Long train trips: valuable GTD time

Tags: europython2009, gtd

Greg Wilson is planning an airplane-less trip which takes 12 hours, a big part of it by train. He’s trying to go a year without flying—when I calculated my carbon load in the spring, I discovered that it accounted for 85% of my impact

The most recent long trip I took was from Utrecht (the Netherlands) to Birmingham (UK) for europython 2009. If possible I make such strips by train. I’ll be honest to admit that carbon load is not the number one reason: I simply enjoy trains and train travel. And with the channel tunnel, the UK is within easy reach.

The point I want to stress: long train trips are valuable time. I’m still reaping the benefit of both the inbound and outbound journey: I spend most of the time clarifying my goals. I do that now and again and I brought my previous lists with me. It was two or three years ago I last thought about it, so it was high time. And with hours of uninterrupted thinking time in those trains, I finished it all.

For those that don’t know about it: GTD suggests to do your thinking on several levels:

  • Life goal. That’s more like “love God above all and your neighbour as yourself” than like “release product 1.2”. This probably rarely changes, but do look at it every few years.

  • 3-5 year vision. You overestimate what you can do in 1 year, you underestimate what you can do in 3-5 years. So distill a couple of long term practical goals out of your (more abstract) life goal. “Being around is practical and to improve that chance I’d better have a good weight+condition”. Etc. Look at this every 3 years or so. Make the vision pretty stable: if you’re too detailed, you’re not thinking at the right level basically.

  • 1-2 year goals. The 3-5 year vision leads to more detailed tangible goals that you can measure. “I’ve learned my daughter to play chess”. “I weigh between 72-80 kg instead of my current 94 kg”. “I can cycle 30km within one hour”. “I’m a core grok contributor”. That sort of stuff. Look at it yearly.

  • Areas of focus. Another level? Yes, another necessary level. The 1-2 year goals keep you on track for a year or so, but once you start brainstorming possible action items out of that: you’ll bury yourself under a heap load of tasks and projects. Every three months, pick a few areas to focus on while looking at your 1-2 year goals. You cannot do it all! Have mercy on yourself. One of the focus areas for October-December for me is website maintenance/creation for the three websites I’m doing volunteer work for, just to give an example.

The “life goal” till “1-2 year goals” levels is what I did in the train. Plus the areas of focus for July-September. Those focus areas is what I keep next to my GTD project list at the start of the three month period:

  • Adding projects where needed.

  • Putting existing projects on hold when not within my focus areas.

  • Going through the “miscellaneous” pile of single actions, moving a load of them to the someday/maybe pile when not within my focus areas.

This seems to hold up quite nicely! It filters the list of projects to a more manageable level. And it ensures some internal accountability.

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About me

My name is Reinout van Rees and I work a lot with Python (programming language) and Django (website framework). I live in The Netherlands and I'm happily married to Annie van Rees-Kooiman.

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