GTD Revisited, Week 2: Mind Like Teflon #amwriting

Some minds are like water; others are like Teflon


Certain things just slip off my brain, like a raw egg off a greased Teflon griddle.

Now, one of the stated goals of GTD is “mind like water.” To quote,

In karate, there is an image that’s used to define the position of perfect readiness: “mind like water.” Imagine throwing a pebble into a still pond. How does the water respond? The answer is, totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input; then it returns to calm. It doesn’t overreact or underreact.
—David Allen, Getting Things Done

I wish. I’m not calm like a still pond. Unlike his ideal GTD practitioner (or the karate student of his analogy), I am unable to control my level of attention. The result? I can build a habit (such as flossing my teeth), do it three months in a row, and have one day where I’m distracted—and it’s gone. I may as well give up on habits; I will always need a checklist for the simple things I need to do daily.

Right now, I’m struggling with simple things to do that aren’t getting done in a timely fashion—for the reason that I have serious trouble remembering them. Example: make a call to cancel an appointment during business hours. Whether I am able to do this is entirely dependent on

  1. Looking at Habitica or my calendar before end of business.
  2. Making the call right that moment.

If for any reason I can’t make the call exactly then (need to gather materials, need to keep the phone line open for an incoming call, need to keep lunch from burning—anything) it will slip off my Mind Like Teflon and I will be very lucky to remember it before end of business. Most often, I don’t.

Put an alarm on my phone, iPad, or Mac? (or all three at once—I’ve done that, too) That might work for a very rare event, but if I’m hyperfocused I’ve been known to not hear a Star Trek-like klaxon alarm going off at 90 decibels. If you think I’m exaggerating—well, I’m not. I nearly died as a teenager because I was hyperfocused on reading a book—in a car that was on fire. People were yelling and pounding on the windows—I didn’t hear.

Further, if I have a loud alarm going off every day, it shortly becomes background noise. I will turn it off and go right on with whatever I’m hyperfocused on, without ever registering that the alarm went off. I know, because I have.

Beeminder, like the alarm that goes off every day, is beginning to merge into the background.

This is a long, rather negative post, I’m afraid. This is something I’ve struggled with for a long time, and it’s not getting better as I’m getting older. If anything, it’s getting worse as I add “senior moments” to all the other things that keep me from getting… stuff… done.

Habitica at least has the virtue of being free (though I choose to subscribe.) And there is a certain flurry of activity every night at about ten PM as I look at my Habitica lists and say, “Oh, s__t.” I’m therefore not about to abandon it, as I may well do with Beeminder. But I need to find a better way to get time-sensitive things that are not appointments—done.

Any ideas?

GTD Revisited, 2017 #amwriting

My current GTD system


I’ve been using GTD in various incarnations for a while now:

Other examples exist.

Of course, GTD itself is just a discipline for gathering stuff to do, prioritising stuff to do, and getting it done in decent order. Implementation method is optional—and I’ve gone through several iterations (as shown above) on how to make it work for me.

My problem with my implementation up until this week was that I’d stopped using it. I was using automation to stuff everything into Trello, using it as my collector. But I’d stopped looking there on a regular basis, and had started using Habitica’s To-dos as my collection point—not by intentional design, but by, well, laziness.

Habitica has many virtues. Being a collector for possible things to do is not one of them. The least productive (things that I should just decide Not To Do), the hardest (high-value things to do that need to be broken down more), and medium value but non-urgent things to do all end up at the bottom of my Habitica list, getting redder and redder, their experience points getting higher, and breaking the game by providing experience points, gold, and mana all out of proportion to their true value if and when I finally get them done. I find this horribly demotivating in terms of getting the high-value items (like finishing my novel draft or making an appointment for a physical) done in a timely fashion.

I’m not the only Habitican who’s noticed this problem—and the Habitica developers are considering several different approaches to making this more motivating for prompt attention to to-dos and working better with outside to-do systems. In the meantime…

I’ve cut out the middleman. In order to do my weekly GTD review, I once had to open Trello, and open Google Calendar, and consider where to put my Trello cards on the calendar once I’d decided to do them this week. I then had a rather elaborate and failure-prone protocol for putting the lucky Trello cards into a special column so that Zapier would automatically place them on the Google calendar on the chosen day. Then I had another Zapier automation which would stuff them into Habitica just before they were due.

Now I collect things to do on my calendar. I actually have four calendars in my Google account—one for real, timed “Appointments,” one for “Scheduled” to-dos , one for raw, “Unprocessed” to-dos, and one for “Processed”, prioritised to-dos that have not been scheduled (this is also where I put time blocks so I’m sure to leave enough time for writing and exercise.)

Note that I don’t use the Google Tasks thing. They show up off to one side. I need to see my things-to-do stacked up on the day I plan to do them, as in my illustration. The to-dos are the all-day items.

I’ve convinced IFTTT to dump raw to-dos from iOS Reminders and Evernote into that “Unprocessed” to-dos calendar and make them nominally due on the next Monday. On Monday I do my GTD review. I take anything undone from the last week, delete its to-do from Habitica and stuff its calendar item back into Processed and re-prioritise it. All the Unprocessed to-dos are either deleted or given a priority. Anything that is priority 3 or above is moved to an appropriate day in the “Scheduled” calendar. (I never put more than six items/appointments due on any one day, including writing and exercise—if I don’t have room for something, then either it or something else goes back into the Processed calendar.) I then move leftover Processed to-dos to the following Monday. Zapier then takes all the items added to Scheduled and stuffs them into Habitica at 00:01 am on their due dates.

This way, no to-do hangs around in Habitica for more than a week, growing more and more evil. Monday morning I don’t have to open both Trello and my calendar, because everything lives in my calendar now. Zapier doesn’t have to try to parse Trello cards and stuff them into the calendar, just stuff the scheduled calendar items into Habitica later.

Okay, I admit it. Programming all the automation is—dare I say it?—fun. And eliminating the Trello collection step makes it a lot simpler. So, onward to Getting Things (like more writing) Done.

Stuck in the Planned Obsolescence Swamp #amwriting

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at http://FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at http://FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve been struck with the Planned Obsolescence triple whammy.

First whammy: I use Zapier to cobble some of the pieces of my GTD system together. When it works, it’s great. But some weeks ago either Trello updated its Zapier interface or Zapier updated its Trello interface, or both. So my completed items stopped being automatically marked as completed. That cost me several hours of rebuilding my automation and debugging it. Blah. But it’s running again, now.

Second whammy: The iPad 3 has developed two separate hardware problems:

  1. The Home button has gotten “stubborn” — it doesn’t respond to every press. So I try to do a double press to get to the gallery of apps in memory, and I try it twice because the first try doesn’t work, and I inadvertently trigger color inversion. Then the same problem happens when I try to turn the colors back to normal, and I still haven’t gotten to the app gallery… I am learning to use other means to do this (keyboard shortcut if I’ve got a hardware keyboard going, or a swipe-to-gallery gesture if I don’t) but habits die hard.
  2. The 30-pin dock connector has some wear or damage that prevents the internal speaker from functioning — and also makes power connections unreliable. Thus I miss alerts either because I can’t hear them, or because the iPad itself has died due to not charging when it was plugged in all night. Wiggle the cable and it starts charging…

The iPad issues cost me more than a day and a visit to the Genius Bar to diagnose. The good news is that it’s a comparatively easy fix — it’s time for a . . . well, a reconditioned iPad Air 2, anyway. I’ve ordered it from Apple and it should arrive next week. But it’ll cost me hours again to back up the old iPad, and restore to the new one.

Third whammy: The battery on my iPhone 5c is dying. I still think I can use the phone for ten hours — but really it’s dropped to seven hours, and the loss of battery life is accelerating.

There’s no quick solution for the phone — it’s out of warranty, and the contract still has four months to run. All I can do is carry a backup battery everywhere (yes, everywhere), and remember to charge them both.

At least I got a lot of writing done in Cambridge.

Trello! Its Impact on GTD, ADHD, the Universe, and Everything

Screenshot 2015-08-11 10.30.12“…Or, The Silver Dragon Discovers Kanban…”

Indeed, I have not been living under a rock for the last three decades. The term “kanban” has entered my ears, mostly in connection with my husband’s factory (he’s plant manager for a (small? medium?) manufacturer.) It never occurred to me that it could simplify my life.

I came across Trello when looking for something to help me collaborate with my son, Andrew (also a writer, also ADHD) on a story. We needed something that was visual because both of us aggressively filter auditory signals and distractions and/or quickly learn to ignore them. We needed something that didn’t look or smell like specialized email (I’m looking at you, Asana, and you, Evernote Work Chat) because email almost never gets Andrew’s attention (if I want him to see an email message, I text him to look at his email.) Messages had to look and smell like specialized texts, be controllable so that the level of interruptions is minimal (for me), and the project management had to be very visual for either of us to be able to work with it.

It also had to be cheap or free.

Trello met all those criteria. The fact that it is the tool the many collaborators of Habitica (formerly Habit RPG) use to coordinate their efforts is an impressive endorsement. After all, many of those who find Habitica useful have attentional challenges…

I set up my current writing project rather easily using the project management information I’d already captured in iThoughts (another post for another Tuesday.) While researching Trello, I’d come across references to it being a kanban-style project management app. So, I researched kanban, kanban for knowledge workers, personal kanban, and picked Hubby’s brain.

Net result: I now have a personal kanban board (On Sandra’s Plate), separate from my writing projects. New stuff I put into my writing projects is automatically pushed into my GTD collector column, “Unprocessed,” with an IFTTT recipe. Reminders from Siri — another IFTTT recipe, straight to “Unprocessed.” I can still use Evernote to collect, because I’ve automated that with a Zapier script to stuff everything in my ToDo notebook into, you guessed it, “Unprocessed.”

Once a week, I go through the Unprocessed stack and categorize the stuff therein more or less as in “The Secret Weapon” and move it to the “Unscheduled” stack. I look at my Google calendar (via Pocket Informant) where my periodic non-daily items live, and move things from “Unscheduled” into “Scheduled,” with due dates that don’t overload any one day with more than 5 things to do (appointments count as things.)

Yet another Zapier script moves all those periodic non-daily items into my “On Deck” stack on the day they’re due.

Every morning, I move anything left over from the “Doing” stack yesterday to “On Deck.” I pull stuff due today from “Scheduled” into “On Deck.” Periodic items due today have already landed there courtesy of Zapier. I look at the pile, reschedule if I need to in order to limit the “On Deck” items to five (change their due dates and move them back into “Scheduled.” Or maybe delete them if I decide they’re not that important after all…)

I then pull ONE item out of “On Deck” into “Doing.” I do that. I move it to the “Done” stack. Then I pull another item out of “On Deck.” There’s never more than one item that I’m “Doing” at any time. Even when I get distracted (never “if” I get distracted. I’m ADHD; distraction happens) it’s hard to avoid that glaring one “Doing” item. It never gets lost in the visual murk.

For those of you who were wondering, yes, I still use Habitica to provide myself with incentives, more for daily routine checklists (I loathe their non-repeating ToDo handling.)

So, more detail on iThoughts, and possibly more detail on how I automate recurring tasks to show up in Trello, next week.

GTD — Streamlining Efforts With Swipes Lead Me Home to HabitRPG

HabitRPG.com

It’s like a . . . challenging romance. No matter how many times I try to leave, HabitRPG woos me back with its charming rewards, its earnest whimsy, its promises that integration with the rest of the productivity universe will happen Real Soon Now… 

Let’s face it — like many others with ADHD, I am an immediate gratification junkie. And nothing else I’ve found says “immediate gratification” like an 8-bit musical flourish announcing a pile of gold, a bunch of experience points, and perhaps a juicy item landing in my inventory every single time I finish a task. 

Evernote remains my GTD “trusted system” for collecting. I really haven’t messed with my simplified version of “The Secret Weapon.” But for tracking tasks once I’ve decided to do them, Evernote reminders don’t work for me. Very little does. I’ve tried Toodledo, Pocket Informant, BugMe Stickies, Remember the Milk… Going back in time, there was the Franklin Planner, and DayTimer. After a few weeks, sometimes even just a few days, I’d start ignoring my “prioritized list.” Then I’d stop bothering to make a list, because after all I was obviously not going to look at it, and then it was back to no planning at all.

HabitRPG has motivated me to dig in a little harder. I have a hard limit, now, of six things to do besides daily routine (which, by the way, I dare not take out of HabitRPG lest it vanish.) Four is more likely do-able. And if I have a meeting or appointment (rare) I have to put that in my list as one of my six maximum things.

But still, it is a royal pain to manually transfer my tasks from Evernote to HabitRPG. And then there are the inevitable tasks that recur on strange schedules. I have a task that has to be done every month on the Wednesday before the third Friday of the month. And a related task that has to be done on the first Monday after the third Friday of the month. (I have yet to find a task manager that will automate that completely, by the way, but I can set alarms two days before and three days after that nasty little third Friday.)

HabitRPG won’t handle directly any recurrence on a period longer than a week.

My latest affair was with a sexy task manager called Swipes. Its main claims to fame are that a) it will pick up tasks directly from Evernote automatically, and b) it will automatically take checkboxes from an Evernote note and make them subtasks. Also, you can snooze tasks from your list for later so that you only have one thing to do on your list.

The Evernote integration worked pretty well and cut some time out of my week. It was nice to see a short list, but the things I snoozed came back (loudly) before I was ready for them, and I had to snooze them again. Either that, or I ran out of things to do, and had to go rummage among the snoozed items. There was no penalty for deferring things. And while the friendly “ding” sound was nice when I finished a subtask or main task, it couldn’t compare to getting gold, experience points, occasional items and a little tune (see above.)

So, I’m back home with HabitRPG. I’ve implemented my own little tracking system for oddball recurring tasks. I’ve also implemented a tag system to cut down on how many things I’m looking at in my list at one time.

And if they implement Evernote integration (Real Soon Now!) I’ll never go a-wandering again.

Camp NaNoWriMo — Not What I Had Planned . . .

Screenshot 2014-07-19 16.46.09 . . . But then, when is it ever?

I was making some progress, if only by dropping in scenes from the last draft into my new structure. But then — first, taking HabitRPG out of my daily task management — that bit me. Badly. I wasn’t able to keep up my daily routine at all. Then, when I was near admitting that I had to put all my repeating events back into HabitRPG and live with the GTD difficulties . . . I became ill. I haven’t finished all the antibiotic yet.

I have, though, put HabitRPG back as my daily task management. I decided that it’s better to have an occasional to-do fall through the cracks than to have entire days do so. Now if only I can make my weekly review more efficient.

Meltdown / Reboot

Screenshot 2014-07-08 22.16.29It’s hard to tell on this tiny graph, but I did manage to write a few words both on the 1st and on the 3rd of July, as well as some more today.

Honest.

I have a hundred excuses. The truth is that I looked at 100K of revision and my brain tripped out as badly as it did at my first NaNoWriMo at 50K. At the same time, I found that I’d gotten so involved in HabitRPG as to make it almost as big a time-waster as video games.

Almost.

I also found that my planning system was so elaborate, with some repeating events in HabitRPG, some in ToodleDo, and non-repeating events kept in my Evernote GTD implementation (to be transferred to HabitRPG as they were scheduled) that it was taking an hour and a half just to do a weekly GTD review — and even then, things were slipping through the cracks.

I spent yesterday rebooting Sandra and her GTD circus. I’ve got all my repeating events back in Toodledo, and my one-off events in Evernote/GTD, with no duplication in HabitRPG. Both ToodleDo and EN events are linked to Pocket Informant on my iPad, which is my central console. HabitRPG is no longer a part of my tracking system; instead, I intend to use it simply for a reward, updated at the end of the day. If it’s taking me more than 15 minutes, I’ll simplify further by eliminating it entirely.

And I am tempted to tell the next health care professional who tells me that “You REALLY need to do this and it will only take 30 minutes a day” that he can fold the directions for whatever until they are all corners and insert them into his own anatomy where the sun does not shine. Thirty minutes here and thirty there, and soon you’re talking about the whole freaking day. (I’m looking at you, Dentist from Hell. And at you, Physical Therapist Drill Instructor. Don’t get me started.)

Camp NaNoWriMo — July Comes Too Soon

Image courtesy of iosphere / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of iosphere / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

OMG, what do you mean that it’s almost July?

It seems like every time NaNoWriMo or Camp NaNoWriMo rolls around, I’m not ready. I didn’t even bother trying in April. Nonetheless, I’m on for July.

My intent is to revise last July’s novel, working title Leticia. To my own surprise, I may be ready with background notes, character summaries, a (gasp) timeline, and a scene-level outline. Please, don’t faint or guffaw. I have everything but the scene-level outline, and that’s in process. There just may be time in the remaining 13 days of June to get it done.

I’ve set myself the ambitious goal of 100K words for July — but I’m hoping that most of my words from last year will make it through to this year’s draft. I’m not going to beat myself with the “not a winner” stick if I don’t make my goal — I will declare myself a winner if I either a) get the revision finished or, b) get 50K new words written. I’m hoping for a lot more than 1600 words per day, though.

I’m a different writer from the one who sat down last year to a blank screen with no prep. I’ve learned a lot about productivity, writing, and myself. Last year, I didn’t have an outstanding process engineer (Hubby!) on my team. I didn’t know about GTD. I was emotionally, if not intellectually, in denial about the realities of being ADHD with respect to being a writer. And while I knew what was supposed to happen in revision, I had no clue as to where to start.

Now, I have a process. I have a plan. I have a skilled production engineer to coach me and help me refine my process. The process is not written in stone — I revised my weekly schedule yesterday to more closely match the realities of the productivity patterns I’ve noticed over the last month. And since January I’ve gone through one attempt to structure the story according to one author’s suggested process, gotten hopelessly bogged down, and restarted with a different author as guide.

It’s all OK. After 40 years of being a poor employee and a worse boss, I’m learning to be a decent employee and a decent boss — to myself. I never cared enough either engineering or any employer to make more than a half-hearted attempt at this. But I care enough writing and being a writer to keep at it — and make progress.

Making Self-Employment ADHD-Friendly

Image courtesy of Bill Longshaw / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Not ADHD-Friendly #1 (Image courtesy of Bill Longshaw / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Like many ADHD adults, I have problems with Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind (OOSOOM.) If I can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. This leads to a tendency to leave objects out and clearly visible as reminders. If not checked (especially in a house with two severely and one mildly ADHD adults,) the tendency to use objects as reminders can lead to vistas like the one in “Not ADHD Friendly #1.”

(That is not my house. I never took a picture of my house when it was that bad…)

The Tomb of the Action Items

Not ADHD Friendly #2

Helpful non-ADHD friends and many organizing books from the past would advise getting rid of objects that were no longer useful (I heartily endorse) and putting needed items into filing cabinets or other closed opaque containers (see “Not ADHD-Friendly #2.”) I called it “The Tomb of the Action Items” because, without a visual reference, anything in there that needed something done was destined to be completely forgotten until the Highway Patrol stopped me because my registration had not been renewed since 1992, or the city sent my business taxes to a bill collector, or…

I use it now to hold office supplies, tools and small bits of electronics that I don’t use on at least a weekly basis. Periodically, when I can’t shove anything more in there, I’ll go through it and toss anything that has decayed beyond usability or has become obsolete (Apple Desktop Bus mouse, anyone?)

ADHD-Friendly

ADHD-Friendly

Evernote and GTD have helped me to convert my home office to “ADHD Friendly.” I didn’t even realize that I was doing this until I looked around me this weekend and realized that my office area is MUCH less cluttered than the rest of my home.

My top shelf contains my artist’s mannikins, a collection of plush toys and bobbleheads from local minor-league sports, and my Kings and MIT pennants. The rest of my desk contents are 90% used in my current work at least once a week. The rest will move elsewhere or be tossed when they become an annoyance.

See all that wonderful bare desk area? It didn’t exist in January. Every square inch was covered with object “reminders” of things to do, few of which were work-related. As I put all that stuff into Evernote, and put a weekly review item into Habit RPG, the backlog has cleared out. I have a credenza which is similarly cleared, and a smaller work table I use for art and for charity projects, same story.

As I put more and more of the old paper into Evernote, paradoxically it becomes more accessible. I can usually think of something that a document might contain, and Evernote can find it regardless of which “drawer” I stuffed it into online.

Maybe I will achieve “Mind Like Water.” At least the stuff that slid off Mind Like Teflon is sliding into Evernote now.

It’s Just ADHD. Nothing to See Here, Move Along

20140520-133554-48954857.jpgI’ve mentioned that I have ADHD before in this blog. I’ve spoken of having Mind Like Teflon ™, and made jokes about it. I’ve ranted a bit about how GTD proponents (and I’m one of ’em) often have no clue how impossible their suggestions are for someone with my disability.

But yet, I am so imbued with shame from my upbringing, that I will seize the concept that I’m Blocked with Fear (Artist’s Way, Write Every Day) or that my novel has Problems (2K to 10K) rather than face the simple fact that ADHD is messing me up here in my efforts to revise and finish a massive project.

Yeah, I’ve picked up both those sticks and beaten myself with them over the last two weeks. It’s not that any of the above authors particularly is insistent upon the fear block or the bad writing block or whichever, it’s just that I would rather think myself neurotic or undisciplined or as having written badly than accept being ADHD.

In desperation I picked up a book I bought about 8 years ago, ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life (AFWTOYL) and started to look at the time management chapters.

Dear Lord. I resemble those chapters. The “before” scenario exactly describes my feelings of helplessness and chaos when faced with a complex task that I really want to accomplish, but off which my brain slips.

It’s not lack of discipline. It’s not fear of success. It’s not that subconsciously I know my novel has problems. (It’s not subconscious; I know damn well it has problems. If I didn’t know that, I’d just publish it and have done.) It’s that I have serious problems with both sustained and appropriate focus.

AFWTOYL has its problems as a guide, starting with the fact that it was written 12 years ago, so that much that is new and shiny is not addressed as possible tools. But once again, I’ve tried to put down blocks of time and expect myself to Just Do It. (Massive blocks! 8 hours straight! I can’t do anything for more than 30 minutes straight unless I’m hyperfocused, and I can’t control when I’m hyperfocused. And if I am hyperfocused, I can’t stop when I hit the end of the two hours. Or eight, or twelve. I really don’t WANT to be hyperfocused; in its own way, it’s as destructive as unfocused.) Even if I have small tasks to do in that time, each written out and rewarded in Habit RPG, it doesn’t much help.

So from now on, I adapt one of the techniques in AFWTOYL and give it a solid trial before I look at anything in an ordinary time management book, or a writing productivity book, or, well, anything that doesn’t assume that I have a thirty-minute attention span, tops.

And if anyone thinks that I’m putting myself down here, I’m not. Facing my difficulty realistically is far better than either denying it or trying to fix something else that isn’t really broken.

I’m sure I’ve convinced you. I hope I’ve convinced me.