In the last few months I had started to feel like my world was unraveling in front of my eyes. I was so overwhelmed by life it was hard to stop and take a breathe. Nothing bad was happening. The opposite, actually. I had said yes to a bunch of projects personally, Wildbit was hiring and making a ton of big decisions and our family life was jam packed with stuff we “just had to do”.
I realized quickly that I needed to get myself back on track. I couldn’t be productive for the family or for my team if I couldn’t keep my mind clear and my priorities in check. I was talking with Chris’ dad, who was an executive for 40 years, who suggested I (re)read David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” (GTD).
I had read the book years ago (2008), when Eugene recommended it to me. Back then life was very different. I was still in college, we had no kids, Wildbit was young and we had less people. What I remembered most from my first time reading it was the idea that a project isn’t an action, you can only complete the actions that make up a project.
So two weeks ago I spent an entire Quiet Friday reading GTD. And by 1pm I was overwhelmed, but this time with relief. This was going to save my life (and hopefully help Chris too). What I realized was that you don’t truly appreciate the power of GTD until you’re drowning. Or at least it was that way for me.
If you don’t read David’s reasoning behind GTD, you won’t understand what the goal is. It’s not about “getting things done”, because I have always been able to do that. It is about getting my mind to a place where I’m confident in the things I’m “not getting done”. It’s the incredible ability to sit down and not worry about something you may have forgotten to do, or “shit, I wanted to follow up with her”, or “I’m never going to read that magazine on my nightstand”. These were the thoughts in my head whenever I wasn’t doing something. There was no room in my mind for creative, calm introspective. For coming up with great ideas and for thinking about the future.
I know so many people have read GTD, and I’m not going to tell you the steps or the process. I will share what I’ve changed in the last few weeks, and how it’s helped me.
I immediately knew I was going to buy an OmniFocus license. Eugene had introduced it to me long ago, and was still using it and confirmed it was still great. OmniFocus was built with GTD in mind, and has all the tech to help me get to my place of Zen. OmniFocus is much more than a todo list. It shows me what I need to be working on, right now. And it keeps everything else out of my line of sight. It’s brilliant, I can’t recommend it enough.
I also tried to find an email client that would work with OmniFocus. Right now I’m using Airmail, which seems to be doing the trick. But Mail will work well too. And finally, I started using Evernote (which is also integrated nicely with Airmail).
The goal is an Inbox of 0. Not because I have all my tasks done, but because it has all been organized so I can complete actual actions and not sift through a sea of unread emails. I spent another entire Quiet Friday setting up this workflow, so I could get to “No new emails”.
I dumped everything out of my brain. It took a while, and there’s still more left, but I got a ton of stuff out. Some things were:
- Immediate projects
- Future goals
- Books I want to read
- Recipes we should try
- Science projects I want to do with our daughter Sophia
- Vacation plans
- Webinars I haven’t watched
That was cathartic in itself. I did the same with my Inbox. I started from the most recent and started clearing: responding to anything that took less than 2 minutes, deferring everything else into OmniFocus to either delegate or do myself at a later time. I got the entire Inbox to empty, only to be replaced with a HUGE inbox in OmniFocus.
Somehow, this felt like a huge step. I took a deep breath and then started to work through OmniFocus to come up with my workflow and organization.
I have a ton of stuff I’m working on at any given moment, both personally and for Wildbit. So as I sifted through the list, I started seeing projects emerging and slowly but surely got everything into a project and a context.
That turned out to be the easy part. The hard part was being honest with myself and setting priorities. I took a very realistic look at my week ahead. We were actively hiring and I knew that this would take most of my time. Once I was honest with myself, I started deferring projects to future dates. In OmniFocus, this made them go away. And now I had actual, actionable lists of things to do.
Freeing myself from my Inbox
I’ll skip the specifics of the projects, contexts, perspectives and just tell you how it’s changed my life. I know a lot of founders who NEED to do this. I am now free from my inbox. I never mark an email unread (unless I’m on my phone) after I’ve read it. And my inbox is almost always under 5.
The best part is that I’m in total control now. Friday I started my day chatting with the team and forgot to check my email! That has never happened, ever. I forgot because I was so confident that my priorities were set, that things would “show up” when I needed them to, that I had nothing to worry about. I am now confident in the things I am NOT doing.
More work to be done
I couldn’t devote the recommended 2 uninterrupted days to getting this all setup, but I feel like I’ve made significant strides. And it’s actually probably better this way, because as the days go by I’m realizing the parts of the process I want to improve. The one I’m most excited about is organizing my actions by time.
I’ve started marking certain things by their estimated time to completion: “10 minutes” or “5 minutes”. I have a perspective in OmniFocus that just filters those tasks, regardless of project. I’m now able to actually do things in those weird in-between times. In between two meetings, right before lunch, when I have some time before I go home. Those times when I’m tired and drained but have energy for something more mundane. Before I would just stare at my inbox and various to-do lists and have no clue what to do next. Now I just quickly scan, pick something out and cross one more thing off the list. It’s magic.
I haven’t been able to shut up about GTD because it’s been so life changing. I know there are tons of different methods out there, and this is not new information. But the more I talk to friends the more I realize that many of them haven’t read the book. And they’re drowning just like I was, living email to email and it’s going to come to a head at some point.
I’ll link below to some resources that I found helpful. If you have others, please share them. I want to get better at freeing my mind of day to day tasks and become more present and relaxed. I’m on the way.
- Read “Getting Things Done”
- Setting up Gmail to work with OmniFocus
- OmniFocus’ guide to GTD with OmniFocus
- Some good examples on setting more intricate perspectives. I used it to set my Working at the Office perspective.