Zen To Done and me – Part 1

This week I read a post called 6 blog tips for busy academics by Matt Might. It is interesting how I am not even subscribing to his RSS feed but I end up visiting his blog every week or so, mainly by clicking on links posted on my Twitter timeline. One of my favorites article there is What every CS major should know.

I can pretty much say that his blog tips inspired me into starting a new blog, particularly when he recommends us to “Blog as long-term memory”.

Several weeks ago I found the Zen to Done (ZTD) productivity system. As you can see in the link, the book has 80+ pages, but the pages are small, the font is big and the text is really easy to read. Although I have read most of the book, I wanted to set practical goals and check points to help me measuring what have I successfully incorporated into my routine so far and what do I still want to try out.

So, this post is a personal “long-term memory” review of what ZTD means to me and how I think I can make the most out of it. The following text is a mix of both the original ZTD habits and my experience applying them. This post is going to be written in 3 parts (part 2, part 3).

Introduction and Why ZTD

Zen To Done is a set of 10 habits to help you get organized and to simplify your life. It started like a mix of Getting Things Done (GTD) and the 7 Habits of Successful People, but with simplicity in mind and focus on doing, instead of on the system.

You should follow only the habits that makes you fell comfortable, and you should pick only one or two at a time.

1. Collect

One of the most important habits to me. When you have an idea or a new task to do, you should write things down immediately. When I say immediately, I really mean it. Our brain is already overwhelmed with lots of things, and it can trick us sometimes. When you get back to your home or office, you should transfer your notes to your master to-do list.

This habit is also about centralizing your inboxes and collecting them together (letters, papers from work, university and so on), so your the next habit (processing) can take place.

It may seem too simple or stupid to always carry a small notebook with you, but I have already seen the benefits of doing so. One protip that I can give you is: right before going to bed, write down the tasks that are bothering you (“tomorrow I must not forget to do this, and this and that”). This will help you cleaning your head (really important) and won’t let you forget those tasks.

2. Process

So now that you have a single pile with papers on your table, some unread emails on your inbox and some notes and tasks on a small notebook on your pocket, it’s time to process them. It is important to not let those piles overflow.

As the author says, “in all cases, don’t leave the item in your inbox“. Make quick and immediate decisions. If an item on your inbox requires you to do something, first check if you are the person who should be doing this. If not, delegate it to the right person as soon as possible. If you are, and the task will take 5 minutes or less, do it immediately. If the task demands more time, add it to your to-do list and remove the item from your inbox.

From my personal experience, using your email inbox as a to-do list is not a very good idea. Your goal is to have your inboxes always empty. I used to read an email and then mark it as unread to remember me of doing the tasks that the email required later (even if the task only required some minutes), but this didn’t work very well for me, probably because I was mixing new unread emails with emails that I had already read but marked as unread.

In one sentence: when you read an email, delegate it, do it right away or create a task on your master to-do list in order to remove this email from your inbox.

3. Plan

After collecting papers and emails, processing your inboxes and converting the things you have to do to actual tasks on your to-do list, it’s time to choose where to start.

Here the author recommends you to pick, at the beginning of the week, the most 4-6 important tasks (named Big Rocks, from the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) that you want to accomplish this week. Don’t forget to take at least a task that will help you achieving your yearly goals (more on that later).

Each morning, choose the Most Important Tasks (MIT) of the day (this could include a Big Rock task) and get them done as earlier as possible, so other tasks don’t pop up before you are able to work on them. When you are done with your the MIT, go to your to-do list and check what you can do next.

Personally, besides the funny names, simply choosing the most important tasks and writing them on a piece of paper that I carry on my pocket throughout the day has helped me a lot. Sometimes I used to had simple tasks like getting a document somewhere on my university campus, but I kept procrastinating it until the day that I had it as a Most Important Task of the day.

Make sure to include your important tasks there and not working on anything else before accomplishing it. Reviewing this list with your completed tasks at the end of the day makes you feel nice.

What’s next

On the next part of this post I write about the next 3 habits: Do, Simple Trusted System and Organize. You can read it here.

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