Distractions and Wagon Falling

Yes, it’s been a while since I last posted. Truth be told, I’ve a) been really busy, both at work and at home, b) been in a bit of a creative funk, c) fallen of the GTD wagon. There, I said it. “Hi there everyone. My name is Josh and I keep stuff in my head.”

Thinking back over the last few weeks, I can see a couple places where I’ve fallen short in my practices:

  • Processing Inbox To Zero: I’ve been doing quite a lot of what Merlin Mann calls “Emergency Scanning” lately. Usually my rule is that once I touch my inbox, everything has to be processed. Instead, I’ve been flipping through items, making sure there weren’t any brewing fires, then only processing everything every other day or so. Alas, as a wise man (probably) once said, “A nuisance today is a fire tomorrow.”
  • Reviewing Religously: I don’t think I need to espouse the necessity of reviewing what’s on your plate early and often. For the past two weeks or so, however, it’s been a pretty constant fire-fight, with the latest really being the most urgent. It’s a draining place to be in, and I hope soon that the firestorms will die down and I can get back to being a bit more proactive.
  • The Weekly Review: Already one of my week spots, and I’m afraid I’ve completely skipped over this in favor of the same emergency “quick-scan” mentality. I’ve been so focused on one or two projects that outside of those two, I haven’t really cared what else got pushed off.

So, like a golf player whose swing has gone awry, I’m returning to the fundamentals to break out of the slump. Here’s a few self-imposed rules:

  1. Every day must end with an empty, processed inbox. NO EXCEPTION
  2. Any e-mail that arrived prior to 3:00PM must either be answered, delegated, or responded to with a “I don’t know at the moment but I’ll get back to you” note and subsequent logging of action.
  3. Sunday nights from 8-9PM are set aside for weekly review. My wife has already been recruited to enforce this policy, on penalty of, well, horrible things (the mind of a pregnant woman is a dangerous thing).

Oh, and I plan on posting to Twitter and this blog over the next week to log my progress getting back in the saddle. Truth be told I do very much miss the “mind-like-water” feeling that always accompanied knowing exactly what’s on my plate at any given time.

It’s not the car, it’s the driver

Andy over at The Cranking Widgets Blog has a good post on why it’s not the system of GTD that fails us, but our own lack of commitment and follow through.

One of my side hobbies is photography.  It’s a nice creative outlet, has a side benefit of recording important events, and (most importantly) gives me an excuse to get the latest gadgets.  That being said, one of the most common lines among photography teachers is “A great camera does not a great photographer make.”  All you have to do is look at some of the great work done by groups like Kids With Cameras (a fantastic charity, by the way) to see that amazing pictures are more about the artist than the equipment.

Similarly, in the GTD realm, I think it’s very easy to get caught up in all the neato gadgets and gizmos, and lose some of the core principles.  You can have all the Moleskines, fancy pens, and slick Web 2.0 interfaces you want, but if you aren’t dumping your brain on a regular basis, deciding upon next action steps, and completing them, all your pretty toys won’t be doing much good.

Like Andy, I’ll openly admit that when things slip through the cracks in my world, it’s usually because I got lazy and skipped one of those mandatory reviews, or wasn’t disciplined about writing things down.  Let’s face it: GTD is hard.  It takes a lot of time and effort to stay loyal to your system, and like all humans, we’re prone to falling into ruts from time to time.  I’m not the first one to come to this realization, and I’m sure I won’t be the last one.

So you’ve admitted that you’ve fallen off the wagon… now what?  How do we best get back up and right the ship?

First, we need to return to the fundamentals.  In my quest to improve my golf game, I constantly have to watch for the little things in my swing: 1) keep your head down, 2) don’t redistribute your weight too much, 3) swing through the ball.  If I start topping balls out of nowhere, it’s usually one of the above.  In the same light, if I start to miss things and feel my stress level creeping up, I can usually trace it to my lack of getting my loops out of my brain, deciding on concrete actions to take on all of them, and methodically picking what to do with my time.

Secondly, make your struggle public.  Last week I talked about my fight with priority and choosing what to do in the moment, and promised to post daily evidence of my conscious effort to improve on my Twitter feed.  By making everyone aware of your goals, and asking them to hold you accountable, you give yourself extra motivation to stay the course and succeed.  This concept is not anything new and revolutionary in the world of goal setting, but it’s a solid tip that has often worked for me.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go tweet my status.. I’m already behind today.