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Cognitive Dissonance Mashup: David Allen (GTD), Gary Marcus (Kluge), Martin Seligman (Authentic Happiness)

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I really like David Allen’s Getting Things Done. While he discusses long-term (50,000-foot) goals, he focuses on the near-term panic-causing stressors of an over-demanding life first. Someone who is just plain stressed out isn’t going to start thinking about their life vision. He clearly understands the needs of and stresses on the human brain. This (at least in my lay opinion) is the power of cognitive behavioral therapy as opposed to psychoanalysis: who cares about what happened years ago if you’re just nervous/sad/pissed about what is happening now.

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Written by PoojanWagh

June 17th, 2009 at 11:52 pm

GTD with Python, git, vim, and asciidoc

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I recently detailed the high-level setup of my latest GTD roll out. This follow-up post has a high “geek factor” and contains the details of how I do this using computer automation (Python scripts).

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Written by PoojanWagh

June 1st, 2009 at 8:19 am

My GTD Setup

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In this post, I’ll present what I’ve been using for the last month or so to facilitate GTD. My conclusion is that GTD is meant to be customizable, and it’s sometimes better to develop your own (fully custom) solution than trying to adapt someone else’s to your values.

I recently posted about both what I was doing wrong in my previous GTD systems and what I learned from a recent David Allen seminar and promised this description.

I do use a computer for this system. This post doesn’t contain the technical details: that isn’t for everyone and I’ll detail that in a follow-up post.

I finally bit the bullet and came up with a system that’s computer-based. I didn’t use any pre-packaged software to do it. I wrote my own “computer program” (a very short and simple python script). The important lesson—that took me a couple years to realize—is that GTD is meant to be customized.

That’s why all the pre-packaged software solutions I tried didn’t work: there’d always be something that bothered me that I wanted to fix. I’d spend lots of time trying to fit a square in a circle hole and it wouldn’t work. The ones that were customizable ended up being time-consuming, because modifying them to do what I want still took a lot of time.

In short, there are things about GTD that you care about that I don’t. Adopting something that emphasizes someone else’s values can prove more laborious that developing your own.

Anyway, here’s the high-level of how I collect and process:

First, the buckets:

  • A metal mesh “inbox” at home
  • A small eco greenroom notebook that I picked up at Target (and then ran through the washer/dryer) spiral-bound pocket notebook from Wal-Mart (~$1). I also really like the Pilot G2 Mini pens. (Also available at Walgreens at ~$1 apiece.) These pens write smoother than just about anything else out there, in addition to being very portable.
  • I maintain an “Inbox” bookmark folder in Firefox, I use the SyncPlaces Firefox extension to synchronize my bookmarks across all computers (country and western work and home).
  • Work and home email accounts.
  • When I’m driving, I use Jott (and the free alternative, reQall) so that I can call a number and have a transcribed message sent to my email address. I could carry around a voice recorder (or use the one built into my phone), but I know I won’t be disciplined about reviewing my voice recordings—and I don’t need to since there is a functional alternative.

In addition to these inboxes, I realized I need some “Action-Support” collections for stuff that’s immediately relevant to my next-actions:

  • A mesh orange plastic bag that I got from the David Allen seminar (for my at-home action support)
  • “Follow-Up” folders in my work (W-FU) and personal (P-FU) email accounts
  • Follow up bookmark folders in Firefox (FF-FU).

My latest setup is based on text files: One master set of text files handles the tasks and project lists. A second set (derived through computer automation from the first) merely organizes these tasks by context. I’ll detail it further in my next post.

Written by PoojanWagh

May 29th, 2009 at 5:29 pm

Posted in productivity

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GTD Seminar

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A few weeks ago, I got to go to the David Allen Company’s “Mastering Workflow” Seminar. I’m glad I did. The seminar resolved several misconceptions I had about how GTD works, despite my owning Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity in both text and audio form.

The seminar was lead by Chris McIntyre. He was an impressive presenter. I noticed that he immediately asked who had read the book and was implementing the system. He asked those who raised their hand what they liked about the system. Very smart: I’ve seen many a presentation get derailed by “experts” who want to either show their knowledge or derail the presenter. By identifying the “experts”, Chris recognized their expertise and brought them into the fold.

The seminar isolated several reasons why GTD wasn’t working as effectively for me as it could be:

  • Processing: I (for some reason) didn’t get that one should process all inboxes once a day. I was tending to do it as part of the weekly review, which left me feeling very behind. I thought I was deviating from the system when I processed more often. In addition, since I wasn’t sure I was going to process daily, I tended to try to process things as they came—which disrupted my focus.
  • Collecting: Ask, “Do I need more collection buckets or less?” I tried my best to have just one bucket. However, that’s a bit unreasonable. There’s an optimal value for each person (and it probably changes from month to month).
  • Someday/Maybe: I never could figure out whether I should put more or fewer items on the S/M list (versus the next-action context lists). The answer: are you repelled by the number of actions on your next-action lists? If so, move some of them to the Someday/Maybe list.
  • Multiple Someday/Maybe lists: There’s no reason to have one. If there’s a major project you want to do sometime in the future, you can have a separate list for that.
  • Email: I try to follow the 3-folder arrangement (Inbox, Follow-Up, Archive). However, what I didn’t realize was that instead of processing things in my inbox, I was deferring them by putting them in the “Follow-Up” folder. When an action needs to be performed on an email, it should go in the Follow-Up folder, but the action needs to get recorded somewhere (@Email for example).
  • Action Support: If something wasn’t in my inbox, it was either in trash or in a Reference file. I found myself creating new filing folders for even the smallest things. Instead, Chris recommends having an “Action Support” folder for active things. This really simplified my filing. I didn’t need to create a “tuition” file just so I can pay the tuition. Technically, my wife came up with this idea before I went to the seminar, but I didn’t listen.
  • Ticklers: I could never figure out how to separate between a tickler file and a Someday/Maybe. Chris cleared up the confusion by pointing out that the Someday/Maybe list gets checked every week (during your weekly review), while the tickler gets checked on a specific day/month. I asked whether I could use a calendar for this purpose. The answer was yes, except that a tickler file is useful if you want the actual object (bill, concert tickets, etc.) to be the reminder.
  • Managing No’s (Someday/Maybe): The Someday/Maybe list is a way of not making an agreement. Trick to managing your next-actions is to figure out how much you can do this week.

I had a few other random, non-actionable thoughts:

  • Did David Allen come up with the runway, 10,000-foot, 50,000-foot model due to his consulting relationship with Lockheed-Martin? Perhaps it was the best metaphor for the clientele. Perhaps their nomenclature inspired him.
  • Capture everything: I always thought GTD was compulsive in the habit of capturing everything even if it’s not important. However, I think the reason for this is that there are things that we just don’t want to do (we want to procrastinate) and leaving the decision of what to capture to your intuition can be dangerous. It’s better to retain everything and analyze it clearly.

The biggest thing I learned from the seminar was that I need to experiment more. I had taken the GTD methodology to be a mandate. However, during the seminar, Chris McIntyre makes it clear that the GTD recommendations are merely practices that have been found to be effective. I’ve found that my ideal GTD system as the following traits (personal preferences):

  • Very little setup: things such as contexts, etc., should not require setup. I should be able to add/remove contexts on demand.
  • Printing: I find it hard to organize work (that’s usually on a computer) with a computer. It’s nice to have a printed checklist.
  • Computer automation: I find it tedious to do things (such as match a project with an action) that can be automated.
  • Paper capture: …however, I can draw diagrams and capture information much easier on paper.

GTD isn’t for everyone, but I’m getting much more value out of it now that I understand it better. Before, it seemed overly complicated. Now it seems a simpler and effective.

In a future post, I’ll describe the GTD system that I’m using now.

Written by PoojanWagh

May 13th, 2009 at 10:08 pm

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GTD in Review

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This last week, I took a GTD training seminar (led by Chris McIntyre). I thoroughly enjoyed it and decided to get back on the wagon. I’ve come up with a system that works for me (so far), but I decided I should post a review of some things that didn’t work.

I started picking up GTD in October of 2006. I decided I wanted work to just be easier. I had recently moved from Freescale to Motorola, which made my commute and therefore my work day much simpler. I wanted more of the same big gains and isolated GTD as a way of making my work-life easier.

I used a Windows Weekly coupon (from twit.tv) to get an audible free download and downloaded the audiobook. I tried to jump in it, surveying as much software as possible. I later bought the book.

I eventually gave up around November of 2009, when I moved from Motorola to Infinium.

Here are a list of approaches I tried:

  1. Thinking Rock
  2. Chandler
  3. TiddlyWiki (MonkeyGTD and d-cubed)
  4. Rainlendar
  5. 2-subject notebook
  6. 3×5-card based system
Here’s a more detailed explanation of why I gave up each. Note that most of these approaches happened quite a while ago (a little more than 2 years ago for the first few ones).

Thinking Rock

I picked up thinking rock because it was described as closely following the GTD methodology. The program itself includes the GTD processing diagram.

The problem was that it was slow—both in terms of the actual application performance, but more importantly, I found that there were just so many fields to populate and task/project entry was therefore difficult.


I got on the Chandler bandwagon pretty early. It’s main attractive feature was the ability to sync between a server (Chandler hub), WebDAV, and email. I liked its ability to “tag” rather than categorize (Chandler collections are essentially tags). However, I often found myself without a computer (especially at home) and therefore without


Out of the computer-based approaches, I probably liked MonkeyGTD the best (tied with Rainlendar). This was an earlier version of MonkeyGTD. Entry was easy. I even created an AutoHotkey script that would add items to the MonkeyGTD file. I was also able to embed my Google calendar right in MonkeyGTD. The print facility (and ability to customize it using CSS) was also very nice.

I eventually stopped using MonkeyGTD when I was put on an important deadline. I decided I needed something that handled both tasks and calendaring in one application.


I then went to Rainlendar. Rainlendar is essentially a calendaring application, but it has some unique and powerful features. Most notably, it allows URL links in tasks and events. (More on this later) It handles tasks very well. It doesn’t natively include GTD identifiers such as project, context, etc. However, they translate very easily to Rainlendar (or any iCal-based application) as category and location. It’s highly customizable in its presentation. In addition, it has a fairly good print facility.

I ended up writing a small Python program to parse the iCal file used by Rainlendar and spit out a task list, by context (location). This allowed me to take things on the go.

I was using Rainlendar with WikidPad. Rainlendar would handle all my GTD stuff and WikidPad would hold reference information and logs. (I did try WikidPad for GTD, but I found it clunky at the time—and it didn’t include a true calendar.)

One of the things I liked the best about Rainlendar was the fact that one could enter locations (“contexts”) on the fly. In most other systems, you have to set up a fixed number of contexts (@Home, @Office, @Errand, @Call). The thing I learned from adopting this system was that contexts should be able to change on the fly. If I want to create a context for drinks with my friends, I should be able to type in @Beer at any time. (Okay, I’d be more likely to put @Cider).

2-Subject Notebook

I finally decided that all the time I spent tweaking computer-based GTD applications and researching others wasn’t worth it. I found that a computer-based GTD system was more distractive: every time I sat down at the computer to review my list, I would end up doing something else on the computer.

So, I decided I needed to go back to basics and implement the GTD system in a paper-based form. I’ll confessed: I actually used 2 sections of a 3-subject notebook. The first section would handle “projects” (a GTD term I still don’t like). The second section would handle “next actions” (another GTD term that I like). The second section is divided up into “contexts” (a GTD term that I’m fine with) with a context per page.

I numbered each item in each section. So, each project gets a number and each task gets a number. The numbering format is <pagenumber>.<projectnumber>. So, for example, on page 1 of the “project” section, I might have:

1.1 Personal Blog => 1.1
1.2 Front Lawn => 2.1

Page 1 of the “context” section might have:


1.1 Compare blogging providers for personal blog (1.1)

Page 2 of the “context” section might have:


2.1 Buy grass seed and starter fertilizer (1.2)

So, by placing numbers next to each project, I keep track of the next action for each project. Similarly, next to each task, there’s a reference back to the project.

My weekly review involved going through the project list and seeing if the task was done. If it was, I needed to come up with a new task (or cross out the project itself). I decided that even single-action open-loops would get a project. (I tended to flip-flop on whether this was a good thing or not—and still don’t know.)

The main problem with this system was that weekly reviews were tough. I’d constantly be flipping between the two sections of the notebook. It got very tedious.

3×5-card based system

I next decided that carrying the 2-subject notebook around was too difficult. I decided that I should use 3×5 cards to hold project and task information. (I was using a hipster PDA for capture for a while.)

I formatted the cards as follows:

  • Each project would get a card. The project name would be written at the top.
  • Each task would get a line on the card.
  • I bought a set of plastic 3×5 folders from Levenger, and assigned a context to each folder.

So, for example, my “Front Lawn” project would have its own 3×5 card with the task “Buy grass seed and starter fertilizer”. I’d therefore put it in the @Errands folder. (In truth, I don’t write the “@” on my folders; that’s just for your benefit, since everyone else that does GTD seems to have it.) As soon as I had the grass seed, (possibly at my next weekly review) I’d cross out that task (or check it off) and then write the next action: “mow front lawn”. The whole 3×5 card would then go into the @Home (or @Yard) folder.

I really don’t know why this system didn’t work. It was likely just the effort I put into it. I got lazy. Its main deficiency was that I had to have the right folders at the right time. I would then have to amass all the folders for a weekly review. That’s not hard to do. In truth, I just got lazy.


I recently attended a GTD seminar. I now have more zeal for adopting it. In the next instalment (or maybe the one after), I’ll post what’s I’m trying next: a text-file GTD system.

Written by PoojanWagh

May 4th, 2009 at 8:08 am

FF Read it Later extension rocks

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I often find myself trying to read articles, when it’s not appropriate. No: I don’t mean porn. I mean that I stumble across something at work, or I see something that I want to look into more while zeroing out my inbox. The worst-case scenario is that I start skimming the article, giving myself a headache, and not really understanding what’s in the article.

When a digression occurs at work for something other than a web site, I write it down in my Hipster PDA. This habit keeps me focused on work and I can continue to move on. However, it’s quite difficult to write down a Web article and URL.

I came across (likely when I didn’t have time for it) a Firefox extension called Read it Later. This is very simple: you install the extension. Then, you get a little book button in your upper right corner (next to the search bar). You’ll also get a check mark in your URL bar.

When you find something you want to read later, you simply click the check mark. The cool thing is that this extension automatically creates an anonymous user key and password that can be used to sync between multiple computers. (I only use this to tag things that are public.)

Read it Later adds a check mark to your URL bar and a button next to the search bar

If you go to another computer, you can select it to use the same user key and password and it will sync your list of web sites to read later. That’s especially good for me, because I tend to encounter things at work that I can read at home.

Clicking the Read it Later button alone will bring up a page that you said you wanted to read later (I think it picks the oldes page).

Written by PoojanWagh

September 6th, 2008 at 5:50 am

Posted in Web

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