One of the biggest difficulties people have with Getting Things Done (GTD) is getting stuff out of their heads and in to a trusted system. It is not the getting stuff out of your head part that is difficult, it is the trust in the system that is difficult. When you have grown used to keeping all that stuff in your head, putting it somewhere else and having the courage to forget about it because your system will remind you about it when you need reminding about it, is a very uncomfortable feeling. But building trust in your system is where the real benefit of GTD lies.
When I first began using the GTD method, I began by using a paper based system. I had come from a Franklin Planner background, and having all my notes, todos and other odds and ends in one place, my Franklin Planner, was what I was used to. I bought a beautiful Quo Vadis square lined hard back note book, that worked wonderfully with my fountain pen and created my GTD system. I put everything in there. I also invested in a metal, side loading in tray and a small tear off notebook to capture my commitments, ideas and other things that came to mind. I used this method for around a year, before I got my first iPhone and discovered the power of what the iPhone could do for me in terms of capturing and organising my lists. What I learned from this was when you begin GTD, almost always the best way to start is with paper and pen. Get used to using the GTD methodology in a format you have been using for a long time (pen and paper) and take your time to really get to know the methodology and way of GTD. This can save you a lot of errors and missed commitments later on.
Once you have the GTD methodology in place, then you can go digital. Going digital takes a lot more trust. Many people have lost digital data in the past. Before auto-save, many of us experienced lost hours of writing because we forgot to save our work and our computers crashed. Or we spent hours on a presentation file only to find the next day that the file was corrupted. Fear not, these days the best todo list managers store your data in the cloud, encrypted, and if you lost a device, a computer crashed or your mobile phone exploded, your data would be safe.
Choosing the right application for your GTD system is difficult. Everybody has a different idea of what their perfect system would look like. I, for example, like an application that is simple and pleasing to my eye. Others, like an application that is feature rich. The thing is, the application you choose must work for the way you work, not the way someone else works.
My GTD system relies on having a device that can quickly capture thoughts and ideas while I am on the move. For me, that is my phone. It also needs to sync seamlessly with my other devices, whether that be my iPad, my laptop or my desktop. I like having background sync, as this means I am not having to wait to process something. I can open up the application on my desktop and the items I captured are there waiting to be processed.
In the past I have tried out many of the best todo list managers. Honourable mentions should go to Omnifocus (the Rolls Royce of todo list managers) Things, Asana and Wunderlist. But the one I stuck with was Todoist. That’s just my choice. Todoist works for me on all the levels I look for. It has a wonderful simplicity, it is aesthetically pleasing to my eye and it syncs brilliantly. But Todoist might not work for you. This is why when you start out with the GTD methodology you should always start out with paper.
Starting out with paper achieves two things. It first teaches you to trust the GTD method. You learn that it works. The second is it shows you how you work and how GTD will work for you. Once you have learnt that, then you can go out and find the digital application that best fits with your style of working.
The most important thing about adopting the GTD methodology to get your life in order and to experience a real, stress free life, is that you trust your system. Without that trust, you will fail and will very quickly start trying to remember everything either in your head or on scattered bits of paper strewn about all over the place. It is that that led to you being stressed, disorganised and not knowing what is really important to you in your life.
Finding out what works for you is the missing step of GTD. This is why so many people are always looking at the way other people organise their todos and reference materials, It is why whenever David Allen is interviewed, one of the inevitable questions he is asked is how does he mange his lists. (David has been using the same digital system for years. It is a hybrid version of Lotus Notes called eProductivity specially created for him.) But what works for David Allen or for anyone else, might not necessarily work for you. You have to find the right way for you, a way that you can quickly capture tasks wherever you are, and one that you will trust.
Trust is not immediate, it takes time to build trust in your system. Hopping between applications is not going to help you. Before you go out there and spend your money on an app. Find out how you work, how you capture and where you are when you process those captured commitments and tasks. Then do a little research and find out which app would work best for you.
Carl Pullein is the author of Your Digital Life: Everything you need to know to get your life organised and put technology to work for you, a book about how to get yourself organised in the twenty-first century