Quenched Consciousness

November is National Blog Post Month (NaBloPoMo). This post is part of my post-a-day challenge. I have picked a theme for the challenge: song titles. These songs have been featured on live albums from KEXP (an awesome alternative radio station in Seattle), so at a minimum you will hear some great music.

I looked at my to do list. It contained eighteen items, several having been there since the summer. I glanced at my inbox – 1400 unread items. It was becoming clear to me that I needed some help.

My consciousness was far from quenched. I was spending time anxious about emails unread and items not crossed off of my to do list.

Then it changed. I had a friend talk about a personal productivity system called Getting Things Done (note #1: sometimes abbreviated as “GTD”, note #2: if you find yourself talking about personal productivity systems, you might be a geek).

The basic premise of the system is simple:

1) Separate actionable items from reference items. In other words, do let a report that you might need to use, sit right beside an email from your boss that you need to act on?

2) If an item is actionable, go ahead and define the next action. (e.g. send analysis on top accounts to Jim)

3) Organize the actions by the context in which they can be done. (e.g. office, home, calls, etc). When you have twenty minutes open up because a meeting finished early, you check you office list to see what is there.

The reason to-do lists are not very effective is that you haven’t defined what you have to do next. You might have an item on your list labeled “401k”, but what is it you need to do with your 401k? Do you need to research new fund options? Do you need to change allocations? Do you need to change your home address?

According to David Allen, if you haven’t defined next actions, then your brain will be straining to think “what the hell does “401k” mean?” Alternatively, if you’ve written down “research new fund option”, then your brain doesn’t keeping thinking about a vuage item on a to-do list.

I’ve been using GTD for a couple of weeks and it’s been a nice change. My inbox is consistently at zero a couple of times a day. When I have a few minutes to make phone calls, I check out my call list to see who I should get in touch with. I keep a list of things I want to discuss with my wife.

If you’re looking to get some of life’s craziness under control, then I’d highly recommend GTD.

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One thought on “Quenched Consciousness

  1. Nicely done. I see how the GTD would put one’s mind at ease. I also learned to accept and be at peace with the fact that my in-box will never be empty and there will always be unfinished tasks on the to-do list. When you are overly conscious of what is not yet done, there is no way your consciousness can be quenched.

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