A book club for developers.
BookBytes is a fortnightly (or biweekly) book club for developers. Each episode the hosts discuss part of a book they've been reading. And they also chat with authors about their books. The books are about development, design, ethics, history, and soft skills. Sometimes there are tangents (also known as footnotes).
(Intro music: Electro swing)
Welcome to BookBytes: A book club podcast for developers. This week we’re doing something different and interviewing Adam about “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. I’m Jason Staten.
I’m Adam Garrett-Harris.
I’m Jen Luker.
This episode is sponsored by Pluralsight, the technology skills platform.
Alright, so like I said, we’re doing it different this week, talking to Adam about Getting Things Done. Adam is, as far as I know, is the only one of us that has read this book. I read part of it but I did not get it done.
You “did not get it done”, nice.
To be fair, reading this book is quite a task. It’s about 300 pages and it kind of gets repetitive after a while. You can get the gist of it in just reading Part One, and then, Jen, you haven’t read it either but I think you watched a little blurb about it?
I watched about 8 1/2 out of the 9-minute blurb.
I was curious, this book has been a part of my life for a long time. I read it in high school, I believe. Probably in 2006. So the book first came out in 2001 and then they did, he did an updated version in 2015 which is a new edition. It’s… it brings some of the references to technology more up-to-date. It’s actually more technology agnostic in the new version because it’s not really about which specific technology you use; and so I reread that version this year in 2019.
But I was just curious, before I explain what it is, how familiar either of you are with it. Have you heard of it before? And have you heard of the term “GTD” before?
Yeah, I’m familiar with GTD, Getting Things Done, and kind of a basic process of it. Of like, when you have some information that arrives, you have to make a decision, like, is this actionable? Should I do something about it right now if it’s a really short task? Otherwise I should stash it away on some list and get back to it at a later time, or file it away for some other time; and then when that time arrives, I should know just what I need to do without having to remember it.
I’d never read, or read or heard of it before until extremely recently. However, some of the philosophies that I got to hear about in, like, the 8 1/2 of the 9-minute blurb, reminded me a lot of a talk that I gave on Imposter Syndrome, actually. (laughs) So it might be interesting to dive into that later.
Wow, cool. So it’s really a productivity system to reduce stress and help you focus on what’s most important and to not let anything fall through the cracks so that at any moment you can choose what to work on and be okay with everything you’re not working on because you’ve captured everything into a system that your brain can trust so that your brain doesn’t have to constantly juggle all of these ideas and try not to drop any balls.
So, Adam, you said that you had initially read it back in high school. Did you opt to implement it at that point and have you continually implemented it between now and then or have there been gaps over the years?
I have, pretty much, continuously implemented it since then; although, I haven’t implemented every aspect of it and I’ve been more or less strict at different times. So I’ve, kind of, fallen off the wagon and gotten back on but I don’t feel like I’ve ever gotten off completely. And, yeah. Whenever I feel like I’m really out of control is when I know I need to get more strict about it.
That’s impressive for staying onto that productivity system for such a long time and not, like, not…[inaudible] a bunch.
Yeah, it’s like 15 years now.
So, what I liked about it and what I thought was very different about it at the time was that it’s a very practical bottom up approach instead of thinking about things from a lofty high level and setting these big goals, it actually just starts from the ground level, what’s on your mind? Do you need to feed the cat? Do you need to get a haircut? Like, everything. And one of the first things it has you do in the book is do a brain dump and just sit down with a pen and paper and, I think it says ideally write each things on a separate piece of paper, and just throw them into the inbox and then go around your office and home and everywhere and gather up all of the loose, miscellaneous things and put them all in your inbox and then you know you have everything captured. And if you do this exercise you can feel, at least I do, an immediate sense of relief that I can just think clearly without trying to remember all of this stuff.
Yeah that would probably be my biggest pain point when approaching something like this. I know I’ve done to-do list type things in the past and there’s always the lingering thought of, kind of, what’s not there? Because I know that there aren’t things there because it’s not totally fleshed out and, at the same time, not wanting to bootstrap the system to be too granular, like, do you put things like brush your teeth on your list?
No, I don’t. I don’t put brush my teeth on my list, but there are some more nagging type items that I use a separate app called “Do!” because it will remind you and then it will keep reminding you every five minutes until you actually do it. So I use that for taking medicine because I haven’t taken medicine in years and all of a sudden I need to and it’s really hard for me to remember.
But I don’t want that in OmniFocus, which is what I use for most of my tasks, because it’s going to clutter up OmniFocus; and OmniFocus isn’t going to be very good at reminding me because I need to be constantly reminded until I do it.
And then, I’m sure, when I get really good at that I’m not going to need that reminder anymore.
Once you set down your routine it kind of becomes pretty, yeah, pretty just automatic.
But I do have a weekly item to take out the trash because that one I’m never going to remember, it’s not part of a daily routine. It’s just this weekly thing I always forget about.
That is always something that slips by. Especially at my house, we actually have recycling come every other week so-
Oh, that’s so confusing. I never know-
When to take it out. I used to take out recycling every time because I never knew.
I mean, that is a good way to fix the problem is just always do it and if it doesn’t get picked up then you know that it wasn’t that week.
I tend to be the last one to take it out so everyone else has already taken theirs out so I know because I can see either all the blue bins or no blue bins.
Right. Yeah, it used to be easier for me because if I forgot I could do it before I left for work but at my new house they come by so early that I have to do it the night before or I’m going to miss it.
But anyway, another idea he talks about a lot in the book is “mind like water” which is an idea he borrowed which is when you have a pool of water, it’s very still and flat and calm. If you throw a small object into it the water responds appropriately with a small splash and small waves and then it returns to calm; and then if you throw a large object into it it has a large splash, large waves but again it returns to calm. So the idea is that if your mind is like that, you can deal with all of the inputs coming in appropriately and then go back to a focused mode instead of being continually stressed by everything coming in.
You know, that’s actually one of the things that I tell, not necessarily that quote particularly, but that is something that I mention a lot whenever people say, “Yeah, I’ve just go so many ideas or I’ve got all of these thoughts. I don’t really know where to start.”
The first thing I tell people is just write it down, get it out of your head so that you can go back to what it is you need to be doing. If you have all of these ideas you feel desperate to cling to them and hold onto them so that you don’t forget them, which means that you’re not allowing your brain full capacity to keep coming up with those good ideas because you’re so desperately clinging to the ones that you already have. So-
Just getting them down on a piece of paper, getting them on a computer, or just having them written somewhere allows you to say, “Okay, I’ve got that idea captured, I can keep going now. And I’m not going to lose it, I’m not going to forget it, it’s right here.”
Right. And I feel like, with Getting Things Done, you don’t have to implement the entire system to get some benefit out of it. You can just take the one idea of capturing ideas and that will help you immensely. One of the quotes I love from the book is, “Your brain is for having ideas, not for holding them.”
Can you, Adam, give an example of something today that you faced with the question of, “Is it actionable?” And you, I guess, maybe even two examples of one that you went and did immediately, and then also one that you went and filed away?
Yeah. Well, let me explain really quickly about the idea of doing it immediately, because the book doesn’t actually suggest that you do something immediately when it first comes in. It suggests you capture it immediately, so you capture everything immediately, and then on a pretty regular basis you’re emptying out your inbox. And so when you’re emptying out your inbox you ask, “Hey, what is it? Is it actionable? If it’s not, throw it away, or put it in your reference file, or put it on, like, a someday-maybe list that, like, you know, like a bucket list, something you might want to do one day.
If it is actionable, does it take less than two minutes? Okay, do that. So as you’re going through your inbox you’re doing these quick two-minute tasks. If it will take longer than two minutes then defer it. Put it on a calendar or put it on a next actions list; and it calls it a next actions list instead of a to-do list because it should be the very next, concrete step you can take. And if you’re not the right person to do it, then delegate it and you also put it on a waiting for it list so you can follow up with those people.
So, as to your question, what are some specific examples today? Let’s see, so one of them that came into my inbox was that I needed to get a letter so that I could get reimbursed for something and as I was going through my inbox I realized that wasn’t concrete and so the actual next action was to email somebody. So that took less than two minutes so I just did it.
And then there were some other things that I just tagged inside of OmniFocus so that when I am in the appropriate context-
That’s another idea from Getting Things Done that’s a little bit outdated, is context. So he has different next actions lists grouped into different contexts. So he’ll have a next actions list for office, one for when you’re at the phone, one when you’re at the computer, I don’t know what else, but for a lot of people you can do anything anywhere on your phone, but I tag them with different things. So some things can only be done at home, maybe some things can only be done at the office. Some things I need my MacBook, some things I need my phone. Some, perhaps, require more thought so if I’m kind of low on energy I’m not going to do something that requires deep thought, I might look for things that require shallow thought.
So I did go through my inbox today in OmniFocus and there’s some things that I need to do when I’m at work. I need to print some things out, there’s some things I can do on my phone but I didn’t do them right away. Like, I need to cash a check. I don’t know why, but I’ve been putting this off. This is something I can do very easily on my phone but…
I do love mobile banking and being able to cash checks on your phone.
It has been a long time since I have had to go into a bank and that is a good thing.
The thing I’ve had to go into a bank for recently is to get cash in less than $20 bills because I needed to have some $1s for allowance.
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, I could see that. I guess one other thing that I, I guess, personally run into with work, most commonly, is when somebody approaches me about something. Maybe, I mean, getting a message in chat is pretty easy to go and defer and make a little more asynchronous but in person I feel like there winds up being a little bit more of an expectation that you’re going to do it at that point. Do you… How do you deal with that? Do you draw stronger boundaries and say, “I’ll get back to you on that.”? Like, what is your approach on filing those things away?
When, you’re asking when someone comes up in person and asks you to do something?
Yeah, when they tap you on the shoulder when you’re, like, deep in thought and then your PM says, “Hey! Wouldn’t it be cool if…” and then, I mean, maybe not that. Maybe something far more actionable than that but like…
Yeah, something on that order though, when you get tapped on the shoulder.
Yeah, well personally, I’m always really open to interruptions. The book doesn’t talk about how to prevent interruptions, it just talks about when you’re interrupted, if there’s something you need to capture, capture it and put it in your inbox. Then when the interruption’s done you can decide what’s the thing you need to focus on? Maybe it’s what you were focusing on before. Maybe you want to empty your inbox. And, you know, you know that if it’s in your inbox it will get dealt with in a timely manner and so once you go through there you’ll add it to the appropriate list and follow up with it later.
So… Yeah. I put things, work-related things, a lot of times people ask in chat, “Hey, can you do this?” And we’ll say, “Yes! And we’ll let you know when it’s done.” And so in slack I will grab a link to that specific message and put that into OmniFocus and then as I’m reviewing later I might think, “Oh, hey! We actually finished this. I need to go click on this link, go back to this message and tell them we finished it.”
That may not be the most efficient way to do that because it’s not, there’s no, there’s no trigger for me to follow up with them except that I’m reviewing what’s in there on a regular basis.
Well there’s something to be said even for following up. So that’s kind of a cool way of approaching it on that front.
Because I’m not going to be able to find it if I go and search in Slack, I need a link to it. Or who said it.
And then when you’re filing things away, you said that, I mean, as for a tool that you opt for, like OmniFocus, and one of the things that I always feel a little bit off with when taking notes on, whether it be, like, my phone or a computer, like, when in person with somebody else, is that I feel like, I don’t know, it just feels a little bit socially rude to be, like, looking down at a screen even though, like, I am doing something correct in that I’m taking notes, like, that person doesn’t necessarily know that. And I’ve found, for me, that when I’m actually having meetings with people I generally have opted more for paper.
Yeah, I like that. That’s one interesting things about Getting Things Done, like I said, is that it describes these principles but it’s really technology agnostic. It doesn’t care if you do it purely on paper and David Allen does it mostly on paper. He goes so far as to even print out emails so he has that on hand. He’s probably printing out the emails and he’s, probably like, taking notes on the email when he’s in a meeting, on paper.
And he always has, like, a little scratch pad so he’ll write down something that he needs to do and throw that piece of paper into his physical inbox.
I guess you get a physical stack with that wherein you cannot see the next item without lifting up the one that’s on top of it.
Yeah, and that’s one of the rules about going through your inbox is don’t just cherry pick things out of there and leave things in there. You have to empty it out and that takes a mental effort to take something out of the inbox, think about it, do I want to do this? Am I the right person to do this? What is the next action? What is, is this part of a project? If it’s part of a project, that’s a multi-step process so you need it listed on a projects list and you need at least one next action for it.
So it’s hard, it’s not that hard, but it is hard. It takes a mental effort. So, Jen, you probably have some thoughts when it comes to paper because you were talking about you use a bullet journal.
I do. I’ve spent this entire year working on a bullet journal and I’ve found that I absolutely adore this process, for one; and two, I’ve discovered a lot about myself as far how I think and how I work while utilizing this bullet journal. One of the big things is that I’ve developed my own kind of visual language that has a lot to do with color or, not even necessarily icons, but a lot of it is color-based.
I have washi tapes that I use. I have these super, super ultra thin washi tapes and I’ve assigned, like, each person that I have to have one-on-ones with on a regular basis, a washi tape so that as I’m going through there, my journal, if I have a one-on-one with someone I write down their name, the date, put their washi tape as almost, like, a line underneath their names and then I use two different colored pens to write down my questions and then what their answers were so that I can very quickly parse through those notes and keep track of them.
And it allows me to chain so I can say, “Okay, well my last one-on-one with them was on page 24, my next one-on-one with them ends up being on, you know, page 35 and so I can see from any point, on any one-on-one, when the last one was, when the next one is and I can flip back and forth between those pages very easily to be able to start seeing a rolling context of those one-on-ones.
And often times, you also start to see additional patterns because of the fact that it’s not, like, separate Google Docs for each person, you can see the patterns of how some conversations influenced other conversations throughout my bullet journal because of that.
Oh, very cool.
But, because I still have other one-on-ones or other conversations or other meetings, on, you know, the pages in between those; so I get to see that context as it goes by. I get to see my to-do lists, the things that I don’t do, the things that I do, in fact, do, the things that I get done almost immediately and the things I drag my feet on for as many weeks as I possibly can; and it allows me to, kind of, reevaluate where my priorities are and what types of things I choose to put on my to-do list.
And it’s not just a matter of going through my inbox and saying, “Okay, is this actionable?” Part of it is also, “Am I going to act on this?”
Yeah, like, “Do I want to do something about this?”
It’s like, I may want to at the time, but the question is, am I going to? Like, am I really going to do this? Because if I’m not going to do this then it doesn’t belong in my actionable list. So, starting to see what those routines are and what those habits are over time has been really fascinating. And I’m not one that, like, keeps the habit tracker and decorates a whole bunch but I have created that context.
And something else that I’ve found is that by writing it down and taking the time to use two different color pens, you know, as I go through this, it gives me the ability to dedicate my thought processes, my mind cycles to a particular person or a particular project and focus solely on it because it’s the only thing that’s on that piece of paper and it prevents the distractions from happening quite so quickly. Technology is shiny, it’s so easy to see a notification but with paper there’s no notifications.
So I can sit down, I can spend those 15 minutes and focus on that person and truly decide, what is it that I want to talk to them about this week? What is it I need to bring up? Look at the actionable things from last week, as well, and make sure I got all of those done before it’s time for the one-on-one for this one, make sure I’ve got the information that was requested, make sure that I have my ducks in a row so that I’m prepared for these meetings. It’s not just a, “Yeah, I don’t know, what do you want to talk about?”-kind of meeting.
Now, do you use the bullet journal just for work or for everything in life?
Um, I’d say it’s a great majority work though my calendars do include personal stuff. So if I have, I do have my to-do lists broken out, usually into four different categories which allows me a little bit more freedom to divide those out. So I have my work to-do, my professional to-do, my personal to-do, and my projects to-do.
So work is stuff that I actually have to do for my job. Professional stuff is what I have to do as part of my career evolution that may not have to do with my job. Then I have my personal to-do and my projects to-do are whatever exciting project I’m working on at the time, usually a personal project like, the next step in automating my fish tank, or, you know, some other random thing; the next set of quilt pieces I want to quilt, or the next piece that I need to plan as far as a knitting project.
Okay. Yeah, so I used the bullet journal system for about a year a few years ago and I found it works really well with Getting Things Done. So, Jason, I’m not sure how, are you familiar with the bullet journal system?
I have taken a look at it. I’ve never actually gone and done it myself but I’ve seen, kind of, the process in, at least, in one of the, I don’t know, demonstrated forms of it because I know it’s definitely a unique-to-the-person thing. But one of the things that I saw standout in it is that you periodically have to go and copy stuff over and that alone, or, like, that can definitely help to get rid of cruft, like Jen said, things-
“Do I really want to write this again?”
Right. Like, if it’s not important enough for you to write again, then is it really important at all?
It’s very true, but it’s also like, “Well, it’s the third time I’m bringing this over, am I really going to do this?”
So, I really loved the basic system. I was looking for something, I remembered my dad had found something very similar to the bullet a long time ago and the basic idea was you had index cards and you put a dot next to each item you wanted to do and then you did different things to the dot depending on if you completed it or started it or decided not to, canceled it, and that’s the same basic idea in the bullet journal. And each person kind of decides different ways how they want to do that.
And then at the beginning of the book you have a table of contents showing where each thing is and what I really loved about the bullet journal system is that you just start writing on the next available page. It doesn’t matter what type of thing you’re writing on that page, if it’s a to-do list or a calendar or something else or some notes; just take the next available page and put in the table of contents because I always felt this anxiety of writing the wrong thing in the wrong place and, like, trying to divide up the notebook or something; and it, kind of, for me, relieves that anxiety of feeling... it makes me feel like I’m not going to mess it up.
So, yeah. That was very real for me, as well, in that I love books and I love journals and I love the feel of them and the smell of them and the touch of them, but I didn’t want to ruin them. So I would very, very meticulously plan out how I would write in journals and books and that meant that I never got anything that was truly important, it was all overly planned. So the fact that I have the index means that I can always reference it later.
And I ended up breaking up my index into a few different pieces, as well. So I have two pages for my index and I have my collections on one page and I have my index on the other; and my collections are, like, all of my one-on-ones. So I have, like, the person I have a one-on-one with and then every page number listed out and then, like, their washi tape on the end so I could quickly identify them.
And on the other one, I do have, like, my index page cut up into two pages, or two halves, and on one side is, like, the calendar months; January; week 1, week 2, week 3, week 4, week 5. February: week 1, week 2, all the way through. And the other side is all of the other stuff that I have. Like, I have notes for this thing here and notes for this thing there. This is where my shopping list is or whatnot. Or this is the most recent knitting pattern I’m on.
So I got to write all those down and have their page numbers, as well. And I did attempt to try to keep them within the frames of their months, but it didn’t really matter. So, it just allowed me to say, “Okay, well I’m looking for February, so where is it on this?” Or, “I’m looking for something that’s not a date, where is it on this?” So just to divide it up a little bit for my own personal vision.
Having said that you started that at the beginning of the year-
And now sounding like you’ve got more system built up, did you reach a point where you had to, kind of, scrap and restructure from your initial one? Or did you just adapt it? What was your approach there?
Mine was more adaptation as I went along. So I already knew that I was going to be writing in this a fair amount, especially since I did go into this thinking it was going to be mostly work. I was an EM and I really needed the ability to keep track of that information over time. So I knew I needed this for work.
I actually laid out those columns and ended up adapting them as I went, which was fun. The perk of mine is that because I’m handwriting my weeks every week, like, Sunday I sit there and I watch the noopkat Twitch stream and I layout my bullet journal for the next week. And it means that every single week in my journal looks different, has different requirements based on what I needed to do that week. The layout is different, the sections that I needed for my to-dos are different. Sometimes it looks wildly different than what you would expect.
So every step of this is adaptation but it’s not just adaptation from what I did before, it’s adaptation to what I need this week.
Yeah, so another thing I noticed about bullet journal is, so it was invented by a man named Ryder Carroll and he’s got a website explaining it, just the bare minimum ideas; but people have taken this and expanded it tremendously and you can go on YouTube and there’s lots and lots of people doing walkthroughs of their bullet journal systems and there’s lots of washi tape, which I’d never heard of before, and colored pencils, and lots of different… spreads, they call it, I think?
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Where they come up with different ideas of things they want to do: habit tracking, books they’ve read where they, like, draw the books on a bookshelf, all sorts of things. And I’ve found it’s mostly women and they’re beautiful journals. I found a lack of men doing it and showing it on YouTube and it’s, generally, because the men I’ve seen showing their journals just stick to the bare minimum basics and that’s pretty much what I did, as well. So it’s just not as interesting to show.
I keep my art in here to a pretty small minimum. Essentially, I color code things and that’s about as far as I get. So, like, each of my categories for my to-do lists have a different color for that week. Each month tends to have a color theme, like June is yellow, very sunny. I have a green pen that I use, or a green marker, so I’ve got an entire set of, like, two-sided markers where one side’s, kind of, like a paintbrush marker and the other side is just, like, a marker marker which lets me, very easily, line the tops of my calendars.
So I have a green one that I use. Everywhere in my journal green is used for travel. So, if there’s a green date it’s because I’m actually getting on a plane or I’m leaving my house and going to be gone for a couple of days. So, yeah that’s interesting because it makes it easy for me to very quickly identify when I’m traveling, when I’m doing things, when I have to be ready. Most of my travel is for conference speaking so I have to have my, you know, my talks ready in time. (laughs)
And it kind of allows me to see those cues. I do use some stickers, mostly I have, like, a BookBytes sticker for when we do our recordings and I have the occasional extra small marker, you know, marking sticker for a birthday or something to that effect but I do, in fact, use them relatively sparingly.
So most of mine is just, a pretty basic layout with, like, times. 9 am to 5 pm, what’s my schedule for today? Where are my meetings? Where do I have to be somewhere? Who am I talking with? Where are my notes going to be?
Yeah, so I’ve found the basic layout suggested for the month to not give me enough room for all of the things I needed to do, so I found an alternative layout that people were using where you just write the numbers 1-31 across the top and then across the right side you write all of the events or tasks that are, kind of, recurring, possibly recurring throughout the month and that way if I have something like “take out the trash” I could put a dot underneath every single day where I need to take out the trash in that “take out the trash” row. So I don’t know if you’ve seen that layout. I thought that was really cool.
Yeah, that’s a lot like a habit tracker. So that’s definitely a habit tracker layout and for me I have my whole week and then I put my major events on it and then I have my weekly spreads where I actually layout my 9-5, Monday through Friday.
So I can see the entire month in a quick shot and kind of recognize, “Oh! I have a major meeting I need to prepare for on this day.” Or I have a birthday on that day and I need to make a plan for this. But during the week I have my actual schedule.
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So, I forgot to mention earlier there’s an overall 5-step process in Getting Things Done.
Step one is: Capture, and we’ve talked about that a lot.
Step two is: Process, and that’s what we talked about where you go through the inbox and decide what to do.
And then there’s Organize as step three. So you organize it based on if it’s in a project; if it’s a multi-step; based on time, so if it has to happen as a specific time it goes on a calendar instead of a next actions list; and context, so based on where you can do it it goes on a different next actions list.
Number four is: Review, and I feel like this is very similar to the bullet journal where you sit down and layout your next week. So the weekly review you get clear, get current, and get creative. And so, the whole system will fall apart if you’re not doing the weekly review, just like with the bullet journal. If you’re not sitting down and planning out your next week you’re not going to have a bullet journal.
(laughs) And then step five is: Engage. I think in a previous edition it was called Do, which is just what it sounds like, you actually do it. You use your calendar, use your next action list. With a bullet journal you need to be looking at your bullet journal, it’s not going to notify you. With some of the digital tools and digital calendars you can get some notifications but you still need to look at it, look at your different next actions list when you’re in different places and actually decide what to do.
And that’s one of the things that Getting Things Done doesn’t help with too much. I feel like it’s more, a more advanced topic of Getting Things Done is how do you actually decide what to do? And that’s where you can get into more high level stuff because Getting Things Done is very involved in the very low level stuff.
And it talks about six different horizons, one is the ground level, current actions. Horizon two is current projects. Going higher up, Horizon three is areas of focus and responsibility. Horizon three is like 1-2 year goals. Four is long term visions and five is just, like, your life in general. Like, what is my life purpose? What’s my mission?
So once you get all of the low level stuff under control then that’s when you have the freedom and space to start moving up the levels and thinking about some of those higher things. What do I actually want to be working on at this moment? What’s important to me?
That’s interesting to hear because that was one thing I was going to as you about, Adam. It was how your goals really fit into it because if you’re dealing with so much of categorizing and capturing the minutiae, like, how do you keep track and stay focused on the bigger picture?
Yeah, well I think it really allows me to because I just capture the minutiae as it comes in and then I don’t have to think about it; and when I’m waiting at the coffee pot I might go through my inbox and add things to projects and tag things. And actually, with OmniFocus I haven’t been doing a sit-down, weekly review because it has a feature where it will put projects into a review area if you haven’t marked them as reviewed within, by default it’s every week.
So I’ll just also go into the review section every now and then and I’ll look at what’s in there. Maybe I’ll mark- Maybe I’ve already completed something and I just didn’t mark it off yet. Or maybe I need to delete it. Or maybe I need to put a project... suspend a project, or delete a project entirely.
So I do set quarterly goals instead of doing yearly goals and I try to read those everyday, actually. And so as I’m reading those everyday they’re on my mind and so I’m trying to make sure that the things that are in my lists match with what my higher goals are, I guess.
You know, actually, speaking of goals, I not only do quarterly I do have the yearly goal but I try to make sure that all of my quarterly goals are, like, touch points on my way to my yearly goal.
Oh, yeah. So how do you do quarterly goals in your bullet journal? Or goals in general?
So I end up, as far as my one-on-ones go, I have a quarterly review. So my quarterly goals tend to be recorded as part of my yearly review and then we have the yearly review (laughs) where we are keeping track of what those yearly goes are. So I end up having, as part of that yearly review, what my year goal is and what my first quarter goal is. Sometimes I do mark all four, depending on what it is, but I tend to only focus pretty heavily on what the first step of that goal is and make sure I get that done for the quarter; and then, at my quarterly reviews, check and make sure that I’ve got the next plan set up in place.
And again, because of the fact that I like to chain my pages, I have references that says, “Okay, here's my yearly review. My next quarterly review on this next page, or my last quarterly review is on that page.” So I can kind of flip to all four real quickly and navigate through them and then they’re also on my index.
As far as my goals go, for the quarterly goal I tend to write them down as part of my week because that’s what I’m pretty heavily focused on. Yes, I may go back and flip and look at the month on a regular basis but I don’t oftentimes go back and look at my yearly review and my quarterly review notes. So I try to write down what my goal is for that week.
And then on my month calendar I do tend to have a monthly focus. So I put what that monthly focus is there, as well.
So it’s always there in front of me as I’m looking through my notes.
I also want to talk about some of the ideas in the book that are outdated, I feel like, even in the new version written in 2015 that was supposed to be updated for the new millennium.
One idea in it is the tickler file and it’s a set of 43 folders, like, physical manila folders and this is one I used to use, but I just couldn’t do it. You have, 31 of them are numbered 1-31 and the other 12 are January through December; and so if we’re here on June 25th, the next one, the very first folder would be 26-31 and then after that you’ll have July through May, or July through June.
And so what you’re supposed to do with these when you get a piece of paper or something, maybe it’s a coupon or maybe it’s a flier for an event you might want to go to, but you don’t want to decide on it right now, like, maybe I want to do this but it’s kind of a ways out, you put it in the appropriate folder. You know, maybe it’s in July so you put it in the July folder. Maybe it’s later in June so you put it in the 27th and then each day you empty that folder out and put it in your inbox and move the folder to the back.
So, in theory, it’s a really good idea, especially if you deal with paper a lot but I found I had so little paper to put into it it was just useless, I would never look at it.
And I feel like the bullet journal does this with the future planner. So I only do my future planner for six months at a time and because my year started in January I have February through July and because it’s the end of June I’m going to be creating an August through January for my next half of my book.
But it allows me to go back and say, “Don’t forget to do this thing. There’s this other important item that you need to keep track of.” So it’s kind of like the long-term “What are you doing for the next six months?”-goal? And-
Yeah, well this is a little bit different because it’s, you haven't decided on these things yet, you’re just putting off decisions until the future; and the other thing is there’s always, like, some sort paper associated with it. So-
I’ve been, like, taking pictures of things or if there’s a link to it on the internet I’ll just put that in the notes of the OmniFocus thing and I just… in OmniFocus it has a deferred date and so the deferred date says it’s not due at this time, it’s just I don’t want to see it until this date; and then once that date shows up it will be available for you to see. Then you can decide do I want to do it or not? Do I want to put it on my calendar? Do I want to use this coupon or throw it away? Whatever it is.
That’s actually something I still think I could add to my bullet journal just by doing, like, monthly pockets and just having it as part of my monthly thing. And then as I flipped to the next month I would go back to the previous monthly pocket, pull out everything and then decide whether I want it again and move it to the next pocket; and if not, I can choose to just leave it in the pocket or throw it away.
Another outdated idea in there, and this may not be that outdated, is using or having lots and lots of folders inside if your email inbox. So he proposes for each project you create a folder in your email inbox and then you’re categorizing these emails into these folders. Like a waiting for folder and a folder for all of your different projects.
And I used to do this, I used to do this with tags in Gmail. I would tag the heck out of everything and for the most part you can just search for it but for now I’m using Airmail on Mac and iOS and so I just get a link to it. Or I actually, I hit share and I share to OmniFocus and then I archive it and so then I’ve got a task in OmniFocus with a link to the email. So whether I’m on my phone or on my Mac I can get back to the email, I don’t need to actually organize it in the email client.
I don’t know, what do y’all feel about that?
I still kind of do that but I do it a little bit differently. Stuff that I need to keep track of for a… like, short term, I’ll just mark as unread and for long-term I star it. So, everything else goes into either a folder regarding a major, long, long, long running project or assigned to a particular person and everything else gets deleted. It’s like, if I don’t actually need it, I just delete it.
Yeah, I just delete and archive. If I need to follow up on it, it goes into OmniFocus. If it’s a reference it could go into Evernote or something.
Yeah, if it’s something that I actually need to refer to and do, oftentimes I’ll write those down. So if it’s something I need to refer to on a regular basis, I’ll put them in my book; and if it’s something I need to do it goes on my to-do list.
I think one of the best things that I had with Gmail, that I no longer have because I dropped Gmail at the beginning of the year, was being able to have multiple types of tags set up because my current email service does not have that, or like, I don’t have a client that enables going and adding multiple tags to things so I’m kind of faced with the decision one to, like, one place to go and put things instead of actually being able to tag them, or tag them and archive them kind of thing.
But one of the things that I did keep in my system is in the places that I can automate stuff I definitely go down that route. Like, if it’s something that I get that I might care about looking at every now and then but definitely don’t need in my email, then I kick it off to a specific place, oftentimes going and marking it as read. I’m like, “Eh, maybe I need to go in and check this out. I have record of it but I don’t necessarily want to look at it all the time.”
Like, things like purchases, for example. If I have a purchase made, like, I know that I just made the purchase on the website. The fact that you’re confirming it doesn’t really matter that much to me and so just ship it to a folder that keeps track of my purchases so I can review them later if I want to, but uh…
Are you talking about filters? Like, automatically labeling and archiving?
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, that's a good thing for, I guess, reducing input that comes my way. I mean, whether it be at home or at work, I mean, I get a number of alerts that may or may not be relevant to me immediately and so kicking those things off until later and reviewing them at specific times of the day or week, definitely helps me avoid, like, itching to go and look at what’s new in my inbox of stuff.
I used to do a lot of aggressive filtering and I mostly had no problems with it except for one time I filtered out anything from Amazon to automatically go to archive because it’s always just, “You purchased this!” Which, yeah, I know. Or, “It shipped!” Which, I don’t care. It will get there when it gets there. And I requested a refund on something I ordered because half of the parts didn’t actually ship to me and so I missed the email where they actually wanted me to return the original item. It was kind of an expensive thing and still valuable without all the parts but it was a set of dumbells so there was no way I wanted to try and ship that back.
But it was okay, I guess they forgave me.
So we’re getting pretty late at the end of the hour, so I wanted to talk a little bit about the thoughts I had regarding Imposter Syndrome.
The interesting things that I found about this is that I feel that Imposter Syndrome is misunderstood in that as a Dev community we have accepted it as something that’s inevitable and is something that we just have to live with and I think that that’s horribly… (sigh) that is ignoring the amazing part about Imposter Syndrome.
Just like fear, or anger, or frustration, or exhaustion, or jealousy, those feelings are meant to incite change and I feel that Imposter Syndrome is just the same and that it’s meant to cause us to incite change. However, we usually approach it with sarcasm. So as opposed to saying something like, you know, “Well if only I just knew everything then I’d be fine and I’d never feel like this.”
What I thought was fascinating about Getting Things Done is that it does follow very similar philosophies to what I think that we should be doing here and that when you start feeling that feeling of not belonging, you need to ask yourself why you’re feeling it right now and then you need to ask yourself whether it’s actionable, and then when it’s actionable, and what those actions are.
And sometimes those are actionable right now; sometimes they’re next week; sometimes you need to put a schedule down; create a to-do list to look up ways that you can improve this or fix this; sometimes you need to put a vacation on the calendar; sometimes you need to look for more training; sometimes you need to just ask more questions and stop being a wallflower.
But the point is to identify why you’re feeling the way that you’re feeling and then find out what you need to do in order to make this feeling stop because it’s not something that we have to sit there and live with. And I loved the fact that when you started this you said that the purpose was to remove this stress and that’s exactly what Imposter Syndrome causes and I think that Imposter Syndrome is a symptom to feeling like we don’t quite fit in somewhere, but there’s a way to fix that.
And sometimes the answer is: make friends with people that know more than me in this area because I’m just not going to learn it. (laughs) So I need people to rely on when I need it. And with that being said, it allows us to let go of it. We’ve put it down on paper, we’ve marked what it is we need to do, we’ve categorized it as what it really is, and we’ve moved forward. We can now move forward and that, I think, gives us a huge amount of power and also the ability to prevent things like burnout. I think that it’s like a stepping stone. You feel this once, you feel this twice, you feel it enough times, you feel it long enough, and it starts becoming permanent. It starts burning you out.
So being able to write it down, get it out of your mind, say that you’ve taken the steps, or you plan to take the steps that you need to in order to no longer feel this way, it allows you to let it go. It relieves that stress and you can move forward.
Yeah. That reminds me a lot of the, one of the last chapters, is new to the new edition of Getting Things Done. It’s all about the cognitive science behind why do these things work? Why does it make you feel better? And a quote here says, “GTD is more than just away to manage tasks and projects. In many respects it is more concerned with fundamental issues of meaningful work, mindful living, and psychological well-being than simply offering methods for being more efficient or productive for their own sake.”
And I love that quote because getting things done just for the sake of getting things done, that’s meaningless. You want to have purpose, and meaning, and have psychological well-being.
I definitely think, Jen, your viewpoint on handling the intrapersonal type things that you deal with with Imposter Syndrome where you’re feeling some sort of stimulus and recognizing what that is and handling that, even in a similar vein it is the other types of tasks that you have to go and capture, is capture it, record the fact that you’re feeling a specific way, and maybe you have to take action on it right away. Maybe that is, “I need to go to sleep right now rather than sitting up and, like, doing something that isn’t worth spending my time on, or something I need to file away.”
Or writing more bugs than you solve?
Yeah, yeah. Like, trying to push through a wall that you’re not going to push through until you sit down with somebody else to, not even necessarily have them solve it, but rather to have you be able to explain it to them and then be, like, “Oh, yeah, of course. It was this.” And maybe it’s something like that.
And then, also, even just capturing it for the ability to recognize patterns. I mean, if you’re putting washi tape on incidents where you’re feeling a really particular way then you can go back and see that flow and maybe pick out, “Oh, well every time that I have a one-on-one with this person I’m always at an elevated stress level or I always feel more self conscious and maybe that is something that I need to address in a different way. Or-”
Pattern recognition. You know, being able to identify those and say, “Okay. I now know it’s because of this, now I need to find out why.” And it gives you more information and information truly is power. Being able to understand yourself is magic.
I’d like to end on that.
Yeah, that’s a really positive note.
Thanks so much for letting me talk about this. This is one of my favorite topics and I usually don’t get to ramble about Getting Things Done for this long to people, so it was fun.
Yeah, thanks for sharing, both Jen and Adam. I appreciate both of your insights on it and I look forward to recording the next one. See ya!