In August of 2012 I went back to working in an office environment full time (I had been a freelance web designer for the previous two years, working from home.) On October 11 our daughter was born. On November 14 I stopped all freelance projects I had open. Over those 34 days I found myself so far behind that I just stopped working on anything out of the fear that I would never finish, the work seemed insurmountable. I was lucky to have amazingly understanding clients who let me off the hook easy but those 34 days made it clear to me that I needed to step away and reassess my processes and workflows for getting my daily tasks accomplished.

At the time I stopped working on freelance jobs I had a sloppy, thrown together system for accomplishing my work. Most of my tasks were tied to one specific email somewhere in my inbox of close to 48,000 emails – I had never paid attention to the term “Inbox Zero” – that I had to search for in order to jog my memory of what I needed to do. I haphazardly threw tasks like “work on website” or “clean house” into Things or Calendar or often just on a scrap of paper. I knew I had a horrible system but somehow I scraped by. Looking back I don’t know how I ever got anything done and I wish that I had stumbled across David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) when I was 20. Although, knowing me at 20, I’m not sure I would have wanted to read it then and I’m almost glad I didn’t because after I finally did (at 30) it allowed me to analyze how I had approached tasks, events, projects and relationships up to this point.

What became clear was that I performed extremely well when I had to deal with one task that was in crisis. It focused my attention, my next actions became evident and I had an absolute idea of what complete looked like. If more tasks reached crisis my brain began to switch back and forth between them, unsure of priority or next action, and soon after I was 5 episodes of Arrested Development deep in a “quick break” to give my brain a rest. What reading GTD made embarringly obvious to me was that by utilizing a trusted system of collecting, processing, orgainizing, reviewing and doing I could achieve the same clarity of action that I experienced when in crisis mode. My brain would leave the remembering up to my trusted system and in turn it could focus on executing.

I’m writing a series of blog posts about my experience with GTD and personal productivity, not as lesson to anyone but as a means to articulate what my system is and how I operate within it. It’s selfish really. The more I think and write about my system, while fine tuning the processes, the more ingrained and natural it will become. I’m also writing it for others who are trying to define their system. Again, it’s not meant to be a guide but just an experience story to reinforce the efficiency you can achieve through a system like GTD. I know, when I was first exploring how I would beef up my productivity, reading about other people’s experiences and processes helped legitimize and reinforce the path I was embarking on.

I hope, if you’re reading this, you’ll get something out of this series.