Getting Things Done

It is not easy! I have struggled with achieving higher productivity while working on my personal projects or working from home. I kept asking why? Obvious answers were -
  • Lots of distractions - @home usually my PS3 is in my sight, there is no pair to pull me back from reading a relatively long blog post (and then catching up on xkcd).
  • Plenty of things to do - I have plenty of things to do in my new house. So my home tasks list is never-ending. That somehow gets higher priority than my personal project or gets mixed up!
Initially, my reaction to all these things was simple. I need to do better time management! Easy!

Attempt 1 - ToDo lists and Time Tracking

I decided to get a time tracking tool and then plan 10 hours for a weekend strictly for personal work. Seemed very simple and achievable.

I used following set of tools for this -
  • RescueTime - To track and improve my time spent on computer
  • Toggl - Timer for tracking time spent on work
  • Pen and Paper - To make list of tasks and track them.

How did that go?

Well, not great. I was having very high hopes from this simple system. Then I analyzed where did I go wrong?
  • I made a good list of things to do. This was just a list! I will explain why this is an issue.
  • RescueTime allowed me to understand how I spent time on computer, and nothing beyond. It improved my productivity by recovering some lost time but not much.
  • Toggl was a complete failure for this purpose. Often I just forgot to start/stop timers!

Attempt 2 - GTD

This time I decided to go better prepared and  with better tools. Yes, I know what you're thinking! You are thinking, that tools can't improve productivity loss and self-control is more important than anything else. I agree, and will add that better tools will help you to get better results. If your will power is strong and you're very disciplined, with better tools you might be able to use your time even more optimally.

This time I decided to go with -
  • Things - This is a very powerful task management application. It is very simple to use and good at managing your tasks properly. I got inspiration from Akshay Dhavle to use this tool. Expensive but great tool!
  • Pomodoro - This is a free tool for mac. For folks who want to know more about pomodoro, head over here.

How did it go?

Well I have tried this for past 3 weeks and great so far! I will keep updating about this in coming days. I achieved most of the things I planned without serious lag and I am getting better at it.

So what improved this time?

As I mentioned earlier that pen and paper to-do list was great to begin with, but it was just a list! That was the only issue with it. It told me that I have these 100 things in my pipeline and I need to do them. Well yes, but how? How should I pick a certain thing in my list and not other. Depends on how you make your list and I am sure you have a better way to manage your tasks using pen and paper. I wasn't!

Time tracking is not very useful! I tracked time and realized that I wasted time! I knew that already! It didn't push me in the right direction to do more out of my time. Pomodoro is nothing but time tracking, you might say. I felt that it was more powerful technique than just tracking time. You should carry out one task in a pomodoro sprint. So when you're starting a pomodoro sprint, you're committing yourself to finish that task in 25 minutes or less. That is a huge difference in just tracking; I spent 40 minutes on something vs I want to get this done in next 25 minutes!

First I imported (typed) all my tasks on paper into 'Things' application. Added few more tasks which were not listed on paper as well. Later, I organized my tasks in various projects and responsibilities. This built nice context around my tasks. I spent about 10 minutes for around 100 tasks to think about and put dates on them. Many tasks were immediate once. I knew it is impossible to do them. I rearranged my tasks and priorities. No false promises to self!

"Things" really helped me in getting tasks in perspective. Pomodoro really helped me in getting those tasks beyond finish line.

It helped.

Published September 18 2011

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