I’m looking for a sense of normalcy in these crazy times. My mind just couldn’t accept the new reality that I’m facing today. I had to come to grips with the world and change with it.
It’s been a crazy couple of weeks so far. I’ll admit, I shut down emotionally for the first few days of the shelter-in-place order. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I just started running around like a chicken without a head doing aimless tasks, hoping to wake up tomorrow and things would return back to normal. Now that Life has changed, I’m faced with a new reality. Work and priorities were rendered meaningless and I had no sense of purpose anymore. We feel that way when a sudden change in our lives occur. It could be the loss or change of employment, a family emergency, or an external event such as the COVID-19 pandemic Whatever it is, it knocks me off course for a bit. But I re-orient myself and set sail in a different direction.
Capture everything that’s on your mind
The Getting-Things-Done (GTD) workflow has a great mindsweep checklist called the GTD Incompletion Triggers List. It helps to download every concern or open loop that is floating in my head on to paper or a text document.
Perform a mindsweep and capture all my concerns. Leave no doubt about what may be missing.
Freeze my previous routines
I go through my calendar and list down all of my daily routines.
Monday morning – staff meeting – goal setting for the week
Monday afternoons – Kid #1’s piano tutor at 4 pm
Tuesday afternoons – Math tutor for Kid #2 at 3:30 pm
Wednesday mornings – Midweek review with staff
Wednesday afternoons – Art class for Kid #1 at 5:30 pm
Thursday afternoons – Juijitsui classes at 6:00 pm
Friday afternoons – Weekly review with staff
I put all of my routines on hold. Then I erased all my appointments from my calendar. I started from a clean slate. I’ll repopulate my daily routines a little later in this post.
Communicate and negotiate new commitments
I had to reach out to staff, customers, friends, and family to renegotiate my commitments. What was once important has been rendered second fiddle by COVID-19. Sometimes it’s hard choices such as dropping projects but leave the door open for future opportunities. Establish which commitments can still be met depending on others’ needs. If I can communicate clearly about my relationship with others during the pandemic, I have a chance to keep my connections when this is all over.
There is nothing worse than being left hanging and unsure about my commitments to others. Will I be able to retain a customer project when this all over? I do set out to reach out to my customers at certain intervals. I want them to know that they’re also in my thoughts and prayers and give encouragement to them. I want them to know that they’re still important and I’d like to get back together with them at the earliest opportunity possible. Keeping those connections will be vital when life returns to normal.
I have the same opportunity with my family. I work with them to establish new routines. Perhaps new family roles will come into play here. My family no longer has to drive to take the kids to various after school activities. Instead, we’re taking on new roles as a semi-Homeschool teacher and coordinate with the schoolteachers to help our kids advance their education. The kids are also taking on more household work now that they’re staying home all day.
Clear my task manager
I cleared my calendar routines. Now it’s time to reset my task manager. Many projects and one-off tasks were rendered meaningless by COVID-19. I needed to update my task manager to reflect reality. Life can easily upend my carefully curated task manager at the end of the day. I don’t trust it anymore if it doesn’t reflect the new reality.
Defer projects and tasks
Assign a start date or defer date of any tasks or projects to a future date. There are many projects that I don’t expect to get to until I am able to return back to work.
Tag it all away
Tags are a powerful way to indicate a meta-status that is used in many task managers. My new meta-tag is called ☀️After COVID.
My Office tasks looked like this a couple of weeks ago:
When I applied my ☀️After COVID tag to these tasks, my available tasks turned gray to indicate tasks that are unavailable to me.
In OmniFocus, I have the tag status set to On Hold. As I go through my tasks lists, I’ll assign the ☀️After COVID tag to any tasks that I won’t be working on until later. When I visit perspectives that shows available tasks, I no longer see these tasks.
When my local shelter-in-place order is lifted, I can go to my Tags perspective and delete the ☀️After COVID tag. This brings all of my previously unavailable tasks back to life again. I can return back to my office and resume work.
Put your projects and tasks into your Someday/Maybe folder
If tagging is a little too complicated for your taste, you can start moving some projects and checklists your Someday/Maybe folder. When the shelter-in-place order is lifted, you can start to drag them back out into your normal folders and resume work.
Evaluate and delete the unnecessary
A last tip would be to just delete some tasks. Re-evaluate your projects and checklists over time. Slowly delete some projects or checklists. It’s amazing how time can change the priority of many projects. Some will get dropped. Some will stay relevant. You make the call.
There will be many strategies that you can do depending on your task manager. Find some way to segregate any projects and checklists that you can’t work on during the shelter-in-place phase.
Establish a new routine
A new situation requires an adjustment in routines. Your calendar will start restructuring itself. As old commitments gets put on the back burner or erased, the remaining commitments will start showing up after you’ve cleared your calendar, adjusted your priorities, and negotiated your commitments with your family and others.
After some settling, I recently figured out my children’s new school schedule, I was able to sit down with my family and started a new family schedule. Set up time blocks and ground rules with the family and others that you still need to work with.
I finally solidified expectations from my family as well as my customers. I listed all the new rules and expectations that would be a product of the current environment. It felt great being able to put them down to paper (or text document) after a lot of brainstorming and negotiation.
The first thing I had to do was establish a new family routine. If my family didn’t understand my new role as a remote worker, I might end up with gaffs like these two viral videos:
I’m learning to work with my kids now that their school has finally setup Zoom and their content-learning-management system for the kids to use. We’re learning each other’s needs. I need a quiet place to do some writing and have set up on my back patio. My older daughter set up her iPad in the kid’s shared bedroom and the younger daughter is doing online learning in the living room. My wife is comfortable in the bedroom. If I see my daughters and they have Zoom open, I know to keep quiet while they’re in class. I set up calendar alarms to remind them of their various Zoom meetings. They are getting a sense of when to disturb me or leave me alone while I’m on my MacBook or iPad.
We’re finally settling into a new routine with every as Work-From-Home workers. Set the expectations and the do-not-disturb times for everyone and we can all live in harmony. It’s still an experiment so we’re still learning.
Master my tools
The last step to get comfortable in a new world is to learn new remote tools. My family has used FaceTime as their primary video chat service. We had to learn how to use Zoom on our first try with the homeroom teachers. Thankfully, it was easy enough to use. I’m also starting to use my iPad Pro more often now that iPadOS 13.4 with mouse/trackpad support. I can delegate my MacBook to one of my kids if they need something more than their iPad.
Many apps are similar on the Mac and iOS platforms. But the interface is different enough that I’m just starting to get comfortable locating where all my tools are.
If you’re using your PC, learn the keyboard shortcuts. PI’ve used the CheatSheet freeware app to rediscover keyboard shortcuts when I’m on my Mac. I can hold down the Command key on my iPad for a few seconds and a window pops up displaying any keyboard shortcuts for the current app I am using. It also helps to be able to have a cheat sheet printed out and placed on my desk while I’m working.
I am also using automation tools such as Keyboard Maestro on my Mac or Siri Shortcuts on my iPad to reduce mistakes. I create workflows that can be easily invoked to perform a routine consistently.
Master your current apps or master the new apps that you will be using during the shelter-in-place phase. The first couple weeks is rough as we try to learn the nuances of the app. But it’ll be worth it.
I’m the enteral optimist. I look forward to returning back to a life that is closer to what we had before. I realize that things won’t be exactly the same. Maybe we’ll establish a new norm. But I do look forward to having a bit more freedom of movement when the shelter-in-place order is lifted in our area.
My first step would be to take that notebook where I took notes about what my routines, expectations, roles, projects, and tasks and froze it in place. I can start to look through and restart some of the routines I had before. I can resume my kid’s after school programs. I restart client work that was put on hold while the shelter-in-place order exited. I slowly reintroduce old routines and daily schedules. It won’t be exactly the same but I’m looking forward to getting back to work.
Share your journey of how you are handling your new life. What new roles have you taken on? How much have you adjusted to a new world? How did you change your commitments to current work? Are you doing anything to get ready for a different world than what we had just a few weeks ago? We’d love to hear from you!
Being able to set your own hours and schedule for work is a dream for most people. With all those benefits come the responsibility to manage yourself well to be successful. Some quick tips to be more successful:
Remember you don’t have to be all over the place with your work hours
Set consistent hours but be flexible as you need
Work with your biological prime time
Set aside deep work time
Use the 2 minute rule to get going
Use the Pomodoro technique to stay focused – Communicate well
I’ve always had a difficult time overcoming my friction points in GTD. I devoured numerous blog posts and watched one-too-many YouTube videos. I implemented and then forgot about the different tips and tricks I learned throughout the years. I downloaded multiple task managers trying to find the perfect fit for my GTD practices to no avail. It wasn’t easy and that’s why I understand why so many people give up on GTD. David Allen once surmised that it takes about 2 years to master GTD. It isn’t an overnight success.
My GTD system can range anywhere from a smooth operator to a raging dumpster fire. But that’s just the Game of Life that we all play in. It is a well-oiled machine one day and then a graveyard of stalled projects, stale tasks, and broken promises the next day. There are 5 phases of GTD that must be maintained. Each one presents its own set of friction points I had to overcome. If one of the five phases lag behind, it can create friction that slows down a GTD system. Here are the 5 phases:
I’ve followed Leo Babauta’s ZTD (Zen To Done) mantra of adopting one habit at a time. He has a few more steps to follow but it’s generally the same idea. Focus on one phase until it becomes a habit. I’m learning to master the 5 phases one phase at a time. Have you found any one of the five areas in need of a tuneup? Here are some friction points that I had to overcome.
I didn’t have capture tools that are easily available.
I carry my A5 BuJo and pens in my everyday carry bag. I have my iPhone with me most of the time. Drafts and OmniFocus are loaded on all my computers and can be invoked very quickly to capture my fleeting ideas.
I make sure to have at least 1 capture device available for me to capture all my mad scientist ideas when the moment arrives. It could be my BuJo or my iPhone. I have Drafts and OmniFocus installed on my Macs for more easy access.
I have too many inboxes to check
In the beginning, I lost track of where I captured my notes. I had multiple notebooks all around the house and the office. I saved text snippets in Drafts, Notes, Evernote, and a whole bunch of other note taking apps. It would drive me crazy because I would have to check every app or the desktop to see where I may have a note that I wanted to capture.
Nowadays, I trimmed down my inboxes to as few as possible. I have one physical in-tray at the house and at work. Anything that contains text goes into Drafts. I use my iPhone to take pictures of invoices and items of interest I find when I go outside on errands. I use the iCloud calendar to hold all my appointments instead of switching between Google Calendar, Yahoo calendar, and iCloud calendar. I forward all my email accounts to my gMail account to make it easier to process. Reducing the number of inboxes reduces the stress of wondering whether or not I missed something.
If I leave everything in the inbox, it just becomes one long cluttered list of tasks to do, calendar appointments that float around, and notes that are never grouped. I detest working from my inbox. I need to find a final destination for any inbox items. Here are some places where I put my inbox items:
A popular destination for any junk mail that somehow bypasses my spam filter.
Any inbox item that doesn’t have a next action but is used as project notes for a potential future project.
appointments that I decide to honor. Doctor’s visit, my kid’s soccer games, and the daily/weekly review are a few commitments that I choose to place into my hard landscape.
I start putting any next actions from my inbox into my task manager’s processing.
My projects and tasks needs to go somewhere in my GTD task manager. Everything has a place and shouldn’t stay in the inbox. If I can’t organize all the inbox items, I’ll just have a chaotic list that is sorted in no particular order. Here are some destination points for my inbox items:
Most newly created projects that don’t have a due date first start as a someday/maybe project. I don’t need to work on it. I add it to the inventory of projects that I want to work on later.
Waiting For List
This list keeps me aware of any outstanding items I am waiting for from someone else.
Next Actions Lists
These lists hold a series of single tasks to remember. My grocery list, my wife’s honey-do list, and the odd one-off personal actions list gets filled up frequently.
Any group of related tasks goes into my Projects Lists. I have different folders in my task manager for the various Areas of Responsibility in my life. I have folders in my task manager for Home, Office, and Family as a few examples of different Areas of Focus or folders that I use to organize my various projects.
If I don’t reflect or review about my lists, calendars, and file references, many items can become obsolete on any given day. Reflecting ensures that my system remains fresh. I can trust it because it is up-to-date as best as it can be at this moment. A weekly review used to take 2-3 hours every weekend and was something i didn’t look forward to doing. I realized that not everything had to be reviewed at the same time. Some things needed daily monitoring. Other things can be looked at once a week or even a monthly basis. I set out to figure out what I needed to review at different intervals.
At the end of the day, I do a daily review that processes any new inbox items and I can update any project or list that may have changed since I last checked into my task manager. I clear my mind knowing that I cleared any nagging doubts using the GTD Incompletion Trigger List. I can check on what I did today and start planning any time blocks for tomorrow.
My weekly review gives me a general strategy of what I would like to achieve next week by choosing a handful of MITs (Most Important Tasks) and 1-3 Big Rock projects.
The monthly review lets me review the past month and do a progress report on what I did in the last month. This gives me a floorpan of what I can start working on next month or continue the previous month’s goals.
I’ve always had a hard time with Engaging or “doing” my work. I can be seen fawning over my beautiful projects and lists and will be in the clarifying and organizing phase forever. But all those dreams in my GTD task manager mean nothing if I don’t get to it. I am easily distracted by my digital task manager. There are just too many tasks that are screaming at me whenever I open it.
Organizing my work is not the same as Engaging in my work. I have learned to differentiate between “planning” and “doing”. If I am staring at my task manager, I am in planning mode. I don’t work from my to-do list. I plan in it. When I want to switch to “doing” mode, I’ll pull a few tasks or projects and create time blocks in my calendar. Then I work from my calendar. Things 3 has a “Today” view that shows what needs to be done today. OmniFocus has a forecast perspective that shows tasks that are deferred or due today as well as any tasks that have a forecast tag assigned to it. The task manager should have a view that is specifically for working. Perhaps a smart list that contains a short list of all the tasks you want to work on today? Every app should have some kind of “today” view.
I will return to my to-do list only if I need to plan for the next day, week, or month. Otherwise, I already have a list of tasks assigned to different time blocks in my calendar. If a task or project isn’t on the calendar, the chances are high that I won’t get to work on it.
Running Like Clockwork
After a decade of struggle, I think I’m finally getting to a point of less friction in my GTD system. I’ve identified some of my friction points in capturing, clarifying, organizing, reflecting, and engaging.
Have you sat down and looked at what’s been bothering you in your GTD system? Keep a small notebook and capture any friction points and situations that you’ve found difficult for the next few weeks. If you don’t identify them then you won’t be able to come up with possible solutions.
If you haven’t solidified a habit yet, a checklist would be a great way to start tracking what’s been bugging you. Here’s a post that can get you started on creating your own checklists to kickstart your GTD system.
Modify the checklist to fit your workflow. Notice which steps you’ve skipped over. You might just find another way around whatever is keeping you stuck. I’ve edited my own GTD checklist to fit my life. You may find that there are some GTD steps that you may not need. Eliminate those and implement new steps in your checklist.
Tell us about some of your challenges or discoveries in this post or create your own post. We’d love to see what you’ve got cookin’ in your GTD kitchen!
My mind is full of projects and ideas. I’ve overloaded my task manager with pipe dreams and awesome (at least to me) projects that I’ll eventually get around to. But my heart sank when I planned to work on a project (or two or three or four) this week and I never got around to it. Life happens. The bills need to get paid, walk-in clients come in with new projects, the grass in the yard keeps growing, and my kid needs a new dress for the prom. I switch between taking care of my family to negotiating with a client and back to the single one-off tasks that piles up on my desk. This puts my projects on the back burner. It’s never easy trying to handle Life’s daily minutiae and still finding time to work on my Big Rock projects. But I soldier and try anyways.
I have a lot of ideas. Not all of them turn into a fully-developed project. Not all of these projects comes to completion. My task manager holds all of my projects but I was determined to do some spring cleaning and re-evaluate how I turned ideas into projects and projects into active work.
When I first read David Allen’s Getting Things Done, I thought I should have a big list of Someday/Maybe projects. This was a list of ideas and projects that I was inspired to work on. My first few mind sweeps created a huge swarm of projects. Some projects were brilliant ideas and others were just plain crazy. I had more projects than I could actually work on. I figured I could work on twenty projects like a bunch of balls being juggled in the air. It turned into a disaster. I got nothing done. I couldn’t remember which projects were actively being worked on, which projects were paused, and which projects were deferred to a future date. I set out to find a way to organize my ideas, on hold projects, and currently active projects.
Organizing my Ideas
OmniFocus is my task manager of choice but any app is just as suitable. I organized my life into folders which represents the different Areas of Responsibilities. This allows me to organize different projects into different areas.
I have a separate folder called Ideas to R&D.
Ideas to R&D
The Ideas to R&D folder holds a series of checklists (Single Actions Lists in OmniFocus terms) that acts as an inbox for new ideas I captured. They’re not fully developed projects yet, just ideas.
I dedicate at least one hour every week to start fleshing out these ideas with various target goals, milestones, and next actions. When I develop it as far as I can, I’ll move the idea out of the Ideas folder and into one of my Areas of Responsibility as a project.
Review Monthly To Start A Project
I soon realized that my task manager can hold all of my projects but they won’t get worked on unless I schedule it on my calendar.
There are four actions i can take with my newly created projects:
Pause the project.
Schedule the project to start on a future date
Start a project when a Waiting For event occurs
Delegate the project to someone else.
Now, hold on a second!
Many projects don’t need to be started immediately. I can set the project status of an OmniFocus project to On Hold to pause it.
In other task managers that do not have a project status, I can put it in a On Hold Projects folder or assign a On Hold tag to the project.
If I am not working on a project, I pause it and will review it later for consideration.
Mark It On The Calendar!
Some projects can be scheduled to start on a particular day. I can’t start my Wedding Anniversary Dinner Date project until the date gets closer. In OmniFocus, I have the benefit of using the Defer Date to start a project on a future date. For task managers that don’t have a defer date, I’ll create an appointment a week before my anniversary to start the Wedding Anniversary Dinner Date project.
Wait For Me!
I wait for an event occur before starting a project. For example, I’ll wait for a sale to occur at my local hardware store to buy that awesome barbecue grill I’ve been lusting for. Waiting For is a popular tag that I use quite often. I check my Waiting For checklist once a week to see if an event occurs that can trigger a project. I’ll also wait for someone to return with a report for me to start on a project. This happens mostly when I’m waiting for a client to sign off on a sales contract before I can start.
Hey, Could You Help Me With This?
Delegating is not always possible but I’m always looking for a helping hand. I might not have the right skills or enough time to devote to a project. I’ll need to delegate a project off to someone else.
Many of my projects will start automatically because I have it deferred to start on a particular date. Some projects must be started immediately because of client/project requirements. But I also have a group of projects that remains on the back burner. I have control over my personal projects that I want to work. But I try to fit it into my day, week, and month.
In my life, I have Areas of Responsibility (folders) for Home, Work, Personal, and Family. I try to make sure I have anywhere from 0 to 3 active projects in each folder. If I have a lot of active of work projects, I might temporarily pause a family project. During the Christmas shopping season, my workplace is busy with Holiday customers and I put aside my home renovation project until the middle of January. I tell my kids that Daddy doesn’t have any time or energy to take care of the Christmas social functions but I’ve delegated that job to Mommy or Grandma. During Christmas, I might have 4 work projects, 0 personal projects, and 1 family project. After the Holiday Shopping season, I can rebalance my life and start to re-activate projects in different folders. I am learning not to overwhelm myself with too many projects.
Focus is a powerful tool. Instead of spinning 10 plates, I am only spinning 5 plates. Some projects will start automatically because it is deferred to start on a particular date. Other projects start when a client signs a contract. My back burner projects stays paused until I schedule them into the week. I balance my existing workload and adjust on a weekly basis.
I’m trying to overcome my natural compulsion to have too many active projects at one time. Work on a few projects to completion instead of keeping many projects in various states of incompletion.
I’m never out of ideas but I can exceed my personal bandwidth. Taking on too much workload leads to stress, anxiety, and overwhelm. I had a crazy year in 2019 with one emergency after another. I realized I had promised too much to too many people while trying to handle what I already have on my plate. These series of events caused me to think about my own workload and look for a solution to make time for my personal projects while dealing with Life’s daily challenges.
I Can’t Do Everything But I Can Schedule Something
My back burner projects will never get done unless I schedule them. I have an Ideas folder containing a list of all the possible project ideas I can think of. I develop them into projects that goes into different folders representing an Area of Responsibility. I put every new project on hold while I work on my existing projects. I review every week to pause existing projects and/or start a back burner project. Don’t overload myself with too many projects. Limit myself to a handful of projects. Focus is important in getting projects done. If I try to do everything, I get nothing done.
How do you juggle your projects? Have you ever had a sense of overwhelm? Do you review your current projects when you get overwhelmed? Share with us some of your ideas or questions about project overwhelm!
Checklists has great power in the productivity world. Nearly every productivity book have their own lists and forms for you to work from. But have you created your own GTD Wiki? I wanted to gather up all of my GTD checklists into one place and create my own GTD workflow. Let’s see how.
I took much inspiration from David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology. But it is only a set of guidelines for you to follow. Each one of us has a unique set of circumstances that would make it difficult for one of the productivity authors to cover every issue that arises from our daily lives. Thus we start to take bits and pieces from other productivity systems to fill in the gaps where one methodology fails but another one can compensate. We try many productivity tips discovered through tweets, blog posts, Discourse forums, and books. We create our own Frankenstein workflow with bandages and duct tape. I’ve been guilty of this myself. I had a DEVONthink database full of tips and tricks, checklists, PDF forms, calendars, and ideas. Some worked. Some didn’t. Some pieces fit like a well-worn glove. Others are discarded when I can’t find a place for it.
This was the journey I took. Soon enough, I had way too many tips scattered in books, blog posts, and half-forgotten OmniOutliner documents. I had a junk drawer full of articles and posts saved in haphazard fashion. Finally, I took a hard look at my productivity workflow. I stripped everything and started from the beginning once again when my systems buckled under the strain of too many competing hacks. I took a basic shell of my GTD workflow and made a checklist of the different workflows. I took inspiration from David Allen’s book “Making It All Work” (MIAW)
Initially, I referred to the MIAW appendices whenever I needed to go through a workflow. But it didn’t feel “mine.” I decided to recreate the appendices in Apple Numbers and customized it to my workflow.
Truthfully, any app can hold your checklists. Find an app that you’re comfortable with. Just make sure that all the checklists are inside one app. Don’t have checklists in multiple apps.
Take time to create your own workflow. As life changes, adjust each sheet as needed. I do a quarterly checkup to see if I am skipping certain steps. I’ll delete those or try to change it to reflect how I perform a workflow. Add new steps as needed when your situation changes.
When I start my End-of-The-Day Daily Review, I go to my Daily Review sheet. I visit the Weekly Review sheet when I am in need of a weekly review. I have the Incompletion Trigger Lists when I need to do a mind sweep to completely empty my head.
My GTD checklist on my Mac
I can open the Numbers spreadsheet on my Mac and refer to it when I need to perform a workflow.
My GTD checklist on my iPhone
Sometimes I’ll open it on my iPhone and refer to it while I’m working on my Mac. This is helpful when I have a smaller screen like the MacBook 12”. I place my iPhone next to my computer and refer my checklist on the phone.
My GTD checklist on my iPad
I can also open my checklist on my iPad in a slideover panel. When I need to look at my checklist, I swipe from the right side of my iPad to show Numbers in the slideover panel. I can swipe away the slideover panel to hide it once again.
My GTD checklist in my notebook
The easiest way to gain access to your checklist is to just print it out and put it in a small binder. I have a Staples Discbound notebook that holds my notes and checklists in one convenient place. I don’t need to launch Apple Numbers to get to my checklists. It’s in my notebook and ready to use.
I can use either a Franklin-Covey Planner, a Discbound notebook, or any 3-ring binder to hold my checklists. There’s something magical about seeing a notebook with my checklists in physical form. I can flip through the pages easily if I need to switch between different checklists.
Keeping a checklist in an app that is available on the iPhone, iPad, and Mac ensures that I have easy access to them at all times. Keeping a physical notebook with the checklists also makes it a visible reminder that I have everything I need wherever I am.
🤔 Have you started your own GTD wiki yet? Invest a little time now in documenting your workflows. This will speed up workflows such as daily planning, creating projects, weekly review, and performing a mind sweep. Having a checklist on my Mac, iPhone, iPad, or notebook will speed up the GTD process. Customize the checklists to make it your own. Over time, the checklists will become automatic and you’ll be cycling through life quickly. You can finally create a cohesive GTD workflow and creating your own “Getting Things Done” book that works you.
I hope you’ll share some of your own results or comments about having one place for all your checklists has served you.
I share with you my Numbers GTD checklist. Convert it to another app such as OmniOutliner, Microsoft Word, Apple Notes, a mind map, or even a text file.
My personal GTD Checklist is actually heavily modified from the one I am providing in the link below. But this was the foundation of what I started off with. Make these checklists yours. Change it to fit your needs.
The GTD Review is the glue that keeps my system together. But it’s often a tough habit to adopt. I’ve been able to get a daily review going which takes care of my day-to-day needs. It took care of today’s fire and look ahead to tomorrow’s schedule But it didn’t cover anything past tomorrow. My daily reviews weren’t giving me a sense of direction and progress towards my goals.
I was finally ready to up my game and move to the Higher Horizons of Focus. I started my Daily Review in get control of my day. Next, I worked on improving my Weekly Review, Monthly, Quarterly, and Annual Review to move my path towards a purpose-filled life.
My Daily Review
My daily review currently includes:
Clearing the inboxes in various apps and the physical in-tray.
Reviewing any currently active (not someday/maybe) projects that I am working on this week.
Reviewing the calendar to see tomorrow’s schedule.
Reviewing any agenda items and waiting-for’s.
Review any completed tasks and create followup tasks if needed.
Planning tomorrow’s to-do list by choosing 1 Big Rock project and 3 MITs (Most Important Tasks).
Journal any new thoughts, ideas, and how the day went. I record victories and things to work on.
To get to the next Kung Fu belt level, I had to construct my own GTD Weekly Review. The official GTD Weekly Review is a good starting point and is available here.
My Weekly Review
My current Weekly Review includes:
Planning the Big Rock projects for next week.
Look at next week’s calendar for any commitments.
Review last week’s journal entries to mine for ideas and new projects.
I need to stay on top of my projects and checklists on a weekly basis. I plan my projects for the next week by balancing my calendar events with the various projects I want to work on.
Planning My Big Rocks for next week
I plot my days with the Daily Review to take care of the daily emergencies and barrage of workload coming my way. The Weekly Review is focused on specific goals for the week. These goals take form in the various active projects and Someday projects that fill up my task manager. I review all of my projects and choose three to six Big Rock projects to focus on.
Review next week’s calendar
It helps to plan ahead. I look at next week’s entries to see what lies ahead. I might have to start a new project or activate a project ahead of time to prepare for any events that will happen soon.
Mining for new project ideas in my journal
I like to review the past week’s journal entries to get a feel for how my week went. Oftentimes, I get new project ideas or suggestions on how to improve a current workflow or look for a change in mindset.
I haven’t quite fleshed this review yet. I don’t do it often enough to flesh my Monthly Review yet. But I do have a few steps in place.
Curate my projects
Curate my checklists
Curate my projects
I look at my current smorgasbord of projects and evaluate their place in my life. Some projects may have stalled out and needs a little reboot. I rewrite the task description or break the next actions down a bit further to kickstart it. Or the project’s importance has degraded over time. Maybe my enthusiasm for a project has waned a bit. I can either defer a project to a future date when I have more time and energy to work on it. Or I can delete it if I feel like I’m spinning my wheels and not gaining traction.
Curate my checklists
I have some checklists that are daily or weekly routines. They might need some fine-tuning to reduce any needless friction. I also evaluate checklists that have single one-off tasks. I may have forgotten to check off a task or I no longer need to do it if I ignored it for too long.
This is a new realm that I am about to jump into soon. I don’t have anything here just yet but I do have some ideas.
Use the 12 Week Year to choose goals and projects for the quarter.
Review current projects to see if I am hitting my monthly milestones. Recalibrate my projects if I need to catch up or I need to redefine the goals to hit.
This is the big vision board stage. I sit down with my wife and evaluate what we’d like to work on for the next 12 months. We set our general directions here and brainstorm for projects that can bring us closer to our goals. We establish monthly milestones and re-evaluate during the quarterly and monthly reviews.
Climbing the Ladder to reach New Horizons of Focus
Each review (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annual) hits a different target.
The Annual Review sets out to plan my goals for the year. I create milestones and a vision of what I would like each quarter to look like.
The Monthly Review and Quarterly Review checks on my project statuses. Am I bogged down in a current project? Do I need to re-evaluate my workload and deactivate some projects so that other projects get started now? Can I delete or defer some projects that don’t contribute towards my current quarterly goals?
I use the Monthly Review to plan the next batch of tasks that will help me complete my Big Rock projects.
During the Weekly Review, I choose the small handful of Big Rocks to work on. I try to plan out time during the week to work on specific projects and ignore all the other projects waiting for me in my task manager. I squeeze these projects in between different calendar appointments and keep buffer time in the week to handle the daily onslaught of outside requests that come in via email, messaging, and walk-in customers.
The Daily Review is where I spend my time putting out the fires and try to bring make progress in a Big Rock that I want to work on today.
I’m slowly starting to master the different review levels. I had to take care of the Daily Review first. Master my day and then I can corral the week. When I can master the Weekly Review, I can step up to the Monthly Review and go upwards all the way to the Annual Review.
It wasn’t easy. I thought I could do the different review levels. But I found lost if I didn’t get the lower levels well thought out. I’m looking forward to fine-tuning my game. I have typically lived in the “now” and not worried too much about the future. But the more in control I have of “now”, the more I look a little further into the future. I’ve achieved yellow belt at the Weekly Review level. I can see the Monthly Review is within my reach and I’m practicing on it every month. I set my foundations so that I can get to the Quarterly Review and the Annual Review.
It’s the end of the year and I’m looking forward to having better vision with the different review levels. As a matter of fact, I’m printing out this post and using it as a checklist whenever I’m not sure what I’m doing during the different reviews.
Have you mastered your review game yet? Lay the foundations by creating your checklists for the Daily, Weekly, Monthly, Quarterly, and Annual Review? What do you need to review at these stages? Write them in a notebook and refer to it when you’re doing your next review!
I’ve used Keyboard Maestro to simplify my daily and weekly routines for a little over a year now. I thought I’d share some of my favorite macros that I’ve used on a daily and weekly basis.
Keyboard Maestro is a unique system-wide app available on MacOS that allows us to customize our computer and truly make it our own. It doesn’t take a programming degree to customize our Macs. It uses a series of actions that can mimic any keyboard or mouse interaction.
I’ve been interested in customizing my Mac to reduce friction whenever I use my Mac. Simplifying multi-steps processes can offload many tasks that I would normally have to do manually. Keyboard Maestro has been the biggest reason for my return from an iPad-oriented lifestyle into a multi-platform lifestyle where I can split my time equally between MacOS and iPadOS.
I don’t create a lot of macros or shortcuts. But when I do create a macro, I use it a lot. It’s not about amassing a large number of macros. It’s about customizing my apps to fit my work style. I might find an app not behaving exactly as I want it to. I could send an e-mail to Customer Service with a feature request. Or I can take matters into my own hands and create a macro that will mimic how I think the app should behave.
Here are a few routines that I’ve been using to speed up my workflow. These are just examples of the different types of routines I have encountered.
Arrange My App Windows Easily
There are times I want to arrange my app windows perfectly each time. I have a macro that opens my OmniFocus “Today” perspective on the left side and Fantastical’s Day view on the right side.
Original Number of steps: 7
Switch to perspective showing all available actions
Arrange window to desired size
Switch to Day View
Arrange window to desired size
Go to tomorrow
Now that I have my window arranged, I can drag-and-drop OmniFocus task into my Fantastical Day view to create a time block. This macro makes time blocking easy for me by automatically arranging my windows.
I love Things 3’s task view. OmniFocus can be overwhelming because I can see my left-side Sidebar, outline, and right-side inspector.
I find this view helpful only when I’m in “planning” mode. I can tinker with all of my task details with the sidebar and inspector panels open. But it is quite distracting when I am in “action” mode. After I complete my planning session, I can hit a keyboard shortcut to switch between a “detailed” view and a “simplified” view.
When I see OmniFocus in this simplified view, I know I am in action mode. All I see is my outline. This view reminds of Things 3’s streamlined view. I can work easily in here because I don’t need to tinker with task attributes. I can focus on the tasks presented in this list.
As part of my daily planning sessions, I look at OmniFocus and choose three tasks as my Most Important Tasks (MITs) for the day. I created a macro that will automate this multi-step process. First, I highlight 3 tasks in OmniFocus and then hit my keyboard shortcut.
Copy the tasks to the clipboard
Open Apple Notes
Create a new note
Paste clipboard contents holding my OmniFocus tasks
Select all text in the note
Change text style to Bulleted List
Increase font size by 4 points
Add descriptive text “My Most Important Tasks (MITs) for <date>”
I like to use my task manager when I am curating my projects and checklists. Moving my tasks to an Apple Note keeps me from tinkering inside my task manager. If I need more information, the copied text are hyper-linked back to my task manager.
Create a Guided Checklist
I can create a guided checklist with prompts that remind me about the next step to take in a lengthy workflow such as the Mind Sweep. I took the GTD mindsweep and converted it into a Keyboard Maestro macro. The steps are very simple. Show a prompt with instructions. Open the appropriate app (calendar, CRM, task manager, notes taker) and go through the mind sweep. When I click on the Next button, I advance to the next step.
Customizing my Mac has never been easier. Automation is part of the process needed to simplify our workflows. I can spend 30 minutes to set up a macro that will save me time every day or week I use it. Some other macro ideas include:
If I turn on my MacBook Pro and it logs on to my office wi-fi network, Keyboard Maestro will open up my task manager and show my office task list.
If I connect a specific USB hard drive, it will copy a folder to the USB hard drive.
Create text-based macros that will type in my address, today’s date, next Friday’s date, or create a text template for longer e-mail responses.
If I launch Apple Mail, re-arrange the windows exactly as I want it.
I can offload multi-step processes to Keyboard Maestro. I can hit a keyboard shortcut or trigger a macro via floating palettes. I cut my time considerably by automating my routines. This is part of my “simplification” project for my productivity system.
I’ve explored many Discourse forums and see the common feature requests that my favorite app should have had this feature built-in because I paid a lot of more for it. That’s probably true but I am not willing to wait for the app developer to add features X, Y, and Z. I can customize my Mac and my apps to fit my work style easily. I spent a few nights watching Sparky’s Keyboard Maestro Field Guide and absorbed what I needed from it. Take control of your Mac. Invest a little time into adding one new macro a week. You’ll be happily using your Mac more frequently because you customized it with Keyboard Maestro and made your own little hot rod.
Download the Keyboard Maestro examples and adjust them to suit your preferences. Share some of your favorite Keyboard Maestro macros here or ask a question about Keyboard Maestro. I’d love to hear from you!
An accessible, practical, step-by-step how-to guide that supplements Getting Things Done by providing the details, the how-to’s, and the practices to apply GTD more fully and easily in daily life.
The book is concise and offers a few things the other GTD books don’t have:
Insights – Stories from the GTD community with tips, tricks, and quotes.
Deep Dives – Detailed examples of each of the ten GTD moves.
FAQs – Some Frequently Asked Questions answered by the GTD community.
Progress Tracker – Track your progress as you work your way through the checklists to ensure you haven’t missed a step.
Checklists – A quick checklist that gives instructions on what to work on next. Check them off as needed.
Whenever I needed to perform a tuneup of my GTD habits. I reached for my well-worn copy of GTD and go through it to see if I needed to brush up on a workflow I’ve become sloppy in. Now, I can go through a quick checklist in the GTD Workbook and improve my GTD practices. This book is compact at 224 pages long. Its short length allows me to get right to the heart of my workflow. There’s no need to wade through the sometimes dry style that the other GTD books have.
Assessing My Current GTD Status
Determine your place in GTD mastery by rating yourself on a quick 15 question survey. You’ll need to know where you are now before you can figure out what is the next action to work on. Whether you’re a beginner or near the top, there is always room for improvement. I’ve found several areas where I see room to grow and solidify my GTD practices.
There are five GTD steps with two to three moves in each step. Go through each step and its corresponding moves. Check them off as you continue your GTD tuneup.
Step 1 : Capturing
Move 1: Capture all incoming items into your inbox
Move 2: Choosing a capture tool
Move 3: Do a Mind Sweep
Master the art of capturing by performing these three moves. If you don’t capture what’s on your mind, you’ll lose it. Gather all those loose papers, books, blog posts, appointment cards, and anything else that is on your mind.
Step 2: Clarifying
Move 4: Get in-tray to empty
Move 5: Get emails to zero
Gain control of your life and move inbox items by doing any 2 minute tasks as well as delegating or differing tasks. Use the Clarifying checklist to move inbox items into your task manager, calendar, general reference, or trash.
Step 3: Organizing
Move 6: Create a Next Action list and other Lists
Move 7: Keep Track of Your Projects on One List
Move 8: Create Folders to Stay Organized
Organize your miscellaneous next actions into projects and Next Action lists, Waiting For list, and Someday/Maybe lists. Create folders to store any physical documents and digital files.
Step 4: Reflecting
Move 9: Do a GTD Weekly Review
Move 10: Do a Daily Review
Keep your system up-to-date with a daily review and a weekly review. If your system is not fresh, you won’t trust it anymore because it no longer reflects reality. This step gives us confidence that we have a trusted system we can rely on.
Step 5: Engaging
Perform a daily review each morning or night before by checking you calendar and next action lists.
Clarify today’s inbox items and organize them into the proper lists on a daily basis.
Determine the correct next action to work on now based on context, time available, energy available, and priority.
After all the planning and reviewing is done, it’s time to get to work. You will be confident knowing what you want to do every day.
We may have read the GTD book multiple times but we can always find something to improve. Instead of reading the GTD book, use the GTD Workbook to speed up the GTD tune-up. It is loaded with tips and observations from GTD practitioners to give us a jumpstart when we feel stuck. The checklists offered inside gives us a guided tour through the GTD workflow.
I’m thinking of the workbook as my personal coach to keep me on track. It guides me like my gym coach. In David Allen’s ultimate GTD app, there was an overall theme of having his ultimate dream app guide him in the GTD principles. This book is the next best thing to having a personal session with a licensed GTD coach. Keep it on your desk when you feel the need to get a walkthrough some of the steps in capturing, clarifying, organizing, engaging, and reflecting. It’s well worth the price of admission.
It feels like I never have enough time in the day for my MITs (Most Important Tasks) to get done. I"m trying time blocking, streaks, saying no to outside disruptions. I’m still exploring ways to deal with interruptions and getting back on track with Work Interrupted.
Dealing with Interruptions
I’ve read articles where I can put on headphones to signal to others that I’m not available just doesn’t seem to work when my wife comes into the room and absolutely needs this or that done. The same thing happens with customers. I can’t say no at this stage of my career. One day, I’ll finally become more cemented in my career and finances and I’ll be ready to say no whenever I want to. Some folks will say "it’s time to just put your foot down and say no." Well, I can’t say no to my supervisor most of the time. I could get away with sometimes saying no but not all the time.
Time Blocking has been a mess for me
Time blocking hasn’t worked quite right. I’m resigned to the idea of just making sure I get one MIT done in the morning and one MIT done in the afternoon. I’m starting to work on my morning frog earlier in the morning and work on the afternoon frog in the middle of the afternoon instead of the end of the day. It’s hard to work on an afternoon frog immediately after lunch. I’m drowsy after lunch and just need to unwind. Perhaps I’ll look into my diet plans and what I eat at noon to help with this. Or I should just take a mid-day nap for 30 minutes and get back into the flow.
Time Shifting My Time Block
My scheduled time blocks are becoming more flexible. I’ll consider this "time shifting." Oftentimes, I will pause my work when an interruption occurs. Afterwards, I’ll often decide to just call it a day on my original work when I am no longer in the flow or in the mood. It’s been hard for me to restart my work when I might have other more interesting tasks to work on.
I’m slowly accepting the idea that my work doesn’t have to occur exactly its designated time. I can just move it forward just a little. I don’t want to push it too late in the day and I won’t have time to work on my original project.
If I don’t get back to it, I’ll have to mark it is an MIT for tomorrow morning. I used to get uptight about not finishing something today. But I’ve learned "that’s life." I’ll let it go and return back tomorrow.
Leaving Bread Crumbs To Return Back To Work
One idea I’ve been using to great effect is the idea of marking my place in my work before dealing with the interruption. I take a sticky note and write down where I’m at with my work. and what is the next action I need to take when I return back to my work. I place that sticky note on my computer monitor and switch focus from my computer work to my customer. When I return, it will take me a couple of minutes to return to where I left off. I can resume my train of thought and continue onward with my original work.
Getting My Motor Started
Together with leaving a bread crumb trail, My frustration comes from just getting started. Getting into the starting blocks is difficult because I feel like I’m starting over again. I’ve been using the Due app to nag me every 30 minutes to return to my original work. If I get interrupted, I’ll pull out my iPhone and talk to Siri:
I love using the Due app because it will nag me every 30 minutes until I dismiss it.
Alternatively, I can use the Apple Reminders app:
I can snooze the reminder for another hour or mark the reminder as completed.
I’ve also taken to using my Apple Watch and set a 15 minute timer as a trigger to return back to my original work.
I switch between using the Due app (with its persistent repeating reminders) or just set a timer on my Apple Watch or iPhone to remind me to get back to work. I just need a trigger (any kind of trigger) to nudge me back to my original work plans. Otherwise, I’m more prone to visiting Twitter or my Netflix queue.
Yes, the Due app can be annoying but it’s saved my butt numerous times. I think that a 30 minute snooze is enough time for a nagging notification to appear without overly irritating me. I might think about doing 15 or 20 minutes next to see how much nagging I can handle. Everyone’s tolerance is different so 30 minutes sounds like a good compromise.
Falling off the bandwagon on a daily basis is a part of life. Getting back on the bandwagon more quickly is the part I’m trying to master. Interruptions often derails my original plans and I’m always looking for ways to get back on the saddle again. Have you encountered your own difficulties in getting back to work after dealing with an interruption? Have you just had trouble getting started on that project that’s pestering you and you’re just procrastinating? Hit me up with a reply and tell me how you’ve dealt with distractions.