In a recent post about to do lists, C.J. Chilvers (thanks to Shawn Blanc for the link) makes a case for his move from a GTD computer application to a paper-based system. This is just one more post that I’ve read this week that I wished I had written myself. My system is different enough, though, that I thought it warranted a short post.
A great GTD computer application serves one single purpose in my day-to-day: removing friction. Tools like OmniFocus allow me to quickly push tasks and ideas out of the active portion of my brain and into a system that allows me to organize them by date, project and context. The friction disappears because I can enter the items fast and move on, knowing that later that day or week I’ll be able to sit down and organize it all. For me, paper can’t serve in that same frictionless manner. It’s in the pixels that I find speed and freedom.
But at the end of each day, when everything that I can do has been done, I’ll open up OmniFocus on my iPad and grab my latest favorite thing: the Action Book from Behance. If OmniFocus allows me to input my tasks and ideas with as little friction as possible, it’s the Action Book that keeps me on task and focused on my output through the workday. Any notebook will do, from a no-frills FieldNotes book to a fancy Levenger Circa setup. The key here is paper and pen.
After a brief overview of the items on my list for the next day, I list out what needs to be done in a tight chronological order. Some blocks of time can handle multiple tasks, especially items that fall under the contexts of Email, Phone, Leads and Follow-Up. Other items require larger blocks of time like research, writing and of course, design. I also make sure I schedule in items that aren’t on my to do list, such as meetings, conference calls, lunch and other appointments. They live in iCal as my frictionless entry point, but if I don’t take them into consideration while planning my day, it’s easy to bite off more than I can chew and set myself up for frustration and disappointment.
The final product is a list I can live by the moment I hit my desk at 8am the next day. My iPad might still be open to OmnioFocus throughout the day, but the first and foremost on my mind is the notebook. And moving down the list I simply check items off as I complete them. If I have to skip over an item for the day, I’ll put a star next to it so I can carry it over to tomorrow’s list.
It’s not perfect by any means. It’s not so simple that I forget it’s there or miss details, and just complex enough to provide the tools that keep my day effective and productive. It’s a system of paper and pixels, and both are central to my success.