A perennial trickiness seems to be how to actually accomplish those things which have been chosen. There seems to be an entire industry built up around telling everyone else how to do the things they already want to do anyway. Naturally, I’m a bit skeptical of any how-to whose website is nothing but an advertisement and a store, where you purchase the books and training courses to use the system. Yes, GTD, I’m looking at you. But Lifehacker, that repository of all tips nerdy and geeky, seemed to stand by it pretty hard. So I gleaned what I could of the system without having to shell out the bucks. (I was in college. Who wants to spend money on things that feel like they should be free?) I was able to piece together the basics, and it seemed pretty useful. But as with every other system I tried, it felt good in those first few days where the boundless enthusiasm I have for any project was carrying me through, but as soon as that wore off, it all fell apart. All those lists are all very well and good, but only so long as I look at them.
Which, I want to make very clear, is not a failing in the system itself. It’s just that the very thing I was looking for isn’t solved by it. I did learn a lot of useful things from it. It takes a lot of seemingly-obvious facts and combines them into a model, which if you’re able to actually get off your butt and follow it, can be extremely powerful. But as with most caches and channels of power, it must be approached carefully. Additionally, sometimes the seemingly-obvious isn’t noticed nearly as early as you’d think it would be, especially if the person who needs to notice is as oblivious as I am.
Also, it feels really unbalanced to have separate context lists, when the only one that ever has more than one thing on it is @home/desk/computer.
There is very much a difference between the facets of “keeping track of what to do and choosing the order to do it in” and “actually getting off my butt and doing the stuff I just chose”. Currently, I’m trying Mark Forster’s (you may have heard of AutoFocus or SuperFocus or one of his many revisions of them) “Final Version (FV)” for listkeeping and a modified version of “Pomodoro” for actually-doing-stuff. Maybe I’ll call it “The Last Tomato”. My main change to Pomodoro comes in two main parts, both stemming from the fact that the task is always the same: “follow the list”.
Since everything goes on the list (including games and internet reading) that leaves the tricky question of “what do I do in my 5-minute breaks? or my half-hour/hour breaks?”. The chain-building from FV already has built-in a rewards system and since the things I usually consider breaktime are already in the list, my current strategy is to “skip” the breaks and use the timer more to delineate my time so I am aware of its passing. Also, if I have something that takes more than one tomato of time, one tomato is probably more than long enough for it to be “worked on” and if I spend more than that in a row I’m probably not gonna actually get around to the other stuff. So when the tomato alarm goes off, I do something else. Also, if I get distracted reading too many articles on wikipedia or lifehacker or cracked or any of several other notorious time-sinks, the alarm will let me know time has passed at some point before all of the time has passed.
This being my first day of “Last Tomato” it’s really too early to say if it’s going to be “The System” or not, but I’ve played with FV a bit before and think with the added focus of remembering that time is passing it has a lot of potential. Last time I tried FV the thing that broke me from it was that my list, having everything on it, got really long and unwieldly and I was asking myself why I was reading the name of each book I’ve heard of and every game I’ve remembered I like in the last week, every time I go through the preselection to build the next chain. But I think if I can remember to relax a bit and not worry so much and let the system work itself out, that it at least has a chance of lasting longer than others tend to.
And even if it doesn’t, at least I’m not as stressed as I was in college. Seriously, that stuff was hard.