Here’s the joke I have made a thousand times: “I want to try Getting Things Done, but first I have to master Finding That Book.”
Thanks! Tip your waitress, folks, gas prices are skyrocketing.
I am slowly coasting towards an acceptance that most systems are not really going to work for me. Here’s my five-step process for trying out a new system, a process outlined more accurately at Hyperbole and a Half (language and awesomeness warning):
1. THIS SYSTEM AND/OR SHORT HAIRCUT CHANGES EVERYTHING. Alert a small group of people who are moderately invested in my success but who will not follow up with irritating “how’s that system workin’ out for ya?” questions down the line. Let them know Change is on the horizon.
2. Perfect the system with some modifications of my own that make it EVEN MORE AMAZING. Maybe some color-coding, spend some time considering font choices for the lists I may need. I will turn heads. “Dorian, when did you become such a task-completing machine? What’s your secret?” “Well, I could tell you, but howsabout I show you in this seven-slide PowerPoint: How This System Changed Everything? I put it together with all of my amazing free time now that I’m so productive.”
I should…maybe start working on the PowerPoint, come to think of it.
3. How the FRANCE do you insert animations in this new version of PowerPoint? This is the least user-friendly program on the planet. Now, where do I file “Learn about animations in PowerPoint” in This System, because I know it’s not a To Delegate or a Tickle File Object, but it’s also not urgent, and @#(*& I WAS SUPPOSED TO PICK UP THE KIDS TEN MINUTES AGO.
4. “Can y’all help Mommy find my book I was reading? It’s called FLYing Your Parachute to Getting Things Housekept with Kids for Extroverts. I think it has an orange cover or an “R” in the title.”
5. Hey, maybe it’s time I finally learned to crochet!
Step 5: System Amnesia is my favorite of the steps, because it’s a better outcome than Other Step 5: Total Despair. I’m 50/50 with which outcome I ultimately enjoy as the result of Project System.
Have you taken the Myers-Briggs test? Like, a thousand times, maybe, in the course of “research?” I have. I try to game the assessment to make myself seem more virtuous but it always comes back the same thing.
Inside they may feel very planful or decisive (which they are). Remember, in type language perceiving means “preferring to take in information;” it does not mean “perceptive” in the sense of having quick and accurate perceptions about people and events.
People who prefer perceiving may:
like staying open to respond to whatever happens
look more loose and casual
like to keep laid-out plans to a minimum
like to approach work as play or mix work and play
work in burst of energy, and enjoy rushing just before deadlines
sometimes stay open to new information so long that they miss making decisions
sometimes focus so much on adapting to the moment that they do not settle on a direction or plan
SUPER FUN, amirite? Loose! Casual! Work as play! Bursts of energy! Zap! Pow!
In graduate school, we were given the MBTI assessment for placement as either high school or middle school teachers, which was pretty interesting. The primary factor was whether a person was a “T” or an “F,” but I was able to lobby for middle school placement based on my strong, STRONG “P” tendencies. Comfortable with unpredictability = not completely stressed out by teenagers.
But, of course, in my vocation as manager of my home and small business owner, I can’t be all-P, all-the-time. Here are some tools I have found to be useful despite my inherent resistance to structure. Useful like “keep things from going totally haywire around here.”
1. The Uncalendar. The Uncalendar doesn’t hold it against me if I misplace it for a couple of weeks. It doesn’t come back to say “NOTICE YOUR LACK OF ACCOMPLISHMENTS FROM MARCH 23-APRIL 4 OF THIS FISCAL YEAR.” No, it’s blank until I fill it with whatever I want to scrawl into its multicolored boxes, and it doesn’t make me write lists the way The Man says I have to make a list. It lets me be FREE. Sometimes too free.
2. Evernote. I know there are people who combine Evernote with Getting Things Done, and I am vaguely interested in learning more about that, but what I love about Evernote is that it’s basically one huge pile on my virtual desk that lets me instantly find what I’m looking for. Articles, tutorials, PDF’s, notes to myself, all of that good stuff can go into Evernote and I just need to search for a word or phrase to find everything related to that topic. I use Evernote on my smartphone, in my browser, and on my Kindle. When it comes to actual paper, I’m at a complete loss, but Evernote lets me organize all the digital information I process every day.
3. Toggl. Slowly but surely, Toggl is helping me to better understand how long it actually takes me to complete a task. I tend to think that small, detail-oriented tasks will take forever and huge projects will be a matter of hours to complete, which is how I end up staying up until 5:30 Easter morning sewing a dress but forget to renew my car registration. Toggl is pretty no-frills but lets me track my time by project, which is also helpful for web design stuff that I bill by the hour.
4. The Occasional Fancy Supply. I bought a $13 drafting pencil. I know that I could have bought 250 fake wood pencils at Sam’s Club for that amount, but I like the heft of the pencil in my hand, the superhero-titanium-look, the fact that it lets me write really, really small so I can fit more assignments on my children’s assignment sheets when I’m writing out their assignments which I totally do all the time because I’m a great homeschooler. My Uncalendar is so happy that I got this pencil because now I look forward to sitting down to make some sort of plan for the week.
Now, of course, the flip side of this is that there’s always a more functional eco-friendly wheatgrass-scented binder beckoning to me from the office supply department, but I am deliberately cultivating a spirit of No, You Already Have One of Those. It sometimes helps.
Friends, Romans, commenters, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Do you know your MBTI type? Do you care? And are there particular tools you’ve found helpful in your own productivity, given your personality?
And, once I find it, should I bother reading the rest of Getting Things Done?