17 August 2011

Getting Things Done: Prologue

I recently read David Allen's Getting Things Done, motivated proximally by the Fisher Files (see last post) and distally by my longstanding distress at the disorganization of my life. It's a well written book, and while it does have some repetition it avoids the vacuous sloganeering common to self-help books. The system itself is relatively simple:
  1. Create "buckets" for all the "stuff" that flows into (any aspect of ) your life. Everything must come into a bucket that's part of your trusted system (see below).
  2. Regularly process your buckets into a system, typically consisting of some combination of calendars, to do lists and project folders. The details of how you push paper or computer files are largely up to you, but the key is that you develop an inherent trust that nothing will be "lost" from the system.
  3. Develop a mode of working focused on "next actions": the next physical, visible actions that you can do to make progress on your projects.
The goal of this system is to free up the time and energy your brain is unconsciously devoting to keeping track of all your "stuff". Even people with partial organizational systems (probably most of us) are affected by the amorphous, nagging feeling that there is something else we should be doing now. What's remarkable is how a system focused on the nuts and bolts of everyday life can have positive effects on much broader and long term aspects of life, such as career planning, personal growth, family life and a sense of purpose in the world.

I've just started GTD, and I'm planning to blog my experiences for my own benefit and hopefully for anyone else looking to increase their flow and reclaim their lives. I'll try to touch on both my specific implementation and these bigger questions about why I'm making this change. Here goes!

04 August 2011

The Fisher Files

MIT Physics professor Peter Fisher (with whom I took 8.033 12 years ago) produced two seasons of podcasts back in 2007 called the Fisher Files. Unfortunately something disastrous happened to the stylesheets or something because the website is basically unusable in its present state. I had stumbled across this a few months ago but was put off by the wreckage of the site. TFazio recently mentioned it and this time I put the effort into downloading all the actual podcasts.

The podcasts revolve around the Getting Things Done philosophy of how to collect and organize the myriad daily tasks which make up our lives. Fisher nicely applies GTD ideas to many specific scenarios of academic life, making the ideas more directly applicable to me. He also goes further than just discussing ways to be productive, though, and tries to bridge the gap between accomplishing today's tasks and the almost spiritual goal of loving one's work and balancing it with other parts of life.

I'm so glad I went to the effort of grabbing them, because they're incredibly relevant to me right now. And in the hope of making them more widely available, I've collected the links below. I hope others will enjoy them as much as I have begun to!

Season 1 (largely about GTD)
  1. Introduction
  2. Buckets & Weekly Review
  3. Projects
  4. ToDo
  5. Calendar
  6. Putting things together [broken link]
  7. Email
  8. Files
  9. Feeding the Bad Wolf
  10. Gadgets
  11. Multitasking
  12. Reading
Season 2 (the academic life)