What worked and what didn’t in GTD (one scientist’s perspective)

Life of Brian, Crowd Scene, The goal of time management is to implement a set of tools and practices that let you achieve you’re life goals. That said, we are all different, a mosaic of strengths and weaknesses that makes a “one-size fits all” approach downright loony.

This is why posts like this one from Fumbling towards Geekdom are so valuable. It reviews the productivity tools that worked in  2006 for this academic with a parrot fixation. A short summary:


  1. How to become an early riser–Imagine what one hour added to your day would add to your life. That’s about two days worth wakefulness a month. Yow. If your body can handle it, give it a try.
  2. Fooling yourself into good habits by convincing yourself its only temporary–Robert Trivers, the latest recipient of the Crafoord prize, once gave a lecture to my fellow graduate students at the University of Arizona explaining how self-deception was frequently adaptive. Isn’t that why they call it self-denial?
  3. Doing the hardest thing, the most important thing, the one least likely to get done, the very first thing in the morning. This one tops my personal list of things to try out, but with one caveat. As a caffeine addict, I will still cruise the web over morning coffee to find the little nuggets (some would say bupkis) that make this blog what it is. It is, after all, my duty.

Didn’t work:

  1. Getting things done. The system of the same name, not the actual practice. GTD requires a degree of slavishness which isn’t everybody’s cup ‘o joe. On the other hand, even without zombie-like servitude there are a number of hacks that can work regardless of whether you drink the whole pitcher of kool-aid.
  2. Writing binges–the practice of carving out large blocks of time to write, as attractive as it sounds, doesn’t work for me. If I promise myself I’ll write all day Friday, I wind up wasting a big chunk of Friday luxuriating in all that free time. Instead, Ann Lamott’s Bird by Bird approach (300 words a day, shitty first drafts) works best. This keeps the manuscript forever on my brain and is good practice in the art of ramping up to work at maximum capacity on short notice. The most productive scholars are those that write every day.

2 Responses to What worked and what didn’t in GTD (one scientist’s perspective)

  1. caveblogem says:

    Another good post. The “fooling yourself into good habits” part is particularly important, I think. This one has been responsible for more breakthrough habits in my life than any other. Once I get going on something I have made a short committment to, I am loathe to drop it; it would be like giving up. But getting it started when looking at more than a temporary committment is just too scary, though.

    Paradoxically, this advice, coupled with the Bird-by-Bird approach to writing, has pushed me into some writing binges that have continued for several hours and produced thousands of workable words. Again, once I get going on something, once I get into the flow, everything else melts away. The key is to remember that even though you just produced 3000 words, the next day you are only responsible for 300, just another bird.

  2. torchwolf says:

    Don’t that “fooling yourself” is an accurate description.

    If your intention is to try something out, and see if it works, then you are not fooling yourself in calling it temporary. You are “just dating” the new habit, not “getting married” yet.

    Connected with that is that exploring new ways of doing things is a lot easier when it is not loaded with heavy signficance. If you tell yourself “I must get up earlier, or I will never amount to anything” for many of us that would be a recipe for disaster, and we’d end up constantly anxiously trying-and-failing to get up earlier.

    Whereas simply saying “I’m going to get up an hour early every day this week, and see how that goes” would for many people be liberating and simple to do.

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