I mention to Tomo that I'm reading *Getting Things Done* the other day.
"It's one of those books that takes 200 pages to tell you have a 'to-do list'," I say.
"Yeah," he says. "Getting things done is just a matter of willpower."
I kind of agree with that. On the other hand, reading one of these productivity books often gives my willpower a boost, and for a couple weeks straight I'll get a bunch of stuff done that I'd been putting off for ages.
And *Getting Things Done* is actually a decent book. Sure, it inspires crazy, almost cultlike, devotion in some. And its central thesis *is* pretty much just, "Have a 'to-do list.'" But I got some stuff out of it. And for only $15, it was worth it.
Here's some of the stuff I found useful:
* Buy a nice file cabinet. Although at work I'm almost entirely paperless, at home I don't have that luxury. I used to have a cheap file cabinet where the drawer was difficult to open. I never filed anything; I just had a big pile of papers sitting on top of the filing cabinet. David Allen points out the reason I never filed anything was because it was so unpleasant. So I bought this gunmetal gray Hon where the drawers slide out like butter...and it really is pleasant. I keep all the menus from our nearby takeout places in a file in the filing cabinet now, instead of the kitchen drawer, because it's just so nice to open and close the thing.
* The reason to write things down isn't because you might forget. It's so you can "free your mind." If you don't write things down, your mind loops on stuff. When you write them down, you don't have to think about them anymore. Less stress. Very Matrixy.
* The two-minute rule. As you're processing stuff that needs to be done: filing it for later or adding it to your calendar or whatever, if it takes less than two minutes, just do it! You might point out that now, instead of getting big, important tasks done, you're getting lots of little possibly not-so-important tasks done, but it is great for staying on top of things.
* Weekly review. You need to spend up to an hour or so every week on maintenance: getting the latest batch of papers and notes and crap that's collected over the week into the todo list and calendar and what not. And you need to review your todo lists, see if anything from your "someday maybe" list wants to come over to one of your "do soon" lists. Otherwise all you get after your burst of willpower is back to the status quo.
* The "someday maybe" list. In game development, we call this the "wish list". It usually translates to the "we're never actually going to get around to this" list.
In the long run, GTD isn't so much a productivity book as a staying organized book. It has a little more to offer than *Organizing Your Office* but it's basically the same kind of thing. There's no advice to make you any more productive in there: it just changes your priorities. Little tasks get done. Stuff you might have forgotten about gets done. Stuff you don't care about - you explicitly decide not to do yet.
I have a theory, and the theory is that there's almost no such thing as more productivity. Every minute you spend doing something is a minute spent doing something valuable. Maybe it's sleeping. Now you're better rested. Maybe it's playing a videogame or watching TV. Now you're more in touch with pop culture, or maybe you've exercised your mind. Maybe it's staring off into space. They call that "meditating", and it's good for you. And maybe it's working or taking out the trash, those things that everyone considers productive.
There are only a few ways to truly increase productivity:
1) become more efficient-something GTD doesn't talk about-for example, learning to type might make you a faster blogger and thus you could produce more blog in the same amount of time.
2) eliminate dead time. Okay, so my theory's obviously hyperbole, and some tasks are truly unproductive, such as commuting and waiting for builds to finish. If you can eliminate or reduce these (move closer to work / shorten your build time) you're a winner. (But #2 is basically another way of saying the same thing as #1, now, isn't it?)
2) multitask. If you can't eliminate dead time, at least get something else done while it's happening. For example, I didn't actually read *Getting Things Done* - I rented the audiobook from simplyaudiobooks.com and listened to it during my commute.