The Road to Productivity

So I’ve been reading some blogs for a bit now. Many of these blogs are about various bits of Mac nerdery, partially because I’ve been doing some searches on Mailsmith and my new favorite program, OmniOutliner (more on OO later).

For one reason or another, many of them mention GTD. GTD, or Getting Things Done, is some system created by David Allen that helps you organize your thoughts and life in order to be more productive. This is all good and fine, but I don’t think I am ready to organize my life to that extent, or at this point in time, even pick up the book to check out the GTD system.

This doesn’t mean that I haven’t tried to be a bit more productive. As nice as it is to lazily sit around the house, being lazy only ever feels good topping off bouts of activity. There are several key components to achieving this goal of doing more with my time.

The List

These past couple months for Mike and I have been quite busy. One of the principle guides we have used is a weekly schedule of what we should do on which night. We sit down Sunday evening and draw up a plan for the week.

It’s worked quite well for us. I recently picked up a copy of OmniOutliner. Fantastic program, perfectly suited for this kind of thing. It excels at making lists and outlines (as if you couldn’t figure that from the name).

We’ve already kind of got the weekly list down. I’ve been keeping some other lists sporadically as well. A list for what needs to get done on a busy day at work. A list for what needs to get picked up at the store. A list of what CD’s I want to buy. Why leave this stuff up to the mercy of your memory when you can jot it down in 2 minutes?

The Pen

I have to wear an ID badge at work on a lanyard around my neck. The technician whom I work with all the time always has a pen and a sharpie clipped on the lanyard. At some point, I followed suit. It became so convenient to always have a pen on me at work that I started carrying a pen around in my pocket.

I’ve been using a uni-ball Roller Deluxe Micro. Its a good pen; it writes smoothly yet doesn’t flow too much. Best of all, its what the lab stocks in the goodies cabinet, so I have an abundant supply of them.

In the “Cult of GTD-blog” world, it seems that the pen of choice is the Fisher Space Pen. Maybe I’ll try one out some day. It seems people rave about these things.

Of course, if you have a pen on you all the time to write down ideas, you need…

The Notepad

One could carry around PDA to jot your notes down. Let’s face it though; while a PDA is cool that you can sync back to your computer, its a pain in the ass. Its a matter of convenience, and for convenience, pen and paper rule. Some resort to a stack of 3×5 cards and others use notebooks. The Moleskine notebook seems to be a popular brand in the above mentioned “cult.” The Moleskine/Fisher Space Pen combo seems to be very popular, though for some, it sounds like there is trouble in paradise.

I hate to jump on the bandwagon, but after trying a PDA out the other year, a small notebook does make sense. Maybe I will resist, maybe not. I kind of agree with Dale Keiger about these little books.

The Calendar

At some point, one needs to collect all dated items in one place. This could be pocket planner, an electronic calendar, or a crap load of sticky notes. Whatever works for you. I’ll probably stick to the calendar software on my computer since its free and it can email me reminders.

Putting it all together

While GTD seems to be working great for some people, I think the key to these kinds of systems is to pick a plan of attack and stick to it. A to-do list is meaningless if you don’t check it periodically, or if you don’t add new items to it as needed.

There are several things that all of these approaches have in common:

  • One must be able to write down ideas as they come. This is where the pen, the notebook, and/or the PDA fit in.

  • These ideas must then be filtered and organized in some manner, prioritizing by date and importance. This editing/organization process most likely happens in reviewing the notes for entry into the…

  • Centralized database. Whether this is an old fashioned planner, notes written on a calendar, or some fancy software, one needs to be able to access the important bits in a fashion that facilitates performing the next action item. Whatever physical form this takes, it is essentially a to-do list/date book combination.

7 thoughts on “The Road to Productivity

  1. OK, one thing: Steno pads fucking rule.

    I have one as an agenda with each day on a separate sheet for each day (but tripling up Fri-Sun as one page). While some wouldn’t want to sit around and write in dates, I do it in Chinese so it works as much-needed practice. After the book is created, I divide it into 3rds and take a pen to the side of the pad and ink 2 lines. This makes an easy to make, easy to see, yet somewhat imaginary set of 6 boxes on eachh page. The vertical boxes denote early, mezzo and late periods during the day while the left to right areas denote priority, with a bottom right is set for eventual priority. I also keep my musings throughout the day (stuff that has or probably will eventually end up on here) on the flip sides of each page, so it’s like 2 pads in one. On, and thin pens with clips fit neatly in the Steno pad’s rings.

    I have one blank pad for each class for the notes and just keep handouts in a thin folder. That works alot better than large, 5 subject binders for my purposes. And, I’ve got one for the milage/service/repair log in my car, just for consistency’s sake.

    p.s. Bear, some of your links have – instead of /.

  2. Dammit, I fixed those links once. All better now.

    The steno pad is a nice idea. Here’s my thing. I don’t want a pad that I have to carry around. I want that can sit in my back pocket – I’m thinking 3×5 sized. I know they make those little itty bitty spiral notepads, but I can imagine one of those suckers getting destroyed after a couple of weeks of my fat ass crushing it.

  3. You’re going to have a wear bigger jeans for that. Maybe those cargo pant ones or something.

    Back when I was a Mormon missionary they gave you these weekly planners in cardboard-ish yellow (most areas had blue) paper that we always combined in 2s, since nothing really ever happened more than 2 weeks away, and folded into 6ths to fit into the shirt breast pocket (of which we always had). The front had a weekly layout that just had to have a month/date added. All my musings and stuff could fit on the back and could be transfered on the weekends when we took inventory of everything.

    While steno works good for me as I just throw it on a table when I enter a room and am sure to get it when I leave, I do lose pens like a binch. That’s why I use the 12/$3 ones my mom gets from Sam’s Club. Also, since I use paper clips to mark the page of the current date, I’ve developed a cleptomania for them. What, do you expect me to actually go out and buy paper clips? I’ve got several dozen of them at my place without shelling out a cent.

  4. A pen fits in the pocket of my jeans rather nicely.

    I need something that is 3×4″. That’s how big my wallet is, so I could get used to something on the other cheek the same size.

  5. Oh, I meant for the 3×5″ pad. That’s likely to get wrecked under das massive buttocks. But who knows, those moleskines look pretty protected.

    A final side note about Mormons and PDAs. Mormon leaders constantly have one in hand because the church is very producty oriented; it’s simply run much like a business (hence being one of the richest in the world for being so small). Couple of references if you get bored: Search for ‘blue’ on this one and here’s a blogger’s ode to the blue planner.

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