How I get my things done – The art of GTD

I’ve been writing blog posts on to-dos, posting my yearly and monthly list of getting things done since quite some time – mostly to keep track and social accountability. It was fun and productive, but I’ve stopped writing about my to-dos since the start of year 2016 as I switched my job location and got a little busy, but relied on digital note keeping system, for the time being, using Evernote mostly.

As 2016 approaches to an end, I am reflecting back on good and bad things that happened and also the lessons learned from them. I’ll post about them in a separate blog post, but while jotting them down, I thought of starting my habit of writing yearly and monthly to-dos again.

Why? Because to give you the gist of 2016, I didn’t do any personal design related projects as I was mostly busy consuming information. Mostly from books, online articles, and videos. 2016 was much like a reading year for me. Not like I read 50 books. But I surfed a lot over the internet reading new and random stuff – not the most productive use of my time, but it happened.

I don’t regret spending time reading new stuff, but I could have managed my time better on several occasions only if I had made some goals. I made none and I wandered around aimlessly. There’s an argument about information in need vs. information in case which argues about whether we should consume information only when we need it the most, or we should consume to prepare ourselves for worst case scenario. I believe it can be both and that’s why few of the information I consumed, made me happy and few didn’t.

So from 2017 onwards, I’ll start making yearly and monthly goals. Again. I’ll use the same note-taking method (i.e. using a pen and a notebook/memo pad) I’ve used in the past 3 years since getting serious about being productive and methodological about my work, to get things done.

Basic rules I follow to get things done:

  1. Use note keeping as a system to store every to-do to stay on top of everything that needs to be done.
  2. Use pen and paper (a small notebook or a diary) to jot down those to-dos. 

Here’s why I use a note keeping system and don’t rely on my brain power to remember things and also why I use a notebook or a diary for noting down my to-dos.

Why use note keeping as a system?

First, our mind has a very limited real-time memory which means we can’t store everything that we want to remember. Don’t believe me? Try remembering what you need to get done in a week starting from coming Monday till the weekend comes. I am sure that by the end of the week, you’ll find that you missed 60%-70% of the items that you first thought on day one i.e. Monday.

Second, our brains are working constantly to remember those items which are not really needed. That brain power could be used to do something else, something more important. By putting all those to-do items in a note keeping system, say in a diary, we’re freeing up space or brain power to do other things.

And third, a note keeping system is also a go-to point for revision, editing, adding new items and finally to refer to it time and again. We can’t do that with our limited brain power. When I dump everything I am thinking of in a notebook or a memo pad (which I mostly use), I become stress-free. I don’t work my brain out to remember those stuff anymore because I know that everything that I need to buy, to do or take action upon, is stored in a system that I can always go back to, refer and pick up.

Why use a pen and a paper for note keeping? 

As much as I want to think and believe that note taking on a smartphone, laptop or any other digital device works, I have been proven wrong. For this year 2016, I completely tried sticking to digital systems for my note taking purpose.

Here’s how I started. The format was pretty basic in the start, i.e. to-dos listed in bullets. But later I moved on to a better layout. I was using Evernote most of the time for this.

Note keeping with Evernote with pretty basic format, i.e. to-dos listed in bullets
Note keeping with Evernote with pretty basic format, i.e. to-dos listed in bullets
Note keeping with Evernote with improved layout
Note keeping with Evernote with improved layout

After a year of using digital system for note keeping, which includes smartphone apps, Evernote, or notepad on laptop, I realized that it wasn’t working and might never work even at it’s best. Here’s why:

  1. I used digital note keeping systems every day but found myself writing less to-do items. Mostly because it’s a digital device where I am taking a note which is connected to the internet and other applications. The distractions were huge. I found myself switching windows, replying to incoming messages or deviating to something completely unexpected on the device, like playing games. All in all, note keeping is best not done with systems that can increase our chances of getting distracted as we need to stay sharp and focused when making small or specifically big goals.
  2. Ticking off something on paper with pen or pencil is way more satisfying and liberating compared to just clicking or tapping on something as done in a digital device. This feeling that I am talking about, can’t be expressed in words. You need to do it yourself in order to feel the difference and the joy it brings.
  3. I also found myself writing more to-dos when I was writing them on my notebook compared to when I was writing them on my digital devices.

Now that you know the basics and the why, how and what of things. Let’s clear out more frequently asked questions so we can get things done in the best way possible.

Which notebook to use? 

Any that you like. But it must be paper-based. You can use A4 sheets, a small notebook, or something like a memo pad which I use mostly.

How often to write to-dos or goals? 

I usually write one yearly, then few monthly to-do in a notebook and little to-dos in a memo pad. So big picture goes to my notebook and small and everyday to-do details goes to my memo pad.

My monthly to-do in a myPaperclip notebook
My monthly to-do in a myPaperclip notebook
Little and daily to-dos in a memo pad
Little and daily to-dos in a memo pad

To sum it up, getting things done is a piece of cake once you get the system and resources needed in place. Initially, you’ll struggle to keep up with the system i.e. you’ll forget to jot down little details, you’ll end up writing too many items on too many devices, or you’ll miss on to complete a lot of items you wrote. Remember this is not a fight to get everything done that you write, rather this is to practice and convert writing your to-do items in a piece of paper every day, month and year into a habit.

Happy getting things done and here’s a picture of all of my memo pad sheets till date 🙂 Cheers!

All of my to-do items from year 2015
All of my to-do items from year 2015

How I am in my 20s and am content

Ambition of big house, few expensive cars, global fame, a million dollars in the bank or a 7 figure salary or more, the list goes on. These are the things we, 20something put on our wish list. We keep dreaming of something more, something better and something bigger. It never ends. This is how we lose everything. This is how we lose our present, by chasing our materialistic and hence meaningless future.

We get to hear things like “chase your dreams”, “become successful” so on and so forth. The question is WHY. No one ever told us about why we actually need to find our passion, or what it really means to be successful. To be clear, success means different things to different people. We unknowingly, throw our definition of success onto our loved ones, close friends, and shockingly to strangers too.

I have to admit that this is what my parents did. In fact, this is what most parents do. They push on their dreams or their definition of success to kids and one starts to think that it’s the only way in life. One starts to believe that they have to earn loads of money, marry a beautiful girl, own a business, own a big car, do this or do that.

The point is we have been given a rulebook since our birth and we keep working to get that checklist done, given by our parents or by anyone for that matter. And that’s how we keep running, running, running and one day die.

While in reality, what we really need to do is chuck the rulebook and find what makes us happy (could also mean multiple things) and then make it a part of our daily life. I really love how Tim Ferriss (author of best selling book The Four Hour Work Week) defines passion or doing things that make us happy – he says “find and do those things that excite you”.

Since a decade or more now, articles, books, videos and people have been telling us adamantly that one should find his/her passion until they die. WRONG! I recently was having a conversation with one of my juniors from my college and we were arguing about why it is important to find your passion.

The truth is you don’t. It’s a lens that has been sold to us and will be sold, now and forever, which says “if you want to be happy, find your passion”. While in reality, I see a lot of people working in industries and companies which have nothing to do with their passion. But are they happy in their job? Hell yes!

So, I would like to take this opportunity to define success. For me, being successful means to be happy. Period.

Let me give you few examples how one might not find his/her passion in life but still be happy and indeed successful:

  • Many people work in a company or have a job that excites them. For example, a lot of people love doing human interactions and work in HR while their passion lies in music. They work happily in their day job, go back home and play that instrument they love.
  • A lot of young engineers I know go to their day job, code for the product their company has, come back home and play football in the neighbourhood. And trust me no has complained anything about not finding their passion.

In reality, we need to pay bills. And it’s fine. Until and unless you have a job that you hate and bosses that suck, you need to find another. But I think jobs are okayish for the average of us. If we do it right then there are no complaints. And in return, we are getting to pay bills, eat our favorite food, give our parents that TV or car they were willing to buy for a long time and more importantly do that job we love or interests us. And that makes us happy.

Also, many of the folks I know, they come back from their “okayish” job which doesn’t make them sad or stresses them out, and do what they really like, love or are passionate about. And again, that’s fine. Finding your passion and just working on it day and night is all hyped up. Trust me, you’ll end up chasing your own tail in the long run and will never be happy and content.

Enough talk, but how I am happy now and content at the age of 23? Here are few points on what I did/do and how it helps me to stay sane, happy and content:

  1. I have a job which is of my interest: I know that not everyone finds their interest right after college and a job around that aspect too. Early on when I was in college, I just got lucky and found one of my interest i.e. design and worked to build a portfolio ignoring my majors. My portfolio was okay and I got a job, but not the degree. Right now I am working with a cool company called Wingify and I feel happy on the things I work on here. It’s okay if you don’t find a job in-line with your passion. As long as your job doesn’t suck, you’re doing fine in life 🙂
  2. I do things that make me happy after office hours: I cycle to work and back which I totally love. Once back, I play football with kids nearby, read something online, listen to music, watch some interesting videos I bookmarked while at work. All this keeps me away from stress. I watch a movie in theatres every alternate weekend and then eat at a local/popular restaurant.
  3. I have my loved ones around me to keep me away from stress: Whenever I start to panic about my situation or stressing about things, I call my girlfriend (she’s super cute), my mother or my close friends. It always helps to talk to someone and let things out. I believe that if you keep things to yourself which stress you, they’ll eat you from the inside and cause you 10x or more stress in the long run. Sometimes it’s better to just share the burden. It helps me stay sane.
  4. I don’t create unrealistic or materialistic goals: A lot of people I know talk about owning a big car, a big house, amazing bank balance, so on and so forth. In reality, we never ask ourselves that whether owning all that make us happy in the long run? I think everyone knows deep down that the answer is NO. But we still chase them. That’s why I follow and preach minimalism. The less you have, the less stressed you are. Owning less doesn’t mean being poor. It means you’re rich from the inside. It’s the simplest way of being content, otherwise one will always have things to chase, cry and stress about. It’s an endless loop.
  5. Lastly, I accepted that my future will not keep me happy at present: While in college, I learned a lesson that things about future that we bother ourselves with are in the future (it might or might not happen). Planning for the best and hoping for the worst is fine. But somehow I found that it’s ruining my present. I almost stopped doing everything that was making me happy and was working towards my future i.e. designing my portfolio at that time which I needed to launch. I realised that while I am involved in building my future and worrying about it too, I am losing a lot on my present. I am losing time with my loved ones. There’s a lot to lose when you’re just focused on your future. That was my lesson and I accepted and decided that I’ll always work towards a better future but will never let it ruin my present.

To sum this up, I love the idea of having multiple happiness baskets. This concept is about having/doing multiple things in life that make us happy so that if one basket falls, we have several others to rely on.

Most people give their everything to just one thing that makes them happy, and when that falls, it’s chaos for them. It’s simply plain logic to aid yourself with multiple things in life that make you happy so no matter when you fall, you’ll find happiness from the rest, stay happy and ultimately content in life.

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect. ~Mark… Click To Tweet

Death of “CTRL + T” and typing “fa…. + Enter”

I am a Facebook addict! I spend almost 1-2 hours (or more) on social networks on a daily basis. *sigh*

I was reading this article over the weekend: “Can we be both makers and managers?” [Link to the article], which explains it’s important to manage your roles as a human being when it comes to creation and management. Reading while jumping hyperlinks I landed on this post by Paul Jarvis on Productivity where he says:

“I suck at multi-tasking. Not just doing more than one thing at a time, but being interrupted when doing one task by something else. This comes mostly in the form of notifications on your computer or phone. Someone liked your photo on Instagram? Someone @’ed you on Twitter? A file was uploaded to Dropbox? New email?!

I’ve managed to not miss anything or forget anything in the 2 years since I’ve killed all notifications. Instead, I use the program I’m using at any given time, and when I’m done, I move onto something else. So I only see Twitter when I log into Twitter. I only see my inbox when I open up my email program. Focus works.”

~[Link to the article]

After reading this, I logged out of my social accounts. It just felt the urgent need of doing that as I always end up going on facebook or other social channels every few minutes (say 30-40 mins) and end up seeing the same news feed I have seen earlier. It serves me no good and I waste my time in the process. Why I land up on my social accounts that often? Because:

  • I want to know what’s happening in or around the world (I have FOMO – Fear of missing out)
  • I want to share interesting some stuff – I realised I am not a social media manager nor my job description includes that. I do that on a personal level, and if I do it personally, I can do it any time of the day, week or month. I don’t need to be there all the time to share what I like. It should not come in between what’s important to me. Be it work, relationships, health or whatever.

Here’s my online surfing data recorded by RescueTime for November 2015:

RescueTime Data

Note: I forgot to start the OS app and only turned the Chrome extension on, so it couldn’t track my Photoshop or Sketch’s timings which could have been the productive time I have had while using my computer.

Nonetheless, I regret wasting my time surfing randomly on social networks. TIME TO MAKE SOME CHANGES NOW.

But, what I don’t want, is to lose my ability to share cool stuff I see or read online with my friends or/and to interested readers. I really like the newsletters I get every now and then from people or blog I have subscribed to. Two of which I enjoy reading are from Tim Ferriss (Author of The Four Hour Work Week) and Noah Kagan (CEO/Founder of AppSumo). They both have started sending newsletters with interesting stuff they see/read/do online and offline. I enjoy reading these newsletters for two reasons:

  • I get to read interesting curated stuff which I wouldn’t find or find after many hours of surfing online. Plus the content they share is aligned with the stuff I like to read or know about. So they do the hard work for me. I sit back, read, learn and enjoy.
  • Second, I get these newsletters directly in my inbox which is great, so that I don’t have to bookmark them or go back to some place to keep a tab on them. I read them at my own convenience and will.

So, about the changes I am going to make:

  • Log out of all the social accounts. Log in once a day for a start – My target is to reduce it to once in two days in the next 6 months.
  • Compile a note (on my Evernote or in a word doc) of interesting stuff I read online and share them via a blog post rather than going on Facebook or Twitter every single time I want to share them.

Let 2016 be distraction free! 🙂