Getting Things Done

January 26, 2021

Being a webmaster these days is to invite comparisons with a plate-spinner. It’s a busy and interesting life with lots of competing interests to take into account if the right balance between the big projects and the small daily maintenance activities is to be found.

Over the years I’ve tried many approaches, mainly based on to-do lists. I’ve tried paper-based systems and I’ve tried electronic calendaring. And to be fair most of the things I’ve looked at have mostly satisfied most of the requirements I have, except not quite. It’s like they score 90% but it’s that 10% where they don’t quite fit. That cause of friction, like a shoe that’s almost the right size but rubs your ankle, not quite causing a blister but letting you know something’s not quite right.

Over the Christmas lull and into the New Year I guess I was doing the usual thing of taking stock and making resolutions. I know that New Year’s resolutions are famously not supposed to last, but it feels like an appropriate time to make them and since when has the prospect of failure ever been a good reason to not try?

Getting Things Done - the book

I know! Yet another self-help book. Didn’t I make a solemn promise to myself that I’d never get another one, at least in this life? With their glib reassurance that given adherence to their simplistic life view, the greatest of things could be mine forevermore. Only to fall apart on first contact with a real life situation?

Except - in my quest for the elusive “thing” I needed, over the years I have come across many people who seemed / claimed to be putting into practice this Getting Things Done. And it appears to have stood the test of time.

Given that I’ve had the book for less than a month and I’ve also been working in that time I’m not going to claim any kind of expertise; other than if it were a pair of shoes in which I’ve walked a little distance, so far Ive not noticed any friction, no nasty rubbing and definitely no blisters!

For me the key message from the book to help avoid procrastination and all it entails is:

If it will take 2 minutes or less, do it now.

I’ve stretched that a little bit and made it more like 5 minutes, but that simple rule has stood me in good stead.

Getting Things Done - the system

A basic tenet of Getting Things Done is to have a system that works for you to reduce the cognitive load of having to keep too many things in your head about what you should be doing next and for whom and what you’ve promised to do tomorrow. As I read the book, I find that like so many of its ilk it is preaching the obvious - except that if it’s so obvious then why aren’t we doing it.

I’d estimate that in my daily life before I read the book I was applying some of the principles, but not enough to really feel all the benefits.

As I tested and evaluated lots of computer based Getting Things Done systems, I was growing increasingly frustrated at the areas where they didn’t so quite what it was they said on the tin. Being Free, it would be churlish of me to complain, so I won’t. Rather I’ll just say now what it is I’ve settled on. It’s something called Org Mode and it works in text mode on GNU Emacs which is an extensible text editor mostly associated with Linux but also available on Windows.

Without the good work of others, including people who’ve made tutorials on YouTube, I would not have been able to get over the first few steep steps on its learning curve. Given a little initial effort, though, the software will repay you because, simply put, it just does what it should. For me that is

  • Maintain a to-do list
  • Help with the daily agenda
  • Help track time and more…

As an example I’ve set it to chide me once a week to blog about something on this site. If it works and I follow its exhortations, expect to read more in the coming weeks about how it is helping me and how it could help you.

If you think you might like the book - why not have a look via my amazon affiliate link below:
Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity