Search Results for: gtd

You can read this anywhere: a few thoughts about GTD contexts


Getting Things Done (GTD) teaches us to identify our tasks by context—location, people, tools, and so on—so we can do things when and where we’re best equipped to do them. 

I stopped using most contexts a long time ago, since I can do just about anything from just about anywhere.

Calls, emails, reading, writing—I can do all of these from the office in my pocket. 

I still use the @waiting context, but not much else. 

I’m going to take another look at my use of contexts, however, based on a short video I saw last night, which makes the case for contexts based on “time plus energy”.

GTD has long recommended contexts for time and contexts for energy, but I like the way the presenter combines them:

  • Short Dashes: Tasks that can be done in more than 2 minutes and less than 15 minutes. Most calls and emails fit here, don’t they? 
  • Full Focus: Tasks requiring maximum energy, no distractions, and longer periods of time; deep work.
  • Brain Dead: When you can’t do anything that requires a lot of thought.
  • Routines: Your weekly review, exercise, writing a blog post. 
  • Hanging Around: Tasks that don’t require a lot of time or energy and don’t have a deadline, e.g., Light research, organizing notes, buying something online.

What do you think? Do any of these appeal to you? Do you already use something similar?

I like “Brain Dead” or “Hanging Around,” especially for things I can do after I’ve shut down work for the night. I’ll give this some thought later today. 

But first, I have some “Short Dashes” to take care of. 


The Productive Life Show interviews me about productivity, Evernote, and GTD


I was interviewed recently for The Productive Life Show, a podcast hosted by Andy Traub and Daniel Gold. We talked about productivity, Evernote, and GTD (Getting Things Done).

You can listen to the podcast, download the audio, and read a transcript here.

During the show, I mentioned that I also use Workflowy, primarily for outlining. I said I hoped it would someday allow links to be clickable so that it would integrate better with Evernote (and other apps). I was just notified that this is possible, although I’m not sure when it became so.

What this means is that you can use Worflowy as the front end of your productivity system, managing lists of tasks and projects, and link therefrom to notes in Evernote where you have stored more detailed information such as webclips, articles, and documents (i.e., Word, Excel, images, etc.)

Of course you can also link to websites or other cloud based apps. This opens up all kinds of possibilities.

I’ll do a in depth post about Workflowy at a later date.

I had a lot of fun on the podcast and want to thank Andy and Dan for inviting me. I’d love to get your feedback about the podcast or any questions you might have about the subjects discussed.

The ebook: Evernote for Lawyers: A Guide to Getting Organized & Increasing Productivity


A new (but old) productivity system


The debate rages on. What is the best productivity system, set up, and workflow? What’s the best way to organize your tasks, plan your projects, or structure your week?

And what’s the best app for putting it all together?

If you’re like me, you’ve tried a lot of systems (and apps), and continue to do so because you might find something you like better, or something you can adapt to your current setup. 

It’s also fun to hear what others do. This morning, I read a discussion about this very subject. 

One guy said he has a friend who has used GTD for the last twenty years and he asked him a question about his setup. The friend told him he no longer uses GTD, or any system at all. He writes what he needs to do for the day on a slip of paper. 

That’s his system. 

No lists, contexts, priorities, or tags. And no apps. Just a simple list. 

Shocking, I know, but also refreshing. If you have a piece of paper and a pen, you don’t need anything else. 

Make a list. Do the things on the list. Make a new list the following day. 

You spend no time organizing and reorganizing or manicuring your lists.     

 It reminds of me of the way we used to do things. Before PCs and smart phones. We had a paper calendar and a legal pad, and that was all we needed.  

I wrote my list for the day on my calendar where I could see it alongside appointments and things I wanted to remember. The only prioritizing we did was to put things in the order we needed or wanted to do them. If something was really important or urgent, we’d circle or underline it or write a star next to it. 

And the next day, we’d make a new list. 

Long-term planning? That went on the legal pad, or in a file folder. Long-term dates? Those were put in a big (red) book. 

And it worked. 

And there’s something appealing about this system today. Clean and simple.

No, I’m not going to make this old system my new system. It’s a bit too simple for me now, especially since I know what else is available. And because I like my devices and apps.

But the next time I spend too much time tinkering with my system, and not enough time doing the work, I’m going to remember the way we used to do it, grab some paper and a pen and make a list.  


Warren Buffet doesn’t make lists


I like big lists and I cannot lie. I use them every day for everything. Bullet points give me order. Checkboxes give me peace. Lists save me time, keep me from forgetting things, and help me to be more productive. 

Can you relate? 

The other day, I was surprised to hear that Warren Buffet doesn’t make lists. I heard it from the man himself in a video. He says he doesn’t need lists because he knows what he needs to do and wants to do, and that’s what he does. 

And he has so much money, he can do whatever he damn pleases. Okay, I made that part up, but c’mon, we know that’s true. 

What about a calendar? That’s a list. You need to know about upcoming meetings and conference calls and appointments. Does he have someone who keeps that list for him?

What about the agenda when he delivers his annual report to shareholders? That’s a list, isn’t it? Does he read from a printed statement? That’s a list in narrative form, yes?

Anyway, this isn’t about the nitty gritty about what he does and doesn’t do. It’s about me romanticizing the idea of being so comfortable about your situation that you don’t need to make lists to keep you on track. 

I thought about what that would be like and wonder of wonders, I realized that I could actually make that sorta work.

I know the projects I want to work on today and this week. And I will work on them. Without needing to check my list. I know because they are important to me. 

I also know my daily and weekly routine tasks. Without a list and reminders, I might overlook some of them, but I’d get the most important ones done. 

I also know what I want to do after I finish my current projects and wrap up the week. How do I know? My subconscious mind reminds me. It knows what I need to do. And want to do. If it’s important, I won’t forget it. If I forget it, it wasn’t important. 

Maybe Mr. B. is onto something. 

Hold on. David Allen tells us to write down everything, to get it out of our heads and free up cognitive space for creating new ideas and working on them. 

Who’s right? The GTD guy or the weirdo who eats McDonalds every day? 

Tell you what, until I can hang with Mr. B., I’m sticking with Mr. A. 

Because I like big lists and I cannot lie. 


Just make sure you copy the right cat


“Don’t be a copycat,” our parents told us. But we didn’t listen, did we? We copied our friends, our siblings, our parents and teachers, and people we saw on TV.

If someone did something we thought was cool, we wanted to do it. If they didn’t die riding their bike down that steep hill that scared the beans out of us, we knew we wouldn’t die either.

I’m still here, aren’t I?

We wanted to be like others. Do what they do. So we copied them.

And we still do that today.

There’s nothing wrong with that. We learn by copying. Seeing what others do, how they do it, and how it turns out.

I did it again the other day.

I watched a video about GTD and the narrator said he does his daily planning every afternoon at 4 pm. He has a ten-minute appointment with himself posted on his calendar. I’ve always done my planning at the end of my workday, whenever that might occur, but hearing how this guy does it, I had to try it.

So now, don’t try to contact me at 4 pm. I’m busy.

He mentioned something else I liked. He schedules his weekly review on Fridays at 3 pm.

Why not, I thought?

I’ve been experimenting with different days for my weekly review. For a long time, it was every Sunday morning. I recently tried Saturday, but something about doing it Friday to close out the week (and keep my weekends open) appealed to me, so I’m doing that now.

It’s okay to be a copycat. But don’t copy blindly. Do what makes sense to you and for you.

If you hear about a lawyer who built his practice by sending unsolicited email and cold calling 12 hours a day, that’s one cat I wouldn’t copy.


How long will it take to do it?


“How long will it take to complete that project?“ I hate that question because I never know the answer. I estimate one hour and it takes three. I think I can get it done in a week and two months later I’m still working on it.

Turns out, humans aren’t good at estimating how long it takes to finish things. So I usually avoid estimating. I tell myself it will take as long as it takes and don’t think about it.

Unless there is a deadline. And then I think about it a lot and get the thing done, usually on time, thank you.

If I’m forced to estimate, and it’s not something I’ve done many times before, I usually pick a figure and then double or triple that number, to give myself extra time. But I’m still usually wrong.

Sometimes, I choose a target completion date and calendar it. But I usually ignore that date because I know it’s an artificial deadline and there is no penalty if I miss it.

It’s hard being me.

It’s better for me to schedule a “start date” and/or dates to work on the project. Short deadlines, even of my own making, work better for me. They allow me to make progress without worrying about missing a day because there’s always tomorrow.

We all have our own ways and means of working and we all seem to get things done. Sometimes because we have to, sometimes because we want to and we keep working at it until it’s done.

Instead of asking, “How long will it take?“ I think a better question is the one asked in GTD: “What’s the next action?“ We may or may not work on the project, but at least we know what to do next if we do.


Two clarifying questions from David Allen


I spoke to a lawyer yesterday who told me he wants to continue building his practice (which is doing well) and find something he can do on the side that might one day lead to bigger and better things.

He has an itch and wanted me to help him scratch it.

Most of our time was spent talking about ways to find ideas. For now, that’s what he’s going to focus on.

At some point, after he does a lot of exploring and researching and thinking, if and when he finds an idea he wants to pursue, he’ll need to decide what to do about it.

When that time comes, I’d tell him to do what David Allen suggests in Getting Things Done:

“Ask yourself two questions: What’s the successful outcome? And, What’s the next action (logical next step) to make it happen?” Allen says, “These provide fundamental clarity for Getting Things Done, and they lie at the core of most everything I teach.”

These questions are equally valuable for parsing a task or project list as they are for choosing your future.

Whether you’re starting a new chapter in your legal career, a new work project, or a new business, ask yourself what “done” looks like for you.

As Stephen Covey said, “start with the end in mind”.

In my work, especially when I’m struggling to start a project, or complete it, asking myself, “What’s the next action?” has been a game changer.

I ask that question and it helps me figure out the best (or easiest) place to start. I come back and ask that question again and again, and it helps me figure out what to do “next”.

Go ahead, think about something you need to do that you’ve been avoiding. Look at the list of all of the tasks you need to do and ask yourself, “What’s the next action?”

Start there.

How I use GTD in Evernote


Let’s play tag


I add tags to all my notes and tasks and projects. They help me identify things and find things and organize everything into a workable system.

I have action-related tags, contextual tags (for people and places, etc.), tags for each Area of Focus, e.g., Work, Personal, and reference tags. Each project has it’s own tag.

I use @ and # and other symbols or numbers to group tags together, allowing me to nest tags under top-level categories (in Evernote).

I often experiment with different tags, to see which ones I like best, which ones I use most, and which ones fall into the “it sounded good at the time” category.

Sometimes, and by sometimes I mean all the time, I find myself having too many tags. I create a new tag for something only to discover that I already had it, or something very similar. For this reason, I periodically go on a “tag cleanse” to tidy things up.

Anyway, if you’re into tags like I am, or if you do something similar with labels or notebooks or folders, I thought I’d share a few of the tags I use, or have used, because you might find something you like.

For the sake of simplicity, I won’t include reference tags and I’ll use only #hashtag symbol:

  • #incubate (something to think about and come back to)
  • #decide (similar to #incubate)
  • #checklist (#weekly-review, for example)
  • #daily, #weekly, #monthly, #yearly, and #recurring 
  • #emergency (if I get locked out of the car, I can quickly find the number for road service)
  • #needs-reply
  • #remember (things I want to remember–quotes, mantras, habits)
  • #r/r (read/review)
  • #defer-to-do (something I plan to do later and don’t want to look at until then) 
  • #defer-to-review (something I don’t want to consider until later)
  • #wip (work in progress, so I can find things I haven’t finished)
  • #bm (bookmark; external or internal, ie., within the app.–links, sites, phone numbers, etc.)
  • #due, #pay, #buy, #amazon
  • #mit (most important task)
  • #on-hold, #pending, #planned (for projects)

I also use (or have used) some of the usual gtd-type tags:

  • #today or #t 
  • #next or #n
  • #soon
  • #later
  • #now
  • #waiting
  • #s/m (someday/maybe)
  • #errand
  • #call
  • #name (people I know or work with)
  • #computer, #home
  • #tickler and #calendar 
  • #do
  • #doing
  • #done
  • #mon, #tues, #wed, etc. 
  • #jan, #feb, #mar, etc. 
  • #5-min, #15-min, etc.
  • #high, #medium, #low (energy level needed for the task)
  • #1, #2, #3, #A, #B, #C (priority)

So, there you go. I’ve shown you mine, how about showing me yours? Because you can never have too many tags. 

My Evernote for Lawyers ebook


Oh no, not another list!


Just when you thought it was safe to get back to work, I have another list idea for you. Actually, more than one.

Hold on. You might like this.

And no, it doesn’t matter which productivity system or app or planner you use. You can do this with tags or notebooks or paper.

This is about the subject of projects.

If you’re like me, you have a lot of them, and if you’re like me, your list often becomes unmanageable.

Which project should I work on right now? What do I have on tap after that?

Note, when I say “projects,” I’m not talking about a GTD-type project, i.e., anything with more than one step. I usually lump those in with tasks. I’m talking about things with bigger heft and longer time-lines.

Anyway, in order to gain some clarity and peace of mind, I recently took my project list and divided it into two lists:

(1) “Current Projects”. This is for projects I’m working on now (or should be). Having this list in front of me helps me focus and keeps me from neglecting things I need to work on.

Each project has a list of tasks and sub-tasks, notes, resources, ideas, and so on.

I try to limit this to 3 projects at a time.

(2) Next Projects. This is for the projects I intend to work on once I’ve completed the current projects. This helps me to prepare for those projects, providing a place to record ideas, notes, and so on.

Out of sight, but in a safe place.

Feeling more relaxed already.

But then I realized that I have other projects I need to put on a list, lest they get buried and forgotten. So. . .

(3) Ongoing & Recurring Projects. This is for things like writing my newsletter, updating my website, promoting something, content creation, and other responsibilities.

Nice. Every project has a home.

Alas, as I sat back to admire my work, something else occurred to me. What about projects I plan to do in the future?


(4) Future projects. For projects I plan to do, but not “now” and not “next”.

Crazy, huh? Wait, don’t leave. I haven’t told you about my someday/maybe list.

Got referrals?


I don’t know, stop asking me


I’m playing around with a “time management” app I used many years ago. It was updated recently and so far I like what I see.

This, after many years of trying more apps than I can count and always coming back to Evernote.

Who knows, I may finally make a “permanent” switch.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about something I’ve been thinking as I transfer tasks from Evernote to the other app.

As I re-create the projects and underlying tasks in the old/new app, I have to make decisions about them.

Lots of decisions–about which projects should be front and center, which tasks should be “next actions,” which tasks should get a due date and what that date should be.

You have to decide what you want to accomplish.
You have to decide what to do next.
You have to decide when you will do it.

You know the routine.

Because you do, you know how easy it is to get overwhelmed with all those decisions.

It’s why we tend to drift away from what we’re doing and look for a better system.

Indecision causes stress and drains energy. In GTD parlance, unmade decisions (or rashly made ones, I suppose), are called “open loops”.

Open loops nag you and call you names. So you keep giving them attention when you should be doing other things.

If this sounds painfully familiar, I have a suggestion: Decide not to decide.

Decide that you don’t have to make a decision right now and schedule a future “review” date, where you will review the task or project and decide what to do about it.

Until then, you won’t think about it.

Assign a “start date” instead of a “due date”. When the start date arrives, do your review.

When you decide not to make a decision you are actually making a decision. When you become comfortable postponing decisions, you close open loops, gain clarity, and reduce your stress level.

Don’t let your tasks push you around. Tell them to go away–for now.

Have you seen my free referral course? Check it out