Evolution of My Trusted System from To-Do Lists to GTD

This is the second guest post on GTD for CIO’s from my friend, co-worker and fellow GTD enthusiast André Vargas.

As a junior solutions developer straight out of the University of Copenhagen, my company took its new recruits to an HR seminar where the topics included items like Work-Life Balance and Productivity Tips & Tricks. While all lectures provided useful insights, my takeaway “nugget of gold” was found during Tips & Tricks.

See, I’m one of those people who tend to bring work home. If unchecked, I stuff all the stresses of a project’s not quite finished or not yet begun business into a very heavy “mental briefcase”.  That’s why, when the Tips & Tricks speaker brought up “The Tomorrow To-Do List,” he immediately had my attention.

His simple, yet genius suggestion was to end each workday with an action list for tomorrow; a well-thought out way to hit the ground running for the yet to come. I put this suggestion to use the next day and I was empowered.

A simple ‘mental download’ at the end of the day, although technically extra work, allowed me to let go. It was a way to power-down the “hard drive of my mind” and it was a gift. We all need to recharge our batteries and have well-rounded lives.

Andres Red BookMy “Tomorrow To-Do Listing” started as reminders scribbled on small pieces of paper, or entered into Outlook. While this more scattered approach proved helpful, inspired by a colleague and mentor, I eventually moved on to a journal (I chose a bound book with graph paper so I could put little squares by each task which I would fill in with a color as I progressed).

Each day would add more pages, and regularly, perhaps once a week, I would go back, cancel out no longer relevant responsibilities and move forward uncompleted tasks to a new page for the upcoming week.

Andres BookThen I started adding notes from meetings, design diagrams, colleague and client business cards, and personal reminders. My notes and the supporting material were not only helpful in the short term to help clear my mental cache, but they became a narrative of my work; a bible if you will of whatever project I was working on. I have maintained this book for 6 years and still have it today as a reminder of my trusted system.

I say ‘reminder’ because I have moved on to an even better method: “GTD” (Getting things Done).  It’s a more comprehensive system that addresses what I was trying to do with my handwritten book for years. When I was introduced to GTD, I was like a kid in a candy store; so happy to find the guidelines and structure I had attempted to create on my own for years.

My “Tomorrow’s To-Do list” has become my “Next Action Items list” and it has allowed me even more efficient task-management, enhanced my information processing and prioritization and time perspectives. GTD also introduced me to my new favorite list: the someday maybe list, which I am just starting to work on!

Clearly I’m pretty excited about this, but you don’t have to be as enthusiastic as I to reap tremendous benefits. Just try to find the system that works best for you, and keep it up because the simple task of creating a list allow you to shift the way you viewed tomorrow’s workday from a day filled with tasks still left undone, into a day filled with powerful potential.

About Michael Keithley

4 Responses to Evolution of My Trusted System from To-Do Lists to GTD

  1. David says:

    Looking at your notebook reminds me of just how powerful paper is. My version of GTD is executed primarily in Evernote which is excellent for text, audio, and photo capture as well as organizing and fast reference. What it doesn’t allow me to do is sketch a mind-map when I’m brainstorming an approach to solving a problem or draw a quick conceptual picture of the thing I need to build. For this I go to external tools like Mindjet or Skitch but I do this very infrequent because of some mental block to swtiching to another tool, createing the thing and then bring it inline in a note in Evernote. Paper, on the other hand, allows you to switch seamlessly between text and diagramming. Thanks for the inspiration to dive back into those “thinking” tools!

    • Andre says:

      I agree, so many great tools, and sometimes you just have that one second, where pen and paper will do exactly what you need at that time. A work around could be to sketch your mindmap or design on paper, then take a picture from your smart phone and upload the image in an Evernote, thank you for your comment!

      • David turned me on to an app called CamScanner that does exactly that. It allows you to take a picture of a piece of paper and send it to Evernote. I agree with David that I do not as of yet have the mental block out such that I don’t think to do this.

  2. So the Someday/Maybe list is your new favorite list. Can you elaborate why? For me, it gives me the freedom to know things are captured in my trusted system that I’m not ready to really commit to doing yet. Knowing that I will review these items once a week in my Weekly Review allows me to “file and forget.”

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