David Allen’s 2002 book ‘Getting Things Done‘ (GTD) certainly struck a chord with programmer types.

Unfortunately the classic GTD system espoused by Allen seems to fall apart over time. The biggest culprit for me was an ever growing ‘Someday / Maybe’ list – the list of things you plan to complete in the future but not immediately.

Initially this is great, as it gets certain items out of your main todo list, allowing you to focus on what matters today. A few months down the line though don’t be surprised if your ‘Someday / Maybe’ list is scaling over a hundred items.

Why is this an issue? A core principle of the classic GTD system is the Weekly Review – a blocked-off time each week where you go through your GTD lists, including Someday/Maybe, reviewing and moving items as appropriate, but who wants to scan a list of 100+ items every week?

Despite this shortcoming I soldiered on for years with GTD – but skipped the ‘Someday / Maybe’ check  from the Weekly Review.

So stuff was Getting Done but I was left with a gnawing feeling that my system was broken.

Fortunately in 2010 I came across another productivity book, which acknowledges some of the successes of Allen’s system but adds its own twists to overcome the main issues.

That book was the rather bombastically titled  ‘Master Your Workday Now!‘ by Michael Linenberger. It shares the same ‘capture everything’ and weekly review ethos of classic GTD but after 5 years use it hasn’t let me down.

In Linenberger’s system, the ‘inbox’ and ‘next action’ list of classic GTD are replaced by an ‘Opportunity Now‘ list. This should be reviewed daily and contain a maximum of around 20 items that you plan to/could complete within the next week.

Where do there other items go? That’s the magic part – more detail can be found in his book, but essentially you have Weekly, Monthly, Quarterly, Biannual and Annual lists.

So, for example, if you plan to ‘Research Pensions’ but not until next month, it would get shoved in the ‘Monthly’ pile.

Each of these timed lists gets reviewed as appropriate, i.e. the Weekly list gets reviewed every week, the Monthly list every month, and so on. I recommend setting up calendar reminders for this.

Essentially you are managing the dreaded ‘Someday / Maybe’ pile, but with a semblance of priority so that the lists don’t overwhelm.

When reviewing timed lists you go through each item and ask yourself am I happy for this to remain here? i.e. review again in a week, or move it to a lower priority (e.g. Monthly) or higher (e.g. to the ‘Opportunity Now’ list).

The beauty of this system is that it is clear when you have too much on one plate, e.g. if the number of items in the Weekly list is creeping up to one hundred items it’s a good indication that the list needs pruning during its next review by pushing things down to Monthly or Quarterly as appropriate.

That said I usually try to limit the “size” of the jump a task makes between lists to one, e.g. from Weekly to Monthly is OK, but not Weekly to Quarterly. I do this to mitigate the chances of something that might be important being moved too far out on a whim.

For example during a review of the Weekly list I might be coming off the back of a bad Javascript day, so learning that new framework might be hard to stomach and I may out of malice push it too far back, perhaps to the Biannual review pile, despite it being The New Hotness.  By limiting the jump to the Monthly pile instead it reduces the amount of time before it is review again – if I still feel the same way in a month then I’ll bump it down the Quarterly pile.

Tasks that manage to percolate all the way down  to the Annual pile, checked just once a year, have a strong chance of simply being deleted when reviewed.

I’ve used this system for around five years now and find it far superior to the traditional GTD system. It’s well worth a try, particularly if you have stumbled with Allen’s approach.


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