March 6, 2006 – 2:06 pm
I am, as human beings go, a bit of a shambles. I’m lazy, disorganised, terrible with adminstrative and organisational matters, easily distracted and an expert procrastinator. It has taken me an embarrassingly long time to figure out that I need systems in order simply to function. But what a difference the right system can make.
I am deeply suspicious of self-help books. However, I am also someone in need of them. I have read a fair few, and while there is plenty of bathwater in there, most of them have a baby somewhere hidden inside.
For instance, I read a book to quit smoking. That seemed to work.
So did that Tony Buzan book that tells you how to cope with learning stuff. So far so good on that front too.
That said, I am generally resistant to other people’s systems. I need to make them my own. As William Blake said, “I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s” – and he was right. Following instructions gets boring quite quickly. Stealing other people’s ideas and making my own out of them is far more satisfying.
And if it incorporates technology, then that’s a real plus. After all, I spend a fair bit of time near computers these days.
My biggest failing is probably slack. I can nap like you wouldn’t believe. The Bats album ‘Couchmaster‘ could have been named after me. I can accumulate pieces of paper like nobody else I know. I can leave things till the last minute and then forget to do them. I have been writing the same essay for four years.
So – mostly, I just lack organisation. I’ve attempted to follow time management systems in the past. I’ve even taught those systems to other people (they didn’t follow them either).
I’m very good, in the short term, at following instructions and I can draw up endless calendars, charts and so on, but no matter how much I stick to the system, my slack is more persistent and resilient than my schedule.
Under those systems, I was time-efficient in many ways – I just wasn’t Getting Things Done. I needed a book that would just tell me how to Get Things Done.
As it happens, there’s a book that came highly recommended to me called (of all things) ‘Getting Things Done‘. I’d tell you the whole story about how it works here, but it fills a book – so just trust me: if you are anything like me, you have to read it.
In short – it’s about having an empty inbox. Go through everything, find out what the next task is for that thing, and then make a decision about it. File it, delegate it, do it, or defer it. Those are the options. Just get it into the system so you don’t have to keep thinking about it.
So far so good. I whipped through every layer of my life and sorted it out in just a couple of days. Followed the book to the letter – all the time thinking “aren’t computers supposed to be quite good at this systems and organisation thing?”
So I went on a hunt to find the right technological framework for my own GTD system. I stumbled across a blog post that told me that I could use the Getting Things Done system with Gmail – and I thoroughly recommend it.
Of course, I’ve adapted it so that it would become my own system – but my life is now driven from the Gmail control centre – and for now, it seems to work – no matter how unstructured and lazy I become.
So – to get your life sorted out and get stuff done using Gmail, you will need:
1. The book
2. A Gmail account
3. That blog post I mentioned.
4. A couple of days to get started.
5. A willingness to tweak it to suit you.
If you need a Gmail account, you’ll need an invite. Drop me a note and I’ll send you one.
And please note that the blog post that helps you put all this together is in five parts. The link to the next part is irrationally located at the top of each post.
Most importantly, make sure you adapt the system to make it your own. My routine now involves a few other websites (notably Bloglines and del.icio.us as discussed in my last post) and I have an offline system that backs this all up and reinforces it.
But on the whole, it works. I don’t need to be organised and efficient anymore. I can be my own shambolic self. My system takes care of things and I just come along for the ride.
It certainly takes a damn sight less effort to maintain than not having a system does. Hope you find it as useful as I have.