Being a project driven nomadic my-company-is-my-laptop web working entrepreneur or employee can be like being stuck in a drier on high with a fire hose of information and data stuck in for fun. How do you cope?
For years as a developer and writer I’ve used David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology; but I’ve been increasingly nagged by the question of whether GTD out of the box really worked for my increasingly webized life.
Earlier this month I had the chance to interview David Allen so I grabbed the opportunity to scratch that itch and ask him a few questions about GTD and web work. (Read part 1 of the conversation, focusing on health and stress)
Bob Walsh: OK. Well, I’m wondering, since your first book came out I think it was early 2001 things have changed a lot in terms of what a lot of people do. They spend more and more time working on the web. Has GTD evolved for you at all since the proliferation of web applications and cloud computing? The original book was very focused on paper and cut and dry silo working. With information overload and active exchange of ideas and comments online, has anything changed?
David Allen: No.
There’s no difference in the cloud of information that’s sitting in the web or the cloud of information in the forest. It’s all of your filters in terms of what you do with it. What’s changed, if there’s anything that’s changed, it’s just the speed and volume of stuff that has potential meaning in it has probably gotten faster and bigger.
So the necessity to do GTD, that is to make quick decisions and appropriate decisions on the front end when things show up on your radar, instead of just letting them lie fallow there just becomes that much more critical. So I wouldn’t change a thing in terms of the book.
Nothing has changed, because it’s not about paper. The book is not about paper. By the way, you’re never going to get rid of paper. It’s just an externalized communication and information transfer medium. So the medium really doesn’t make that much difference.
Bob: Well, I know as somebody who practices GTD, that I find myself, basically I have sort of two contexts in my life: at the computer and not at the computer. Any implementation tips for people who, all their work happens within the Internet?
David: You only need as many as you have contexts. You don’t need to carry your bills around to pay it if you pay them every Friday night at your desk, just leave them where ever you pay them. That’s fine. Since you only work on the web you don’t need, unless you need when you’re away from the web to be able to see what your work is on the web. So when you say they only do work on the web, does that mean they only need to be reminded of it when they’re setting up their computer? And if that’s so, fine.
So if you think doing GTD means you have to have a bunch of lists, you don’t get it. And by the way, if you only had 18 things to keep track of, put them all on one list, it won’t blow your fuse if you look at the whole list. The only reason to separate it into context is if that makes it easier. Most people have over 150 next actions to write, and if you stick those all in one list, you get to a phone, you’ll blow a fuse trying to find all your phone calls.
All I did was add complexity that made it simpler.
Bob: All you did was add complexity to make it simpler?
David: Well, it’s the cybernetic principle. If you’re trying to make complex things simple, you need an equally complex system in order to make it simple.
Most people are using too simple a system to manage a lot of complexity, that’s why it feels so overwhelming. So you have to have, it’s one of those “get it as simple as possible but no simpler” kind of things. And you say people only do work on the web. I say yeah, well do they ever go out for errands? Maybe there are people who never do, I mean, I don’t know.
Bob: Once in a while, but more often it’s flipping over to Amazon to buy something.
David: Sure. If you never go out and about and need anything or a reminder, or one Post it because you only do it once a week for one thing, a Post it is fine. If you even need that. I don’t need to write down all the food to buy, I just walk down the aisles in the grocery store and that’s enough of a reminder.
Bob: So the key for people who spend all that time online isn’t the way they track all this information, it’s much more about getting it out of their head, whatever way they find that works for them to externalize it?
David: If they can in 35 seconds see every project they’re committed to and all the next action they need to take on all of those, they have some improvement about relaxed control. If they can do that, they’ve done enough.
The only thing about GTD is look, there’s something on your mind, if it happens twice on your mind then you don’t trust your system, so what do you need to do so that you trust it? Hardly anybody is ever disturbed by where they need to be two weeks from Monday at 3:15 in the afternoon because that’s a system they trust called their calendar.
They know it’s in there and they know they’ll look at it at the right time. So all GTD said is, well look, if you want everything off your mind, like not having to keep track of your calendar, just make sure you put it in the same kind of a system that you trust just like your calendar. Meaning you trust that it has all the content it needs and you trust you’ll look at it when you need to see it. That’s all it’s about. So it’s nothing to do with paper or email or where you sit or any of that.
Bob: One quick question about “GTD Connect 2.0,” how is that going and how has been the adoption rate on that?
David: Well, it’s kind of just launched. We kind of kept it behind the kimono for a while and it’s still kind of a rolling open, because we have other things we’re adding into it. It’s great, we’ve gotten great response.
A lot of the big driver for that was that a lot of the people in house in companies that are bringing us in to do seminars or some version of introduction to this. And they wanted an ongoing kind of support and implementation tool. So that was part of the driver of building “Connect” to begin with.
Bob: There are probably hundreds of GTD desktop and web applications. More than a few people have wondered if you’re going to do a web based GTD application as part of “Connect?”
Bob: Any time frame on that or is it just a someday/maybe at this point?
David: It’s not someday maybe, it’s actually moving. But we’re still very much in research mode. What you don’t need is another application, another operating system, what you need is an integrating system and building that in.
But for the most part, Bob, most of the things that portend that they are GTD related software out there are really just another version of a list manager. There’s a whole lot more to GTD than lists. They’re an important organizational component of it, and sure it’s cool to have nice ways to make lists, but frankly most of those applications you have to think too much in order to know how to insert it. So that it gets fancy, and then it loses its real value.
So it’s almost like the simpler and the faster you can make simple lists and access them, the better. Whatever any applications do that support that, I go “that’s great,” but quite frankly it’s hard to beat just paper and pencil.
Look for part 3 of Bob’s conversation with David tomorrow, focusing on the core of what is GTD and plans for a new book.