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help me help someone implement GTD piecemeal Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
Iíd like to help a friend of mine with some tips on how to implement GTD incrementally. He is an entrepreneur and father of a young child with some health problems. Heís a classic case of someone who needs GTD so badly that he may never get started.

Fortunately, he is a Mac user and itís a no-brainer than heíll buy and use OF if I tell him to. He has already listened to David Allenís abridged audiobook. So the basic inspiration is in place. But he does not have ó repeat, does not have ó the opportunity to invest a bunch of time in getting set up. Itís going to happen in pieces, or not at all.

So ... which pieces? How can you maximize your chances of appreciating GTD when you have no choice but to roll it out slowly?

Of course, David Allen actually specifically argues that GTD doesn't really work if you don't get all of its components working in concert. For instance, there's no point in defining projects if you don't review them. And there's not much point in putting things in an inbox if you don't empty it regularly. To some degree, you have to be firing on all cylinders, or itís just not going to work.

In the real world, though, there has to be some room for implementing GTD in chunks.

Here are two ideas I had for how GTD might be implemented not-all-at-once. Can OF users suggest anything else?

DO GTD ONLY IN ONE PART OF YOUR LIFE AT FIRST. Start with only a single, fairly narrowly defined domain or context of your life to "manage" with GTD. For instance, apply GTD to a only a single category of work (i.e. your work for BCLC). As long as the organizational chain is complete within that domain, it should work well within that domain. Sure, you may still have a lot of unorganized commitments in other domains! But if you can see GTD working well in one area of your life, then you'll be inspired to roll it out into other areas. I had this experience myself. Without planning it, I simply failed to implement GTD with anything personal for a long time: I did GTD with work only, and got it working well at work, and I can hardly imagine how overwhelmed I would have felt if Iíd tried to include the personal stuff at the same time. But I felt like it was pretty easy and satisfying to expand GTD management to the personal domain six months later.

START WITH REVIEWING. Although every part of the GTD process is important and has to be in place, and there's great potential for a partial implementation to backfire, I still think that the "review" component is the "most important" step. I think it make sense to build your GTD experience on a backbone of reviewing ... even when the only thing you have to review is still a disorganized mess. Review the mess! The heart and soul of GTD is the ability to get things off your mind and into an effective system. The review step is particularly crucial because it's how you build TRUST that the system will bring things to your attention when they need to. In the beginning, before you have well-organized projects to review, do a daily review anyway -- a survey of everything on your plate, organized or not. No, you won't be able to see everything yet. Yes, there will be loose ends that won't get reviewed. But the act of reviewing will help you and inspire you as you go!

In other words, Iím basically suggesting that, of all the GTD steps, reviewing has the greatest potential to actually facilitate the other steps.

So, OF community: comments, other suggestions?
When I started off in GTD, I didn't even use a computer program. I wanted to keep it as simple as possible. I stuck with pen and paper for about 6 months before I got comfortable with GTD.

I would envision your friend following the same route. It's tough enough to add GTD into your life while also trying to learn how to use OF.

Your friend (like many of the GTD adoptees including me) will fall off the bandwagon then get back on again. It's just gonna happen because he needs to make GTD a part of his daily habits. And any habit is hard to adopt. For example, I wanna get fit. But going to the gym is unnatural for me. So I have to learn to adopt the gym habit into my daily and weekly habits. Some days I'd look forward to going to the gym. Other days, I just wanna be a couch potato. It takes some effort to go to the gym until it just becomes a habit and I automatically head to the gym on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

GTD didn't finally click in for me until I read a blog article called Zen To Done: The Ultimate Simplicity Productivity System (also known as ZTD).

Here's a quote:

1) GTD is a series of habit changes. This is the main reason why people fall off the GTD system ó itís a bunch of habit changes that are attempted all at once. If youíve read Zen Habits long enough, you know that focusing on one habit at a time is best, and guarantees the most success. In addition, GTDers donít apply proven habit-change methods (the ones I talk about on this site) to change their habits.

Solution: ZTD focuses on one habit at a time. You donít have to try to adopt the entire system at once ó itís overwhelming and itís too hard to focus on your habit changes if you do too many at a time. Instead, focus on one at a time, and adopt the system in phases. Use proven habit-changing methods (30-day challenge, commitment, rewards, motivation hacks, etc.) to successfully adopt each new habit.
There are 10 habits in the ZTD system. I printed this out on a single sheet of paper and started adopting one habit at a time. I choose one of the habits to work on for a few weeks until it becomes auto-pilot. So far, I've gotten six out of the ten habits on auto-pilot. When I feel like I've adopted the habit I've been working on it, I check it off and then choose another habit to adopt.

It wasn't until I got to the ZTD habit of "reviewing your system and goals weekly" that I started using OF. OF has helped me with this aspect quite well.

The eBook (PDF format) can be found here:

It distills the 10 habits into book format making it easier to read. It's well worth the download.

The ZTD variation of GTD has helped me tremendously. Now it's not so hard to adopt into my daily and weekly habits.

I'd also recommend downloading all the OF video tutorials and the manual on the OF page so that he can get familiar with OF. That certainly helps a lot.

your post caught my eye because i'm new to both GTD and omnifocus and starting to implement it piecemeal... like you say, it is challenging to learn both the techniques and the software at the same time... like your friend, i have too many plates spinning already, and it has been extremely hard to make the time to get this started...

for me, i find that i have to do larger activities incrementally... so i'm not starting by putting all of my life or all of my work in OF, but instead just a set of things that i want to start with... this is not only an issue of the time needed to get the info into the software, but also that when there is a lot more data in the software, and i'm reorganizing to figure out how to make it work for me, then a large data set makes it very cumbersome experiment. and the time penalty for a failed experiment at trial and error can make this activity prohibitive...

besides all of that, i find that when i get buried, which happens on regular basis for long periods of time, then i have to work incrementally to get myself out... i dig myself out but spending a little time on it every day or every couple days and can make visible progress over a longer period of time... i have rarely succeeded when trying to work in binge mode to get myself out of the hole...

when something become unwieldy, then i'm forced to abandon it in order to keep the other plates spinning... breaking down these kinds of activities in to manageable increments is the only way i can successfully accomplish it...

so i'm approaching it incrementally because it's the only practical way for me to learn it and also the only practical way i can implement, even if i already knew how to do it...

i can't speak for anyone else, but it is how things work for me...

your friend is lucky to have someone like you who is interested and willing to offer help... good luck to you both...
Originally Posted by jefferyn View Post
so i'm approaching it incrementally because it's the only practical way for me to learn it and also the only practical way i can implement, even if i already knew how to do it...

i can't speak for anyone else, but it is how things work for me...

your friend is lucky to have someone like you who is interested and willing to offer help... good luck to you both...
I had much the same experience, and agree with the suggested approach. Especially if there's some discrete chunk of your life that you can tease out so it is easier to instantly know whether that's something you're doing with the new system or the old. OmniFocus is very flexible, and I can't really think of any cases where you can get so stuck by making wrong choices that you have to start over, though certainly it is possible to do boneheaded things that will increase your workload. Trying it out with a small subset of your life allows you to get a feel for the program and the process without having to rework a huge pile of actions every time you make some sort of breakthrough.

Indeed, that friend is lucky -- people pay David Allen and his employees good money to have them provide that sort of coaching! One can learn an awful lot on this forum, but it can be time consuming and a bit overwhelming...
Well, part of the Weekly Review is to determine what you can delete, delegate, or put in Someday/Maybe. That way, you can concentrate on doing the things that mean most to you or are the most urgent now.

All the other stuff that you've been meaning to get to (conquering that stack of books or DVDs sitting on the table, finally fixing that creaky closet door) is at least recorded and waiting for your next weekly review. Then at the appropriate time, you can return it back to active status.

That's the beauty of being able to use OmniFocus for your weekly review. Just focus in on certain contexts and see what next actions are available for you. Hide all the rest of the next actions that can't be done unless step 1, 2, and 3 are accomplished. Hide all the Someday/Maybe projects until review time.

That's the simplicity of GTD. OmniFocus is a great tool to help with your weekly review. When I first started using OmniFocus, I spent most of my time in Context mode or in Planning/Project mode. When I eventually discovered Review mode, that's when it started clicking for me.
Originally Posted by wilsonng View Post
When I eventually discovered Review mode, that's when it started clicking for me.
That was definitely my experience, too. And therefore ...

I wonder ... (no-bad-ideas brainstorming mode here!) ... I wonder if it would be effective to begin in OF with a list of projects only ... donít try to populate them with actions at first ... just think in terms of ďprojects on my plateĒ and set a review period for each of them ... very review-o-centric, just focus on creating SOMETHING to review ... this would give your ďstuffĒ a review-able toehold in OF ... and then as things come up for review, you start defining and refining them, adding more meaning to what youíre reviewing over time...

And, wilsonng, yeah ... OF might be overwhelming for someone starting out, too. ;-)

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