Apologies for “borrowing” the title shamelessly from 43 Folders but it seemed apt. Like many people I’m not sure how exactly I came to hear about GTD. Actually, that’s not quite true, I know exactly where I first read about GTD, the aforementioned 43 Folders website run by Merlin Mann. What I mean is I still have no idea quite what I was looking for that resulted in me visiting that site.
I suspect it was when I was looking at ways to better optimise my email settings, in particular my use of folders and labels. My inbox had become a spiralling mess and as the pile grew and grew so I became less and less motivated to actually read any of it and do something about it. When I finally did work my way through it all (as part of following Merlin’s wonderful Inbox Zero series) I realised things had to change.
My email habits were atrocious, I used to check far too often (I was very much a “check mail every 5 minutes” guy before I read Inbox Zero), kept too many folders and let my inbox hold all my email. If that sounds like you I highly recommend you take the time to read Inbox Zero. Ever since I’ve let go of the “I’ll just go check my email” habit I feel so much more at ease and able to tackle the tasks I need to be doing in peace.
Once you get into the habit of making a conscious decision for every single input in your life as whether it is actually useful (as opposed to merely being perceived to be), you find that a lot of the sources of information that we allow into our lives are simply “noise”. Far too often I’ve allowed myself to remain subscribed to newsletters I no longer read, but in getting my inbox processed down to zero I made some tough choices and unsubscribed from a huge swath of lists. I’m amazed that as yet my urge not to “miss anything” hasn’t kicked in and made me re-subscribe.
The hope is that I can spread these good habits to other aspects of my life. Ever since I can remember there’s been a nagging part of my brain that’s always afraid of “missing out” on something. For example, I log into Facebook numerous times a day, just to keep up with my News Feed. Likewise I suffer from an inability to mark a blog feed as “read” unless and until I have actually read every single post. This is despite the protestations of the other part of my brain that it really isn’t interested. I am forever logging into forums, reading every last post, even subjects I have no interest in.
Whilst I wasn’t actively seeking some sort of system to stop the maddening levels of anxiety this state of affairs was causing me I think on some level I knew I needed to do something. I’ve spent the majority of my life being a disorganised mess and until recently both my desk and my bedroom had become a massive “pile” and the Herculean task of trying get all of that addressed has not even been completed but I took my lead from one of Merlin’s hacks; the email DMZ. Before you can climb your way out of a hole you’ve dug yourself into you have to stop digging first.