Blog: Secrets from the Chef

My GTD experience: emptying your head

Yegor GilyovAuthor: Yegor Gilyov
23 January 2008

I wanted to share my own experience in organizing my life in accordance with GTD for a very long time. You have most likely heard about the GTD. However you have probably missed the book under the same name. I would definitely recommend everyone to read this book. Nevertheless I will try to tell you my story so that some of the methods comprising the theory would be clear to you even without reading the book.

So one of the main GTD principles goes as follows: do not keep anything in your head. The brain clogged with details such as “do not forget to get back to Josh today”, “buy some cat food tonight” or “we need to do something about project XYZ” interferes with productive work just like a desk cluttered with tones of debris (having written this I gazed over my desk with despair).

In order to free up the head you need to put all this ‘crap’ on paper. You need to arrange your information so that all the records are easily accessible as required just like in the movie called Memento. The hero in this movie used to take Polaroid pictures and write some commentary on them without having the ability to memorize and schedule in his mind (due to his disease).


Although this method did not do any good to the hero of the movie, we need to pay a tribute to it: this is a smart solution for travelers visiting different places and meeting new people without permanent access to a computer or the Internet. Another neat paper-based system of self-organization based on GTD principles was described (in Russian) by our colleague Andrey Sedelnikov in his personal blog.

But what should those of us do who spend most of their time at the computer? I think you would agree that messing around with Polaroid pictures and Post-it notes seems to be a bit weird when you have the most sophisticated information handling tool ever created by the human race at your fingertips. The process of entering new records should be simplified to the utmost extent otherwise you end up with a time and effort reduction seduction: “it’s clear that we need to do it, why bother recording it?” The result is mind-boggling — the brain gets clogged down with waste. The principle of keeping nothing in your head is violated and the system stops gaining benefits.

Fortunately the ideas of David Allen appealed to many geeks which resulted in dozens of self-organization apps based on GTD principles. These include anything from such simplistic apps such as MonkeyGTD to such monstrosities as the ThinkingRock. There are free and commercial products our there, standalone and add-ons to other apps (most of the time to mail clients). For any platforms available: Windows, Mac OS X or Web-based. Strange as it may sound but many people fail to locate an optimum solution, nevertheless such fastidious persons also make their way through by fine-tuning applications to encompass the GTD tools that previously were not suited for this purpose. You can only imagine what those guys do with Backpack, Google Notebook and MS Entourage…

In the next post I will talk more on the tool that I have finally picked for practicing GTD.

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