GTD and a Story of Sequential Learning

I have a promise to keep: I had written GTD? Nalu it! before the earthquake, and I had said,

I’ll work on a part 2 for this next, and share what my “trusted system” has evolved to today, sixteen months since I first discovered David Allen and GTD. Stay tuned.

If you have stayed tuned in, thank you. Our programming hereby resumes”

My GTD learning adventure was a highly kinesthetic experience for me; I had to learn it by doing it, tweaking my practice, and doing it s’more. The kinesthetic method of feeling my way through it was just the beginning though; this is a story of Sequential Learning.

Sequence One: Pure Devotion

In the beginning, I obeyed the master. What author David Allen said to do, I did, following the instruction manual within Getting Things Done to the letter. I bought my manila folders in bulk at Costco, got the Brother labeler and redid my files. I cleaned up my act with one inbox, my tickler files, two office set-ups so my whole house wouldn’t be a gigantic, out-of-control inbox, and I date-stamped my project work to kill any tendency to procrastinate.

I’m largely a visual learner by nature, and I kept the “rosetta stone” work flow diagram on my desktop for a full year so I could religiously follow the right sequence of events: Collect, Process, Organize, Review and Do. I kept up via the Two-Minute Rule, separated Next Actions from Projects, got my inbox to zero daily, and kowtowed to the sanctity of my Weekly Review.

Pure Devotion didn’t work. Now, I’m good with self-discipline; too good. I was losing sleep because I was up too late getting my inbox to zero or finishing my Weekly Review. I had processed a LOT of stuff, and my paper files were overflowing into cardboard banker boxes. It was all too much; GTD had added to my clutter. I went through this low point of being less productive because I was so good at it! It was a system, but it wasn’t my best system. What went wrong?

Sequence Two: Context and Tech-Savvy

Productivity journey aside, GTD was now becoming a case study in how I learned best. I’d started off kinesthetic and was still largely learning that way. I incorporated a lot of visual re-learning with mind mapping, the GTD diagrams, and reconfiguring my Outlook design with the GTD add-in; in particular, the Outlook experience really helped me understand and integrate what Allen coaches about working in Context.

So next, I looked to cement my study with auditory learning: I was able to borrow the GTD Fast CDs from a very good friend. Now I could listen to David Allen walk me through it; there were a host of aha! moments for me in things I missed kinesthetically and visually. During this time, I even wrote an article called, My Aha! Moment in Auditory Learning.

This was when my own “trusted system” started to take better shape. Throughout my listening I began to shift my practices from to-the-letter obedience to the low-tech/ mid-tech/ high-tech separations which worked better for me. A biggie? All those paper files just had to go, for they were creating clutter-stress. I had a “Go paperless!” goal for a long time before GTD was even a blip on my radar screen and had made significant progress with it: Why on earth had I gone backwards? I still use that Brother labeler (those adhesive labels stick to almost anything) but the manila files are on their way to gone. My goal became to reduce all my filing to the 43 folders (pendaflex for me), my desk drawer, and a single short filing cabinet for tax and legal papers —period. I’m almost there; just old Reference stuff to purge.

I’m a road warrior and my cell phone and laptop are indispensable tools for me, for my ‘office’ goes where I go, but after successfully ridding myself of the Palm, I will never, ever, tether myself to a PDA again. To me, small screen is no screen, I prefer my laptop and it’s always with me. As a writer I relish some tactile low-tech capture, and my context for it is whenever my laptop is off. I carry a journal and index cards with me at all times. So in this second sequence of my learning, I went back to how I like to work. I indulged myself with my favored habits.

ConSequence Three: Habit Magic

When GTD first made its way into my consciousness I thought about habits and Stephen Covey. This post I had written at the time remains one of my top traffic grabbers here on Talking Story; search engines love it, and once they’ve found it, bloggers love linking to it: Why GTD Reminds Me of The 7 Habits. The magic of habits never strayed from my consciousness in my new learning to integrate the best practices of GTD into my own workflow. I still use GTD because I love the way it has perfected my own feels-good habits.

So I guess I did what Allen says to do; Create a trusted system. He never asked me for pure devotion, that was just the kinesthetic to visual to auditory learning sequence I had to go through to arrive where I have with the most success. What I do now is GTD My Way, and that is the Rosetta Stone you need to create for yourself with GTD. I’m still tweaking, for I believe there will always be continuous learning in one’s productivity. As I now understand it, the trick is to harness the power of habit creation once you’ve learned something you want to retain.

Related Reading: Changing your Habits: How badly do you want to?

Consequence Four: Nalu it for Abundance

The true bonus? Now, I can Nalu it with other goodness which comes my way.

If a new opportunity presents itself, I can Nalu it (go with the flow) with optimal success when I consciously integrate into my trusted system whatever goodness I want to retain as a keeper. I can embrace more abundance.

Your trusted system has to have this room for growth; it has to have some flexible edges you can push against so that you aren’t watching golden opportunities pass you by.

The GTDism which really helps with this most? I have gotten really, really good at Purge and Delete; those paper files were just the beginning. Now I even purge my electronic files. My preferred bucket of choice is Excel. The whole use of Task in Outlook went bye-bye, and I now use Excel as my Context Guru and List Manager.

Example: a file simply titled “Task” is always an open window for me when my laptop is on, and it is easily printable for my offline Context. Task in Outlook was slick, but it became a big rabbit hole for me; my Weekly Review got stalled in analysis paralysis. Notes in Outlook was horrible as my List Manager, for it violated the two-minute rule in my own practice.

When you cultivate an abundance mentality as opposed to one of scarcity, you also stop holding on to things that have ceased to add value to your life, for instead, you are always on the lookout for something better. You don’t add to your clutter, you replace. This entire learning process has helped me rid myself of some emotional attachments to my old stuff. “Reference files” had become memories, and I could make the distinction better with what I needed to work well versus what I simply wanted to keep. Momentos are not easily purged, and they do deserve better places of honor.


  1. says

    This is a great example of the journey of learning Rosa! As with your essay here, it’s hard to tell where you will end up until you move along the path.
    This is a bit out there; I wonder if this isn’t one of those quantum physic sort of things? “the observer affects the object being observed.”

  2. says

    You give me a lot of credit Dave, for it’s probably closer to a “hindsight is 20-20” kind of thing! Lately I have been studying NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) again with renewed interest in the how we learn, and I realized that I cannot discount the value of all three abilities (visual, auditory, and kinesthetic). As human beings we are incredibly blessed.