My first contact with GTD was through 43folders nearly two decades ago, and I haven’t looked back since. A few things did change since then. One adjustment was procedural, going from the DIY planner, I hope this is the right link. Far from being an eternal archive, the web churns at the speed of internet startups. through hipster PDA and Things to, ultimately, OmniFocus. And through the magic of personal blogs I know that the 7-year anniversary of my OmniFocus run is coming up. Tempus fugit. The bigger change was to the arguably most important part of GTD, the weekly review, onto which I added three lists that I glance at weekly and read and update at least quarterly. These are:
- The root commitment document, as suggested by Cal Newport.
- Privileged principles, described by Russ Roberts in his book Wild Problems.
- Favorite problems, which Tiago Forte mentions in his otherwise forgettable Building a Second Brain.
The root commitment document requires little elaboration as Newport himself gave clear instructions on what it was and how to go about making one. I view it as a contract with myself on which routines I should follow and how much flexibility I have in executing them. Through lockdowns and job changes it went from 1000 to 250 to fewer than 200 words now. Brevity matters. Wrote he, in the third paragraph of what was supposed to be a 280-character post.
Privileged principles I use as simple heuristics, a hierarchical list of priorities phrased as “I am the kind of person who…” never picks their nose, let’s say, as a pure hypothetical. They do come in handy in those moments of distraction when ambient noise is high and willpower is low. At a higher level — and this is how Roberts intended them to work — having principles you value above others works wonders to reason through seemingly difficult choices.
Favorite problems I intuitively figured out by myself, but formalizing them was an improvement. Whereas privileged principles are what is top of mind when making decisions, favorite problems are top of mind when reading books and articles, watching lectures, etc, especially when those are not tied to a specific project. Although, really, if a project you are working on isn’t tied to a favorite problem of yours, why are you doing it at all? There are many reasons why a paper on, let’s say, differences in T-cell development between mice, rats, and humans, may be interesting to someone, but your attention may be focused on different parts depending on your interests. Are you reading about a phase 3 clinical trial in atrial fibrillation because you are an electrophysiologist, a general cardiologist, a patient with a-fib, or a researcher interested in clinical trials in general? And if you are a lawyer, why are you reading it at all? Reasons for reading are not always clear, and if anything, knowing what your favorite problems are helps tremendously with triage.
So these are the three lists that aren’t necessarily part of GTD — heck, the first one may not even be a list at all — but which through trial and error I ended up integrating in my weekly review. I’m sure there are many more.