Balancing Blogs With Getting Things Done

I spent some time at the end of last week at the Association of Collegiate Computing Services (ACCS) meeting in Charlottesville, where I gave the Thursday morning keynote and sat in on a few sessions including an excellent overview of the Sakai and iTunes University by James Hilton, soon-to-be CIO at UVA. (You can hear James Hilton talk about the podcasting experiment at Michigan in this podcast.)

Driving home, I really felt like a major league fraud. It’s hard to talk authentically about the energizing potential of Web 2.0 when you haven’t posted to your blog in a month.

Bed and  BreakfastAt the beginning of April, Janna and I headed out of town for a trip, and I realized that it was the first weekend in five that I had taken off, butI didn’t have a whole lot to show for it. I had put my off blogging, commenting on blogs and even reading blogs. That weekend I made an April Fools Day Resolution to put some concentrated effort into getting a handle on my workload.

Like lots of other technology types, I’d been intrigued by David Allen’s book Getting Things Done, and I’ve spent the last three weeks trying to implement some of those ideas. Merlin Mann, who has become one of the prophets of the GTD movement, describes the method way:

  • identify all the stuff in your life that isn’t in the right place (close all open loops)
  • get rid of the stuff that isn’t yours or you don’t need right now
  • create a right place that you trust and that supports your working style and values
  • put your stuff in the right place, consistently
  • do your stuff in a way that honors your time, your energy, and the context of any given moment
  • iterate and refactor mercilessly

The key is to identify all the stuff that isn’t finished, including your backlog of projects. In doing your inventory, you make a distinction between next concrete actions like “download WP 2.02” and projects which the Wikipedia describes this way:

# Projects – every ‘open loop’ in your life or work which requires more than one physical action to achieve becomes a ‘project’. These are tracked and periodically reviewed to make sure that every project has a next action associated with it and can thus be moved forward.

I was amazed at the mass of unfinished business that was sucking the energy out of my work time–coming up with a list of several hundred concrete actions and 94 separate projects that were all lurking just below the surface of my consciousness. Now that I know what how strong the enemy is, the I’m trying to “do my stuff in a way that honors my time, energy and the context of any given moment.”

The unfinished projects vary dramatically in their scope and importance–ranging from “Over the next three months, schedule an hour meeting with each of the 35 academic department chairs and program directors to assess their technology needs for the next 2-3 years” to “find an environmentally responsible way to get rid of the wide format printer with the dried up ink cartridge that’s been living under my desk for the past year.” According to the GTD theory, a small voice reminds me every I see an “unclosed loop” like that printer–sucking engergy that could be used for something more valuable. The theory is that once you have all these open loops identified, energy that was been wasted can be focused on actually completing projects. Like blogging maybe.

I’m making some progress, but it’s a huge task. Folks in AA say that it takes 90 meetings in 90 days to get the recovery process off to a solid start. I think it will take at least that long to put a dent in the pile that I need to get done. But, in the ride back from Charlottesville, it occurred to me that cutting the blogosphere out of my life probably was short-sighted and that I really need to be a part of the conversation on how these new technologies may shape teaching and learning at the university.

4 thoughts on “Balancing Blogs With Getting Things Done”

  1. Welcome back 🙂 My springbreak was trying to get my open loops closed. I got half of them done. I hope to get the rest done in the week that I have before summer school starts at W&M.

  2. Late last year I started starting my day by listing all the tasks I need/want to get done–listing in a physical book with a physical pencil. One thing I’ve found is that I’m more focused if I resist writing down huge goals but instead break them down into a number of smaller tasks. Those smaller tasks add up. For whatever it’s worth, I don’t think I’d set meeting with 35 chairs as a task for myself (which fortunately I don’t have to–that is a big job in and of itself), but break that down into seventy tasks which I’d write down two or three each day, e.g. “set up meeting with Religion chair” and “meet with History chair.”

  3. I’m sorry I missed your keynote–I was on the road again. Now I’m back and looking at a forest of open loops. I need to get that GTD book, but my “get that book” list is even longer than my open loop list … some days it really does feel like a never-ending downward spiral.

    Most of all, however, welcome back to the blogosphere. You were much missed.

  4. For Mac users new to David Allen’s GTD system I just publicly released a set of applescripts called “Ready-Set-Do!” that has — as one of it’s features — the functionality of using the speech features of OS X to audibly coach a person through their daily and weekly reviews. It uses the file system architecture of the mac to ensure that one can comprehensively integrate all of their programs and files into their GTD workflow rather than be locked into a program that may or not have longterm future software support. I’m looking for some more people to try it out and let me know what they think. The tutorial movies that come with it are especially helpful to people who are new to David Allen’s workflow and I am very interested in whether these scripts can help people not as familiar with David Allen’s workflow become more familiar with it.

    Anyone interested in trying the scripts out and understanding the philosophy behind this implementation of GTD on the Mac can do so here:!/RSD%20Backstory.html

    I would greatly appreciate any feedback from anyone who decides to give them a run — especially those new to GTD.


    Todd V

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