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Getting Things Done (GTD) for Scientists

When I was in Australia on holiday last year, I started thinking about ways of getting the enormous influx of information and tasks in my life into some sort of structure. I had read on blogs from the US about the ‘Getting Things Done’ (GTD) approach of Dave Allen Security Expert, but hadn’t come across it much in my daily life living in Europe. Even in Australia, which could almost be considered a state of America these days, I got blank looks when asking at Borders for the book on ‘Getting Things Done’. I did eventually find a copy, and started reading.

Now, it’s important to realize that people outside the US are often skeptical of the latest new wave fad coming from that country, and I’m no different. But some of the bloggers discussing GTD seemed like pretty smart people, so I thought that it must be a little more than the usual Californian clap trap.

That was around 6 months ago. I put GTD into practice, and can say that I am very happy with it, and use it to this day. Furthermore, I think it is a very useful system for scientists to employ to organize the barrage of different projects they have running at time, from research projects, to authoring articles, to writing grant proposals. There is a lot of concurrency in a scientist’s work, and GTD can really help.

The thing to realize is that most people don’t get lessons in organizing themselves at school or college, and they certainly haven’t been prepared for the rapid pace of modern life. GTD is nothing more than a few lessons on how best to organize things. At the center of it all is what could be regarded as a multi-dimensional ToDo list. The idea is to get every project you have, however big or small, out of your head and into the list. That allows you to relax about things, and be more productive at the same time. You’ll need to read Allen’s book, or checkout the 43Folders web site to find out the details, but I can highly recommend it.

To implement the GTD system, you’ll need some software. At the moment, the best solution is probably kGTD with OmniOutliner Pro. kGTD is just a set of AppleScripts that enhance Outliner for use with GTD.

Most of the GTD world is waiting for Omni’s GTD solution: OmniFocus. It was announced some time ago, and has been slated for release in April-May, 2007. If you aren’t already using GTD, you may be better off just reading the book and waiting for OmniFocus, rather than starting with kGTD and switching later. I should also note that other companies are starting to make GTD apps for the Mac; one that looks nice is Midnight Inbox.

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