Do It Tomorrow

My favorite band, the White Stripes, is based on the idea that limits enhance creativity. They generally stick to three-part schemes – black, white and red; guitar, drums and vocals – and believe that imposing artificial structures on themselves forces them to find new ways to make music.

Mark Forster’s book, Do It Tomorrow explores this idea from a productivity standpoint, recommending that we impose limits on ourselves in order to manage the stream of incoming work, email, interruptions and paper that we deal with so that we can create buffers for ourselves and think before we act.

These days, buffers are more important than ever. Information comes at us so quickly that we either find a way to filter, examine, and deal with it or risk being buried under an enormous pile of email, blog feeds, paper, voicemails, text and instant messages, and meeting notes. Buffers and limits are a matter of survival. We need to build walls, slow down, and create systems that allow us to spend our time and attention wisely.

GTD is an important tool in this struggle, but I think many of its adherents, myself included, still find themselves at a bit of a loss. We are told to complete our two-minute actions and choose from our contexts on the fly, which risks leaving us at the mercy of our already-strained attention and energy. Do It Tomorrow, on the other hand, provides us with concrete tools and ideas for reducing interruption, combating procrastination, and making sure our time is spent on the things that matter.

I don’t want to give too much away, because you should really read the book, but I will share a few of the deceptively simple tools Forster suggests. First, there’s the big one, in which you measure out a day’s work for yourself by dealing with things in a batch. Everything that absolutely doesn’t have to be done today is put off for tomorrow. Today is reserved for yesterday’s incoming work, email, voicemail, and paper. Since yesterday is over and no more work can be added to the batch, you know exactly how much you have to do, and how many other tasks you can count on doing today. Interruptions and urgent requests may come up, but at least you have a plan that is in keeping with your priorities and goals.

Here’s an example. I read a selection of RSS feeds every day for this blog. They’re kept in a folder in Google Reader. In the morning, I go to that folder and read all the posts from yesterday, starring the ones that I think I might like to post about. I then go back to my starred items and winnow them down, finally deciding on the ones that I will use. I post about them, and I’m done for the day. No longer is blog posting an overwhelming, never-ending task. There won’t be any more to deal with, because yesterday is gone. I do the same with my email and any paper mail or receipts that accumulated yesterday. Mark Forster’s techniques have given me a concrete and practical way to measure out a day’s tasks and deal with them.

I’ll explore more of Mark’s ideas in future posts, but for now I strongly recommend that you buy the book, and visit his Web site at www.markforster.net.

2 comments:

@Stephen | Productivity in Context said...

Alright, that does it. I am going to have to go ahead and get that book.
Great review!

Stef said...

Jennifer,

I have the same experience with GTD.
To speak with Mark F. : I had too much resistance to complete the weekly review on a weekly basis (too scary I guess).

On paper it is convincing, in reality for me it doesn't work.

Can you elaborate a bit more why it didn't work for you ?