Rigidity vs Flexibility

The Net is a cool place to hang out. In many ways, it’s like those times when you wish you could be a fly on the way, and listen to what others are saying about you and the things that matter to you. People speak more freely about so many things, not thinking for a second that the object of their discussion is actually listening to what they say.

And so it is with my little sojourn into some discussion forums and other blogs mentioning my DIY Planner. Some of the rather negative mail I received the other day piqued my curiosity, so while I was wolfing down some lunch, I started doing a little searching and browsing, and tripped across a few interesting posts concerning some pros and cons of the system. It seems well-received, overall, and most people’s beefs seem to be connected with the absence of different paper sizes. However, I did trip across two other issues that I’d like to address here.

The first concerns that fact that my planner system does not adhere to GTD in its strictest implementation. In other words, all the various little bits of Allen’s book do not have a direct counterpart in my templates, and there are even parts that veer away from GTD, such as the Covey Quadrant. The second issue is that a few people see my forms as too rigid, while others lament too much rigidity and wish for more structure. Both of these issues are a direct consequence of certain design decisions I made while creating the forms, and these were not made lightly: they are the products either of practical experience or long periods of thoughtful consideration. (Most of these forms were created and used over a period of two to three years before I decided to release them to the public.)

Here is my ultimate goal: to produce a set of templates that, while in essence based upon Getting Things Done, provide enough flexibility and customisable options to be of use for many different organisational methodologies and situations. This is not easy. If you pay attention to the discussions on 43 Folders (including the great Google Group), any of the other GTD-related discussion groups, the nice folks over at OfficeZealot’s GTD Zone, or any of the other numerous blogs devoted to this subject, you’ll find a million opinions about how to do things. And that’s only one organisational approach! (It’s almost like how numerous religions, denominations and sects interpret the information in the Bible, as far-fetched as that comparison initially sounds.) Many people who have fallen head-first into GTD are organisational geeks that love endless tweaking in the pursuit of productivity (a seeming paradox, to be sure 😉 ). And who am I to restrict their opinions and metholodogies?

It’s a long and slippery tightrope to walk. The best I can do is to provide a wide array of templates that can be used (or not used, as the case may be) however the person sees fit. The fields in the forms are sometimes intentionally vague, and sometimes provide room for information that might not be pertinent to a given situation, but they are simply prompts, and nothing else. Use whatever makes sense for you, and ignore or rename the rest.

When things are based upon my strong experience in an area, such as project management and web development, I feel I can create more specific templates. When it’s a “soft” area with a great degree of subjectivity, like “Objectives” or “Someday/Maybe”, then the templates are –by necessity– less specific. When Allen is specific enough in the book that I can interpret the need for certain fields, I am always sure to include them. Likewise with other methodologies, such as Covey’s, where there is an obvious potential for building more options into the system for those people who want to avail themselves of them. (The recent addition of “Goal Planning” is a good example.) Finally, I do try, whenever possible, to take into account the feedback of others, and this too has proved invaluable in the fine-tuning of the system.

Just wanted to get some of that out in the open. I only spend about 15 minutes a day working on these templates, and another 15 minutes creating entries on this blog. (Both of these are self-imposed time limits to ensure that I get around to doing those things I’m actually paid to do.) Because of my current lack of time, I can’t always participate in the forums and discussion lists that I love, but I still wanted to address those people who have mentioned the above issues in their posts. As usual, I’m happy to take into consideration any suggestions, additions or modifications for the DIY Planner. After all, I only know what I use it for, and you probably have some very different needs that I might like to address in future versions.

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