Getting Life in Order
Date : August 3, 2012 By
Recently, I realised that my life had descended into chaos. I was working in my first ‘proper’ full time job since leaving university, and I found myself becoming overwhelmed with all of the things that I had to do. I really felt like I needed (and wanted) to Get Things Done – but just couldn’t work out how.
First though, some insight into how my brain works. I have described it to others as a bit like a swirling galaxy – chaotic, fast, things everywhere. However if you can hold a section of it still for long enough, you will see that at least within that section it is quite logically ordered. But the chaos often means that things around me default to an untidy state of disorder.
The other thing I have learnt about myself is that I Love to test out the latest and greatest things. This is cool, most of the time, because I am constantly amazed by how much cool stuff (usually software, services, startups etc) are out there and the new paradigms they are creating and the old markets they are disrupting. However the downside of this penchant for new things is that I never stick with something for very long before another awesome new thing comes out. To add to that, it’s pretty rare you find a new App (iOS, Desktop or Web based) that does exactly everything as you want. It’s been written with a particular need or workflow in mind, and often that need or workflow is just that slightest bit different to yours. What this creates for me is that tiny little ‘niggle’ to keep looking for that “perfect” app/service.
What this meant for my “organise my life” attempt was that I had roughly 7 “to do list” apps on my iPhone, a few trial or free accounts with various online services, a notebook (with no real semblance of organisation within it), a scratch pad on my desk, and then various other list apps and services. Within each of these apps/mediums, I had a few tasks scattered here and there. What this equalled was a lot of mental effort to remember what I actually needed to do, since I had no “single place” to go and know with faith that all of my tasks were there.
Eventually, after always feeling like I was rushing from fire to fire, and never really getting ahead, I decided to act.[as an aside, I did wonder why I only felt this way after leaving Uni. During my 7 year uni career, I had multiple assignments, readings, lab work, exams, tests to worry about as well as doing some web development on the side, working part time doing project management, and serving on multiple governance or management teams for my local church. The reason I came up with was that during those hectic times, I just rushed from fire to fire to fire to fire (mostly). That’s kinda the only way to really juggle that amount of stuff – and things that weren’t urgent (although they may have been important) just fell by the wayside in the crazy speed I was moving. Now that I have simplified my life (the subject of another post) I have the time to realise there is a large amount of important but not urgent tasks that I really want to achieve. For example, cleaning up our garden shed.]
My action plan actually consisted of doing a whole bunch of reading around various productivity systems, and really just going on a ‘gut feel’ of which one sounded best. Since David Allen’s GTD system has a cult-like following online, I figured there must be something to it since so many people swear by it. Furthermore, I was really enamoured by the pitch I read here about doing mental gymnastics trying to remember “stuff.” That was exactly my problem! I realised that I had far too many ‘inboxes,’ and thus couldn’t trust any of them. So the key was to rationalise and simplify my systems down into just a couple of general purpose apps or methods, and then stick with it.
So, my journey into GTD had begun. However, where to start? A quick app store search for GTD yielded a mind boggling amount of apps and services! After talking with some people who know me well, they suggested the following steps:
- Write a ‘shopping list’ of all the things that you want in an app/service or system, before going out to the interwebz and seeing all of the ‘whizz-bang’ that various apps offer. (this is where rabbit-holes begin)
- Once the list is complete and perhaps prioritised, visit the shops (the internet) and find a service that meets 80% of your criteria, accepting the fact that nothing will meet 100% of your shopping list.
- For me, one of the criteria that I had to think about was whether I was willing to pay for software or not. I very quickly realised that although (perhaps as a hangover from my student days) I normally gravitate away from paid options, that this was not actually a high priority for me. So, if I found one that met all my other criteria and was also free, then hey, cool. If not, no problem.
- Test each service really quickly. I know that many people recommend testing a service for 90 days – however that was exactly my problem! I just moved from service to service to service and never stuck with any! So for me, the key was to test a service really quickly (and set a time limit), and then evaluate. Those that offered freemium or trial versions were very helpful in this regard.
So, what I eventually decided on was:
- Cloud Based – It had to be accessible from anywhere for me, not just one device.
- Syncing – as a subset of cloud based, it also had to have sync abilities
- iPhone App – It needed to be portable
- Frictionless – I needed to be able to add tasks to it Fast, with minimum fuss
- Integrations – I wanted something that I could integrate with other mediums if needed
- A nice UI
- Cheap or Free
- Delegate and share tasks
So, I set off on my shopping experience, testing all the various services….Until….
The part you’ve probably all just skipped to anyway:
I purchased a premium account with Remember The Milk ($30NZD). Here, I record everything that flashes through my mind as a task or a to-do. RTM is great because it is cloud based, and has multiple integration points. Thus I also installed the following into my life:
- RTM iPhone App
- Alfred RTM extension, enabling me to very quickly add to-do’s from where-ever I am on my computer ($30NZD to enable the powerpack in Alfred)
- Email to RTM feature, not only allowing me to forward emails from my email inbox, but also allowing me to set up cool automations using IFTTT.com. (I’ve created a recipe that grabs my Readability ‘read later’ list and adds them as new tasks to my “someday” list on RTM)
- RTM plugin for Gmail, which means that when I label an email as “Action”, a new task is created in RTM
- Set up Reminders on my iPhone to default to my RTM list, meaning I can use Siri to add new tasks to RTM
- Set up Twitter DM –> RTM, meaning that I can Direct Message a task to RTM if needed, which again has been useful for IFTTT.com recipes
I have also installed ActiveInbox plugin for Gmail, which allows me to quickly categorise emails as belonging to various steps (!Action, !Next, !Waiting on). This is not a must have, but it is free.
So then, what about all the other places that I was scrawling notes and lists? The things that aren’t really To-Do’s but are still things I need to remember? Evernote. It really goes with out saying that Evernote is the best solution for all your note taking needs. I was using things that would Sync with dropbox, but then I realised – why bother? Evernote is cloud based anyway, and has far more functionality and integrations. So I moved all my lists of things and notes to myself etc into my Evernote account.
So…. Life is beginning to become less chaotic. I feel much better just simply knowing that all of my things to do are safely located in one place. I regularly make a habit of checking through the inbox section of RTM (where new, uncategorised tasks start) and sorting them into their various lists, tags, and due dates. Now, at work, I open up RTM and navigate to the “Work” list – enabling me to filter out all of the Personal tasks that normally would clutter up my To Do lists, and simply focus on what I needed to do.
Hey, It must have worked, because I have just ticked off another task … “blog about organising life”. I do plan on blogging later about the way I am specifically using RTM, in terms of lists, tags, saved searches, repeats, as well as the automated functions I have created. I suppose I just created another task for myself!