a message to overwhelmed friends; alt., why I love Tracks and GTD

Hipster PDA and GTD notes, tighter crop by Teo. License:

So, this was an all-too-common pattern in my life, prior to about 18 months ago:

  1. get busy
  2. lose some or all track of what is on my plate
  3. feel guilty about not understanding what was on my plate; and never say no to more projects, in part because I didn’t fully understand what was on my plate
  4. start ‘hiding’ from new work- avoid phone calls, email, etc., from people who might put more work on my plate, to avoid more guilt and more work
  5. not actually get things done, because too much mental energy went towards the guilt and the (failing) organization, and often because I missed critical information by avoiding people under step #4
  6. return to step 3 and ratchet up the negative energy; repeat until things completely blew up and projects failed (or sometimes succeeded despite me). At that point, return to step 1, except with less trust and buyin from the people around me.

The guilt and stress come from failing the expectations of other people, of course, but they also come from failing my own expectations- every time something got dropped, it just made me feel worse, and I never quite got enough good things done to make up for it.

So… yeah, enter Getting Things Done. From their about page:

Implementing GTD alleviates the feeling of overwhelm, instills confidence, and releases a flood of creative energy. It provides structure without constraint, managing details with maximum flexibility. The system rigorously adheres to the core principles of productivity, while allowing tremendous freedom in the “how.” The only “right” way to do GTD is getting meaningful things done with truly the least amount of invested attention and energy. (emphasis mine)

I read the book before entering law school, because I knew that if I got into the old loop I was deeply hosed. I can honestly say it has made my life massively better- the one time that I really got away from GTD was not coincidentally the one time in law school I’ve really felt crushed and depressed.

I’m not going to claim that the system is perfect. I certainly pick and choose what parts of it to use, and even those parts I don’t follow perfectly- as anyone who saw my end of semester crunch last semester will attest to. And I think it is a little weird that there is now apparently this gigantic consulting business and quasi-mythology around it.

But here I am adding to the mythology. I can legitimately say that GTD’s focus on tracking things so that your tasks are out of mind when you’re working on other things; so that no energy is wasted thinking about ‘oh my god I have so much to do’; so that you can actually say no because you have a very good idea of what is on your plate- with GTD these things have been real for me and they’ve made my life better.

There is a decent nutshell version here, but if you’re feeling overwhelmed and like you’re drowning in things you have to do, I can’t recommend the book highly enough. Put down whatever you’re stressing about, set aside a saturday and sunday, and go to it. You may not become a proselytizer; you may not even use most of it; but unless you’re already a very organized person, you’ll be better off for it.

The other part of the solution, for me, is Tracks– a web based app that lets you implement some of the GTD strategies. It is not a pure or complete GTD app, but it is pretty darn useful. My entire life is in it, pretty much. Once I read the book, I knew I wanted to have a software solution to do the tracking for me, and Tracks has been absolutely great for it. Can’t recommend enough, especially trunk (soon to be a new release), which has great features like the start of a mobile view, so I can see my task list even on my blackberry.

I would not have run for the GNOME board this year if not for GTD and Tracks- the combo has made me productive enough that I feel comfortable taking on new tasks like the Board, despite also having piles of old stuff to do as well. Perfect: no. Awesome: yes.

So there you have it: if you’re a friend of mine (or even an enemy!) and you’re feeling like the things on your plate are beating you instead of you beating them, go get GTD. It may not work miracles for you- but it pretty much did for me.

14 thoughts on “a message to overwhelmed friends; alt., why I love Tracks and GTD”

  1. Luis Villa. I haven’t had time to read the book yet, but I have heard really good things about it. I have listened to the excellent interviews with David Allen (author) by Merlin Mann from 43folders. They are all full of good ideas.  All the interviews are

  2. Company – Getting Things Done Forum, someone posted a great question. “How does [Foresight] compare to the official GTD Netcentrics Add-on?” This is a great question; I appreciate the user asking it. …a message to overwhelmed friends; alt., why I love Tracks and GTDBy Luis Implementing GTD alleviates the feeling of overwhelm, instills confidence, and releases a flood of creative energy. It provides structure without constraint, managing details with maximum flexibility. The system rigorously adheres to

  3. Hey Luis,

    Been there – GTD got me out of the badlands too. Since then, I’ve fallen off the GTD bandwagon a few times, but just remembering the bliss of being organized brought me back to it.

    Fair warning – don’t depend too much on a tool (like Tracks). The “my laptop’s not with me” excuse derailed me once. Found that the trick is to be able to record stuff anywhere, any time, with whatever’s on hand.

    Congrats! I’ll go back to lurking now. Love the blog.

  4. Antonio: I like my GTD fairly lightweight, and from the screenshots a year or so ago Thinking Rock looked very heavy. But definitely worth checking out.

    G: that’s part of why I’m so psyched about Tracks trunk- the mobile interface means I’m never really out of touch, even when all I have is my phone.

    Rob: ooh, nice- people have been asking me about hosted Tracks; that’s great to see. It even appears to have some features that Tracks trunk doesn’t have; I wonder if he can be persuaded to get those into trunk.

    Mike: the main tracks site is… a little slow :/

  5. Glad it’s working out for you Luis. I got on the GTD train as well about one and a half year ago and I can only agree that it helps out a lot.

    Even though I manage to slip off every now and then it’s definitely was a necessary change when I went from programmer to manager.

    I saw your name in the Tracks bug database when I checked in on it to see if the development was active. With this strong endorsement from you I’m going to have to give it a second look. I’ve been meaning to look for a web based solution.

    I owe my thanks to Edd Dumbill who pointed me at the book.

  6. Hallski: development is not exactly humming along (small team, and original developer has mostly stopped her involvement), but it isn’t dead despite the long lull between releases- trunk has some nice new features and bug reports do appear to get read if not always acted on.

  7. Another web-based service to check out is Intervals. We didn’t build it around GTD, but based on our workflow as a small web development shop that’s worked on over 300 projects for more than 100 clients. If you need something to track your tasks and your time, and to help with your workflow, give it a try.

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