compelled to include organized religion.

Having just read Rosalie Maggio's _The Art of Organizing Anything_, it's worth pointing out that where Maggio has a physical object approach to organization (spread everything out on the floor and sort through it), Allen has a stack it up in a tray approach to organization (which presumes paper, altho he tries to wedge everything into the scheme by creating pieces of paper to represent the things that don't fit in the tray). That's the same. What's different is the piece-size they carve out. Maggio, like virtually all personal organizers, operates on the find-a-project-you-can-complete theory (usually a closet; sometimes the top of a piece of furniture), then use the energy from making that work to tackle something a little bigger.

Both Maggio and Allen incorporate a fair amount of you-need-to-fix-that in the course of their books: learn how to say no, here's a short course in how (in Maggio's case), faster and to more things (in Allen's case). Both are big believers, however, in the idea that if your stuff is organized and under control, you'll be better, in a way that tackling things from a higher level of generalization (feelings, values, past history, therapeutic stuff) fails at (I'm attributing this opinion to them -- I don't necessarily share it and my attribution of it to them may be incorrect).

As Jennifer Niesslein discovered in _Practically Perfect in Every Way_, reading self-help books (which organization books definitely are) tend to depress people by making them feel dissatisfaction with their lives. The idea is you read them when you are already dissatisfied and the process they describe will make things better and then you will feel better. Alas, for whatever reason, self-help books tend to increase dissatisfaction and, in the case of _Getting Things Done_, are potentially highly triggering for perfectionism and mania. They ought to come with warnings.

There are definitely things of value in Allen's book. Maggio-type books rarely address workflow issues, and workflow issues are part of what I wanted to think about and adjust in my life. I do not want to adopt the GTD workflow in its entirety, and I don't intend to -- it is quite obvious that a lot of people who hire Allen don't adopt that workflow in its entirety (he says as much, almost in those words, more than once in the course of the book). I may take a look around for other time management/personal organization books that address workflow, but I suspect most of what I find is going to be overkill, and oriented very heavily towards office-work, which isn't exactly what I'm dealing with.

Should you read it? If after all that, it appeals to you, probably. Allen's a Smart Guy who has thought his system through very carefully and presented it clearly.

Organizing Thoughts

Alas, my thoughts remain disorganized and likely always will be. These are thoughts on the topic of organizing.

I've been on a bit of a roll lately with Getting Rid of Stuff. I'm in the process of weeding the pLibrary, but I'm trying to limit myself to one bag and/or box per day, which takes a very few minutes. I've supplemented that with hauling an armful of books from shelves on the second floor to the third floor and then shelving them in what I hope will be the Home of All Non-Child and Not Currently Being Read Books, if I can get the volume down far enough to fit on the cases up there. It's becoming increasingly clear that 8 size medium (1 cubic foot) Staples boxes and a half dozen or so grocery bags are not going to be adequate to this task; I foresee another Staples run in my future. Also, the leavings of packing tape are being emptied, and I only bought the one new roll.

In addition to purging the filing system(s), weeding the pLibrary, and going through my summer clothes and the kids' outgrown clothes, I've taken a garbage bag or two out of the basement, brought a bookshelf to HGRM, two tables to consignment and snail mailed some books back to their once and/or future owners. And in addition to all of that, I've been throwing away e-mail and other e-files.

The first and probably only important stash was the ridiculously overrun primary inbox. That was just sad. But once done, it made it fairly straightforward to tackle my secondary account's inbox and archived mail. Some months ago, I had made a concerted effort to contact all the people who were sending stuff to me that they meant to go to someone else (baby pictures, stuff about re-enlisting or getting a promotion in the Navy, IEPs, medical documents, ticketless airplane info, wedding preparations -- mostly the florist, but also some of the secondary parties -- travel packages and, my all time favorite, the guy who sells headstones. I'm leaving a lot out, most recently DirectTV transactions) so they would quit sending it to me and, hopefully, the person who was expecting it would receive it. With the worst of it turned off, it finally made sense to go dig through the crufty crust of what I'd allowed to pile up over the years.

I've had that particular account since 2004, when it originally was offered in beta, and as I got down to the original emails, I was reminded of things. Like, in 2005, the person who claimed this was their email when they signed up for MySpace. Mmmmm. MySpace. There was stuff in there from when I bought my Palm Centro, and bought Street Atlas for it. You think maps on iOS was lame when they ditched google? Yeah, try back in the day when you had to buy the maps separately for your PDA. I'd sort of forgotten, and the memories gave me a headache when they came rushing back.

Last night, I went through Downloads. On Windows boxes, when you download something it apparently goes into a tmp directory and ages out. This seems like a better choice. On my Mac, it goes into Downloads and lives there until you delete it on purpose. I'm thinking I should maybe research settings to change this behavior, or start purging it on purpose every month. After a few hours, I got it down to around a hundred files that I might want to keep.

And this raises the real question: how many of these electronic collectors are there in my life? Two inboxes and "Downloads" later, I'd kind of like to know. My old iMac came back to me, and I've been putting off going through it, clearing it off, formatting it and giving it away/recycling it for at least a year now. After what I've done in the last few days, however, it doesn't seem all that daunting a prospect (except maybe the photos). OTOH, when my old laptop died, I just had everything copied over to this laptop, which means there's probably a bunch of crap over in the other account that I ought to go through.

Also, I failed to mention another inbox that I went through, but that had under 200 messages in it; it barely counts.

I upgraded to Mountain Lion today, because I had to if I wanted to have my Contacts, Calendar and so forth sync from the iOS devices to the laptop. The first time I tried to install it, it told me the disk was damaged and not repairable. The second time I tried to install it, it worked. I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about this.