Over at the Joel on Software Forum today Crimson posted asked if he should keep a work journal to keep track of information as he was forced to switch form task to task. I got to thinking about this and I realized that what Crimson was going through -- what we all go through -- is actually three different GTD problems rolled into one messy ball.
Problem #1: processing interruptions. so the phone rings and it's your client, or your boss, or your significant other and you have to take the call. where should this fit in your GTD process? It should fit like any other incoming thing you need to capture -- it goes into one of your collection sites, and that collection site like all your collection sites should be emptied by the end of the day.
Problem #2: effectively resuming an interrupted task. So the call is over and you're wondering, what what the hell was I doing before? if you're very lucky you might be able to pick up where your left off; what's more often the case is you'll end up with multiple cascading self-inflicted interruptions like why not check e-mail, until you drag yourself back into whatever significant task you are working on.
That's what happens most of the time to most people. Here's what I try to do.
Every significant kind of task I do has its own one-page planner. It's nothing fancy, but it's a form that I use for that specific kind of work. I have one for writing and I have one for programming - those being the two things I hope to make a living with.
Whenever I start a writing or programming task, I take a new form and a few minutes to state the desired outcome, and then make note of the things I think I need to cover, remind myself of any painful lessons learned that come to mind, and use the form as my scribble pad as I work. When that phone rings I write next -- and whatever it is I was just about to do in that task. That's the mental hook I use to get back into the task when I'm done with that phone call. The form as a whole helps me refresh the context of what I was doing, and why it was doing it.
Problem #3: capturing reference information. Be it in that phone call, or in the task itself, often times I will come across information that I need later but is not something that I can take action on. This information isn't a future task that I try as a rule to dispatch to one of my three major collection points (Outlook, MasterList Professional and my physical desk inbox). Its information like a lead to follow up for different chapter, or deciding that a particular function is going to have only these two options because of X. for a very long time, I would create endless little pieces of paper using small legal pads, trying to file, sort, shuffle and re-factor all this paper into something useful.
I've found a better way of doing this, I think: and online wiki. The beauty of this wiki is that I can from anywhere quickly dump reference info into it, and retrieve that information when I need to. I've only been using this method now for two weeks, and the number of little pieces of paper in my life has markedly decreased while my ability to access my own personal library of reference info has increased. It's by no means perfect, but it beats paper. I'll have more to say about wikis in future posts, I'm sure.
To sum up, dealing with interruptions is really three different problems, and there are three different techniques that you need to use to cope with them. Like a lot of problems in life, interruptions are easier to deal with once you've taken them apart.