GTD and Startups


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What is GTD? Why is it great for a tech startup? What tools do you need? What are some best practices to make it work for a group? We've got answers here.

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GTD and Startups

  1. 1. Notes from the “GTD and Startups” session at Minnebar - May 10, 2008.
  2. 2. …”the brain heavily relies on the environment, to function as an external memory, a trigger for actions, and a source of affordances, disturbances and feedback . . . these principles are practically implemented in GTD, with its focus on organizing tasks into ‘actionable’ external memories, and on opportunistic, situation-dependent execution.” Francis Heylighen and Clément Vidal. Getting Things Done: The Science behind Stress-Free Productivity David Allen’s Getting Things Done is sold as personal productivity. That’s a great term for making it relevant to executives and corporations. But it’s more than that: it is a robust distributed cognition system that can be implemented in a wide variety of technologies, analog or digital. As a start-up company, your attention is spread among a huge number of projects, with constant interruptions, and a lot of urgency. We’ve found the GTD methodolgy to be well- suited to this problem by reducing the amount of information we have to keep in our heads and making it possible to work in an interrupt-driven environment.
  3. 3. “When I was your age, I flipped burgers all summer just to be able to buy an eight-track.” “That sucks.” “No, actually it was great. All I did was party and get laid. I had my whole life ahead of me.” American Beauty, 1999 Productivity: not about being Type A, about being relaxed and in control. You know this for factories - a factory producing 1,000 beachballs in the spring, when it can sell them, is a lot more productive in the right way than a factory that cranks out 5,000 in November. Same thing for you - doing the right things is better than doing a superhuman number of the wrong ones. Find a system that aligns your goals and priorities with what’s really important - GTD is great for this. Allen tells a story about working with widgets - flipping burgers or working in the factory might not have been your dream job, but when you went home, you didn’t wake up at 3 AM panicked because you forgot to call Bob on the West Coast. That’s another part of the stress reduction: use GTD to batch process all the deciding what to do and how to do it efficiently, then crank through your to-do lists. You’ve got enough stress trying to balance an all- consuming start-up, don’t add to it unnecessarily.
  4. 4. Mastering Workflow PROCESSING & ORGANIZING Stuff Eliminate Trash quot;INquot; What is It? Possible later actions Incubate NO Gettings Things Done: Is it actionable? Someday Maybe lists/folders If multi-step, what's the successful Projects outcome? YES Paper & What's the Reference digital Workflow Next Action? lists/folders Planning Do it If less than 2 minutes Project plans Delegate it Review for Actions Defer it in communication system, and track it on... For me to do, specific to a day For me to do, as Waiting or time soon as I can For Calendar Lists/folders Next Action Action reminder lists/folders/trays Complicated? Maybe, if you just care about a grocery list. Pretty simple for running every externalizable part of your life. DAVID ALLEN COMPANY THE © 1996-2004 David Allen & Co. All rights reserved. The chart is from David Allen’s book - we brought extra copies of the book for you to take home to see it in more detail - slides will be posted after the event to view this in more detail. On to the quick summary of the GTD process, and some tools you can use.
  5. 5. Collect, Capture Inbox Paper Voicemail Tray Jott A Box Email Capture everything. Get it out of your head. For this to work, you need as many inboxes as needed and no more. Have a way to capture thoughts with you all the time. To work, these need to be: Ubiquitous, Situation Dependent, Fast, Appealing Mine are: * Online, enter into the Quick Add Task box of the Enleiten GTD app directly * Forward emails to my GTD app if they will become a task * Carry a Moleskine notebook and a disposable fountain pen (or 3x5 cards) * Have Jott on speed dial.
  6. 6. Process Next Actions What is it? Is there a next action(s)? Yes or no? There is no option c. Define it. If you can’t do it, it is reference or junk. If you can, you ARE NOT committing to do it just because you look at it. Batch process your life. It’s more efficient. The important part of this step is figuring out what actual action(s) you’d take on the thing in your inbox, and get that task into your system. Deciding that the next action on “build login page” is actually “Plan login page build” works, so does “write spec for email verification”. But “build login page” is too vague to be a NA and still requires too much thinking about the steps. I recommend adding index notes to external source material when you do this. For example, if I process an email to the task “read article X”, I’ll add a note in the task detail that says “article X in email To Read folder”, or “printed and in laptop bag”
  7. 7. Organize Tickler File Do ASAP: Next Action Lists •By Project, context Do Sometime: •Someday/Maybe list Do at a Later Date: •Tickler File Someone Else Can Do: •Waiting For Categorize your tasks in ways that make sense. While you’re processing, arrange them by theme, add context tags that reflect what you need to have to complete them, so when it’s time to work, you don’t spend time reevaluating what you can do at that moment. Especially in a start-up, you have lots of long term plans. Put them in a someday list so you know you won’t lose that great idea before you can implement it. Tickler file: for stuff you plan to do, but not right now. Don’t take up cycles on stuff you don’t need to think about right now. Electronically I do this by setting start dates in the future, or marking things “on hold” so they don’t show up in my NA list. Delegate: do this as often as you can, because your resources are limited. But make sure you can easily keep track of what you’ve delegated. We’ve built Enleiten’s GTD application to send email delegating a task, but replies will be posted to your copy of the task in Enleiten. Whatever you use, searching through your sent emails to figure out if asked someone to handle it and when will not be an efficient option.
  8. 8. Review Everything in its place What are my goals? What are my priorities? Is everything in my system still in the right place? Make sure everything is processed. Make sure you have captured ideas. Make sure your priorities are related to your planned activities. If you don’t do this, your brain won’t trust the system, and it will fail. This is absolutely critical. And if you’re starting to feel stressed and agitated, doing a review of everything in your system is a good place to start. And remember this _is_ work. This is the time you make the decision about what to do next, instead of making that decision after every individual completed task. For GTD to work as a group, you need to set the tone of the team to allow this process to happen in an uninterrupted block and not be viewed as unproductive time. In a collaborative environment, you’ll need to do reviews for your personal system, and reviews as a team, we’ve found. It works well for us to have the person(s) in a leadership position review before the team meeting weekly - to make sure s/he knows what needs follow up, what needs planning, what needs to be on the agenda for the week, etc.
  9. 9. Do Done What can I do right now? What must I do now? What do I want to do right now? Now you’re back to flipping burgers to save up and buy an 8 track. You’ve already taken care of deciding what to do, what you need to do, what you need to do it, etc. Eric: it can also help to maintain a “not to do” list. If those discarded ideas aren’t in my system, I’ll still think about them and have them in my head. If I write them down but acknowledge it’s just never going to happen, I can relax about them.
  10. 10. What is a project? A project = 2+ actions. GTD organizes pretty much everything in your life as a project. Make sure tool robustness matches scope of projects. While it is hotly debated by various GTD enthusiasts, I believe a project is a project and the same system can be used, no matter how large it is. If I’m going to dig a firepit in my backyard, I’ll grab a shovel and have at it. If I’m planning to mine 300 square miles of North Dakota, it would be crazy to use the same shovel and just start digging. A bigger project requires a more detailed set of tools to manage it properly, but the method is still the same: - Decide I want to dig a hole to accomplish a goal. - Decide if there are time constraints. - Decide what will count as “done”. - Decide where to dig. - Get a tool, see if I need help for some of it. - Dig.
  11. 11. Group Buy In You won’t get everyone to agree on all the tools, if you do you decrease productivity of some team members. Tread lightly - leave as much as possible in individual systems with a common record strategy. Agree as a team where the hard edges are - what needs to be a commonly accessible system and copied out to individual ones, and what can be left up to each person to handle. The key elements we’ve found to making it work - reference material has to be shared, and you need clear standards on where and how. Everyone needs to know who is working on what, so they know who to ask questions and who to copy on relevant materials and milestones. Communication conventions need to be discussed, so people both have time to talk and kick around ideas and brainstorm, and time to buckle and concentrate without interruption. Work out as a team the best ways for that to happen and go with it.
  12. 12. How many tools? As many as you need, as few as you can Calendar Communication (Twitter, IM, Phone, SMS, Email, et al) Lists CRM Historical records: financial, version control, documents Eric: maintaining multiple systems, set hard edges. You still need bug tracking systems outside your primary GTD application, for example, because there is value in the historical record and limiting access to make sure the data is properly and consistently entered. That doesn’t necessarily mean a non-coder should have to submit bugs into that interface. There may be some entry duplication to take the comment from a user/colleague, move it over, and then report back when it’s fixed, but that’s better than getting vague or confusing data in your trusted system for coding.
  13. 13. 72157594344725658/ Why GTD? - You’re too busy and you need perspective. Do yourself a favor, and change your workflow so you can step back from the urgency and emotion and make a rational decision about what you really to work on. Go spend some time with friends without feeling guilty. - Interrupt driven. You can’t delegate to someone else if things change like you could at a larger company. When important things happen and need immediate attention, you want a system that lets you pick back up where you left off. - GTD is a weekly, iterative system. A lot of tech development is iterative. It makes life a lot easier if you’ve got a method to organize all your goals and tasks on the same cycle as the work your team is doing. - When you can get most or all your team working in some version of the same workflow system, communication and expectations are a lot more coordinated and easier. They still won’t be perfect, but it won’t be rude for someone to say, “sure, assign me that and I’ll look at it and decide if I have time.” Everyone can understand that means “I need to look at my active to-do list, decide if it fits, when it fits, and what I need to renegotiate if that takes priority.”
  14. 14. Q&A Notes Import/Export - in the Enleiten application Right now we support direct task entry and forwarding email to your Enleiten mailbox. More capture and import options from other systems are in development. If you want your data back, we won’t lock you into it. Send email to support, and we’ll give you a vCal formatted copy of everything. Automated export will be available as well in future versions. At this point in the presentation, we switched to a screen showing the Enleiten GTD application - free account sign-ups are available on our website. Some questions related to GTD practices in general, and some to our application specifically. Summaries of those discussions from this point forward.
  15. 15. Q&A Notes Do you have a reference storage system? Personally I store everything I can electronically, scanned and saved to disk or in an email archive right now. The ability to upload files is coming, but not available to users right now. Files will be able to attach to projects and/or tasks.
  16. 16. Q&A Notes Has anyone migrated from Tracks (another Rails GTD app)? Not that we know of, but we haven’t collected data on what systems all of our users have tried in the past. We know we’ve got some ex-RTM and ex-SimpleGTD users, Eric was formerly a Hipster PDA guy, and I used to fail to get things done from my email inbox.
  17. 17. Q&A Notes What about phone/PDA/desktop access from Enleiten? Mobile and offline versions are in our development roadmap, but I don’t have an estimated release date yet. In the short term, we’ll be implementing emailed task lists, RSS feeds, and SMS capabilities to make your data more portable first.
  18. 18. Q&A Notes What about other apps? (pt. 1) The two most popular applications in the GTD/light proj. mgt. space now are Remember the Milk and Basecamp. Well, and the Hipster PDA. Basecamp organizes project very differently, around a common theme, and is very well-suited for defined length projects, especially when you need some basic access controls to create a shared workspace with customers or other outside groups.
  19. 19. Q&A Notes What about other apps? (pt. 2) Remember the Milk is easily the most popular right now for individual use. It’s support for collaborative work is very limited. We’ve structured our application around a different vision of collaboration and projects. We believe that it is important to have: all you projects in one place an ability to delegate directly from your GTD application and track responses there a tool that lets you interact with customers and colleagues without forcing them to log into the same thing you like best if that isn’t efficient for them. freedom to create as many tasks and projects and tags as you need, so that isn’t a constraint on your account.
  20. 20. Q&A Notes What about shooting tasks out into the ether for someone else to do? We’re not trying to be elance, but we’ve been playing with a few ideas for letting you publish your lists Publish a to-do list or task so you can use other friends to motivate you to complete things - take advantage of accountability to others as is often recommended in the coaching field Create shared project lists for a group We’re also playing around with the idea of implementing a suggestion from the Heylighen and Vidal paper, about letting you assign a value to a task to reflect how difficult or appealing it is, and letting people self select workload from a group of available but unassigned tasks in a business setting. What about a one button “publish to Mechanical Turk”? ooooo- they do have an API for that… we’ll look into it, that would be kind of neat
  21. 21. Q&A Notes How do you handle larger projects? I create a project list for each subproject. Since contexts are implemented as tags in our system, I tag contexts as @context and just use the project name to tag related subprojects so I can group them together when needed. I’ll set a start date on subprojects that are not yet active, so those don’t appear in my next actions list. In using the GTD methods for these larger projects, I’ve found it very important to keep all those future projects readily accessible. Especially in tech development, those need to be reviewed regularly and be accessible so that our design decisions at the moment don’t interfere with future plans. For anything development related, those someday/ maybe projects seem to work best when reviewed during the weekly review. Other future lists can get reviewed less often, maybe monthly or quarterly.
  22. 22. Q&A Notes What about making it easier it enter tasks into your application? We’re right with you there. In no particular order, the entry methods on our “add these capture possibilities to Enleiten” to-do list include: SMS Twitter Import Jott CRM integrations Offline operation that will sync later Bug tracking system integrations mark-up language to allow quick entry with all metadata at once User comments largely determine which get added first.
  23. 23. Q&A Notes What about keeping your email inbox empty? Honestly, I’ve never had any luck with that so long as my to-do list was attached to my email inbox. Right now I either forward the email to Enleiten if it is a task I’ll deal with later, archive and ignore it immediately, or file it (archived) with a “To Read” label. Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero and Time Attention talks are good resources for this (online videos available, they were Google Tech Talks, links in the Enleiten blog too). The Q&A with Google in those is interesting, and brings up a good point about using GTD in a team setting: you need to negotiate your expectations as a team or you’ll have trouble. I know that all 3 of us use the GTD methods, so I know that email is never the way to contact Eric and Steve if I need an immediate answer, I need to IM or call or SMS. But I also know that if I have sent them an email, because we’ve all got our email under control and processed regularly, I don’t need to worry about them losing track of something and resend/follow up in case it slipped a page or two back in their inboxes.
  24. 24. Q&A Notes Would you talk some more about your upcoming features? Group support. The app right now handles one-to-one delegation of tasks in a way we’re really happy with. Future versions will allow you to create groups of contacts and shared projects, especially for small business. We’ve been testing this internally with our support queue before releasing it - all incoming tasks can be viewed by any one of us and assigned to any one of us, but in a way that we can make sure everything is being taken care of and there aren’t uassigned tasks. Checklist templates, for example “what to pack on a business trip”, “steps to finish during a weekly review”, “things to update when pushing a new release”. So you can reuse common projects from a library instead of creating each task each time. Custom RSS feeds, to let you access your tasks in a variety of pre-determined groups, by context, by active projects, by delegation status, etc.
  25. 25. Q&A Notes Other resources Local groups for support? I’ve heard interest before from some people on forums, I’ll look into organizing a session, since I think that’s at about critical mass now. Tour and sign up of the Enleiten GTD app: List of GTD-friendly applications: Criteria for evaluating GTD tools: what_makes_a_go.html GTD Virtual Study Group: (forums are not very active, but can turn up some good advice and tips) GTD Times Our blog: The article on GTD as a distributed cognition system: David Allen Company: