Archive for January, 2009

Is GTD in Good Health?

January 10, 2009

Recently there seems to have been a backlash against GTD and I thought I would take this as an opportunity to discuss my history with GTD and what I make of this reaction to it.

Getting Tired and Desperate

GTD came to me at the best possible time. I had a new manager who was great to work for the give me a crazy amount of work to do. The number of projects I had to do grew from eight to over 30. You would think I would have been annoyed by this but actually I was moving from doing projects that were all about managing the decline of my department to 30 projects which were going to reinvigorate us and put us “back on the map”. So it was great, but it gave me major headaches. I would often find myself concentrating hard on one project with an evil weevil scratching away at the back of my brain, trying to convince me that there was something more important I should be doing right now.

One day I read an article in the Guardian that was basically a summary of Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero articles. The Guardian article led me to 43 folders and 43 folders led me to GTD.

I immediately liked what I read about GTD because I already agreed on many of its central concepts. The idea that us mammals can multitask has always seemed optimistic to me. Also, even though I work in IT, I like the idea of a time management system that can work as well in a paper notebook as a digital one.  The final push was that here was a system that wasn’t an all-or-nothing solution but that would help whether fully or partially adopted.  Perfect.

I immediately saw benefits. For example it seems blindingly obvious that you should have a list of all your projects but I had never done it, nor had I seen anyone else who had. It was great that whenever my boss asked me what I was currently working on I was able to pull a piece of paper out of my pocket and tell him precisely. Also, I managed to get rid of the nagging weevil at the back of my head.

I’m still getting the benefits of GTD to this day. I’m more organised now than I’ve ever been in my life. It’s been amazing how small changes such as not forgetting items I need to buy in the supermarket, or not double booking appointments, has done wonders for my confidence in other areas. I feel my experience has shown that David Allen is correct about at least one thing: if you take care of the small stuff, the big stuff gets easier too.

Gauntlets Thrown Down

I’ve read a few articles by bloggers complaining that GTD ain’t all that. They say that they’ve tried to implement it but that it’s too difficult and unwieldy, or that it’s unrealistic.

I won’t get into addressing specific articles or points, as that isn’t what really interests me, but I think most of the observations fit into two categories. The first category is the people who seem to have been oversold GTD, and as a consequence think it will solve problems it was not designed to solve. The second category are people who see GTD as a system written in stone, and do not appreciate that it has quite a bit of flexibility.

Goldacre Trounces Detox

Around the time I was thinking about these complaints I read an article by Ben Goldacre. He was talking about the attraction of pseudoscience to the general public. We have known for many years what we need to do to live a long and healthy life: don’t smoke, don’t drink to excess, eat lots of fruit and veg and get plenty of exercise. Despite the fact that everyone in the Western world knows this to be true, many of us still insist on pursuing get-fit-quick schemes such as detox diets and various pills and potions.

In some ways I could see a connection between that and GTD. Those of us who have read GTD already know what we need to do for healthier productivity, but like those trying to lose weight, we can sometimes fall off the wagon.  Does that mean we should abandon the wagon?  Curse the wagon?  Tell the wagon to get lost and never show it’s stupid wagonny face around here again?  It might make us feel better but it won’t solve our problems.

Just because something’s hard doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile.

Personally I see the whole workflow of GTD as the ultimate goal, and one I’m not quite reaching.  But even without reaching it I’m still more productive now than I’ve ever been.  And at least I now know what I need to do to be more productive.

Right, I’m off to the gym and I’m bringing my @gym list with me.  Hopefully today is the day I complete my “Rippling stomach” project.

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Mosquitoes vs. Intelligent Design

January 2, 2009

Malaria is my latest obsession.  Malaria and it’s history tick a lot of boxes for me and I’m sure I’ll be writing a lot about it on my blog.

Any time I read about some aspect of biology, I’m often amazed how creationists manage to keep their battered old jalopy running.  I thought I’d briefly discuss some thoughts that occured to me about what I’ve been reading lately and how I think it makes things really difficult for creationists.  To try and stop myself rambling I’ll break it down into some bite size chunks.

Point 1: If you thought eyeballs were complex…

One argument you hear from creationists is that when you look at an eyeball, and all the various parts that are required to make it work, it is much too complicated to have “just” evolved.  It’s complexity requires a designer.

Well, if you think eyeballs are complex then just wait until you see the parasite that causes malaria!  An eyeball maybe complex but at least it only exists in a single organism: the malaria parasite goes through four distinct phases and is reliant on two seperate organisms for it’s existence.  Here’s an animated presentation with commentary that attempts to explain the cycle.

A little sidenote: One misconception I had about malaria was that it was spread by mosquitoes simply by them taking infected blood from one person to another; this isn’t the case.  Mosquitoes are actually infected with malaria from human blood.  Once they’re in their second phase of infection, they are spreading the parasite in their saliva.  Humans then go through two phases of infection, and it’s only in the second phase that we can infect mosquitoes.  Anyway, I’ve probably made an awful mess of explaining all this.  Just take away this:  it’s complicated.

So the first problem for creationists is this: if cold, heartless evolution didn’t create malaria then their loving creator went to a lot of trouble to design it.

Now this has been a problem for religious people for a long time: why does God create horrible diseases like malaria?

Their counter-argument might be that we don’t know God’s plan but because he is perfect and infallible we should just trust that he is doing the right thing and shut up with all our complaining.  More on this later.

Personally I would have a lot of problems with praying to a God who thinks killing a million blameless poor, black people every year is a good plan.  And isn’t there something a bit weird about a God who hates abortion but creates a disease that results in two-hundred thousand miscarriages and stillbirths every year?

Hmmm… it sure is a head scratcher.

Point 2: Enter Sickle Cell Disease

I have not read a lot about sickle cell disease yet, but I’m sure I will soon.

Sickle cell disease affects the red blood cells.  It affects their shape and makes them brittle.  This results in many complications leaving those infected with pain, shortness of breath, joint problems, and organ damage that results in a shorter life expectancy.  Most can expect to die in their forties.

Once again it seems our designer has something against black people because they’re about the only ones who get sickle cell disease.

Sickle cell isn’t infectious and it cannot spread like a virus.  The only way you can get sickle cell disease is if both of your parents have the sickle cell trait.  Interestingly enough, having the sickle cell trait can be pretty handy…

Point 3: Two horrible tastes that taste horrible together

Here’s where it gets interesting for intelligent design.  Sickle cell trait protects those who have it against malaria.

If you have sickle cell trait you are far more likely to make it into your teenage years if you live in an area where malaria is endemic.

Yes folks, this is evolution in action!  Because malaria kills people before they can even get to breeding age this is creating a selective pressure for a trait that helps survival through infancy.  Sickle cell is an illness but it doesn’t affect the ability to reproduce and it does aid survival against malaria.

But let’s assume that malaria and sickle cell were designed.  Let’s look at the work of this brilliant designer.  He creates a parasite that reeks havoc on the population of the planet and it kills millions of people every year.  He then decides to intelligently design sickle cell trait to try to cut back on the effects of malaria.  Sickle cell results in more horrible illness which leaves people with miserable lives, but fortunately it doesn’t kill as many people in childhood as malaria does and so it catches on in a big way.

This leaves a few questions such as “Why would an infallible God create malaria and then create sickle cell?” or “Why would you pray to a God who mitigates the effects of one horrible disease with another horrible disease?”

But the biggest question of all is this: Is this the work of someone who cares about human beings?

Often I think that’s the biggest problem for religion: proving that the designer who created all this actually cares about us.  Because even if you could prove there’s a designer, that simply isn’t enough.  I might write more about that another day.