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Real GTD One: Input

February 1, 2011

Anyone familiar with me is familiar with my love affair with David Allen’s Getting Things Done system. Everyone has a to-do list sooner or later. And if you’re managing a lot of expectations, your to-do list will eventually branch, divide, and turn into a big hairy monster with too many heads that you can no longer manage or understand.

Getting Things Done has been an essential part of whatever success I’ve had over the last six years of ministry. It’s given a framework to better understand my own goals and the demands of the job. It’s also helped me to define the “next essential step” in so many projects. This is more than just putting one foot in front of the other; this is about getting organized and being more effective.

There are thousands of blogs that have printed millions of words about the Getting Things Done system. Today I just want to address one single part of the system and what has worked best for me, especially in terms of software, iPhone apps and more. If you are a complete newbie to the system itself, learn the basics here or here, then come on back. Even better would be to just read the book. Worth every penny/minute. And get the hardcover, because you’re going to re-read this puppy a number of times. At least annually.

The point of the process I want to address here is the Capture: stuff is in your head, and it will devil you at the times you can least do anything about it. Classic example for ministry? I didn’t return a phone call yet, and I remember that I didn’t do it at 2:30 am, when I cannot make the call. That stinks. People deserve to be called back, at a time when I can talk to them. And I cannot sleep while I’ll thinking about calling them, so I wake up tired and I still don’t call because I’m distracted and reactive. Lose/lose, all the way around.

Get that “to do” item out of your head asap! I recommend to parishioners who are bothered by certain things to keep a notepad by the bed. When it bothers you, sit up and write it. Then, David Allen says, it’s out of your head in a system you can trust. You know when you wake up, it will be on that piece of paper where you wrote it. It is safe. You can let it go and sleep.

That’s a pretty basic level of “input collection.” Writing something down on a piece of paper. Since GTD was described as a system, hundreds of productivity suites have sprung up to help capture data in systems for review and action at a later time. I have no fewer than FIVE applications on my iPhone that handle this for me. But something about the act of turning something on to put something in causes a disconnect for me. And it is painful, because I have spent some dollars on these respective systems. Omnifocus for iPhone? $19.99. Things for iPhone, $9.99.

But for all the coin I’ve spent on this endeavor, here’s what I come back to:

merlin mann's hipster pda

It’s lightweight, portable, and never runs down a charge. It’s always with me, and fits in the pocket of any piece of clothing I wear. The Fisher Space Pen and the set of index cards in a clip. As Merlin Mann says, “Ubiquitous Capture.”


The important instructions on how to us this can be found at Merlin’s site. Just remember: Only To Do per card. Write what it is at the top: “Call” or “Errand” or “Idea” or “Calendar.” When you get back to the office, take out your set of cards. Take all the ones with writing on them and put them in the inbox. Yes, the PHYSICAL inbox that you’ve set up for this purpose. Then process them, one by one, down to none. Refill your stack back up to 10 and put them back in your pocket.

There, you just Got Things Done. Go ahead, try all the programs you want. But if you are serious about accomplishing tasks rather than just fussing with new software, I’ll bet you circle back around to the notecards. Nothing is simpler than this system. And nothing is better at reminding you that you’ve got To Dos to process: this thing is literally sticking into your rear end, reminding you that you are sitting on things that need doing.

Now, how do you address projects that have more than one action (say, something like “remodel bedroom”)? That’ll be Number Two in this series.


From → technology

One Comment
  1. Darrell Oakley permalink

    Ecclesiastes 1

    Everything Is Meaningless

    1 The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:
    2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”

    I’m glad you just reminded me to pay the gas bill.

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