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Spicing Up The Weekly Review

A couple of years back, I bought a copy of organising guru David Allen's seminal work, Getting Things Done (or How To Get Things Done, the name it's published under in Oz). It was recommended in Lifehacker, a book I picked up in the library about using everyday, garden-variety tech to get your life under control. The contributors to the Lifehacker website also make frequent mention of the strategies Allen espouses in the book.

Now, I like to think of this little tome as a Single Player Roleplaying Game where the game is Life, and I've had about as much success with it as I've had with tabletop RPGs over the last few years. The goal of Getting Things Done is that mental state in which, to quote the book, “I absolutely know right now everything I'm not doing but could be doing if I decided to.” This to me is a very worthy goal, and I feel like I'm partway there; I've got a diary system and lists for my action items in place, but I come unstuck on maintenance and projects, big and small.

In GTD terms, a project is any task that would take more than one fairly un-complex physical action to get done. This, therefore, could be anything from the big stuff like writing a Slamdance novel or refinancing our home loan through organising a car-pool timetable for the Gordonvale Area Taskforce to writing a blog post (write it, set it up in Movable Type). Basically, each project needs a clear definition of “done” and a fairly solid picture of the individual steps needed to get there. This information needs to be filed somewhere I can access fairly easily and the “next” steps added to my portable list of actions so I can look them up whenever I sit back and say “okay, what can I be doing this very moment?”.

Maintenance involves spending around one hundred and twenty consecutive minutes a week going over all the stuff I've accrued since last time, updating the lists so I feel like I've got all the small stuff under control, then – I'm trying to put this in a way that doesn't sound all corporate and buzz-wordy – looking at the larger and larger pictures of my life to make sure that I'm not neglecting what I want to be doing with myself in all the minutiae.

When it comes down, both of these things need me to sit down and spend some time brainstorming, making notes and thinking about what I'm doing. That, I'm sure you'll agree, isn't the most thrilling way for anyone to spend his or her time. I'm thinking, therefore, about ways to jazz the process up a bit.

My first thought was to use the weekly review process as fodder for a blog post. It seems a little self indulgent, but on the other hand I'll be looking at how my last week's been, what I have coming up and what I plan to do, which, in theory, is more focused than the usual brain dump / think piece.

The main obstacle I foresee with that is juggling taking notes for a blog post with the writing and updating. So, rather than take written notes, set the microphone up, run Audacity and make an audio recording as I go. Hey, why not? If you've ever met me, you know how I love the sound of my own voice! (Right, darling?) I've also found sometimes that speaking an idea helps make it a little more concrete, easier to manage, more possible than it seems when it's just knocking around in my head.

There's another obstacle which is more technical than time-consuming, though. While I was keen on a paper-based organising system, I've found that it's more of a pain in the arse to manage than I first thought. I'm still getting the hang of this “next physical action” jazz; I tend to put down what seems like an action but is actually a project (say, “Sort out buying a laptop”) and when I figure out what the real next action ought to be (“Go to JB Hi-Fi and browse selection”) I have to put a line through what I originally wrote on my index card and re-write it.

Also, the 8” x 5” index cards I use to maintain my lists aren't great for projects; the only thing I can really keep on them is the name of the project and its “done when” condition. Making notes on possible actions and reference info fills the cards up too quickly and I wind up with an unwieldy stack of cards tucked into my diary.

That's one of the reasons I'm looking forward to getting a netbook; I hope that running some GTD-compatible software on it will make getting organised that much easier and more interesting. For the moment, I'm going to have a fiddle with the web-based Nirvana, which is currently in closed beta. I'd still like something whose data is based on my PC and accessible if / when the Net isn't available to me, though.

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You know something sweetie? You're making this 10 times harder than it is, because you'd rather not do any of the things you've decided to tackle. People like David Allen make a fortune, catering to people's imagined difficulties. I'm a wonderful procrastinator myself, so I know how hard it is to get motivated. You don't have a problem at work, so why have one at home? Ah...that's right, home is a place where we are supposed to be able to relax!
I've been dealing with my own laziness for years. A simple 'to do' list is my way around it. You've seen them hundreds of times - they usually decorate the fridge. I just plug away until I'm satisfied that I've done a fair amount of the list and then I remember that the world's not going to end because I didn't do one particular item.
When I have tasks for an organisation, then their list gets renamed 'To Action' and comments are added when tasks are underway. You've seen those too.
What I'm trying to say is, stop beating yourself up about it.
You know about the KISS theory? Then that's what you do.
BTW, I love that you care enough to want to get it right. xxx

Of course I make things harder than they need to be! I'm a gamer, aren't I? :D I love you too, darling-heart!

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