Before I read David Allen’s book ‘Getting Things Done’ (or GTD as it is often called), my ‘system’ for managing my workflow was about as orderly and predictable as the traffic in an Indian city. And, just like Indian traffic, the system sort of worked, but as my best friend remarked while we were lurching through the streets of Jaipur on the back seat of a sideless rickshaw driven by the fearless driver-cum-tour-guide Ali (or John Travolta, as he preferred to be called) at only about 30km per hour, but still narrowly missing camels, scooters, cars and manic, overloaded buses which were all (apart from the camels) going faster than us, the biggest danger was that one could be half-killed. And so it was with my system for managing my day-to-day work routine…
Enter GTD and things began to change. I reorganised my home and office. My brain felt like it had been reorganised. While the ‘reorganisation’ process involved learning several new habits, the one that probably made the most difference was that I stopped arranging my ‘stuff’ in piles according to subject matter, and started arranging it in piles according to ‘Next actions’, for example, ‘To phone’, ‘Next @ computer’, etc. It’s amazing what a difference this little shift made in my ability to be productive. (While at the same time increasing the sophistication of my procrastination techniques, but we won’t go down that road…)
Of course GTD is not the panacea to all productivity problems, and it’s had its share of rightful criticism, but I think its core principles are useful when practised judiciously.
Soon after implementing the GTD system, my whole life moved onto the computer, and when you start organising your stuff on a computer you get into the realm of what is increasingly referred to as a PLE (personal learning environment). My PLE is my browser. Personal living environment might be a more accurate description in my case… I pretty much live in FireFox. My whole GTD system is in there. So, if I ever found myself on a desert island with no Internet connection, I wouldn’t be able to get anything done. (But that would be the whole point of being on the desert island, right?)
iGoogle is set to my home page in FireFox. Apart from being the launching pad for some obvious things like my Gmail account, my Google Reader feeds, Google news feeds, weather reports and maps, it also contains all my projects lists and to-do-lists, which I created by going into “Add Stuff” in iGoogle, and then selecting (surprise surprise) the To-Do List. You can load this great little gadget as many times as you like into iGoogle – as long as you put each list into a separate tab. Resulting in GTD paradise – a tab for ‘Goals’, a tab for ‘Projects’, a tab for ‘Next actions @ work’, or whatever headings you want – each with its own list. (By the way, I tried EverNote and RememberTheMilk, but for this purpose both of them – especially EverNote – felt like trying to drive a ten-ton truck through the centre of Bangalore. People do it. But give me a little zippy scooter any day.)
Now for Diigo. Diigo is my repository for all the reference material out there on the Web that I want to be able to find again with just a quick tag search. It’s a brilliant way to do the following things:
- Save your bookmarks in a non browser-specific place on the Web
- Share bookmarks with colleagues and friends – and you can configure Diigo so that all your links also go automatically to Delicious if you have a network there
- And… this is the killer feature if you happen to be a researcher… you can highlight selected text in web pages and add annotations in sticky notes. You can also share your annotations, and choose whether to read the public annotations of other, selected Diigo users.
If you go into my Diigo bookmarks, you’ll find everything from how to potty-train your kitten, to where to find the best hotel in Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown. Oh, and a handful of links to blogs and discussions about GTD, PLEs and social bookmarking, some of which informed this blog entry. And a whole bunch of stuff about using technology to enhance learning and teaching.
With iGoogle and Diigo as the drivers in my PLE-GTD system, my working day now feels a lot less like trying to get around an Indian roundabout, and a bit more like this fantastic representation of traffic flow in Tokyo based on GPS signals. (On second thoughts, maybe the back seat of John Travolta’s rickshaw would be a safer bet…)
By Gabi Witthaus