Getting Things Done

I just listened to the most recent Triangulation podcast episode, where Leo and Tom talked to Dave Allen, the guy who developed the productivity system called Getting Things Done. I’ve not read Dave’s books on the matter, but the general idea is this:

– Your brain is a terrible place to keep notes and lists.
– Write down what you need to accomplish.
– Break the goals into various tasks (called “actionable items” in this system).
– If you can do a task in under 2 minutes, do it right away.
– If you can’t do a task now, forget about it.
– If you have open work time, check the list for the next actionable item you have time to complete. Do it.
– Review your list every day.
– Do a more in depth review every week.

I think that’s about it. If you have the system in place, and you can trust it, you no longer have to think and stress about what to do next.

And that’s the key thing I want to touch on here; if you put something in a list, you don’t need to think about it while you get on with other tasks.

Sounds good!

Except. Except if the task is a creative one.

In Bram’s episode of Luke’s Creative Podcast, we talked about writing down show ideas. He writes down everything. I used to write down everything.

The reason I stopped writing down all my juggling show ideas is that once I did so, the idea would be “completed” and I’d no longer think about it. Just as the Getting Things Done system suggests.

But if I DIDN’T write it down, I’d keep thinking about it. And I’d think about it while doing other things, other jobs, even while working on other juggling acts. The idea would grow organically in my head, and gain inspirations from other events and jobs, and get stronger and stronger.

Of course, there are some ideas I didn’t write down, and promptly forgot. This might be a bad thing, or it might not. Maybe I forgot those ideas because they weren’t worth remembering or considering further. Maybe.

I’ve found the same thing happening in my other creative pursuits too. When I have a story idea, I sometimes write it down. When I go back to it, I’ve not been mulling it over, and it seems a bit empty. But if I don’t write the story down, and it’s a good one, I run it over and over in my head, and it can’t help but become more elaborate and complex, and more interesting, and so I think about it more.

Unfortunately this means I have, at any one time, four novels bouncing around in my head, as well as numerous short story ideas.

Thankfully I’m pretty good at getting things done, partly because I’ve developed a way to systemize my goals and tasks myself, and partly because I have waaaaay more free time than most people. Even if I waste hours and hours a day, I still have plenty of time to write blog posts like this.

Apart from my list of Plan and Goals for 2011 (which I didn’t post here on my blog this year, but here’s my list for 2010), I have a running to do list.

At the top are links to blog posts and videos that I find while disconnected from the internet (which is most of the time while working on a cruise ship) and that I’ll check out when I get home.

Next are books I want to add to my to-read list on

Below that are “creative” things. For example, here are the blog posts I want to write:

“Blog post about photo shoot.”

I must have added this about 10 months ago, as I did the photo shoot for a front cover of a juggling magazine with my old DSLR camera.

“Post 5 ball routine.”

I have a 10 minute video of a comedy routine I do with 5 balls and an audience volunteer. One day I’ll upload it to YouTube and write a blog post about it here on the blog.

“Blog post about new camera”

Right. A review of the Canon 60D. Which I’ve now had for 10 months or so.


I visited Kotor, in Montenegro, and have a series of photos already uploaded. But I want to present the photos in an interesting way, which I’ve yet to think about fully. When did I visit Kotor? April 28th. April 28th in 2010.

“Controlling the Frame of Reference
– Modern Christians and their knowledge of the Bible
– The Bible as History”

Two more essays I thought about writing to go along with my Spiritual Experiences and Atheism blog post. You know, the one I wrote a year and a half ago.

And so the list continues.

Are any of these tasks important to me? Yes! I’d love to write all of them.

Yet because I wrote them down in my to do list, I no longer pondered them. I didn’t work out what I wanted to say in each one. Then, when I have some time, I look at my to do list, and these tasks stare back at me. Instead of being able to complete them right away, I’d have to think about them quite a bit first.

But I have my laptop open in front of me. And I have lots of ideas rolling around in my head. Like some photos I want to develop in LightRoom. Or a video I want to edit. Or some song lyric ideas I want to jot down. Or a website I want to read.

Or a blog post about not being able to think about stuff once I’ve written it down.

So the “already thought about task I didn’t write in my to do list” gets done right away, and the “in my to do list task” is put off for almost two years. Maybe I need to make a list of “things to think about next time you don’t know what to think about” but I don’t have that much control over what my brain thinks about.

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One Response to Getting Things Done

  1. Martin says:

    Interesting, your comments on writing everything / too much down. I’ve only recently realised that one of the obstacles to enjoying my writing was crystallising it to early by recording it on paper when in fact my memory, or my subconscious, if I forget, does a much better job of weeding out good ideas from bad and working on the good in my sleep, for example. I have stopped writing down a new idea and instead decided to remember it before going to bed. I often wake up with the answer.

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