GTD: Sometimes You Just Need Simple Paper Tools

Some days my normal task list doesn’t cut it. To easy to be distracted, and not stick to the task at hand with 100% focus. At its worst, the more pressure I feel, the slower I seem to move. The end of the day looms with zero progress on important projects.

Wouldn’t I rather just get things done? GTD. Yes, ideally I’d move everything even a tiny bit ahead.

On the most productive and successful days I look back to see that I’ve advanced 8-10 tracks forward. This is positive for two reasons: 1) I want to spend time in more than one area, and 2) I’d like to start something in each track to unblock and gain momentum.

To systemize the day I often throw out my GTD software (closing the Things app) and go back to simple paper tools plus a timer.

  1. Index cards or a printed list. Write one task per card, or one task per line on the big paper. Start the timer. When it ends, flip to the next card or list item. Repeat.
  2. A timer. Could be the Clock app on the phone, or something like BreakTime.
system-of-the-day.png
Screenshot of how I format my task list before printing it on paper.

The use of time intervals to organize work is commonly known as the Pomodoro Technique (Wikipedia).

I alternate between 20 minutes on, 5 minutes off — or longer intervals of 50 minutes on, 10 minutes off. The length depends on criteria such as urgency, amount of items to get moving, and other obligations and distractions.

breaktime-app.png
Screenshot of the macOS BreakTime app, set to 25 minutes on and 5 minutes off.

In short: I turn to simple paper tools plus a timer to systemize the day when I need to focus. To get many tasks moving, I close my task manager and other apps to remove distractions. Maybe mute or turn off the phone. Bring out the paper tools, start the timer, and get to work.


See also my GTD Quadrant Flowchart, a simple flowchart designed to prioritize a task list.

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