Getting Things Written - Modifying GTD for writing

[Reposted from my work journal, owing to a couple of requests].

Getting Things Written

Recently, some people who’ve heard me mention GTD (Getting Things Done) have begun asking how I make it work as a writer. After all, it’s not really designed for arty, creative types. GTD is for managers, salespeople, marketers and the like.

So I was going to write my system up as a blog post. But the more I wrote, the more I realised that why I’d changed and adapted GTD to my own ends was almost as important as how I did it. And before I knew it, I had an essay-length piece on my hands, which didn’t really belong here in the work journal.

So instead, I’ve given it a page to itself. If you want to see how I make GTD work, click here and settle in for a long one:

[NB; no comments on the site, so if you want to ask me something, or discuss it, please do so here.]

Thanks, antony, this is really, really amazing! Now I don’t have to figure it out on my own - very nifty system, this is really well implemented!

Do you have an editable version of that job sheet, by any chance? I love the idea, but the version on your site doesn’t quite match my work.



I don’t, sorry. I think I created it in Pages - it’s hardly a work of art, so it shouldn’t take long for you to put together a modified version :wink:

Thanks Antony. Potentially very useful thoughts. Nice website too. You don’t do paintings of the future in your spare time, do you? :wink: No? Never mind.

It looks great, Antony. Thank you so much for posting this. I shall now return to the copy of GTD which is lying in the corner of the room with a muddy bootprint on its cover.



Thanks for this Antony. Ãœbercool. We may have to raise you on the pedestal right up
there alongside Keith!

I haven’t had time to explore it in detail yet, but it makes a lot of sense, and I have a
feeling it will fit very well with the way I work (and often don’t!).

Thanks for your generosity in sharing it.


Erm… Sorry, you’ve lost me. Do I share a name with a painter, or something?

Thanks for the kind words, everyone. If just one person finds a better system for themselves after reading the piece, then I feel I’ve paid back the debt I myself owe Merlin for turning me onto GTD.

“Heroes” Wednesday BBC2/3. Cultish trash TV du jour, with a writer/illustrator of comics character who also paints and creates comics about the future (but only when completely smacked).*

As an OT postscript for the writing-minded: an interesting attempt by American TV (NBC) to maintain multiple super-hero story-lines with multiple protagonists, one of whom is a Japanese office-worker nerd who up to now in the story speaks mainly Japanese, but with comic-book-like English sub-titles. Thus far (Episode 5 or 6), against the odds, it seems to me it works. (And so must it have seemed to US audiences, because it’s been re-commissioned for a second series.)

*Dunno where he stands on GTD, though. :wink:

Duh, I am watching HEROES and I didn’t make the connection. Probably because I don’t draw comics, I only write them.

Erm, not really. The convention in comics is to either have an asterisked caption box with the English translation, or to simply print the English dialogue in the word balloon with angle brackets around it to signify it’s being translated.

Ooops Antony, sorry I got your occupation wrong.

I think I caught some interview where one of the series’ creators said they’d intentionally tried to adopt elements of a comic-book style with the sub-titles. (I wasn’t deliberately following it - no, really!) Probably referring to the placing more than any other aspect.

In any case the treatment of sub-titles in Heroes is relatively unusual IME: in two ways - in the way they’re sprinkled round the screen, and in their sustained use. It used to be accepted that mainstream US TV audiences wouldn’t accept sustained use of sub-titles (although I guess that must have changed somewhat over recent years).

True, although in Asterix comics some of the foreign characters speak in approprate fonts: the Germans in a sort of gothic, Greeks in a roman alphabet that looks like Greek letters and so on. But that might be representing accent more than language.

Very true. I think the recent rise in ‘smart’ TV, especially in concentration-heavy shows like LOST and THE WIRE, has helped to explode that myth. (Come to think of it, subtitles are a common fixture in LOST, too.)

I think that’s exactly right, yeah. I always loved that part of the lettering in ASTERIX books, especially the way even the ‘swearing symbols’ would change with the typeface (the German skull and crossbones wore a Kaiser helmet, the Egyptians would swear in heiroglyphics, and so on).

Antony, since you posted this here and you use an iMac, I assume, you are using Scrivener as well - have you implemented your GTW approach into your Scrivener workflow? I love the job sheets approach (although I need to change them for me, as I am writing academic papers mostly) but I was wondering, if you have some sort of jobsheet in your Scrivener projects that corresponds with the one you put on the analog folder?

I was so glad to see that someone else has a big @writing context :wink:

Of course :slight_smile: The comic template in the new beta is based on my script format.

No. The whole point of the job sheets is that they are the sole record of a project’s status. Duplicating them in Scrivener would just present me with one more thing I’d have to update (and probably forget). Why would you want a duplicate of something that you already have (and don’t need a computer to see)?

I do use the status fields in Scrivener to mark sections as “To do”, “In progress”, “First Draft” etc., but I suspect that’s not what you meant…

Actually you hit the nail on its head despite my rather misleading question. What I really was trying to figure out is how you “micro-manage” in Scrivener what you track less detailed on the job sheet. That’s the part that I still haven’t figured out so well yet for myself. I guess it comes down to setting up a system one trusts…

Ah, I see. Well then yes, I use the built-in status labels to keep track of what’s done and what isn’t in each Scrivener project.

Though I also tend to write in a fairly linear fashion, so it’s not so much of an issue for me. Mostly I just look at the last document in the Draft folder to work out what needs doing next. When I’m on to revisions, second drafts, etc., then I rely more on the status labels.

This is such smart system for this particular sort of work. When I go back to writing a lot of articles, I’m going to steal some of your ideas.

With my book project, I am using iGTD, which has the advantage of keeping a vast collection of actions in one place. (Not a great thing for you, as I understand.) My problem was primarily one of coordinating research - which has a few stages - and writing. I need to keep several research and writing components “in the hopper” at the same time, so that I don’t get so wrapped up in writing section 2 that I forget to start researching section 3 or allot time to plan the research for section 4. I’m working with about 50 print sources, so even remembering which one I need to read next is a challenge that I can delegate to iGTD.

The secret, for me, lies almost entirely in the weekly review part of the plan. Every Monday I can survey what still needs to be done and decide that I haven’t transcribed enough notes recently, or need to catch up on transferring the notes I have transcribed into my database. Do I need to abandon the attractive but secondary research I’ve been doing on section X and get started on section Y? And so on. What I’m trying to avoid is that experience of thinking you’re doing great, getting so much done on one aspect of the project, then hitting yourself on the head when you realize you’re neglecting some other aspect and can’t move on to the next stage until it’s done. You have to be able to toggle back and forth from forest to trees when working on a long complex project like this book, and iGTD has enabled me to do that.

Of course, it’s only partly helped me to deal with my biggest productivity problem, which is my chronic, chronic underestimation of how long it takes me to read and research. What it has done in that department is force me to realize how serious the problem really is.