Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Story About Getting Things Done: Part 1

by Dan Frank

About a month ago a friend of mine introduced me briefly to the personal time management system “Getting Things Done” (known from here on as GTD). I noticed a flowchart on his monitor and thinking it was something related to work I asked him about it. It turned out to be the GTD flow diagram he was using as a background for his desktop. We had a brief conversation about what GTD was, he mentioned that I should get the book by David Allen (the creator of GTD), and then I more or less forgot about it for a week.

Then about three weeks ago I had a strong urge to go get the book. I had decided to go ahead and order it when Jess mentioned that I should check the library. I hopped on line, did a search and about an hour later (it would have been quicker but Alex loves the library) I had the book in my hands. From that moment on there has been a whirlwind of change in my life in many ways but to really tell the story I have to go back about a year.

I had just come off of a project at work that had been my first real start to finish effort that I was fully responsible for since starting with the company. After that project ended successfully I was given the reigns of one of the most high profile projects in the company at that time. I was about six months in and things were going well but the sister project to mine was having some major struggles. We had just hired a new Director of Software Development (my boss) and he was looking for solutions. To make a long story short, when things hit critical mass with the struggling project I was asked to take over that effort as well. Immediately things got more hectic and as I tried to turn things around on the new project I found myself working longer hours and struggling more and more with keeping it all straight. I was able to patch it all together and get things on the right path and over the next eight months or so I was able to keep my head above water.

Then about 4 months ago I was given yet more responsibility and in the span of about three weeks my workload, which was already stretching my limits, more or less doubled as I was given responsibility for more development efforts related to my current projects and then shortly thereafter responsibility for a little more than half of the entire development efforts of the company. I knew at the time that it was going to mean a lot more work and I had no idea where I was going to find the additional time to do the job but I knew that my leadership would support me and that this was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Over the next couple of months I was able to keep things heading in the right direction by sheer force of will and long hours. Things were definitely starting to slip though. I was wrapping up a year and a half project with five or six pieces that I was directly responsible for, we were kicking off 4 more projects and my responsibilities were growing into areas where I had little or no experience. At that point an adjustment had to be made and through a lot of prayer and advice from key people (not the least of whom was Jess) I was starting to understand my new job and how to get it done. There was a lot more delegating and even some saying no. Things were getting better in some areas but all the while there was this sense of impending doom that would grip me from time to time and the only real reasoning I could give for it was that “I had too much to do”. The problem was that when I would try and articulate the “too much to do” to people around me it didn’t really flow out like I expected. Whenever I tried to put into words the work load I felt like I was under I would only be able to remember a handful of the tasks on my plate and it would be a different handful with each conversation. I had various buckets of items that needed doing and I had a lot of stuff in my head but when I would sit down to get things done its seemed overwhelming and unclear. I would attack the first thing that looked doable and all the while have a black cloud over my head that what I was doing, while important, was not what I should be doing.

So this brings us up to about a month ago when my friend mentioned GTD to me. At that time I was starting to melt down but I hadn’t fully realized it yet. The next week I had a trip to DC to kick off one of my new projects. At the same time there was a project going on that was spiraling out of control and frustrations (and tempers) were flaring all around the office. Before leaving for the trip things had really come to a head and while I was away they only got worse. While I was enjoying the sites of our nation’s capital and kicking off an exciting new project the makings of my meltdown were brewing back home.

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