6 GTD: Reviewing

Now that you’ve got yourself organised, you need to remind yourself what the jobs are that you need to do.

Review appropriate lists at appropriate times. For example

  • Check Calendar at the start of the day
  • Look at General Tasks to be done
  • When on the phone, look for tasks marked phone
  • When in a meeting, look at the tasks for that meeting

Review your whole system once a week.

  • Check Calendar for forthcoming events
  • Check projects have a Next Action
  • Check Next Actions are being performed
  • Check Wait list to see if anything needs chasing
  • Check Maybe list to see if anything is ready to proceed
  • Pause or drop projects that aren’t going ahead

If you’re not up to date at the weekly review you won’t be able to convince yourself that your system is remembering for you. You’ll go back to worrying that you’ve forgotten something.

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5 GTD: Organize

One mistake I made at the beginning was to try and process and organize as I collected. What I mean by this is I’d try and write jobs under different headings in my GTD file as I was collecting them. This is a mistake. One of the key principles of GTD is you only do one thing at a time. If you’re collecting, you shouldn’t be organizing.  Collecting is dealt with in a previous post.  Let’s assume you’ve collected, now it’s time to organize.

Organizing involves putting the jobs into the appropriate categories: writing them under the appropriate heading, if you like.

Here are example headings I use for my general GTD file:

  • General Tasks
  • Dated (Scheduled) Tasks
  • Waiting Tasks
  • Meeting with Julie
  • Meeting with Links
  • Meeting with Craig
  • Maybe
  • View, Watch, Read
  • Long Term

The Dated Tasks should go in your calendar.

The Waiting Tasks are those for which I’m awaiting a response. For example, a reply to an email or an answer to a query.

Note how I have separate headings for regular meetings with different people.

The View, Watch, Read heading is for books, video clips, articles I would like to read if I had more time. I look at the things here when I have the odd ten minutes.

The Maybe heading is for things I don’t have time to do at the moment. I review this occasionally, and may get round to them someday.

Long Term tasks are mainly reminders of things that will happen in at least a year’s time: reminders of contract renewals etc.

I also have a reference file and a projects file. These two have a section all to themselves, later on in this tutorial.

Organising is important. It might seem from the above that all you’ve done is simply moved your todo list around, but what you’ve really done is separated out your “inbox”. You’ve separated the reference from the actions, and eliminated the chaff. This is the secret of GTD. It’s simple but effective.

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4 GTD: Process

Processing means going through the jobs you’ve collected and getting them into a suitable format. If the job is one which would be quicker to do right away than to process, then do it.

Rules for Processing

  • Go through your list of unprocessed tasks
  • Process the top item first
  • Process one item at a time
  • Never put anything back into “in”

The key question when processing is to think what’s the Next Action? Too many jobs don’t get done because people aren’t clear about what the Next Action is. For example, you might want to tidy your office. What’s stopping you doing that? Perhaps you’ve nowhere to put the rubbish. In that case the Next Action is “Get Bin Bags”

Perhaps you need to arrange a meeting. “Arrange a meeting” is not a suitable Next Action. To arrange a meeting you need to find out when people are free. A more suitable Next Action would be “Phone Steve”

Taking a moment to decide the Next Action removes one cause of stress. If you have a job that’s preying on your mind it’s usually because you haven’t decided what the Next Action is.

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2 Functions in Elisp

Here’s how to define a simple LISP function

1: (defun pi ()
2:   "A sample non-interactive function"
3:   3.1415
4: )

The above is a non-interactive function that simply returns 3.1415. Evaluate it (C-x C-e, remember?) and you will see the word pi appear in the echo area. Try M-x pi, though, and Emacs won’t find the function. If you want to be able to call a function using M-x, you have to make it interactive, as follows.

1: (defun print-pi()
2:     "Insert an approximation to pi"
3:     (interactive)
4:     (insert "3.1415")
5: )

So why would you want a non-interactive function? Perhaps because you want it to be called from another function, as follows:

1: (defun circumference-of-circle()
2:     (interactive)
3:     (message "The circumference of a circle diameter 3 is %f" (* pi 3))
4: )

Before evaluating the above function, make sure that you have evaluated the non-interactive function pi.

There are lots of different types of interactive functions. The next interactive function is more useful in that it prompts for the diameter to be input (the n at the start of “nInput diameter of circle:” is what tells Emacs to prompt for a number)

1: (defun circumference-of-circle(diameter)
2:     "Calculate the circumference of a circle given the diameter"
3:     (interactive "nInput diameter of circle:")
4:     (message "The circumference of a circle diameter %d is %f" diameter (* 3.1415 diameter))
5: )

Here’s the same function but this time set up to receive the parameter from the universal argument. That is to say, in the form C-u 4 M-x circumference-of-circle.

1: (defun circumference-of-circle(diameter)
2: (interactive "p")
3: (message "The circumference of a circle diameter %d is %f" diameter (* 3.1415 diameter))
4: )

Here’s an example of a function that reads strings and tests your knowledge of capital cities.

1: (defun capital-of-france(answer)
2:     "Simple quiz example."
3:     (interactive "sWhat's the Capital of France?")
4:     (if (string= answer "paris") (message "Correct!") (message "Wrong!"))
5: )

Argument codes for interactive functions can be found here http://www.gnu.org/software/emacs/manual/html_node/elisp/Interactive-Codes.html#Interactive-Codes

Next: Interactive Functions that work on Regions

1 Beginning Emacs Lisp

LISP is derived from the term LISt Processing.

A list in LISP looks like this:

(Knife Fork Spoon)

or like these two examples
(set-background-color "yellow")    <- C-x C-e
(set-background-color "white")    <- C-x C-e

If the first item in the list is a function you can evaluate the list by placing the cursor just after the bracket at the end of the list and pressing C-x C-e. Try it with the two lists above. Copy them into Emacs and then C-x C-e where indicated to turn the Emacs background yellow and then to set it white again.

If you try to evaluate the (Knife Fork Spoon) list you’ll get an error telling you that Knife is a void function.

Try evaluating the following lists in Emacs by typing C-x C-e after the closing bracket:
(linum-mode)
(message "This is the echo area")
(* 2 3)
(+ 4 5)

The last three will output their results in the echo area, the area at the bottom of Emacs.

You can also evaluate a function by typing M-x (function name). So M-x visual-line-mode will turn word wrap on and off.

Emacs supports TAB completion, so typing M-x visu and pressing TAB is enough to fill in the function name.

You set a variable as follows:

(set 'name 'John) C-x C-e to set the variable

name C-x C-e to see the contents of the variable “name”

If you press C-x C-e after (name)you’ll get an error. Remember, name is a variable, (name) is a function, and you haven’t defined a function called name.
It’s a nuisance typing in ‘ all the time, so the following is often used
(setq animal 'cat)

Evaluate the above and then evaluate animal …

C-u C-x C-e will insert any output directly in the text area, rather than in the echo area.

Here is a list of cheeses called cheese:
(setq cheese '(Stilton Wensleydale Cheddar Cheshire))

Evaluate the list.

The first item in a list is called the car, the remaining items are called the cdr (pronounced could-er) The Emacs Lisp tutorial will tell you why. Evaluate the following:

(car cheese)
(cdr cheese)

… and there you are

Next: Functions in Elisp

3 GTD: Collect

  • You can’t organize what’s incoming, you can only collect it and process it.
  • You don’t manage priorities, you have them

Collection is the key to the whole process of GTD.

Collection means writing down everything you have to do, and this means everything.

If you have a good memory, and I do, the temptation is not to bother, but this means that you’re not trusting the system. If the system doesn’t have everything you need to do in it, then you won’t trust it and you’ll go back to worrying that you’re not doing all your tasks.

You also won’t be able to plan properly.

I’m getting more and more in the habit of capturing things I need to do, even jobs I know I’ll do in a short time.

Here are some jobs I’ve captured

  • Email Harold about Films
  • Watch Epilepsy Video
  • Write UCAS reports
  • Buy birthday card
  • Organise VLE training for September
  • Investigate Trello software

I use Emacs org-mode capture to capture my tasks, but that’s just my preference. Evernote is good, but the system works perfectly adequately using pen and paper.

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2 GTD: Overview

There are five parts to GTD

  • Collect
  • Process
  • Organize
  • Reviewing
  • Do
You should only ever be doing one of these things at any one time: 95% of your time should be spent doing.

The basic principles of GTD are just common sense.

First, collect all the things you have to do and write them down.  If your tasks are all recorded you know that they won’t be forgotten. If you know you’re not going to forget things you’ve just removed one cause of stress.

Next, organize your work so that jobs get done at the right time.  This stops the feeling that you’re drowning in trivial jobs when should be doing something more important.

Having done that, do the work. If you have all your tasks organized properly you can look up a couple of five minute tasks when you have ten minutes spare, when you have a longer stretch of time you can get down to a more challenging task.

Review your system every so often.  Priorities will change, you’ll need to reorganize your work to take this into account.

GTD involves writing down all your jobs.  It doesn’t matter whether you do it on paper or use an IT solution such as Evernote or my preferred solution, Emacs.  Everything you have to do – making a phone call; sending a birthday card; starting a big project;  buying a book to read… write it down.

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Ubuntu Emacs Org-Mode Setup

Emacs works straight out of the box on Ubuntu however, at the time of writing, Ubuntu 12.04 still only comes with org-version 6.33.  It’s worth installing the latest version.  The installation instructions are on the org-mode site http://orgmode.org/manual/Installation.html, but they’re not quite complete.

 Install the latest version of Org-Mode

  1. Download the org-mode files and copy to a suitable location (I put them in the Ubuntu One folder so they’re easily shared between PCs)
  2. sudo apt-get install texinfo.  This is the missing step that ensures the next part works correctly
  3. Navigate to the org-8.x folder and sudo make autoloads and then sudo make install
  4. Finally, add (add-to-list ‘load-path “/usr/share/emacs/site-lisp/org”) to your .emacs file

Unity Keybindings

Some of the Unity keybindings overwrite those of standard org-mode.  I get particularly frustrated not being able to use S-M-<UP> to sort lines.  The following sorts this out:

  1. sudo apt-get install compizconfig-settings-manager
  2. Launch compiz-config-settings-manager
  3. Dash Home -> CompizConfig Settings Manager-> Scale(icon) under Windows Management Category -> Bindings(tab) -> Initiate Windows Picker -> change to <Shift><Super>Up or similar

Alt and Alt Gr

I don’t make use of the way Ubuntu distinguishes between these two keys, and I prefer to set the Alt Gr key to act just like the Alt.  For one thing, it makes it easier on the hands to type M-f and M-b when moving forward and backwards through words (something I do a lot when editing) .  Making this change on Ubuntu 12.04 is easy

  • Open Keyboard Layout from the dash.  Choose Options, Alt/Win Key behaviour and select Alt and Meta are on Alt Keys

Note you you can also swap the Ctrl and Caps lock this way if you prefer.
For older versions of Ubuntu, the Keyboard Layout preferences are found on a tab in Keyboard in System Settings

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Emacs Windows Setup

Installing Emacs on Windows

  1. Download a copy of Emacs for Windows from here: http://ftp.gnu.org/gnu/emacs/windows/  Emacs comes as a zip file looking something like this:  emacs-24.3-bin-i386.zip         18-Mar-2013 22:43   47M 
  2. Unzip the folder to a suitable location, e.g. C:/Program Files
  3. That’s it.  There is no other installation required.
  4. To launch Emacs, run the runemacs.exe file in the emacs-XX.X\bin\ folder
  5. You will now have a functioning copy of Emacs.

Follow this link to my Emacs Tutorial

…You’ll probably find, however, that not all features are present.  Follow the steps below to add the remaining features.

If you’re looking for how to get Ediff or the spell checker to work in Windows, you’ve come to the right place.

Ispell (Spell Checker) on Windows Emacs

  1. Download Ispell: http://www.filewatcher.com/m/ispell.zip.352502-0.html
  2. M-x customize-variable and enter exec-path to include the path to ispell.exe
  3. Copy english.hash to emacs home folder. (You can find the path to your home folder by pasting the following into Emacs: (getenv “HOME”)  and pressing C-x C-e after the final bracket.)

M-x flyspell to turn on flyspell mode, which underlines misspelled words. Click with the centre mouse button on the misspelled word for a menu suggested changes.

I like to add the following to my .emacs file.  It maps the menu select option to the right mouse button.

(eval-after-load "flyspell" '(define-key flyspell-mode-map [down-mouse-3] 'flyspell-correct-word))

Install Cygwin

Cygwin is “a collection of tools which provide a Linux look and feel environment for Windows.”

Installing Cygwin is the easiest way to enable all those extra features in Emacs

  1. Go to http://cygwin.com/ and run the setup.exe file on the website
  2. Install the default set of packages
  3. If you want to be able to use org-mode to export to ODT documents in Windows, you’ll need to install zip and unzip from the archive package.
  4. On Emacs, set exec-path to c:\cygwin\bin (or to wherever you installed Cygwin) (If you don’t know how to set exec-path, the easiest way is M-x customize-variable, enter exec-path and then insert the path in one of the fields.  Don’t forget to save the changes)
  5. Add c:\cygwin\bin to your Windows path and restart the machine

Done.  Emacs should now by fully working on your Windows machine.

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1 GTD Example: Clear your inbox

Here’s a simple introduction to the principles behind GTD.

Is your email inbox full?  If so, the reason isn’t what you might expect.  It’s not that you’re not processing and deleting them as fast as you might.  Modern email systems can hold an indefinite number of emails, there’s no reason to delete anything you don’t want to.

The real reason your inbox is full is because it’s a mixture of different sorts of emails:   emails left as a reminder you have a job to do, emails you’ve left there for reference, emails you might need in the future, emails you might read later on.  Your inbox is confused because you don’t know which email is which.
Here’s the GTD solution: create some additional folders

  • Action
  • Bacn
  • Reference
  • To Read

Go down your inbox, processing each email one at a time.  Start at the top and don’t move onto the next email until you’ve processed the current one.
Process the emails as follows

  • If you don’t need the email, delete it.
  • If it will take less than 2 minutes to deal with, deal with it.
  • If you need to keep the email for reference, put it in the email folder called Reference (or in a more suitable folder you’ve already created)
  • If it’s something you want to read at leisure. put it in the To Read folder
  • If it’s an email list you’ve subscribed to, like a pizza deal or a voucher site, put it in the Bacn folder.  Bacn is like spam, except you asked for it.  It’s nice to have, but too much is bad for you.

Work your way down the list until you have an empty inbox.  Once it’s empty, it will probably stay that way.

It might seem that all you’ve done is move your list elsewhere, but what you’ve really done is separated things out. You’ve separated reference materials from the actions, and eliminated the chaff.  That’s GTD, simple but effective.

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