Re-configuring Getting Things Done

Over the holiday break, I was fortunate to have some time off, which came in handy when the library managed to find a copy of The 4 Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferris from another library, and hold it for me. I read most of the book in one sitting, and some of it really resonated with me (automating things that can be automated, offloading things where it makes sense, not checking email that often). I'm not about to put all of the book into play (yet) but it got me thinking about how I handle my own productivity, and got me thinking about what was working and what needed improvement.

I've been working the Getting Things Done (GTD) system since 2001. Throughout those years I've used various permutations of Palm devices, paper-based note-taking systems. and what seems to be a never-ending battle between Tracks and Todotxt. (Program Note: I'm using Todotxt with the awesome Android App.) I dutifully set up a Tickler File, and have Google Calendar tracking my day-specific events. I bought and have listened to Getting Things Done: Fast, which is an earlier audio recording of one of David Allen's GTD Seminars. There was a time when I would have likely purchased the note-taker wallet that Davidco sells. There was a period where my loving wife would tell people my religion was GTD or Linux. I even have a signed copy of Ready for Anything that I got from GTDTimes. Needless to say I've been hard-core into GTD for many years.

Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin did an excellent series on GTD as part of their Back to Work Podcast: (Starting with Episode 95 - 99). The whole series is really interesting for both folks looking to get control of their work, and for those (like me) who have already invested some serious time and effort into the GTD system. But most importantly both the podcast and the 4 hour work week got me thinking about how I was handling my productivity system.

I mentioned I was keeping a tickler file for the longest time. I've had the same folders for a while now, and I mostly kept up with it. Mostly, meaning most days I'd remember to move an empty folder from it's current position to another position. There were also other things in there like Christmas cards, birthday cards, Thanksgiving day cards, and stuff that I didn't really know what to do with (photos from work functions that for some reason I thought would be interesting to see from time to time again, a picture of some pretzels that JoDee took at some point, a copy of Warcraft that came with the season of South Park DVDs that included it). I realized that for those 10+ years, I really didn't use the tickler file for anything that couldn't be accomplished by other means (calendar reminder, or just plain putting something by the door with a note on it). It was a habit that I barely kept, and the storage could be better used elsewhere. So I made some folders for the various greeting cards, and some folders for the remaining stuff, and just stuffed it into my regular file cabinet. Problem solved,and the tickler file was decommissioned.

Relief step #1.

One of the other things I realized I was keeping track of was my habits (Joe's Goals, Habit Streak, and a bunch of other applications). And on there were various habits that I wanted to be diligent about: Inbox Zero, Developer, 10 minutes of reading, Scoop Pixel's Poops (our cat Pixel is a pooping machine), Exercise, etc. And then I got to thinking:

I'm spending time and energy trying to build up the habit (and eventually the goal) of scooping cat poop.

My end-goal is scooping cat poop.

I'm seriously tracking how much I scoop cat shit.

At which point I deleted those habit-tracking applications. I'm pretty sure I'll know if my inbox isn't cleaned, or if Pixel isn't able to find a spot to squat in her litter. And my body will tell me if I haven't exercised. And there's applications like Goodreads that will let me know if I've fallen behind in my reading.

Which brings me to my "New Years Goal", which is to stop worrying about tracking or maintaining things that aren't worth the effort. The Tickler File wasn't worth the effort to move empty folders on the off chance that I put something of value in there (or worse, find that I lost something in there). The habit programs didn't encourage me to keep to my habits; they just showed me that I forgot to scoop cat shit yesterday.

What habitual things do you have in your life right now that are going through the motions, or are "tracking your scooping of cat poop". If you suddenly stopped doing it, what would happen?

I'll be talking more about how I'm re-configuring parts of my productivity and life in the coming months. Rest assured I won't hold myself to a blog post a day / week / month.