ZTD Habit 3 Postmortem: Finding Your Sweet Spot


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Leo Babuta’s Zen to Done system Is deceptively simple. Emphasis on “deceptive”. The book itself is just a fraction of the GTD bible and each chapter is concise and to the point. Putting the theory into practice, however, is a completely different game. I know see the wisdom in splitting GTD into smaller habits and why you’re discouraged from trying to apply more than 2 or 3 a month. Applying even one is hard work already.

The above is basically just a long-winded prologue to an admission of failure. Well, semi-failure. As of this writing, 29 days have passed since the start of May and I’ve stuck to the whole planning regimen for probably less than half of that. But rather than wallow in my failures, I can happily look at the past days as a sort of beta test to find bugs in my personal system. Here are some of them:

1. Keep track

Check off dates on a (physical) calendar. Journal. Use an app. Use anything that floats your boat. The purpose is two-fold. The first is to provide some motivation not to break the chain, a technique supposedly used by Jerry Seinfeld. The second is to also have a sort of grading reference to see how well you’ve been doing, when you’ve fallen of the wagon (you will, don’t worry), and maybe even why.

2. Review is important

David Allen in GTD puts a very heavy emphasis on Review. It’s almost too easy to downplay its role in a system. After all, almost all productivity systems are focused on doing things. But review is actually critical in beginning, developing, and refining any system. It keeps you from hammering the nail on the wrong wall. Review lets you take a step back and see where you’ve gone wrong and if there’s anything you can do to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Review should be done in short spurts daily and longer periods weekly. This lets you fine tune your system before it gets too late to change and the wrong habit becomes ingrained. Software developers might be familiar with this is an iterative model of development.

3. Energy management is just as important as time management

You may have the best laid out plans, todo lists, and schedules, but when you don’t have the energy to execute them, all those plans come to naught. Typical productivity systems would have us working like robots, but even machines run on energy that can be depleted over time. Energy management is a whole system in itself and I’m not entirely educated about it myself. It’s on my todo list but, suffice it to say, you have to schedule around your energy levels or at least taking them into consideration. How do you determine your energy levels? It really boils down to trial and error and, as mentioned above, review.

4. It’s really a personal thing

No one productivity system fits all. Those that are very specific down to times will not always match people’s whose bodies and minds work differently. Those that are too general, on the other hand, require fine-turning and customization along the way. The point is that you’ll never really know what works for you and what doesn’t unless you actually put them into practice. The principles of GTD or even this ZTD might make sense when you read it, only to be completely at a loss when you start implementing it. There really is no escaping actually putting the plan into action. It definitely helps that ZTD is not very intrusive and easy to implement piecemeal.

5. Lessons learned

As I said, the whole month wasn’t exactly a loss. It let me realize some of the presumptions I’ve been making in the past as far as systems and planning go. And hopefully it will guide me in tuning and improving that system.

For example, I’ve always been setting my weekly planning on Sunday evenings, thinking that it’s a perfect way to close the week and start the next week fresh with a clear vision of my goals. However, I’ve noticed that I consistently put off that Sunday planning because I often feel tired by the end of the day. I tell myself I’ll wake up 30 minutes earlier on Monday to make up for that. Guess what? Never happens.

The same is somewhat true for the daily planning the night before, though it’s less consistent than my Sunday failures. Sometimes it’s because I’m out of energy, but sometimes it’s also because I’ve been so wrapped up in doing something that I lose time to actually do some serious planning for the next day.

So I’m tweaking my schedule to do my MIT planning in the afternoon/early evening “after work” and Big Rocks planning on Friday afternoons, before I start shouting “TGIF!” That way, I would most likely still have energy left to do It (depending on the workload that day) and pending tasks for the next week are still fresh in my mind. I’ll still put a failsafe period each night, including Sunday night, for a quick scan in case something came up in between. That night period will also be used for a quick review of the day.

Onward to June to actually Do things. Not that I haven’t been doing things already anyway.

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