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Getting Things Done, David Allen

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It was once upon a time a PHP coder who drowned in work. His todo list grew larger and larger, one day it went overwhelmingly large. New tasks were added on a daily basis.

One day it was so bad that he chose not to even look at his list anymore, and instead indulged in addictive games, beautiful women and history lectures. Until one day the angel of death knocked at his door. Startled, he was just able to gaze into the remarkably empty eyes. “Already?”, the look on his face was asking. The angel just asked a question: “When I will pick you up at the end of your life and ask you what your life has been about, what will you answer?”

Well, making a long story short I decided one day to get more productive than ever, because I had to it for some compelling reasons. “Getting things done” just sounded right and I delved into it.

I learnt a few things. The reason I didn’t even bother anymore to look at my todo list was because it actually was a list of “undoables”. Tasks that were pretty complex as such were just given one line in the list. Instead, I should split them up into very concise, concrete “doables” that I could work on even if I was tired of thinking. Think once, then write your decision down (how to precisely tackle a task, all steps involved). And above all, get your todo items out of your head completely. This way, you’ll end up with comsuming less memory, so some creativity threads in your brain can be scheduled more of it.

Nice ideas, no magic at all, but useful suggestions. It helped me, and I’m still maintaining a “next actions” list where I write down all hot topics that have to be dealt with rather immediately, and some “nice to have” or wishlist, which I actually never look at.

This all could have increased my productivity a lot, but for one caveat: Specifying exactly what to do, breaking it up into simple tasks makes it somewhat machine-like to follow it. I mean, I feel good when I’m designing the tasks. But when I’m then actually executing them, I sometimes feel like a trained monkey …

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About Dirk

  • Managing a Todo list is not one of my favorite things, but it’s probably one of the better tasks to increase my production. If I don’t break the tasks down and knock them off one by one, all too soon I become overwhelmed by all the ticky tacky details.

  • I have chronic problems with the calendars/todo lists on both my computer and PDA. (I’ve decided not to copy them to my iPod, so I can have peace somewhere.) They have begun to feel more like dares or remonstrations than intentions. Perhaps I’ll try incrementalizing the tasks, as suggested.

    Funny, years ago, when I used Now-Up-to-Date and worked regular hours, I loved todos and calendaring. Now, they’re a burden.