What is “clear working space” on a desk? Involuntary Clutter Makeover for RandsInRepose.com

Source: RandsInRepose.com’s CAVE ESSENTIALS


I’m still reflecting on RandsInRepose.com’s CAVE ESSENTIALS post. And while I think Rands has the perfect idea about the job of a desk:

“A desk’s job is to build productivity, and for me, it achieves this by first providing an immense amount of clear working space.”

I don’t think Rand’s desk meets his criteria. Why? Because:

  1. Rand’s desk is neither clear
  2. Immense


Here is a close-up of Rand’s desk:

The elements of a desk being “not clear”

Clutter is the STRATEGIC enemy desk productivity.  It is impossible to remove all clutter, but the more you remove, the less brain energy wasted. For example, I think facial pictures are “the queen mother” of all clutter. Why? Because our brains are hardwired to recognize faces. Whenever a face is in front of your eyes, part of your brain is concentrating on an infinite decode loop (“Who is it? Who is it? …).

One of my MBA students heard me say facial pictures are the queen mother of clutter, and moved her daughter’s picture from next to her monitor, to out of her peripheral vision to the left. The pic is still there, she can look at the pic whenever she wants, but she is not burning energy decoding the picture when she’s trying to work. The result:

“I can’t believe how much less tired I feel at my desk.”

  1. Monitors are not on arms that would:
    1. Lift monitors clear of the work surface to allow the work surface to be used … for work!
    2. Allowing monitors to be effectively removed from the desk when one is not being used
    3. or both are not being used
    4. Allowing use of the desk space now taken up by the base of the monitor stands. Rands barely has space to lay down 3 3″x5″ cards, let alone to try to arrange cards to hot-boot a project.
      1. As my go-to hot-boot project methodology is Rough Organizing with 3×5 cards, this is a major defect in my eyes. *Note* Rands probably does not organize with 3×5 cards like I do. To each brain, it’s own organization scheme.
    5. Allow monitors to be precisely aligned/arranged
    6. Prevent the instinctive piling up of clutter on monitor bases
  2. Visible clutter on the desk
    1. What is visible clutter?
      1. Anything not being used to work, that is within the eyesight envelope of the person working.
      2. Take the above picture, and make the 0 degree line perpendicular to the center of each monitor, and then you can construct the full “clutter envelope” of a desk.
      3. I recently had a work desk that had 180 degrees of isolation when I was sitting. Action shot:
      4. Here is the close up of the work surface
      5. Sitting at this desk, the walls of the alcove were just long enough to shield my peripheral vision from any motion. And having all motion and clutter removed from peripheral vision is FANTASTIC!!!
  3. Wires, wires, everywhere.
    1. Can’t tell if Rand’s mouse is wired, but the keyboard looks wired.
    2. I switched to Apple’s Magic Keyboard 2 and Magic Trackpad 2 this summer and both are “Meh” not great, but they are … wireless and minimally increase clutter.
    3. *Note* that I have a Jabra 410 talking hockey puck speaker phone which is wired, mounted on the lower left hand corner of my iMac.
      1. I just recently discovered Velcro with “Rogue Adhesive” which allowed me to get the Jabra 410 off my desk surface, and removed 1 wire’s worth of clutter.
    4. Pay me now, pay me later.
      There is no such thing as a free lunch. I have just as much wire clutter as Rands, I just insure that I can’t see the wires when I’m working. Here is the back of my iMac:

      1. From left to right I also have a USB hub/DVD ROM driver,
      2. an extra Apple cable to charge my (Meh) Apple Keyboard and Mouse. Tucked in at top center under the Apple.
      3. And a 3×5 card/pen reservoir
      4. And last but not least, I have a low intensity under-counter LED light attached to the bottom of my imac so I can work in the dark on my (meh) keyboard and still see the letters.
      5. 1.E.i. above show the clutter seen when working

The elements of a desk not being immense

Rands’ desk looks like it is 2.5’x5′ which in inches is 30″x60″ which is not bad by today’s standards. But … the I would change about Rands’ desk is to make it deeper. Like a foot deeper. My IKEA conference table desk is 43″ deep, and 73″ long.  Rands likes having his couch super deep, he needs to do the same thing with his desk.

Surface to Arm Ratio

After using my IKEA conference table work surface for a year, I felt like I was not able to use enough of the desk surface, so in true barbarian style, I slid the work surface far forward on the support frame. This made the front overhang off the support by 15.5″ and allowed me to cut a 15″ diameter hemisphere out of the desk front.

I can now roll my chair all the way into the hemisphere and reach both the far left (with my left hand) and far (with my right hand) right corners of the desk. So the surface to arm ratio for me on this desk = 1.

Makeover Suggestions for Rands’ Desk

  1. Two VESA monitor arms + iMac VESA adapter
    1. If your two display devices are vesa, two $30 single monitor arms are the way to go. I’ve tried the dual monitor arms and they don’t allow enough freedom to arrange the monitors.
    2. If you like Rands, have a recent vintage iMac without VESA support, then you’ll need the $100 MacSales.com VESA adapter. 
  2. Larger desk surface
    1. Deeper by at least 12″ is a must
    2. Wider would be nice too
    3. I would look for a larger desk surface at IKEA’s clearance area. There are lacquer panels in blood red that might do nicely while costing next to nothing.
    4. Try mounting the new surface over the top of the existing surface. Height change will not be too great. Chair goes up and life goes on.
    5. Rands probably does not need as much desk space as I do because it looks like 300 3×5 cards are not a big part of his thinking life.
    6. So Rands won’t need the 15″ hemisphere cut out either.
  3. Clutter (pictures, polar bear, etc.) moves left until it is out of peripheral vision while looking straight at the left-hand monitor.
    1. There seems to be a credenza at left, I would move that 3′ into the room perpendicular to the front of the desk (to get stuff out of peripheral vision), and put the clutter on the credenza.
      1. Idea = Minimal change and clutter eliminated.
      2. As David Allen says, you want “just enough” organization.
  4. Wireless keyboard/mouse/trackpad
    1. I switched to a track pad because I move my right wrist less on a track pad, and less movement has led to zero wrist pain.
  5. Twist ties or cable ties to hide all the wires from view while working at the 2 monitors.
  6. ScanSnap iX500 next to the printer at right.
    1. Scansnap is the digital on-ramp to
    2. Evernote to go paperless
    3. Printer is the digital off-ramp

Getting Started with GTD: The buddy system


Source: HitchFit.com


When I was getting started with Getting Things Done (see GTD Notable PDF), I had two buddies. First, an experienced GTD buddy Ian Watson, and another novice buddy, Mark VanderSys whom I mentioned in yesterday’s Getting Started with Getting Things Done post as well as in earlier RestartGTD posts here and here.

GTD Experienced Buddy Lessons Learned

  1. I want your word that you will read the book … I won’t get off your chest until you promise. This was the GTD start for me. “Yes, I give you my word :-(” … hey, they have GETING THINGS DONE on Audible!
  2. Project file folders need to be kept separate from reference file folders.
  3. “Go to David Allen’s seminar. Do not bitch at me about the cost. No, never mind, I’ll pay the cost for you!”
  4. Check ins with an experienced GTDer help A LOT.

GTD Novice Lessons Learned

  1. I’m not the only one who gets overwhelmed.
  2. When I get overwhelmed, the best thing to do is to go back to chapters 1 through 3 of GTD, and review.
  3. We CAN do this!
  4. When writing down a next action, nothing less than a complete sentence. Cryptic next actions on cards take time to remember. And, can cause your subconscious to loose trust in your system.
  5. When creating project names, make them short, memorable, and funny. Short, memorable, funny project names are easier to remember.

How a GTD buddy helps

GTD buddies help you by:

  • Giving tips that build early GTD implementation momentum.
  • Checking in, which forces you to reflect and realize that GTD is working, even though new GTD users obsess exclusively about how GTD seems not to be working
  • Encouraging you to keep on. A month or so into my GTD implementation Ian Watson (Experienced GTD buddy) said “Wow. Having a meeting with you, is like … having a meeting with me!” HUGE!

How to find GTD buddies

  • Novice GTD buddies are found by reading chapters 1-3 of GTD, then evangelizing the idea of GTD to your friends. See who takes up the challenge, and wants to talk to you about it.
    • *Note* do not be discouraged if your spouse is not your GTD buddy. Spouses are too close to be good GTD buddies. And often, spouses read GTD and being the more organized member of your union, say “But, … I already do all of this!” Not building on your momentum.
  • Experienced GTD buddies have probably, already found you. In my rich fantasy life, I like to think that this blog is an experienced GTD buddy finding people. But, … not. RestartGTD readers have already been found, evangelized, and have taken a shot at implementing GTD before they find this blog.
  • If you don’t have an Experienced GTD buddy, try Appendix B: Talk to an experience GTD Buddy below to send questions to me. I hereby volunteer (for now) to being an experienced GTD buddy to RestartGTD readers.
    • [9 hours later 0 takers, c’mon!]

How to use GTD buddies

  1. Find the recipe …
    that you want to use to take a(nother) crack at getting on the GTD band wagon. Pick a “getting started” recipe from the book (and/or David Allen has a new introduction to GTD focusing on fundamentals
    GTD_Fundamentals), RestartGTD’s blog post recipe, or other any other recipe.
  2. Tell them
    That you are trying to implement GTD again. Send them an email. Point them to your recipe. Ask them for their recipe. I benefitted enormously from Ian Watson’s being at my elbow, eager to answer questions.
  3. Ask them to help
    specifically, if you can once a week, for one month, talk to them about their use of GTD, and get them to review your use. After a month, check in occasionally on a timed basis (8 weeks) or whenever one buddy feels overwhelmed. Read Appendix A: Using Skype to implement your GTD buddy system below. And then do your weekly show and tell, sharing screens. Just for a month.
  4. Follow up
    when a week passes and it is time to check in with your GTD buddy. Just Do It! This may be mentally tough, the universe (you may have noticed) resists us becoming organized.

Try GTD Before you Give UP

If I can implement GTD, … anyone can implement GTD. I was the worst organizational sinner on Earth. Here, … see if you can guess which desk is before GTD, and which is after GTD.

If you want to see more, then check out my before GTD after GTD post. And, my post on how procrastination and guilt go down over time with GTD.

bill meade

 Appendix A: Using Skype to implement your GTD buddy system

Using Skype to share screens is easy!
1. Get your Skype session going. If you need to set up Skype, click here for a YouTube tutorial.
2. Click on the plus thought bubble at the bottom of the screen
Skype3. Click share screen in the pop up:
Fullscreen_2014_09_27__3_49_PM4. One buddy goes first, showing how s/he has implemented GTD. Questions go back and forth.

5. Then whoever went first, clicks the + thought bubble, stops screen sharing, and it is the turn of the other buddy to give a walk through of their system. Questions go back and forth.

6. MOST IMPORTANT after you sign off, each buddy writes four “lessons learned” bullet points, and emails them to the other buddy.

 Appendix B: Talk to an experienced GTD Buddy

Quick Index of Most-Read Posts


Getting Started with GETTING THINGS DONE – 2014 – in 28 steps



Getting started with GTD is much easier if you have a buddy. Preferably, two buddies, and experienced GTDer buddy, and someone who is at the same experience level as you in implementing GTD. See GTD buddy system for more details.

How To:

If you asked me how to get started with GTD today (see What is GTD before embarking on this journey), this is the advice I would give. Step zero, take a picture of your desk. If you follow this guide, and get GTD to stick, starting point chaos, will be a valuable data point to refer back to. Here’s my initial desk before embarking on GTD


  1. Order GETTING THINGS DONE and 1,000 3×5 cards
    a. Buy the unabridged audible version of GTD and listen to it while you are driving.
    b. And, buy a Kindle or paper version so you can highlight passages, when you circle back to re-read GTD.
  2. Order a Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500
  3. Go to CostCo and get 4 large (free) boxes in which to triage documents
  4. Subscribe to Evernote
    a. Go to Evernote.com and click on “Sign Up”
    b. Get you your credit card and pay the $45 a year
    c. Get your email confirmation that you account is set up. Write down your username and password for evernote on a 3×5 card.
  5. Download Evernote and install the client on the computer you use most
    a. Download Evernote
    b. Install Evernote
    c. Connect the installed software on your computer, to your evernote account (use the username and password you wrote down in Step 4 c.
  6. Install Evernote Clearly into the web browser you use most
    a. Clearly is a browser add-in, separate from the software you installed above. Evernote = database. Browser add-in = on-ramp to database.
    b. Go to a favorite web page of yours, then click Clearly (a Luxo Lamp Icon) and watch as Clearly removes the clutter from the web page, allows you to highlight text. And most importantly, allows you to save the page to Evernote when you highlight or click sae. You are done for day 1. Time to walk your dog. Your dog will feel stress lifting off you as Millie demonstrates in the picture at the top of this post.
  7. Practice with Evernote (open it up, see the pages you have captured, add manual notes, create notebooks, etc.) each day as you wait for GETTING THINGS DONE and your ScanSnap to arrive.
  8. Practice with Clearly every day as you wait for GTD and your scanner. You might want to read the RestartGTD post where the capstone line is: “Clearly all by itself makes Evernote worth it!” towards the bottom. Then go back and play with Clearly and Evernote.
  9. When the ScanSnap arrives, unbox it immediately, and install it on your computer with the included DVD. This will take you about 20 minutes. Do not read GETTING THINGS DONE until instructed to do so in Step 12. If you procrastinate on installing the ScanSnap to save 20 minutes now, it will take you 20 months or never, to get the ScanSnap installed. Do it. Do it now! (31 seconds in)
  10. After the ScanSnap is installed, get it working so you can Scan-To-Evernote with one click.
    a. Start the installed ScanSnap software by clicking on its icon at the bottom of your screen
    b. Left-click once on the ScanSnap software icon after it is running
    c. Look for “Evernote” in the pop-up list, and left-click once on it
    d. Put a page in the ScanSnap, push the blue button, and watch as the page appears in Evernote. Cool!
  11. Once you have steps 1 through 10 accomplished, then …
  12. Read the first three chapters of GTD.
  13. Read only the first three chapters of GTD. Don’t give in to temporary energy and enthusiasm, and read the entire book. Just chapters 1-3.
  14. Energized by your first wave of hope after reading …
    Mark the 4 boxes you brought home from CostCo as
    “To Scan”
    “IN” and
  15. Next put all your papers into the “IN” box. Don’t worry about making a mess. Just put each document in as a document. You will process and re-organize these documents later.
  16. After “IN” is full, then stop. Take the rest of the day off. I know you are eager to sprint to GTD nirvana. But, you need to pace expectations. Expecting to do a single good block of work at a time to implement GTD is a maximum. If you try to do more than a single block of work, you set yourself up for failure, self recrimination, and external ridicule. 83% of people who attempt to implement GTD fail. And they fail because they try to do too many things, too quickly, while tired. You did not make your organization a mess in a day. And you can’t transform it to a masterpiece in a day. One good thing a day is enough. If you want to see an organizational mess, check out the RestartGTD post on GTD Time Lapse at the top for before pictures.
  17. Next day, approach the “IN” CostCo box, and pull the first document from “IN” box, hold it up. Look at it, suppress any feelings about it, and ask yourself:”Will this ever have a next action?”
    a. If the answer is “Yes” put the document into “To Scan” and then go back to “IN” and repeat this step.
    b. If the answer is “Maybe” then put the document into “To Scan” and then go back to “IN” and repeat this step.
    c. If the answer is “No” then put the document in “Recycle” and then go back to “IN” and repeat this step.
  18. Once your “IN” box is empty, or your “To Scan” box is full (whichever comes first) then take another rest. At least 90 minutes to let your brain reset.
  19. When you come back, move the “To Scan” box next to your ScanSnap. Take each document out one at a time. Put the document into the ScanSnap, push the blue button. When the document is finished scanning, either put it in the box labeled “Recycle” or the box labeled “Precious” if the document needs to be saved.
    1. Once your “To Scan” box is empty, take the rest of the day off. Manage your expectations. One block of GTD work. One day. P-a-c-e yourself.
  20. Go back to Step 15 if you have more papers to process. And repeat Steps 15-20 until all the paper in your life has been recycled or captured in the box marked “Precious”
  21. Take the rest of the day off. Manage your expectations. One block of GTD work. One day.
  22. Once you have all the paper in your life captured in Evernote, the next step is to get your desk clear. Everything off. No pictures. No teddy bears. No momentos. Nothing on your desk in your field of view as you work. In particular, no pictures of faces in front of you where you work. Your brain will work processing faces without ever shutting off. One student has commented to me that this HUGELY reduced her fatigue.
    a. If you don’t have a real desk. Get a real desk. No substitutions, kitchen tables do not count. Floors do not count. You need a big space where you feel pleasure when you work. Go to IKEA’s “As Is” department and buy returned legs, tabletops, panels, conference tables. And modify to taste.
    b. Go to Amazon and get a monitor arm, wireless keyboard, and wireless trackpad or wireless mouse, to transform your desk back from being a giant monitor stand cluttered with paper, into being a brain’s desk that facilitates work. This is the most disregarded step in my instructions. But, it REALLY HELPS. So give yourself a leg up and try investing in your desk.
  23. Once you have a clear desk, and all your paper captured in Evernote, it is time to take your first “After GTD” desk picture. Put the “Before GTD” desk picture into Powerpoint on the left. And the “After GTD” desk picture on the right. Then save the PowerPoint slide where you won’t lose it. Here is my before/after PowerPoint slide:BeforeAfterDesk_pptxBefore/after pictures are important. Before/after pictures are hope. Elephant food if you are a Heath & Heath SWITCH: How to change when change is hard fan.
  24. Next step is time to clear your mind. Most people have 300+ projects in their minds when they start GTD. Sitting down to scrape these out of your head and on to paper, is terrifying. But once you start, you won’t believe how it lightens your mind, and how the time flies.
    a. Sit down and write down every open loop you can think of on 3×5 cards. Go for 100 at your first sitting.
    b. Once you get to 100, take the rest of the day off. Manage your expectations. One block of GTD work. One day.
  25. Repeat step 23 until you don’t have anything else on your mind.
  26. Once your mind is clear, then lay the cards out on your desk. The bigger the desk, the easier this is. Then
    a. group the cards together in clumps of similar stuff.
    b. These clumps are your projects.
    c. Organize each project’s clump into a neat stack on your desk. Once you have all the cards into their natural clumps
    d. put rubber bands around each stack of cards/clump.
    e. Take the rest of the day off. One block of GTD work. One day.
  27. At this point, your mind is clear. You have all your ideas where your brain knows they won’t be lost. Now you have to decide how you want to move forward with GTD.
    a. Whether you will go all analog, using manila folders – one for each project – with 3×5 cards in them, and keeping a master project list by hand.
    TrustedSystemgenerations01_pptx 2
    Or …
    b. Go digital OneNote to organize your projects. Creating project lists with [[projectname]] and then transcribing your 3×5 card notes for each project, into next actions. *Note* your 3×5 cards are likely not Next Actions in the David Allen sense. The step of taking a thought on your mind that you are feeling guilty about, and then compiling it into next actions as you transcribe the card into OneNote is not wasted effort.
    c. Using Evernote to manage your projects as well as your reference files. Create a “Projects” folder in Evernote. Then, create a sub folder for each project. And then either transcribe your 3×5 card into next actions as in b. above with OneNote. Or, by scanning your 3×5 cards into Evernote.
    d. Using OmniFocus (if you are a Mac person). OmniFocus is powerful … and dangerous. OmniFocus is probably the highest fidelity GTD software system. But you may experience over-organization from OmniFocus with the consequence your brain refuses to use the system … as I did. However, if you are a sales person, think hard (try) OmniFocus because David Allen has refined the GTD system to work for sales people. Nobody works harder than sales people, you will need all the system you can get to do your job well.
    TrustedSystemgenerations01_pptx 4
    e. Some kind of hybrid system. My GTD trusted system is broken up across paper and electronic tools. This is less simple to explain. But, my brain will use it. I tried OmniFocus in a monolithic trusted system (27 d.), but I hated sitting down to my desk. So I had to retreat to paper.

The Goal

The above 28 steps are the process that I’ve seen work the best for the about 200 people I’ve helped boot-up GTD. Personally, I’ve stayed on the GTD wagon because I have a ScanSnap and Evernote. These tools make it easier to capture information correctly, than to live in a mass of disorganized papers. My love of 3×5 cards and manila folders gradually gives way to electronic project organizing as a project lifts off. The cards and folders are early stage capture tools for my projects.

Your mileage will vary. My tools will not be perfect for you. I’ve changed my tools so many times (except Evernote and the ScanSnap) that I’m proof that one size does not fit all.  Single design does not even fit one person all the time. But the point is to build your system gradually, experimenting, testing, reflecting on how it *feels* to your brain. Does it allow you to swing, to stop constantly worrying you’ll forget something? Does it *feel* fun to work with? Does your system cut your procrastination and guilt? Are you trying to do too much, too fast?


This process will not get you 100% to the way David Allen’s system. But, it will get you to the nearest local maxima of GTD productivity and GTD swing. Once you go paperless you will discover what a drag paper is. Your Evernote reference filing system will allow you to find everything … in 15 seconds. Evernote *secret* = Evernote does text recognition on all your documents. All you have to do is think of two words that would only be on the document you need, type them into Evernote and *zap* the document is at your finger tips.

Once you have all your projects in some kind of place (manila folder, OneNote folder, Evernote folder) you will feel release of stress. An emergency department doctor who I dragged kicking and screaming to Evernote and a clear desk said to me “I can’t believe how much less stress I’m feeling now.” After my first week of GTD my wife said “Why are you so happy?”


  • When doing a mind sweep, I do not follow David Allen’s two-minute rule. This is the only time in my GTD life, that I don’t DO anything that can be done in 2 minutes, and instead, just write down the 2 minute tasks. After my mind is empty, it is easy to take the 2 minute pile, and burn through it. And, it gives you quick wins to keep expectations at bay.
  • I’ve found that three steps in the above process are sticking points:
    a. Getting the scanner out of the box and functioning. I’ve had to drive to people’s desks and make the scanner go for them because of this “out of box” sticking point. See RestartGTD post abomination of deskolation for case study.
    b. Getting the desk clear. Again, I’ve found it easier to drive to desks and show people what their desk looks like REALLY EMPTY. If you contact me (wkmeade@gmail.com) for advice. The first thing I will say is “Tell me about your desk?” and what you need to say back is “I got EVERYTHING off it.”
    c. P-a-c-i-n-g yourself. Manage your own expectations. Do not change everything in your organizing, all at once. Know that change will take t-i-m-e. Match building your GTD system, to when you have blocks of fresh energy. Energy is temporary. Read that sentence again!
  • This step-by-step puts getting your computer infrastructure working as a pre-cursor to reading GTD. If you don’t put infrastructure first, you will try to get Evernote and your ScanSnap working while you are tired. Not a good strategy.  
  • When starting out, keep two separate kinds of files: (a) Project Files, and (b) Reference Files. Consciously separating the two kinds of files can prevents confusion. *Aside* I suspect that I *resist* using Evernote for project files because my brain likes having physically separate project and reference files.
  • Reference filing is a capstone skill of getting into and staying with GTD.
  • Having a real desk is a capstone skill of getting into and staying with GTD. Clutter is the enemy, and there is more clutter on desks than everywhere else in your life. Win the battle against clutter, GTD will work.
  • Managing expectations is a capstone skill of GTD. One block of GTD work. One day. Is the rule.
  • Experimenting with new tools, selectively, is a capstone skill of staying with GTD.

GTD Time-Lapse

In the beginning, I was disorganized, no GTD, no Evernote, no OmniFocus, no Dropbox, no OneNote. My desk looked like this:


Then I went from no GTD to GTD via Paper and Evernote:


My desk changed to this:

TrustedSystemgenerations01_pptx 3

Then, I got really excited, and went to a 100% digital GTD system via Omnifocus:

TrustedSystemgenerations01_pptx 4

This is the first time I fell off the GTD wagon. I could not stand to sit down at my desk. The feeling of drowning by binary proxy kept me out of my organized office and away from my organized desk. Ugh! But the seeds of RestartGTD.com were born. Somewhere I’m POSITIVE I heard (via Audible copies of his books) David Allen say “If you get too organized, your brain will refuse to use your system.”

I refactored, cut back the role of Omnifocus, got a new job, Evernoted/digitized the 94,000 pages of notes I had from my Ph.D. and went to a hybrid paper and digital system that looked like this:

TrustedSystemgenerations01_pptx 5

And my four desks looked like this:

TrustedSystemgenerations01_pptx 6

Then as I experimented with my system and changed jobs I :

  • Dropped Dropbox for Google drive when I bought a ChromeBook. Google drive is not even in the same league as Dropbox as far as reliability goes, but I’ve stayed with Google drive and Google Apps for simplicity’s sake.
  • Added OneNote to keep work notes separate from home notes. This has actually facilitated manila folders as OneNote makes it *trivial* to print all my tabs (virtual manila folders) and put them into real labeled GTD manila folders.
  • Kept 3×5 cards. They are indispensable for organizing. Laying a large number of cards out on a big table, then re-arranging them into thematic clumps, is the most powerful project organization tool that I possess. *Note* to OneNote and Evernote folks, please please please add 3×5 cards and a flexible user interface for re-arranging cards to your programs!!!!!
  • Kept manila folders. In my new job, I can see my boss relax when I pull out a folder that has an updated project plan in it. And once she saw that she could look in one place for my project list and see what is going on, again, I could visibly see her relax.
  • Kept eMail.

So my system now looks like this:

TrustedSystemgenerations01_pptx 7

And my dungeon desk looks like this:


Thoughts on Tools:

  • OmniFocus is an awesome tool. If you are going to implement GTD to the letter, I don’t think there is a better software package. But I learned that implementing GTD to the letter is not for my brain. But there is TREMENDOUS power in OmniFocus if it is for you.
  • Evernote has been with me since the beginning of my GTD journey. I remember listening to David Allen say “the lack of a good general-reference system can be one of the greatest obstacles to implementing a personal management system” (p. 95 Kindle L1500) and realizing “Evernote! I can use Evernote to be my reference filing system!” You see I had Evernote before I read GTD, I just did not have a use model for it, because I did not appreciate how critical reference filing is to GTD.
  • Evernote keeps adding tools. Some of them are wonky (Evernote Hello for example), but Web ClipperClearly, and Skitch have been game changers for me. Evernote has also gradually increased the kinds of files that it indexes (Word for example was a pain before Evernote started indexing it), and the handwriting recognition is slowly improving. The growth of Evernote’s tool set has kept me loyal as I know I don’t need to jump ship for the latest slick tool. Probably, this reticence kept me for too long from trying OneNote again. I was on the beta team for OneNote 1.0 and getting a change made to the program was like trying to teach a pig to sing.
  • Dropbox is also an awesome tool. But it was (a) too expensive and (b) to focused on single users, at the time I adopted it. Dropbox too is adding tools, but unlike Evernote, Dropbox has not added tools at the point of most intense need for me, and built out from there. I’m sure to Dropbox, Evernote’s file replication must look plebeian, a pale copy of Dropbox with a different user interface. But to me, Dropbox is infrastructure first, and OneNote and Evernote are tools first, with backing infrastructure.
  • OneNote has surprised me. The community of kindred minds around OneNote is much larger than Evernote. And OneNote has the same wonderful enthusiasm of Apple products and Evernote, among its users. OneNote has many of the same over-structured limits as Evernote, only 1 level of sub folders, for example. But, the user interface and the integration with Microsoft Office are freeing to my mind. And, I can’t wait to investigate OneNote add-ins. Evernote’s add-ins are a pallid picture of the promise of its API. More on OneNote as I delve deeper.
  • Google Apps and Google Drive have converted me. I’m now keeping my evolving documents (like resume) on Google drive. I’ve had to delete and re-download my stored files three times. And when I look into my Google Drive folders now, I’m often missing files, finding renamed folders that indicate Google Drive has a problem with becoming confused. Dropbox has none of these issues. So I do miss being able to have confidence in my cloud storage. But I’m careful, back up A LOT, and limp through.
  • Google Now. Another fun surprise. Google now reads my emails and then puts notifications on my phone and in my web browser automatically. This is a huge help for my absent mindedness (call me “Dr. Spaz” please).

Where GTDers are on our own.

David Allen does not recommend technology. Technology is too fad-y I suspect. So we are on our own in sharing experiences and frustrations. And, in dealign with providers like Evernote and MicroSoft and OmniGroup in advocating for GTD-helpful features.

GTDers are also on our own figuring out how to separate work and personal trusted systems. “When you’re trying to make a living there ain’t no such thing as pride.” Richard Marx – Don’t Mean Nothing Lyrics | MetroLyrics. And when you are in the middle or the bottom of a big company, keeping separate personal and work trusted system is a key survival skill.

One idea, one piece of paper … One idea, one card … Seriously? Bill’s cards often have >1 idea …


Example De Jure Misuse of One Idea One Piece of Paper

This post began as a response to a reader email. In the beginning was R. asking about cards. I’ve expanded the post with pictures and some of my GTD history, in the hope that this post can be a stepping stone for other people on the GTD journey.


Sorry it has taken me so long to get back to you. But, I’ve been looking forward to writing this email ever since I skimmed your message 2 days ago.
On Wed, Aug 13, 2014 at 8:49 AM, R. wrote
I am finding one thing extremely difficult to get my mind around.
The one idea, one 3×5 card.
​I got 1 idea 1 card from David Allen’s “one idea, one piece of paper” which I can’t actually find in GTD, but I came away from GTD thinking it. Whether he said it or not. Or, intended me to take away the 1-idea-1-card concept, the value is 100% in idea modularity.
What I mean by idea modularity, can be seen by comparing separate 3×5 cards with what most people do, which is to carry around a “log book.” I used to carry a log book and paste business cards into them and write notes, mind maps, action items, etc. in them. But there is a problem: log books turn into higgledy piggledy quagmires of open loops.
I would write stuff down, and then never come back to the idea. Which, my subconscious saw, and consequently, my subconscious kept the job of “not forgetting” so I wasted just as much energy remembering, as I would have without the log book.
David allen talks about taking these kinds of log books and blesses using them AS LONG AS YOU GO BACK AND RAKE OUT ALL THE OPEN LOOPS and capture them in a modular way. By modular, I *think* David Allen means taking the idea and getting it into a project folder that the idea relates to. Here is what he says:

David Allen:

“I usually recommend that clients download their voice-mails onto paper notes and put those into their in-baskets, along with their whole organizer notebooks, which usually need significant reassessment.”

Allen, David (2002-12-31). Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (p. 118). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition. 

By “reassessment” I *suspect* David Allen means the ideas usually are laying in log books in all their chocolaty project goodness, waiting to be articulated as projects, and then converted into next actions. At least when I was keeping log books, I rarely wrote down projects, let alone next actions. In fact, what I usually did was to write down “AI” for Action Item and the wrote down a project (not a next action). And to my brain, projects laying around in their chocolaty project goodness in a log book, were anything but actionable.
So, back to cards …
3×5 cards are modular because they capture the idea in next action form, stack neatly, and they go cleanly into manila project folders. And as I’ve said many times on RestartGTD, when I open up a project folder with note cards in it, and I see all my ideas in one place, ready to go, I have an “ahhhhhhh” feeling of relief at not having forgotten the ideas, and a flash of excitement as I can dive into the project (spread the cards out on my huge dungeon desk) and get going.
IMG 20140104 143951
Bill Dungeon Desk
For me, being habituated to a trusted system process of getting ideas on cards and cards into folders, enables me to make up project folders for ideas, usually in advance of the folder turning into a real project.
Yeah, this opens a whole new can of worms. How can I make a project for something that isn’t yet a project? I will tell you. I. Do not. Know. But, somehow, my subconscious seems to have gotten a handle on preemptive project definition … via working with a trusted system. Cool!
I start having ideas a month or two or three ahead of projects. So, I just create a folder, and file it in a Target Tote.
Target Tote Action Shot
Target Tote Label
And then once I’ve added 8 to 15 cards to a folder, that folder reaches some kind of critical mass, and the project folder turns into a real project. At that point, I have a realization that those thoughts in THAT folder I started, are now “real” and have to be acted on. *Bing* subconscious has now upward delegated a project to my conscious.
After reviewing your from 12-30-13, 3×5 Cards and Manila Folder GTD Startup, I felt that I understood the mechanics of the process you use, but I found myself straining to read how you breakdown 1 idea per card. I saw several lines on every 3×5 card and was unable to translate that to an example of  appropriate granularity for ideas.
​There is tension in my mind when I write stuff on cards. ​
ASIDE: Story of Bill starting GTD:
When booting up GTD, I initially used letter paper to capture open loops and thoughts. Just like David allen says.
Generation 1 GTD Desk
This was before I discovered “thematic clumping” folders together in totes from Target. Consequently, all folders were created equal, and I bought large folder organizers, took books off shelves, and had massive quantities of folders (look to the left of the top of the big display and you can see folders in an organizer.
This was a bit much. I only accessed a minority of the folders, and all the folders had letter size paper in them. And the volume of paper began to work on my head. Here is a picture of my tote library of thematic clumps. Turns out there are a lot of ideas in one’s head that when they can be safely captured, flee in delight from staying in the cranium not being forgotten. Who knew?
Thematic Clumps of Captured Ideas
(and some non-recyclable papers)
But, now I’m way ahead of myself. As GTD began to produce paper, it was a bit much. I was not expecting a lot of refugee ideas from my head, to insist on be resettled in paper, in thematic clumps of Target Totes. So, I took a temporary detour from using paper, and being 100% David Allen, to using OmniFocus.
In fact, I got so carried away with electronic organization I entered 100% of my paper into OmniFocus. Electronic heaven of GTD organizing. The only problem was that I could not stand to sit down to my computer.
Because … all my work was there waiting for me.  My desk became a trap. In fact, let’s take another look at my desk:
Does anything stand out about this arrangement? Like the iMax screens (don’t forget, event he iPhone was waiting expectantly)?  Note I have subsequently gone to a single monitor, and zero materials (not counting cats) on my desk.
Another David Allen saying that I remember from GTD (but which I cannot find in the Kindle version) is that if you get TOO ORGANIZED, your brain will refuse to use your trusted system. OmniFocus put me face to face with over-organization. A first for me.
Omnifocus, is great. Omnifocus is powerful. But because OmniFocus has built in outliner I was seduced/intoxicated to the dark side of one idea, one piece of paper. I had entire projects outlined with next actions. Project = heading, next actions = list underneath. In fact, reflecting, this is better but from my brain’s perspective, not different, from the land of higgledy piggledy quagmire log books. And my brain did not like it. So my brain went on a GTD strike, for the old work rules.
So, to wrap up this aside, I had to go back to paper. My brain “gets” paper.  But with letter paper, there is so much wasted space. Seems like a lot more wasted space that 3×5 cards. Because I recycle every piece of paper, I thought “3×5 cards must even be less paper to be recycle!” (*Note* which I don’t want any recycling experts reading this, to disabuse me of. :-)
So, I went back to paper, manila folders, but this time, using 3×5 cards exclusively.  Sorry the aside got so long, but this sub-story of my GTD journey, is a common GTD occurrence. GTD is a long string of sub-stories.
Articulating sub-stories is a big reason that I started the RestartGTD blog. In fact, this re-telling of the paper to OmniFocus to 3×5 card cycle, made me realize that the thematic clumps of ideas in Target totes, happened, because my brain finally had a repository for thousands of ideas it was not forgetting. Once it could trust me to not lose the ideas, it went (subconsciously) full bore to dumping the ideas to long term storage in my trusted system.  *Note* to self, people implementing GTD for the first time, might want to plan for a lot of resettling of ideas on to paper or whatever their brain likes as a storage media.
ENDASIDE: Story of Bill starting GTD
When I’m writing ideas on 3×5 cards, I don’t discipline myself to a single idea per card. You caught me!
Only one idea per card, feels like wasting paper, just as using letter sheets felt like too much waste. So, if the ideas are related to the same project, because I’m a cheapskate|undisciplined, I’ll write multiple ideas per card. Or, like the card at the top of this page, I will sometimes title with a project, and then bullet with next actions to complete the project.
However, you will be heartened to know that while I’m writing the 2nd and 3rd ideas on the card I’m thinking “You’re doing it wrong. One idea, one piece of paper!” I just don’t listen to myself, because I want fewer cards to do the work.  And in many cases, a card is enough for a honey-do project like trimming bushes.
I believe I am way ahead of where I would be if I only had the GTD book in attempting to implement GTD.
​REMEMBER: GTD is not about “doing it right.” GTD is about hacking your own brain by building a system around it, that your subconscious can use to make you look like a genius. Life in GTD is experimentation, discovery, planning, de-planning, refactoring your system, and trying again. Originally I intended RestartGTD to become a sharing platform for people who bump up against hard issues with GTD, sharing their success with others.
GTD as David Allen does it, is a highly weaponized system for sales people. But, most of us are not sales people. So we have to listen to our feeling, intuitions, and and make efforts to test, evaluate, and reflect on what is pleasurable, as well as what works.
Hope this helps!
bill meade ​

What is GTD Warm Boot Step #1?

Where Does a New Work Flow Start?


The Author @ HP Boise Legal Circa 2001

The last time I had a cube in corporate America, the cube came with 4 walls. Apparently, a few things have changed since “back in the day.” Today a cube is truncated into a
c | u | b | e so that four people put together have four walls. So I’ve got a corner or 1/4 of a cube.

Ironic Math Question: Is a corner of a square, a square root?

Back story, at HP I asked that my cube have zero work surfaces. Instead I ordered two lobby chairs that had tablet arms for laptops. And on the chair I used, installed a long work surface that reached from the right table arm to the left. Top down my cube looked like this.


The fun thing about this set up was people would come in, sit down and say “Why is your cube larger than everyone else’s.” This was fun, because my cube was not larger than everyone else’s. Same as.

And same as brings us back to desk 1.0 at new job in the insuranceville company town.


It is only natural to feel a moment of remorse for moving from my dungeon desk (see below) to a corporate environment with a uniformity fetish. However, life is bricolage (RestartGTD link) and constraints set you free (see previous post).

IMG_20140104_143951.jpgOne big constraint of the new work space is books. Perhaps you have seen my picture in my library around the internet …


Spitzweig 1850

Alas, no more shelves, ladders, or extraneous reference materials. The internet is some compensation, but Mostly I’m shifting my references into Kindle and where possible, PDF files.


GTD Start Up

I decided to start with a 3×5 card heavy GTD setup. One idea, one piece of paper. Then, a manila folder for each project. In slinking around the supplies room if found a lot (20) diagonal folder holders that were “locally available” to install without causing any drama. So, here is what my desk looks like when I arrive in the morning.


When I first arrive in the morning I move my monitors out of the way, up to the shelf, and then do a relaxed mind sweep. At least for now, I’m arriving at 8:00 am which is a scosh before my group, so I can take 10 minutes or so to allow ideas to bubble up, write them on cards, and then organize the cards into groups (columns).

My new boss (who no, has not read GTD … yet …) is great at emailing me projects, hints, tips, etc. So my first week, I started by taking her emails, cards where next actions were captured during conversations, and then hacking out an initial set of projects. Each project gets a folder, and a diagonal slot at upper right on my desk. Cards get filed in project folders.

This physical folder organization has felt to me like it has helped trust to develop fast. If I’m not at my desk, the information is available for my boss to walk up to the folders, find the project she is concerned with, open the folder and see:

  • At the very front a list of next actions for the project. Think of an excel spreadsheet list that has completed tasks and next tasks.
  • The individual 3×5 cards with next actions on them.
  • Supporting materials for the project (most of which she has lent me, so this is great for her to be able to “pull back” materials she needs)

I also have a “Projects” folder with a list of all the individual projects. This list has been handy as my boss is on the spot with her boss and her peers about what I’m going to be doing (this company has a strong norm of close monitoring of new employees).

That is the initial set up so far.

bill meade

GTD: Problems Are Opportunities

Warm Booting GTD: Building A New Trusted System


≈ New Job Desk 1.0

Just finished my first week at a new job. I’m now a senior data analyst at a health insurance company. The above picture is not my desk (once again I’ve neglected to take EXACT before pictures of my desk projects). But, the above desk is in the same position vs the window, on the same floor, and pretty much the same shelving and monitor setup as my new work desk, when I started on 2014/07/14.

New Job = New Set of Constraints on Organizing

I’ve worked with engineers (software, chemical, nuclear, mechanical, electrical, industrial, ….), and even worked inside a legal department once. But this is my first time working with: (a) actuaries and (b) health data. So there are a couple of constraints thrown into my GTD trusted system’s design:

  • No Evernote allowed
    Installing Evernote would break data security rules and get me fired. Too bad as I am a huge fan of Evernote.
  • Trusted system hermetically sealed great wall of China
    My work trusted system must be separate from the system I’ve built up over the past five years. This is interesting because the result at first cut, is a severing of my personal life from work. David Allen says this can’t really be done. We’ll see how big a GTD impact separate hermetically sealed trusted systems are.
  • No spending money
    Very strong culture of minimizing costs.

First law of marketing is that problems are opportunities. So setting up a new GTD system with constraints, is always fun. It is the constraints that set you free. (*Note* I’m pretty sure that Mr. Bartlett my Jr. year in high school said that “Beethoven said ‘The rules set you free'” but I’ve never been able to track that quote down. So, if you know who really said it, please email me at bill@basicip.com and I’ll update the attribution here.).

Time for GTD Eduction! That is e-duc-tion (as in e-quack-tion … not education)

  "In his enchanting novel, A High Wind in Jamaica, Richard Hughes
describes a group of children who have been kidnapped by pirates on
the high seas and are stowed away in the ship’s cabin. One little
girl is lying there, staring at the wood grain of the plank wall 
next to her. She sees all sorts of shapes and faces in the grain, 
and starts outlining them in pencil. A whole fantastic scene 

We’ve all done this kind of doodling: projecting shapes onto
something, then fixing and cleaning up the outlines so that the 
raw material comes to really look like what we imagine it to be.

When the child completes the gestalt of the wood grain, there is 
an encounter between the patterns given by the seemingly random 
swirls of wood grain residing outside the child and the patterns 
given by the child’s inner nature. The wood grain (or tree, or 
rock, or cloud) educes, or draws out of the child, something 
related to what the child knows, but that is also more or 
different than what the child knows because the child is both 
assimilating the outside pattern ... and accommodating 
... to the outside pattern. 

Here we can see why in the process of making artwork we are able 
to generate ... surprises. The artist has ... training, 
... style, habits, personality, which might be very graceful and 
interesting but are nevertheless somewhat set and predictable. 
When, however, [s/]he has to match the patterning outside him with 
the patterning [s/]he brings within his own organism, the crossing
or marriage of the two patterns results in something never before 
seen, which is nevertheless a natural outgrowth of the artist’s 
original nature. A moire, a crossing or marriage of two patterns, 
becomes a third pattern that has a life of its own. Even simple 
moires made from straight lines look alive, like fingerprints or 
tiger stripes."

Nachmanovitch, Stephen (1991-05-01). Free Play: Improvisation in 
Life and Art (Kindle Locations 1025-1041). Penguin Group US. 
Kindle Edition. BOLD, link to moire and [s/] added.

So bring on the constraints in educing a trusted system! The more constraints, the weirder the constraints, the greater the “surprises” in the GTD system.

In my next post I’ll describe the new GTD workflows which I’m evolving, and share more pictures.

bill meade









3″x5″ Cards and Manila Folder GTD Startup

IMG 20131230 203033


I had a request after yesterday’s post on clutter, to show the basic 3”x5” card and manila folder system that I urge people to implement GETTING THINGS DONE (GTD hereafter) with. This post’s purpose is to answer any questions about 3”x5” and manila as I implement GTD.

Your mileage will vary on my advice.  In fact, over time, my mileage with 3”x5” cards and manila folders has varied. The goal is to find a natural and expressively powerful way for your brain to work, not to rigidly adopt ideas. Right now I use a hybrid paper and computer (Evernote + Dropbox/Google Drive) GTD system.  But, I reserve the right to go 100% electronic in OmniFocus in the future, or 100% paper. If it feels good, do that!

Cards and Folders:

So, I helped an accountant implement GTD. Before GTD the accountant was very organized, in fact, almost over-organized.  Take a look at the desk before and after the GTD makeover:

ALPFAGTDAsPresented pptx 13

Accountant Before

And then, we scanned all reference materials into Evernote, recycled the paper, and set up a simple manila folder project system with one folder for each project, and all materials (letter paper, post it notes, etc.) captured within folders.

ALPFAGTDAsPresented pptx

Accountant After

Note the differences in the same cube. By switching note taking 100% to 3”x5” cards, ideas (one idea, one piece of paper) become mobile. Prior to 3”x5” cards, notes were taken in spiral bound notebooks and post it notes.

Spiral bound notebooks trap ideas in random order (see GTD page 30 where David Allen says “written notes need to be corralled and process instead of left lying embedded in stacks”) and post it notes seem like such a good idea when you are capturing the idea, but who knows where they go (with missing socks in the dryer?) when you need to refer back to them.

The basics of a GTD 1.0 makeover:

  • All object cleared from workspace where they can be seen in main working position (usually looking at a monitor). The single worst thing you can have in front of you when you is a picture of a person. Your subconscious can’t stop itself from processing faces. If you must have pictures move them out of view of your main work position.
  • Manila folder system kept outside field of view in main working position. In the after, the manila folders are at far left of the desk.
  • All reference materials scanned and entered into Evernote. All project materials gathered into manila folders. Please stop second guessing yourself and order the ScanSnap iX500 so you can finally get this over with.
  • *Note* Reference folders and project folders are PROFOUNDLY different. David Allen specifies supporting references be kept out of sight (GTD page 38) so having Evernote capture all of your materials is great.  Besides, you don’t have to figure out how to move a filing cabinet into your office. And even better, you can take a filing cabinet out of your office!

And, … that is it.

How It Works:

You have an idea, you write the idea down on a 3”x5” card. One idea, one piece of paper, simple really!

IMG 20131230 212643

Now, where do you put the 3”x5” card? If you don’t have a project that this idea is related to, you need to create a project. To do this I print a folder label on my Brother QL-700 label printer (link to Amazon for convenience but OfficeMax is cheaper). The print dialog looks like this:

IMac27label01 lbx

Then I print the label (2.5 seconds) and attach to the manila folder. Giving me a nice neat folder to hold my project.

IMG 20131230 213221

Next, you can put the 3”x5” card you created inside this folder. But now where do we put the folder? My answer is to buy itso small bins from Target …

IMG 20131230 213627

And then insert a small metal book-end inside …

IMG 20131230 214039

and then accumulate project “clumps” in the itso tote.  Here is an itso tote with my current clump of writing projects.

IMG 20131230 203109

You can see that the book-end prevents folders from becoming bowed.

The Payoff:

For me, the payoff from organizing projects in this way happens once I sit down to do the project.  I take the folder, open it up, and then I can spread out all the ideas I’ve accumulated about the project. When I see that all my ideas are where they should be, I get a subconscious jolt of affirmation. Aaaahhhhhh all the ideas are here. Now, let’s go!

IMG 20131230 213318

bill meade

Get “IT” Off Your Desk!!!


Screenshot 6 26 13 9 10 AM

Source: Ebay


I’m always on the lookout for paper trays that get paper off my desk, so the entire surface is free to organize 3×5 cards on.  Ken in a comment pointed to a very interesting family of off-the-desk products.  Purpose of this post is to show the product family off and point out the relative cost-effectiveness of these desk accessories compared to say … Steelcase desk accessories.  

The accessories:

In addition to the three tray unit for $40 above, there is a two tray unit for $30 … 

Screenshot 6 26 13 9 16 AM

And a two tray + phone organizer for $40 … 


A formidable six tray unit for $40 (the unit that Ken alerted me to) … 

Screenshot 6 26 13 9 20 AM

Note that the paper trays are rotated 90 degrees from their orientation in the three tray organizer, so it looks like the trays can be mounted to the tower, from either side, or the tray’s back.  

A rotary catalog + paper tray organizer for $40 … 

Screenshot 6 26 13 9 22 AM

And to mix it up a little, a catalog + phone organizer for $80 …  

Screenshot 6 26 13 9 26 AM

For comparison, here is a Steelcase task light for … $340!   

Screenshot 6 26 13 9 29 AM

So what? 

These desk accessories are significant because, like monitor arms, they allow you to clear the surface of your desk.   Here is my desk before monitor arm: 

D3M 3218

Here is my desk after monitor arm:  

D3M 5534

Having the monitor off the desk surface allows a dramatic increase of usable desk space.  Having a monitor arm allowed me to write on my desk or sort 3×5 cards (my atomic unit of thinking) without restraint.  

My desk surface is an IKEA conference table, so it provides a lot of space.  I used this table for a year and then on impulse leaned over the desk and stretched my arms to see how much of the surface area I could reach: roughly 40%.  I composted this for a few months and then with the help of my cats … 

D3M 5576

I cut out a plug for the mandatory hole in IKEA conference tables, and then diagrammed a semi-circle of 15″ at the middle of the desk:  

D3M 5578

and then cut it out:

D3M 5580

Then bought white edging material at Home Depot that I ironed on to the raw edge of the cut. 

D3M 5585

 With the cut-out I can now reach 80% or so of the remaining desk.  Of course I have lost some usable desk space from the cut out, but I have gained much more use of the remaining desk space.  For example, without the cutout, I needed to push my keyboard 14″ or so from the edge of the desk in order to get my forearms on the table (my perfect ergonomic position for typing).  As I type this my keyboard is about 5″ from the top of the cut out, and my forearms are just wresting over the edge of the cutout.  Comfy! 

So what? 

The signal in the noise of this post is that if you work at it, you can get your desk clear, you can improve the usability of your desk, you can be more organized and more comfortable at the same time.  The more of your desk you can use, the more focused your work can be.  

bill meade