How to make advanced software scale to 100%
The last post showed different ways advanced GTD software can support you with. This post will describe what you can do to ensure your tool scales to your needs in a 100% complete system.
These 3 features describe how you can make your system more scalable:
- Only one level of outcomes
- Verbs to ensure actionable tasks
Only one level of outcomes
When I started using GTD, the number of outcomes (often called projects) I tracked with my system grew very quickly to over 100. To get a better overview I started grouping those outcomes into multiple layers of folders representing my areas of responsibility “job”, “family” etc. and sometimes bigger projects. I maintained this structure for years. After increasing the granularity of my outcomes last year, the number of my outcomes doubled. It was no longer feasible to drag each outcome into its appropriate folder.
I now have just one flat top level hierarchy where all the outcomes are listed one after an other. This way I do not drag new outcomes somewhere. It takes much less effort to create, organize and delete outcomes. You can gradually expand your system to hold all your open loops. The order is not that important, as long as you go through all the outcomes on a regular basis. Ideally your outcomes will not stay incomplete in your system for long anyway.
I have realized that search and filter functionality help you to find your information. It is not worth it to group things manually. In a GTD system with 100% of your commitments, organizing the outcomes keeps you from using it more intensively.
Verbs to ensure actionable tasks
On the path of mastering GTD one core skill is the ability to find the right wording of your tasks. The goal is to describe the physical next steps in a way that you later do not need to think about it. You want to complete your task and make progress. I found it useful to have a simple clear structure for all my tasks: [verb] as the first word then [description] “read introduction of paper A”, “email Bob about X”.
Verbs ensure that during the clarification step you find the appropriate granularity for the task. If you are tempted to start the task with a verb, which cannot be completed by one specific physical action, stop and redefine it. I find the question “could a monkey do it?” helpful in this context. For the verb “organize” you could certainly find something that is more specific. Verbs like “organize, research, decide” probably are an outcome you want to achieve, not the task itself.
If you use verbs to start every task you can group them automatically. Set your tool to auto-sort your tasks by name. You will see all the emails you need to send at one place. You can still filter by context if you need to.
Most advanced GTD software offer two features: start date and recurring. The start date (or defer date) enables you to define a task, which will then only appear on your active task list when its date is passed. Recurring tasks enables you to define that a task is added to the list again after a defined interval.
You can use these features to integrate tasks you want to do regularly as routines in your tool. Free your mind from reminding you about things you need to do regularly by setting them up once. If you use your lists to decide what to do consistently, the routines will appear with your other task and you can do them when appropriate. Areas where I found routines to be especially useful are:
- Cleaning and maintenance, e.g. “clean desk”
- Staying in touch with acquaintances: e.g. “email Bob about progress of A”
- Looking at GTD defined higher altitudes: e.g. “review goals list”
A small trick against procrastinating on the web: if you catch yourself checking on a particular website more often then you would like to, add a routine for it to your system. If you use only your list to decide what you do next you will only check the site at the interval you defined. For me this was a good way to let go of casually visiting sites while still knowing that you will visit the sites as regularly as you decided.
With a few tricks you can make the use of your GTD software scalable: Using only one level of outcomes lowers the barrier for tracking lots of granular outcomes. Verbs make the clarification step of tasks more transparent and keep your task list executable. Routines free you from thinking about recurring tasks and make the task list the main place you go to decide what to do next.
Those steps might help you whether you are just starting out with advanced GTD tools or are already using them extensively to get to 100% completion.
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This post is part of my productivity series on advanced GTD. If you like the content, please comment and subscribe below.