What Are The Ideal Getting Things Done (GTD) Contexts?


I’ll skip a never-funny-always-in-poor-taste Kool-Aid joke and just say:

If GTD is a cult, sign me up. 

Reading David Allen’s book earlier this year was like stumbling on a full, cold Brita after days of crawling through the desert.

My brain had been so burdened by trying to remember everything I needed to do, all the open loops, that I’m surprised it worked at all.

Relief was at last in sight.

The implementation has had its difficulties, though I suppose this is natural.

I have a slightly mismatched gadget setup of Mac computer/iPad/Android, which made the otherwise obvious choice of Apple-only OmniFocus less appealing.

So I went with Zendone, an online-only GTD  system that auto-syncs with Google Calendar (by which I live and die ), and Evernote (with which I’m still at the “ape rubbing the monolith” stage ).

Zendone been useful, though I don’t yet have the completely watertight GTD system that Allen dangles as the reward for applying all his wisdom.

For one, Allen emphasizes the need to put absolutely everything into your GTD system, which is a challenge.

More specifically, I feel like I’m under-utilizing the GTD idea of contexts, the tags that identify tasks by the conditions you predict they will require to get done.

Currently my contexts are:

  • Computer (internet required)
  • Computer (offline)
  • Outside (i.e. out of my office)
  • Deep focus
  • <30 minutes
  • <10 minutes
  • Don’t even think about it during work hours

These account for most if not all the physical and mental states I find myself in over the course of a day.

If you use GTD, what are your contexts?

When Life Gives You The Pomodoro Technique, Make Ketchup

I do better, more focused work when I’m applying the Pomodoro Technique. 

Have you tried this? Twenty-five minutes on, five minutes off.

Here’s my timer:

Photo on 2-24-14 at 9.25 PM #2

Analog to the max.

It has a magnetized back that sticks to my whiteboard. But not very well. When it rings it slides down and almost off.

The best thing?

It ticks and tocks. Loudly.

It’s a constant reminder that time is tangible and precious. I haven’t found the app that can do this nearly as well.

Physical reminders like this are important. Dan Kennedy wrote that he has a hangman’s noose in his office to remind him of deadlines. Intense, but I guess it works.

My first forays into Pomodoro-ing were fifty minutes on and ten minutes off. At that time I didn’t even know it was a thing lots of people did.

Let alone the cool name.

I thought I had come up with it myself. Which I guess was true, but yeah…

A few months later I noticed I wasn’t doing it anymore.

I picked it back up  recently–doing the proper 25/5–on Brennan Dunn‘s suggestion. I started getting a lot more done. 

The reason the Pomodoro Technique works for me is that it creates clearly-defined “compartments” in my workday.  I think of it a little like playing hopscotch–I can see the square, I just need to get my foot into it.

The more clear chalk lines I can draw in a day, the farther away I get from “winging it”.

“Winging it” is that awful state of sitting down at the desk with no plan or rules or goals and hoping it’ll all work out somehow.

If clear chalk lines make our day a fun game of hopscotch, winging it is a derelict weedy lot strewn with garbage and broken glass.

And we’re barefoot. OK, your turn to hop.

I wish all the school I consumed over the years had taught me some version of this.

You can’t time-manage five minutes into six minutes, but things like the Pomodoro Technique and GTD do a lot to make the minutes our friends, not our enemies. 

I love time, don’t you?

5 Bad Things I Do, 10 Ways I’m Getting Better

Self-diagnosis of problems has always been one of my core competencies. But finding problems is only worthwhile as a means of finding solutions. Today I’m going to try with five of the worst.

  • Running from stuckness – Is there any more familiar feeling in writing than not knowing what to write next? My instinct when I get stuck is to do anything else–Facebook, coffee refill, Burpees… All wrong. But I’m seeing that there is a pleasure in sitting with stuckness–a difficult pleasure, which is generally the best kind. It’s the feeling of the brain re-arranging in a good way. Going forward I will not only embrace stuckness, but also seek it out.
  • Undervaluing hours. Understanding the value of time–to the point where you base decisions on it–is the highest function of the human brain. I know I’ll never get that last hour back, and I know I’ll never get this one back if I piss it away. Why is this so hard to internalize? I’m fighting this one by disconnecting my internet whenever possible and using Google Calendar.
  • Taking criticism personally. This one is especially hard because, no matter how many times they say not to take it personally, all criticism is personal.  It may not be when it leaves the critic’s mouth or keyboard, but it always is by the time it reaches the end user. I find help here in humility, the unpalatable steamed broccoli of our instincts, and desire for growth, because growth only happens when others tell you what you can do better–even if most of them are idiots, which leads us to:
  • Contempt for the reader. You don’t get my unexplained Hamlet/Re-Animator mixed metaphor? Well **** you then, punk! There is nothing to win feeling smarter, better-read, or anything other than EXTREMELY GRATEFUL towards the people donating their attention to your writing. To this end I’m trying to emphasize communication over cleverness and assume the reader is the smartest person in the room.
  • Spelling “certain” “certian”. I think I spell pretty well, but this one just keeps happening. And I don’t have two solutions for this, so I guess I overpromised in the headline. I won’t do that again.