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Getting Things Done? 87

machinder asks: "In reading Cory Doctorow's notes for the Life Hacks presentation at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference, I saw reference to David Allen's book Getting Things Done. Casting about for it a bit, I see a lot of developers have touted the thing in their blogs. I'm sold, and am starting to implement this system, but I'm wondering if any other Slashdot readers have used the system, and if they have any advice?"
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Getting Things Done?

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  • PlannerMode (Score:5, Informative)

    by sachachua ( 246293 ) <`sacha' `at' `'> on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @11:59PM (#9638972) Homepage Journal
    I maintain planner.el [], an organizer for Emacs. Although it was originally written to support the Franklin-Covey method and other ways of planning, some of my users have looked into using Planner to support the Getting Things Done method. Because planner.el stores all of its information in plain text files with a little markup, it's been easy to adapt to people's particular styles.

    Our mailing list has around 80 people from around the world. I love trying to get planner.el to fit people's working styles instead of forcing a particular method on them. =)
  • Faster Writing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by John Meacham ( 1112 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @12:19AM (#9639073) Homepage
    Handywrite is a shorthand system based on the gregg system, but is unambiguously readable. This lets you use it for general notetaking without later transcription to english words. Recommended. It can be learned quite quickly.
    • Re:Faster Writing (Score:5, Insightful)

      by John Meacham ( 1112 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @03:42AM (#9639903) Homepage
      Note that one of the stepping stones in pursuing GTD is to be able to commit ideas to paper or computer or some other nonvolatile store as soon as they occur to you. wherever you are. Get ideas out of your head.

      If you, like me, don't like speaking out loud into voice recorders in random places or don't always have your PDA with you, being able to take notes quickly is a very useful skill. Using handywrite, you can write orders of magnitude faster, without interrupting your thought proccesses trying to remember how to spell words or waiting for your hand to catch up to your mind.

      Not for everyone, but if you want a way to record your thoughts anywhere and have been searching for a better way, it is a very useful skill.

      Sorry if the conection to 'getting things done' was unclear from my previous post.
      • Re:Faster Writing (Score:2, Insightful)

        by droid_rage ( 535157 )
        This looks like a very interesting and efficient method for recording ideas. Thank you. I'd heard of shorthand before, but I never really knew how it worked.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      What techies need is a fast handwriting script that handles the weird capitalization that is all too common in tech matters.

      Cursive writing is a bit faster than printing, but Camel case (setIntegerValue), acronyms (XSLT), etc really aren't very compatible with cursive. Cursive assumes that capital letters will be the first character in a word, so their strokes don't connect with the prior letter. Something like 'aKeyCode' would be discontinuous between 'a' and 'K', and between 'y' and 'C', which discards t
    • "if u cn rd ths u cn gt gd jb as a sctry."
      (Ad in Popular Mechanics, many years ago)

      Now either they're saying you can get a good job as a secretary or a sex toy--I'm not sure which.

  • by HughsOnFirst ( 174255 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @01:22AM (#9639403)
    People who are interested in getting things done seem to be drawn from a different group that the people who post to slashdot.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      i got alot of things done today, i read the daily comics, read slashdot a few times, read some newsgroups, read slashdot, read my email, read slashdot, skimmed my spam, flagged a spam as a false positive, read slashdot. and next i plan on posting to slashdot. (which will be done after i hit submit.)

      you too can be productive, you just need to call reading slashdot a productive thing.

    • Yes, indeed.

      I'm surprised the advertisements on Slashdot don't target the demographic more effectively with, say, appeals for "new, more challenging job"

  • Another fad (Score:2, Insightful)

    Hurrah! Another passing fad comes along. I can't wait to know what the next "big thing" in self improvement will be called. How bout "common sense"?
    • by cei ( 107343 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @02:28AM (#9639655) Homepage Journal
      The next "big thing?" Extreme Getting Things Done!!! You'll get all your things done faster if two people are doing them at the same time!
    • by MrHanky ( 141717 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @04:21AM (#9640016) Homepage Journal
      I can't wait to know what the next "big thing" in self improvement will be called. How bout "common sense"?
      That's just so 18th century. We dropped common sense when Hegel was accepted at Tübingen, mate!
    • Could be worse. Someone could 'Move your cheese'.
    • Re:Another fad (Score:3, Insightful)

      by machinder ( 527464 )
      You're absolutely right: what Allen suggests doing is common sense. However glib dismissals like "that's just common sense" are not helpful for two reasons. The first being that what's common sense to one person may not be to another. (That's why people still drink and drive, I believe). The other reason is that there is value in creating a structured system around common sense. I took a budgeting/home economics class in highschool. The contents should be common sense ... don't spend more money than y
    • The GTD method is really common sense. But it takes alot of common sense ideas and builds a system that is comprehensive.

      It is a lot like Dave Ramsey's financial advice. There is nothing magical or complex about it yet it has helped thousands of people live a better life.
  • Elvis (Score:3, Funny)

    by jspoon ( 585173 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @02:42AM (#9639710)
    The King prefers TCB. Takin' Care of Business. Seems way catchier than GTD.
  • by Will Sargent ( 2751 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @03:28AM (#9639862) Homepage
    There's a mailing list, GtD_Palm []. It looks at different ways to implement GTD.

    There's also an Outlook plugin available [].

    I like using Ecco Pro and Shadow Plan. Details here [] and here [].

  • by trisweb ( 690296 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @03:50AM (#9639923) Journal

    and let me tell you, he is one amazing person. I have been to his seminar (and one of his trainers' seminars) and it really makes you think about the way you do things. You start by extracting your brain into pages and pages of thoughts (called a brain dump), and then you practice moving each item into this process (the GTD process) whether you define it as a project, an action to complete a larger project, or just a "Someday Maybe" that is important only in the long term. There are a lot of details to the process, but you really need to read the book or go to one of his seminars to understand it fully, and even then you need a lot of practice and dedication beyond that. I highly reccomend both the seminar and the book.

    One thing I have to say about GTD is the end result -- you end up with a process to control your life. I can't remember the quote David had -- but basically, his idea was that if you had all the "things" controlled, then you were free. Its honestly a sort of nirvana -- when you reach the point where you have everything you do into this system, and it becomes part of your life, then you don't have to think about the system anymore. So, whatever you had before -- oh, I have to do this and this and this today, but right now I'm doing this with this other thing on my mind but I really want to do this... becomes I am doing this. It's an amazing feeling. But there's more to it than that, so go to David's site [] and get into it.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Yep nice advertisement, I think I'll stick to my Tony Robbins tapes if you don't mind. Got the edge bro?

      you end up with a process to control your life

      Depressing stuff. If you can't live your life and make it work, and you gotta go to some guy to get a 'process' to help you control it, then man, u gotta ask yourself honestly, 'why am I here?'. Just to go through life 'controlling' yourself, so you can please your boss? So you can keep buying chicken feed for your wife & your fattening kids? Shit man!
      • by nysus ( 162232 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @11:50AM (#9643078)
        I agree. The "nirvana" the poster speak of shouldn't come from the feeling of control over the work, it should come from the very work itself. If you are work on something you truly believe in (and not because you need to suck your boss' or shareholders dick), everything will organize itself. The passion you have will be the force that moves you forward and helps you get things accomplished.

        On the other hand, there is always some drudge work that's incidental to the primary task at hand, and it couldn't hurt to establish a methodology to help you slog through it.

        • If you are work on something you truly believe in (and not because you need to suck your boss' or shareholders dick), everything will organize itself.

          I'm sorry, but if you had an ideal workload that you love every bit of, and an ideal life back at home, and an ideal mind that never forgets, then no one would need systems like this now would they?

          Listen, it's just a system. It's not meant for everyone, but it works for most people. And I just noticed your second paragraph, which is basically it. The t
        • If you are work on something you truly believe in (and not because you need to suck your boss' or shareholders dick), everything will organize itself. The passion you have will be the force that moves you forward and helps you get things accomplished.

          You do realize you're addressing an audience of people at work reading slashdot. Right?

    • Why am I not surprised to hear glowing reports of this system from someone who paid money to attend his "trainer's seminars"...? Why am I not surprised to hear that the system only works best if you take a paid seminar from a trained seminar provider.. like the guy who wrote that message?

      This whole thing reminds me of my old boss who used to lecture me about "goal displacement." Instead of working towards your goal, you get into irrelevant but seemingly important tasks. It's like the writer who can't get s
      • Well I certainly understand where you're coming from here, but the fact is, I'm just a college student, I've never paid money to attend any of David's seminars (he's a family friend for god's sake, and you'll give me even more flac for that), and all I know is that this stuff just works. It's all just a system, that's all it is, and all you require to "Get things done" is a system, whatever it may be. But the lack of a system to manage my work has caused me so much trouble in the past that I adopted this on
        • But the lack of a system to manage my work has caused me so much trouble in the past

          Why not just *do* your work instead? All work management systems never have actually answered this point, for me.

          When I want to get something done, I do it, and then it's done. It's really pretty damn simple here. I mean, if you have a lot of work to do, then wasting your time by writing down lists of what it is that you have to do seems pretty pointless.

          I don't know.. Maybe it's just me, but I've got a frickin' ton of w
          • I'm not sure if I should feel happy or sad for you. All I know is that I find it remarkable that you can accomlish everything you need/want in a short enough time that you can remember it all. I expect you must get bored not having many goals. Or perhaps you feel good for always accomplishing your goals.
          • "What more motivation than 'I want to do this' should a person need to actually go and do that thing?"

            That actually works fine if you have the liberty of only needing to focus on one thing, or one thing that you deem important. It helps me (I can only speak for myself) to have a system when I have many things to do. So, when it's "I want to do this and this and this and this" etc, then it's a method for focusing on one thing while being able to take your mind off the rest, and I (and many others) find t
            • That actually works fine if you have the liberty of only needing to focus on one thing, or one thing that you deem important. It helps me (I can only speak for myself) to have a system when I have many things to do. So, when it's "I want to do this and this and this and this" etc, then it's a method for focusing on one thing while being able to take your mind off the rest, and I (and many others) find that helpful. That's all.

              I grant you that if it works for you then it works for you, I'm simply trying to
              • It's not so much about "necessary" -- it's helpful; a tool -- is your computer necessary to do your work? No, it may not be, but it sure as heck helps you get it done faster so you can focus on more important stuff. And it's not necessarily "goals" either... think of it as a time management system and it makes a little more sense. It's a method (tool) for looking at all the little "things" you have to do and saying, okay, how am I going to get all these done?

                So no, I don't need this. I could do work just
  • I've been using it (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Craig Maloney ( 1104 ) * on Thursday July 08, 2004 @05:50AM (#9640255) Homepage
    I've been using GTD for many years, and it is truly a transformational system. It takes the mass of coulds, woulds, and shoulds and transforms them into something that you can do. The reason people are so exuberant about it is that it is life changing, and it does work. I've implemented a system using the Palm and Outlook, and it works well for me.
    • I have read the book and like the ideas, although I not even close to being a "black belt".

      I have a full time hjob, run a largish website (another full time job) and have 3 kids (currently looking after them by myself, another full time job). Its a messy life and I am crap at organisation. Always missing commitments, being late, being chased and hassled. depressing.

      Writing shit down, working out which are the important ones makes it easier.

      Sorting thru my inbox and deleting stuff, or putting them into pi
  • by nandu_prahlad ( 706343 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @06:55AM (#9640434)
    During high school, I used to read a lot of self help books. Dale Carnegie, Norman Vincent Peale, Tony Robbins, Covey etc were my gurus. Now I don't read them anymore. I have become apathetic to them.

    The buzz lasts only for a week or two before you realize that you are low on inspiration and go buy another book... get another fix.
    As the years went by, I found just two principles that work for me.
    1)Prioritize. Some tasks are more important than the others. Concentrate on them more.
    2)Recognize that some info is more important than others. If you know few key things, it is enough. There is no point in learning/knowing other useless stuff.

    The 1st one is just basic common sense. Except that the authors use fancy methods like "mind maps", "brain dumps", GTD software etc to help you prioritize stuff. Understand the underlying principle. It doesn't matter if you use paper computer or pda in order to achieve it.

    The 2nd point, is important as it reduces info overload. Some wiseman once said "Yes. The learning curve for Unix is certainly steep, compared to other OSes. But you only have to climb it once". The value of having system administration knowledge in Win NT is much lesser than Unix sysadmin skills. Why? Because you will have to relearn it when they change the layout and placement of the buttons in Win 2k, Win XP, Win 2003. But your Unix knowledge from years ago is worth it's weight in gold, as it is still applicable now.
    Recognize, this fact and you wont waste your time learning/studying/reading something that has no value.

    The above are guidelines that have served me well. I don't claim ownership of these ideas, or affix a fancy name for them. Because they are just common sense.

    I have many friends who swear by self-help stuff now. It is interesting to hear them speak at length on the virtues of "mind-maps", on being "in the zone", and what not. I am glad that I completed my self help phase early on in life.

    If you feel that you really could use the inspiration from these schemes, go right ahead. Otherwise you may just discover that you can actually get by pretty well in life, without paying attention to them at all.

    • I really agree with your second point and your comments about Unix. It reminds me of the fact that I learned the basics of Emacs in the early 80's (using "Mince"), and it's served me well on every platform since then, even a 386 running DOS and an AtariST.
    • I have come to believe (partly from my own experience, alas) that these books are so appealing because they offer a quick jolt of mastery and competence (maybe even with a chemical burst, too).

      I think we're wired to enjoy realizations, and these books are like canned realizations you don't really have to work for.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        I tend to agree, 'Junk food for the mind' I've heard this type of info called. Slashdot articles and comments fall into the same quick fix category.

        Reading a book or webpage is just so much easier than executing an action that requires the long term application of physical and mental effort, and the willingness to take on a risk that means there's a chance you would be better off having done nothing at all.
    • "We should be taught not to wait for inspiration to start a thing. Action always generates inspiration. Inspiration seldom generates action."
  • Why is this okay ... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    ... but the Scientology policy letters on DEV-T (which are also about this particular subject) get completely ignored?

    I don't see much difference, personally. In fact, it seems like "Getting Things Done" is in many ways derived from the Dev-T series ...

    I guess people just don't like the idea that Scientology make actually work, and that all this bullshit harping about it being 'an evil cult' really is just a major distraction from the one fact that would make everyone seem a fool: Scientology Works.
  • Has anyone dropped the $30 for the Outlook GTD whitepaper? Is it worth it?
  • by chrisatslashdot ( 221127 ) <spamforchris@yaho[ ]om ['o.c' in gap]> on Thursday July 08, 2004 @12:06PM (#9643324)
    GTD is an excellent book. I wish I had read it right out of high school so that I could have used the GTD method at college.
    After reading the book and implementing the GTD method I feel much more in control. I now feel sorry for the people I see at work not using the GTD method. Its like a conversion experience that needs to be shared.
    I have used the method about 4 months now. I wonder how this method works long term. Anyone been using David's methods for years?
  • David uses plain PalmOS [], not some fancy GTD software:
  • Basecamp (Score:3, Informative)

    by phildog ( 650210 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @01:18PM (#9644198) Homepage
    I have no idea if basecamp has anything to do with the Getting Things Done method, but basecamp [] is an amazing productivity tool for a team or an individual. It is basically a web-based project management tool that creates an intranet.

    I have used it to organize my plans and set milestones for some of the websites I work on and have been very pleased with the results. Free trails are available, so there is no reason not to try this if you want to be more productive.

    I'd be curious if any users here have tried both GTD and basecamp and do they prefer one over the other, or are they complementary, etc.

    People get very emotional about tools that help them get things done. Read some of the posts here or the feedback on the basecamp website and you'll see what I mean :-)

    • Yeah, I love the look of Basecamp, but I'm not into the monthly pricing model. Perhaps I should develop something similar in my spare time, but I just can't seem to organize my time ;-)
  • I downloaded an electronic copy of this book, and I'm in the middle of the first chapter. So far, it has made some pretty interesting arguments, especially how people can only manage their 'actions', not their time or priorities. It also states that you need to have a clear mind to truly be productive, and that anxiety is caused by uncertainty about what to do next. The idea is to make goals and think about the first action you can do to work on the goals.

    Very interesting.
  • Yet Another Convert (Score:3, Interesting)

    by lww ( 323019 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @09:38PM (#9648916)
    I'm not going to argue with the naysayers about the pro's and con's of GTD as JustAnotherSeminarScam. I will say that it has been an extremely effective system for me personally and that I tend to recommend it to my peers and co-workers who either ask about organizational/productivity systems, or who lament their overwhelmed disorganized mess of a job/life/hobbies, etc. In the last eighteen months I know I've turned at least six other people into GTD'ers. Some alpha geek GTD tools/tips:
    • Dont throw away your TODO file, think of it as your "Stuff" inbox. If you read /., your probably need an online inbox a lot more than a physical one
    • Create a stuff folder on your desktop to drag/drop cut/paste files, links etc. Keep your TODO (or a symlink/shortcut to it) in here
    • GTD recommends a central filing system - I didn't/don't need a physical filing/reference system, but I created an online one with hierarchical topic directories and it's radically changed how I keep/use the tons of docs/info I get weekly. Especially since I dump reference emails in there now too. A nice search engine like X! or Lucene go a long way towards making this work well
  • I've been using David's model since 1994, when I worked with him on a piece of software which sort of automated the system. If you get a chance to attend one of David's seminars that's when it will truly make sense. Not to be too mystical or anything, but I've gotten anything I've wanted (be careful what you ask for)as a result of using this system. It's really easy once you get a feel for it. Read it, try it and keep refining your system and you'll be amazed at the results. jeff
  • I got a BA in college, that's for Bustin' Ass, and that's how I GTD.

    "After that, you can change your name from Kickin' Wing to Kickin' Ass! I would!" -- Joe Dirt
  • by cmpalmer ( 234347 ) on Tuesday July 13, 2004 @10:26AM (#9685852) Homepage
    After reading this thread the other day, I went out at lunch and bought the book. I read it skeptically, but really liked many of the ideas, so I decided to give it a try. Went out the next day and bought office supplies.

    I'm finished with my office at work and I'm going to tackle my house probably over the weekend. Cleaned and sorted 1000+ e-mails, dumped my filing cabinet and started over, did a lot of brainstorming and planning. If I don't do anything else, I've actually accomplished quite a bit.

    While I understand the criticisms of (a) management fads, (b) self-help seminar sales, and (c) silver-bullet, one size fits all plans, what I don't understand is why people fail to look at this the same way they look at, e.g., software development methodologies.

    Sure, (a), (b), and (c) above all apply to software methodologies (waterfall, extreme programming, etc.), but you don't hear as many people saying you don't need to read or follow any of these, it's just common sense. Or, just do it.

    I'm looking at GTD as the equivalent to a software engineering methodology for processing all of the tasks and information that I have to deal with. I don't expect it to be perfect. I don't expect to have the discipline to follow it religiously. I do hope to keep it up for a while and follow the principles.

    The thing that impresses me the most is that it attempts to be streamlined. The reason I need some help is the fact that I am undisciplined, so following a few habits that are designed to be quick and easy and don't require double-entry bookkeeping or writing down every single thing that I do seems to be a good idea. So far, so good -- I hope I keep it up.

The intelligence of any discussion diminishes with the square of the number of participants. -- Adam Walinsky