First of all, a very Happy New Year to all of you LifeClever readers.
I’ve been a pretty faithful GTD adherent for several years now. Barring project lists, which have never seemed worth the effort to maintain, I’ve stuck to David Allen’s guidelines no matter what combination of calendar, task list, and capture system I was playing with at any particular moment. Until now.
A Moment of ClarityLast week, I was reading Neil Fiore’s excellent book on avoiding procrastination, The Now Habit. (I love his psychological approach to creating a happy work environment so that you actually look forwarding to work instead of resisting it, but I’ll do a more complete review after a few weeks of use.)
As I read the book, I started to think about the things that gave me anxiety about my own system, the things that soured me on tasks. And it suddenly dawned on me how much time I spent fussing around with them. Every time I finished even the smallest milestone, I’d click into my task manager and slowly work through my contexts, reading and evaluating each and every task. Not to pick the next task, but rather to just sort of “check in” with them. Yes, it’s crazy.
And yes, technically, contexts are intended to limit the tasks you have to see at any one moment. But beyond the @waiting list, my contexts are mostly flexible. Some tasks can be done at home or at work. I’d created a @weekend list for projects that required uninterrupted blocks of an hour or more, like building an IKEA desk. I’d created an @agenda list for items that required particular people. An @phone list. An @errand list. An @vacation list. And tasks were constantly shuffling between each context, often with nothing actually getting done.
Stop the madness!Yes, I’m sure some of the GTD purists out there are clucking their tongues at this point. “Well,” they’re thinking, “you obviously weren’t following GTD orthodoxy. If only you’d picked four or five broad contexts and stuck with them and resisted the temptation to ‘manage your tasks,’ contexts would have worked for you.”
Maybe so. But I realized that by dividing up my tasks at all, I was creating additional psychic load, both in creating new tasks and sorting through existing ones. Instead of one finite list of 74 tasks, I had an amorphous group of changing contexts with dozens of tasks constantly shuffling between them. And try as I might, I couldn’t stabilize them.
Now there are a lot of GTD variants floating around, but I’ve never anyone suggest getting rid of contexts altogether. But that’s exactly what I did. Now, my tasks are all together in one place, with a separate @waiting list because that’s such a clear, either/or category even I couldn’t see getting rid of it.
One Bucket to Rule Them AllAs soon as I dumped all my tasks into one bucket, I felt a sense of peace. There, before me, were my tasks. A mountain, perhaps, but mountains can be climbed.
Now, creating a new task has one less step, and I have no excuse for paging through my task list any more unless I’m there to pick the next to-do off the pile. Having separate contexts never actually reduced my anxiety, and I’ve gotten a definite morale boost from having a finite and concrete list of tasks that doesn’t float around, so to speak.
The coming months will determine whether a task list without contexts will work for me, but in the meantime, I encourage you to give it a try.
Photo by davidw