Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Geek #2: Productivity

This is my second Speak Out With Your Geek Out post.

I am also a productivity geek. This has shown up in a few of my gaming posts like "Getting Things Dungeon" but it's something that runs pretty deep for me.

Like a lot of people I know, I was a bright slacker growing up. I was smart and flexible enough to get by most of the time, and as I got out of college into the job market, this produced a generally relaxed attitude. There are plenty of situations where this was helpful, but there were others (most of which I was semi-willfully unaware of) where it hurt me. Sure, things might occasionally get chaotic enough to merit a big cleanup, but I was never going to "get organized", since that was something which uptight, type-A people did, and that was definitely not me. My desk (or room, or office) might be a mess, but I knew where everything was! I could do my work, and my natural method of handling things was much more organic and efficient than any system some anal retentive old dude might come up with!

(While I did not actually add the slightly plaintive "Maaaaan" at the end of it, if you add it with your imagination, you will have captured the essence of the thing).

Still, I was kept busy, and in one of my occasional efforts to get my stuff together, I stumbled across an article about Getting Things Done and I got pretty well sucked in. It spoke directly to my situation, and it flipped a simple, but really important switch. It asserted that the purpose of getting organized was not being organized, but rather to free up your mind, time and space so that you can actually focus on enjoying the things you love. I'd never considered it in that light before, but it nailed me pretty hard.

Now, the problem is that getting organized can be very distracting. Getting Things Done is a methodology that teaches a few simple ideas, but then allows for any number of implementations. The kinds of people that GTD works for are often the kind of people likely to spend a lot of time fiddling around with their system of tasks and planners, which kind of misses the point.

I've been guilty of that more than once myself, and I've tried almost every methodology I've come across at one point or another. I listened to Merlin Mann podcasts, got myself a hipster PDA, pursued inbox zero, tried autofocus and Franklin-Covey, sorted colored post-its. There was a lot of fun to be had in trying new systems. Even if they were ultimately a distraction, I often picked up a trick or two.

Nowadays I have my personal organization pretty well under control. I very grudgingly made the transition from a pocket notebook to an iphone, but it's been worth it, as measured by the fact that my tasks are getting done.

Anyway, I would not be a real geek unless I shared my workflow, so here it is.

Email is gmail, which is kept at inbox zero. Mails that I need to come back to are flagged as @followup (The @ is a trick to put those flags at the top of the list). Emails that I can see a clear task in are entered in my task system, then archived. EMail used to be a weak link for me - the web interface was never more than ok for me - but the new Mail client in OSX Lion was good enough to become my central dashboard. I'll do a little email management from my devices (iphone & ipad) but real cleanup and processing happens at the desktop.

For task handling, I use Omnifocus, which I have on all three machines, and which syncs automatically. The syncing is a big deal, since it lets me put things in my inbox quickly, then process them properly when I have more time. I love this solution, but it was really freaking expensive (and it has no web component) but it works very well with my process.

I make much greater use of contexts than I do projects. It may just be how I think, but projects are something I only really need to do if the tasks are not self-explanatory. This is a bit of a GTD violation, and I suspect that I'll go more project-heavy over time, but for now, they're not a big part of the system.

Notes, lists and data go into text files kept on Dropbox. I use Notational Velocity to access them on the desktop, and Elements from my iDevices. I chose Elements because it let's you customize your base directory in dropbox, and because while it's a good note app, I don't actually use it for writing, so it's a good dedicated notes tool.

I'm still looking for a good solution to handling larger ideas (like email thread with Fred containing game ideas). I dump them into Notational velocity for the time being, but that feels like a poor fix.

I do most of my straight writing on the iPad (usually in writeroom) synced to dropbox, then i just open it in the appropriate app for post-processing. Simple enough arrangement.

And that's about the size of it. Any other productivity geeks out there?


  1. Great post, Rob. I think our paths in pursuit of productivity are pretty similar. GTD, Merlin, etc. I'm still not sure that Omnifocus isn't a little too much for me. I like Remember the Milk.
    I also use WriteRoom on iPad/Mac. Have you looked at Blogsy? I use WordPress and Blogsy works reasonably well with it.
    I was really getting into iwantsandy.com until they were bought out and disappeared.
    Sorry, I don't have any advice on the threaded discussion question. There are still a number of things I'm not quite sure how to get out of email, though I process to Inbox Zero throughout the day.

    Keep up the great work!

  2. I keep trying to use Blogsy because the interface is so nice, but every time I try I run into one technical glitch or another. So for now, I use Blogspot for posting, but stick to Writeroom for composing.

  3. I like to use a heavily-hacked form of GTD, involving a flowchart for inboxing stuff I'm unsure about and a die to help me get over analysis paralysis and just do what I roll. I guess it's the gamer in me. I use a simple notebook for projects and google calendar and tasks. Everything else I just funnel into those things. I like that I can access my stuff from "the cloud".

  4. I have read through GTD a few times and I try to process my activity through that prism. I'm only mildly successful but it's likely more user error than anything else. I work for a big financial services firm which makes it hard to track my work and personal things through one system (the systems are so closed so DropBox and Gmail aren't valid solutions). Yet still, I persevere.

  5. I have been a productivity geek for many years. I got into GTD about 5 or so years ago, and went down the same path as you, with several iterations of systems.

    Today my system is a combination of Gmail (with a few @ tags), dropbox, evernote, and Remember The Milk.

    I would have to say that as a Project Manager being a productivity geek has helped me stay organized in a field where everything changes and you are asked to juggle a lot of things at the same time.

  6. I tried to comment, but Blogger ate it. :/

  7. I've mostly used GTD for a few years now, capturing thoughts on a voice recorder, or now, on my iPod Touch. But I kept having a problem where I Got Things Done, but not the things that are most important to me. Right now I'm reading Peter Bregman's _18 Minutes_ to see if that helps.


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