GTD Quadrant Flowchart

From time to time I take a close look at my workflow to see if I can improve it in any way. Incorporate new tools, processes, or ideas—or remove things that don’t work or cause more noise than signal.

I’d like to share a productivity hack that’s worked well for me recently when trying to decide what to work on each day. Faced with a full plate of tasks, requests, emails, and interruptions—what should I tackle first?

I apply a few simple questions to each email, task, or incoming ping—things I might need to work on next. The questions are:

  1. Do I have to do it?
  2. Do I want to do it?
  3. Is it urgent for today?
  4. Can someone else do it?

Here’s my version of a decision tree that combines the questions and answers.

GTD Quadrant Flowchart by Lance Willett

I’m inspired by similar grids and charts that you might have seen. There are several variations of these “getting things done” (GTD) decision trees and quadrant matrices.

1. David Allen’s GTD philosophies, illustrated in this flowchart:

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 14.35.31

2. The Eisenhower Matrix (see also this Todoist implementation):

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 14.38.15

3. Stephen Covey’s “time management matrix” which uses quadrants to rank task in a two-by-two matrix based on importance and urgency.

4. A “want to do/have to do” prioritization method using a two-by-two matrix. (I don’t know where this comes from; anyone know the source?)

Processed with VSCOcam with b3 preset

A few notes about my flowchart graphic [direct download in PNG format, 224 KB].

  • I use @ notation for email labels to determine both status and type of action needed: @action, @reply, and @read/review, etc.
  • The “Soon / Later” items at the bottom right—those logged for later—do become things to start with again once they come up in review. In my workflow, I repeat the flowchart decisions for each item during weekly and monthly review.
  • “Quick wins” aren’t mapped here; they are tasks that don’t take much time and are easy to complete. You can shortcut the flowchart from “Not urgent for today” to “Do it now” for these quick ones.

Sweet! Now I can mark as done posting this to my blog.

Book Review: Quiet

I’d like to share my thoughts on the book Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.


I thoroughly enjoyed this treatise of introverts versus extroverts. Filled with personal anecdotes as well as pertinent research and scientific theory, the book tells the story of introverted people and their quiet power.

My main takeaway is the idea of sensitivities—both externally and internally  focused—and how they motivate, describe, and prescribe our interactions with the world and other people.

Reward-sensitivity, as described in the book as a sign of extroversion, is something I can relate to. Pleasure seeking and excitement overrules your better judgement; I am impulsive at times and do things for immediate satisfaction. I need to learn the lesson from quieter spirits who pause for important feedback in order to be able to learn from it. Sometimes worrying about consequences and long-term results can lead to a better decision.

Cain also tells of people who are rejection sensitive being warm and loving when they feel secure, yet hostile and controlling when they feel rejected. Food for thought, at what point does controlling our behavior become futile or exhausting?

Introverts like people they meet in friendly contexts, extroverts prefer those they compete with.

This was a poignant reminder for me—I tend to both sides of the spectrum depending on the context, and it’s a good practice to look closely at my motivations and see how I’m acting. Is it appropriate? Out of touch?

I can relate to both reward sensitivity and rejection sensitivity. I feel like sometimes I’m critical of other people because I’m nervous that they’ll be critical of me. As a better way, I should be careful not to point out their mistakes and instead find gentler ways to communicate it. Or, just let it go and no longer try to be right but try to be happy.

Sometimes it pays to be quiet and gracious, to listen more than talk and you have an instinct for harmony rather than conflict. With this style you can take aggressive positions without inflaming your counterpart’s ego.

…by listening you can learn what’s truly motivating the person you’re negotiating with and come up with creative solutions to satisfy both parties.

Another idea described in the book is that of “free traits”—if something’s important to you, such as a service of love or a professional calling—you can put on the extroversion when you need it, and it isn’t fake because you’re being true to something that you love.

I absolutely loved the conclusion, titled “Wonderland”—it is inspiring and sums up the book nicely. I printed it out… To see what I mean, you’ll have to read the book.

I borrowed Quiet for a first read; I’ll be buying my own copy to dive into it again.


Book Review: Let My People Go Surfing

“Quality is absolutely objective and definable” is the main idea I got from this book. Patagonia founder and owner Yvon Chouinard tells the story of his journey of starting a company, defining its quality and ethical standards, and running it sustainably through the years.

My favorite passage that relates directly to my work at Automattic is about the questions designers at Patagonia ask to see if each product fits their standards—things like functionality, durability, simplicity, authenticity, and timeliness. I loved reading about their central tenet of concurrency versus assembly line production. Every product decision involves the designer and producer at all stages, and they work together until it’s done.

Recommended if you love reading about products and companies, as well as an intimate look at a very popular outdoor clothing and equipment company.

Many of the principles built into Patagonia’s standards can and should apply equally to software and product design. Here are some of my favorite bits from the book.

Without a serious functional demand we can end up with a product that, although it may look great, is difficult to rationalize as being in our line—i.e., “Who needs it?”

This is relevant to building web apps or products—who’s going to use your app? Is it needed in the marketplace? Does it add value? As product builders and managers we should cut out products no one uses. They clutter up our codebase and confuse users away from our core products that help them the most.

The best restaurants in the world have set menus, and the best ski shops have already decided which skis are best for your skill level.

Make the best choice for people. You know how your product works intimately, and you use it yourself. Design for that core use case and you’ll find your software helps other people, too, naturally. This goes well with the WordPress project’s philosophy of decisions, not options.

The best-performing firms make a narrow range of products very well.

I love this since it requires you focus on doing one thing really well—a principle espoused by software greats like Microsoft, Apple, and Google.

Moreover, we carefully define, rather than just assert, what makes each product the best of its kind.

This is important for the why below the what. Explaining your philosophy and why its important—and carefully building your products to match that creed—rather than just saying you do things the right way.

Market trends are less important than strong intuition.

As a craftsperson, go with your instincts born from experience and intuition and pay less attention to what everyone else is doing. Don’t just copy your competition. If you follow your own way, you’ll innovate and they’ll soon be copying you.

Photo credit: Tom Walker, Flickr.


This is my book review of Let My People Go Surfing, The Education of a Reluctant Businessman by Yvon Chouinard—founder and owner of Patagonia clothing and equipment company, based in Ventura, California, USA.

See more of my book reviews and check out my Goodreads profile.

A Journey of Theme Craftsmanship

My name is Lance, and I love themes.

What was my standard opening line for many years when starting a WordCamp talk is still true today. “My name is Lance, and I still love themes.”

I’d like to tell you the story of my journey of theme craftsmanship—the ups, the downs, the unexpected results—and how I’ve now become an apprentice again in a new field.

It’s been a journey of adventure and learning where my skills have expanded beyond anything I’d expected—not just the technical path from web designer and developer to “front-end expert” and WordPress themer—but also writing, speaking, and leading. And more.

It’s September 2015 and I’m now back in an apprenticeship role. Working hard on finding my craft: tools, skills, patterns, workflow, and process. Discovering myself, my passion, my community, and opportunities to learn.

Continue reading A Journey of Theme Craftsmanship

Shop Class as Soulcraft

Shop Class as Soulcraft is a thought-provoking essay about the future of manual labor, work, and craftsmanship by Matthew B. Crawford in New Atlantis.

The craftsman’s habitual deference is not toward the New, but toward the distinction between the Right Way and the Wrong Way. However narrow in its application, this is a rare appearance in contemporary life…

While I heartily agree with this sentiment, in this piece Crawford seems to lump everything computer related into “information systems” as a departure from manual craftsmanship, and ignores a bit the manual craft of making software. It can be very much a manual job in the sense that you type the code into an editor and make it run. And isn’t just plug-and-play necessarily. Though some systems (cough, .NET) do encourage GUI-based software development. A true hand-coder I think is just as much a craftsperson as someone building a wooden table.

But craftsmanship must reckon with the infallible judgment of reality, where one’s failures or shortcomings cannot be interpreted away.

My version of this is: “Does the website work?” It needs to work, especially on my phone, and load fast everywhere. My kind of heuristic.

The essay points out the permanence of certain goods: it is easier to achieve a long-lasting product with hand-made goods, probably, such as furniture or motorcycles or cars. A website is obsolete almost the moment you launch it. It probably won’t outlive you. A well-made table could live hundreds of years.

The concluding words are a great takeaway:

So what advice should one give to a young person? By all means, go to college. In fact, approach college in the spirit of craftsmanship, going deep into liberal arts and sciences. In the summers, learn a manual trade. You’re likely to be less damaged, and quite possibly better paid, as an independent tradesman than as a cubicle-dwelling tender of information systems. To heed such advice would require a certain contrarian streak, as it entails rejecting a life course mapped out by others as obligatory and inevitable.

Via Yegor M.

You Should Start a Blog

You blog whether you know it or not—even without a blog or website. You might not think of it as blogging. Yet, it is. Tweeting a photo or sharing an update on Facebook. A funny quote or story you see in your daily life. A beautiful sunset. Clueing in friends and family back home to a fun experience when you travel.

Blogging on your own website is much better than directly using services like Twitter and Facebook because you own your own content; it’s your online hub that you control. When people read your content, it will link back to you. Not some third-party site.

To spread the word to your social network—in case they don’t happen to know about or follow your blog—simply use features like’s Publicize and Sharing to share out the content to popular services (see Jetpack Publicize if you host your own blog).

To understand what I mean by publishing your content on your own blog—then push it from there to any social media service easily—I recommend watching this video: WordPress as Your Publishing Hub by Andrew Spittle (about 25 minutes long).

A few examples of my own blogs—several of which are brand new in the last few months.

Lance On the Go

Lance on the Go — A “moblog”, which is “mobile blogging” for quick things on the go, like from your phone, not long-form essays or big picture galleries. Not too polished or curated, just point-and-shoot and post.

Bad Français

Bad Français — My “Bad French” blog. As a language major (French & Spanish) I often find it hard to resist poking fun at misspelled foreign words—it’s a habit. Please don’t take offense if you or your business make it to this blog.

Theme Spotting

Theme Spotting — Geeky WordPress themes blog, fun with theme names. When you spot a theme in the wild, you post a picture of it. (Want to join the fun? See theme names at Theme Showcase and Theme Directory and then look for them as you are out and about.)

What to blog? Photos of things you see on your daily journey. Put up random notes. Whatever is on your mind. Quotes. Fun songs or videos you see online.

Why blog? Express yourself! Clue in your friends and family to your experiences. Importantly, you own the content you post—not a company like Facebook or Twitter. For me (any anyone in the WordPress community) it is good practice using WordPress itself: helping find bugs and suggesting improvements to the software. Using the mobile apps more, helping them be better.

Don’t just take my word for this, though, that you are a blogger and should blog. Matt Mullenweg, co-founder of WordPress, recently explained the “why blogging” succinctly when echoing Ernest Hemingway’s expression “write for two people: one specific person and yourself.” See also The Intrinsic Value of Blogging and Short-form blogging by Gina Trapani.

Let me know when you start and I’ll follow your blog. ):}