Handling the Clutter

When I worked as a personal assistant, my primary job was to organize and simplify my boss’s life. I would arrive at the office approximately one hour before her. I would check her voicemail and open her mail (I imagine that were I doing this now, checking email would be a part of this routine). I would make a task list for her based on processing these items. Then I would fill the pitcher of water in her office and pick up her morning latté and muffin. When she arrived we would meet for the first 20 minutes or so of the day, she having her coffee, I reviewing and prioritizing her tasks and meetings for the day. Throughout the day when something came up she would give it to me to put down on the list. This might include personal shopping items, calls she needed to make to clients, etc. The next day would involve the same routine, adding to it the necessity of reviewing and updating the previous day’s list.

How awesome would it be to have a personal assistant to keep all that clutter out of your mind and keep you focused on the next thing you needed to do? Of course this is something academics don’t have, and never will. But here’s the next best thing: omnifocus.

First, some background. Some of you have heard me talk about GTD, the productivity system that is particularly popular among mac users addicts like me. GTD is based on common-sense ideas and is a HIGHLY flexible system, so although creator David Allen’s own language about it makes me cringe, I’ve gotten into it without ever reading the actual book.

When I say I’ve “gotten into it,” I mean that I used to use the system, and thought it was super awesome. So why did I ever stop?

Well, to be honest, lists started stressing me out–and GTD involves LOTS of list items, because one of the founding principles of the system is that you have to break down any big project into “actionable” tasks and just focus on one little piece at a time.

Enter omnifocus. Omnifocus does what I used to do as a personal assistant–it serves as a repository for the myriad things you need to do, then brings you a latté and ONLY tells you the thing you need to be doing NOW.

OK, maybe not the latté part.

Omnifocus does have a steep learning curve, so there’s up-front time investment to consider. It’s also much pricier than other GTD apps. But that’s all because YOU’RE GETTING A PERSONAL ASSISTANT! Imagine if you hired a personal assistant and could spend a few hours–or even a few days–training them on how to take care of all your stuff, and every word you spoke to them they learned perfectly and forever. That’s kind of worth it, no?

Well, I think it is.

And, at least for now, it’s helping for that discouraged and overwhelmed thing I was mentioning before. Yay.

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