Monday, March 05, 2007

Much Going On.

I'm on the hunt for an organizational system. I'd like to manage my time better; I've been noticing recently that I've spent a lot of time doing stuff, but not actually getting stuff accomplished. I don't know where my time has gone. It seems like I'm generally busy, and almost always doing something, but in retrospect I can't figure out what I've spent time on. I've barely played video games ( my typical time-killer) recently -- maybe an hour of Ghost Recon (the old Ghost Recon) in the past three or four weeks, and that's all. I haven't posted much here, I haven't done much writing, I'm behind with the laundry, and I haven't gotten as much reading done as I'd like. I really can't figure out where my time has gone. And it's irritating me.

With that in mind, I'm reading David Allen's Getting Things Done this week. I'm liking the book; he spends a lot of time talking in manager-speak, but that's his target market. He's got a better system than most I've seen. It looks like a little trouble to implement, but the theory is that it's time well-spent. He proposes that a lot of stress is generated by the constant mental barrage of things that need doing, and that by having a trusted system to get planning and scheduling out of your head (where it's mostly noise) and onto paper (where you can actually do something about them), you eliminate a lot of your stress. He talks intelligently about how to go about this organization, and how to plan projects for maximum effectiveness.

He's got a few things going for him. One is a huge online geek following. Another is that, unlike a lot of organization systems, he doesn't have a product he's selling you -- that is, the book and system isn't just a way to get you to buy a $300 day planner. It speaks well for the system that a lot of its proponents aren't managers -- they're techies. And something about a system whose chief tenet is "Write Everything Down" appeals to the writer in me. And I really like some of the toys people have thought up to go with the system. If I were slightly less attached to my Axim, the Hipster PDA (that's Parietal Disgorgement Aid) would be perfect for me; really, a stack of index cards is easier to use and more practical (and less prone to data crashes) than a traditional electronics-based PDA. On the down side I can't read books or play music on the Hipster, which is mostly what I use my handheld for anyway. And it's not actually true that you can't sync a stack of index cards with your computer; you just have to do it via typing, instead of cables or wireless.

This is less of an impediment than it sounds like, because at least you don't have the idea seated in your head that you should be able to just push a button and have your index cards sync. A lot of my computer-related frustration with the Mac Switch at work has been all about getting different things to talk to each other. Microsoft Entourage (the Mac Office version of Outlook) doesn't sync notes and task items with the Microsoft Exchange server; this is Dumb As Rocks, but true. My Windows Mobile-based handheld doesn't sync with Mac at all, unless I buy some software. And I can't get my handheld to sync with Google Calendar or any other convenient online manager; nor will these highly-efficient, anywhere-accessible online tools sync with Entourage or Outlook. So if I want my various electronica to talk to each other, the only way to really do it is via much complicated cutting and pasting of text. Just typing in a bunch of index cards is less trouble, and a lot less stress, than this.

Over the years I've read a few books from the Time Management section at the bookstore. I generally don't go in looking for a life-changing complete system to adopt; I usually look for a few points of philosophy or practical organization that lend themselves to my lifestyle and personal philosophy. I don't suspect that GTD will be any different, but it's a good read. And maybe it'll give me a few ideas about how to get a better handle on my time. But I have to admit that I'm somewhat tempted to just throw myself wholesale into this system and see what happens. The book itself isn't bad, but the enormous online community is pretty inspiring.

1 comment:

NerfSmuggler said...

Part of the organizational trick is understanding your needs.

About the time I started the side biz doing PC repair, I started carrying around a pad of post-it notes and a pen -- since I generally wear button-up shirts, this isn't a hardship. You can take notes and save them for later or you can stick them where you have to see them again. Most of the stuff I had to keep track of had a life span of a day or two ... rarely as long as a week.

Gradually, as I got organized, that became less of a crutch, and when I started getting into aviation, I switched to one of those little 3" x 5" notepads because post-it's are great for tasks that you want to keep for a week or less, but I started taking notes and writing down questions that I'd want to keep for several weeks or more; like, I can call for BTV's ASOS (auto weather) at 802-658-8382. But still, if I fill a page with stuff I no longer need, I can just rip it out.