Getting things DONE

September 15th 2014 marked a very fun milestone for me on my productivity journey, of getting things DONE. I’ve zeroed my email inbox, and my todo list – which were actually never empty probably since I was 14 – 20 years ago. There was always Something I needed to do, and Something I was busy with, even when I tried to ignore it.

Today was the first time I actually felt bored in YEARS. What a great feeling.

Why did I start this journey in the first place?

Each item, and each mail on my lists represented some sort of a commitment. Clearing up time, attention and energy from all of these commitments – felt to me like the only thing that would completely liberate me to take on new exciting adventures that I’d be able to focus on with 100% of my attention.

How long did it take?

2006 was the first time I read David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” where he suggested to do a “brain dump” into a written todo-list. I’ve used this list on and off, trying to ignore it at times – but these goals never went away until I properly dealt with each and every one of them. I had a couple of “kicks” to my determination to zero the lists: on May 2013, almost a year after I got married – I couldn’t postpone anymore sending thank-you cards to all of our wedding guests. Ouch. It’s a task on my list that got jammed for months, and was a huge psychological barrier for me – seeing it every day and not dealing with it.

Another “kick” was when I realized this last August on my birthday, that a year after that “thank you cards” incident, I still haven’t finished my todo list. My gift to myself on my 34th birthday was a determination to finish my todo list this year.

What was on my lists?

Everything that was important for me. House chores, career goals, phonecalls, financial planning, favors people asked me for, doctor visits, work, relationships, vacations, school work. Just anything. I used this list to get married, to start Anobi, to lead the board of Green Course, to finish my degree, move apartments, buy a car and so much more.

Surprisingly, some of the tasks got done by themselves – either they became no-longer relevant, or got done by somebody else (thank you everybody that helped me 🙂 ).

What were the toughest things to get done?

Some phone-calls, mostly when I had to call to apologize – presented themselves as a huge psychological barrier for me. It’s hard to admit being a jerk, and sadly I had to do it quite a bunch of times – (sorry again, you know who you are).

Letting go of some projects that I’ve started was also challenging at times. “Rigid Ingrid” was a victim, as well as some 42Tags support calls.

So, what’s the secret?

If I had to point out one thing, it’s focus. About a year ago I’ve started to follow Dave Ramsey, with his journey to help people get out of debt. The most effective tactic suggested in his podcast – is something he calls “gazelle intensity”. No restaurants, no vacations, no money for retirement, extra jobs, selling everything possible, eat only “beans and rice, rice and beans” – and every dime is thrown into debt. You can “wander into debt”, but getting out of it requires intensity and intention. Same holds for “time debt”.

What tools did I use?

Some ideas inspired by GTD: a separate list for “waiting for”, priorities, context (errands, phone-calls, meetings), using the calendar effectively.

Along the way I seriously tried “Remember the milk”, “Backpack” (RIP), and a physical notebook. Eventually the tool that proved itself to be the most effective for me turned out to be a text file synchronized with Dropbox between my different screens. About a year ago I’ve added “todo.txt” – as an iphone app, a Sublime extension, and a command-line tool (mainly for archiving).

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