the more I read of these GTD sites (like 43folders), the more I realize that I don’t need a lot of help getting things done. Basically, my life isn’t that complicated; most of the time I just go to work, deal with things as they arise, answer email as it arrives, go to meetings if they’re absolutely necessary, and, once in a great while, schedule a meeting myself.
Usually, when people submit articles discussing their tips for managing their schedules and to-do lists, I find that I either already practice something very similar to what is suggested, or that I have absolutely no needs that would be served by the tips.
Maybe my memory is just better than other people’s. Maybe my life isn’t as complicated. Maybe I’m just good at unconsciously streamlining things. The only thing I can think of in the way of a productivity technique is: don’t take email out of your inbox (or, in Outlook, mark it read) until you have dealt with it. I know this is essentially what Merlin Mann calls “Inbox Zero”; but when I first had to start dealing with a lot of email, it seemed self-evident to me, so I’ve been doing it for years.
Sometimes, if something is REALLY important and has to be kept, dealing with it is just dropping it into my SAVE folder. I only have one of these; again, maybe my life just isn’t that complicated, but I find that having to categorize things, or having to figure out which folder to put them into, are just unnecessary complications that make it easier for things to fall off my “radar”.
If the inbox stream gets to be too much to deal with, I set up mailbox rules to filter out the trivial crap and bypass the inbox, going directly to one of my Trivial Crap folders. Then they’re there just in case something or someone calls my attention to them.
About once every four to six months, my email system requires a little maintenance, because Outlook server folders have a size quota, and I never delete anything unless it’s very large and unimportant (a failsafe mechanism). So I take an hour or two to move everything in my inbox to a local disk folder (I don’t do it often enough to remember in detail how to do it from one time to the next). At this point the Trivial Crap folders are emptied (or, less likely, moved to local disk).
In the meantime, when I get a spare moment every few weeks, I sort my mail folders in descending order by size, and either wipe out the big stuff, or move it to local disk. Generally I can halve the size of my Outlook mailbox just by deleting the video clips, audio files, Santa Claus powerpoints, and right-wing nutbar propaganda.
Strangely enough, with my personal email and my Gmail account (which most of my other email gets forwarded to), I tend if anything to delete TOO MUCH stuff.
I tend to drop files I’m working with (which often originate as email attachments) into a single desktop folder called “stuff”. Over time, the stuff folder accumulates various files and folders. Once in a while, again in a spare moment, I clean up the stuff folder, blowing away things that aren’t necessary, moving files pertaining to a particular project into a single folder, moving files of a particular type (e.g. Perl scripts) into a single folder, and so forth. This works well on OS X in that I can get to anything directly from the dock without having to open a Finder window, on Windows because I only have to open one, and on Cygwin because I don’t have to remember how to go to /cygdrive/d/Documents And Settings/kumquat/Desktop…
More and more I try to keep things on the Web, so that I can get to them from wherever I happen to be. This has become a real pain in the ass, though, because I like to try new web toys when they come out, so I have some pictures on Flickr, others on Picasa, still others on Shutterfly; I have some documents on Google, others on Backpack, others on box.net, and I had some on dot-mac back when it wasn’t outrageously priced; I have aggregators set up in Google, Yahoo, Bloglines, and two or three other places. I have half a dozen email accounts, about half of which only get checked once every couple of months because they won’t forward or serve POP3. I have had about 53 different blogs set up in about 47 different places, none of which have really gotten significant readership.
My family uses Yahoo Groups and Yahoo 360; some of my friends use livejournal; some use Yahoo IM; some use Gmail and Google Talk.
If I have a hindrance to getting things done, it’s THAT.
So that’s my system. Even though I’ve pretty much worked out what kind of productivity habits work for me, I still like to read the productivity sites; I have a stationery and writing-instrument fetish, a twenty-year-old Day-Timer I lug around with me but no longer fill, amounting to a miniature briefcase (even though it doesn’t have the built-in handles); a squared-pages Moleskine which tucks nicely into the Day-Timer; astronaut pens; fancy Parker-style swag pens from trade shows that I fill with gel cartridges; etc., etc., etc.
The other aspect of the productivity sites that appeals to me is their generally upbeat tone and focus on personal development. Since I’m in my late 40s, fairly set in my ways, and not rich, I’m not heavily into the business side of it; but, since I’m sort of a cranky person, and especially since I repudiated religion, I often need some help focusing on love, happiness, and the other fundamentals.
So I’m already getting things done, at least as much as I have to; but I still like reading some of the GTD sites.