Taught my “Getting (re)started with GTD” class last weekend.  One student needed to apply GTD without cash out of pocket.  So, I’ve been thinking about how to get started with GTD without spending anything.     

So, below please find the GTD office available for no money down (but you have to drive to pick everything up, so alas, there are time and gas costs included) available in Portland on 2012/04/25.  *Note* the links to Craigslist don’t live long, but they worked when I wrote this post.  More important items have the picture that was up with the post.  

An office, for free?

Step 1: Get a desk.  Portland’s Craigslist is a treasure trove of free desk options.  For example:


Source: Portland Craigslist Free


Source: Portland Craigslist Free


Source: Portland Craigslist Free


Source: Portland Craigslist Free

Step 2: Get organizing supplies like:

  • hanging file folders (Urban League of Portland)
  • home fax machine (Sharp plain paper inkjet fax from Vancouver WA – home of HP inkjets!) Homefax 1
  • A wood credenza to boost your desk space up to 30 square feet and give you some drawers and cabinets to organize withWoodcredenza 1
With all the free stuff listed to this point in the blog post, you have everything you need to implement GTD with a manual system.  But, you are not limited to a manual system.  Using community provided computers (libraries, coffee shops) you can digitize much of your GTD system, especially the pieces of your system that interact with your colleagues and peers.  So, on to step 3 … 
 Step 3: Take advantage of free electronic infrastructure.   
  • Evernote free account gives you 60 megabytes of upload a month for no charge.
  • Google Drive/Docs Gives you an MS Office substitute, and a Dropbox substitute.  Also gives you email, streaming music from the net, picture editing, and picture web hosting, etc., etc., etc.  And, if you don’t own your own computer, this will allow you to share and store documents with your class mates and you can access your stuff from any web connected computer.  *Note* Concordia University where I teach, allows students to check out Dell laptops with wireless in the library and at the computer help desk.  We also have computer labs to provide access to the internet.  
  • MicroSoft SkyDrive which currently gives you 25 gigabytes of cloud storage for 1 year for free.  Sign up and then go to account upgrades and take the free upgrade from 5 gigabytes (normal storage available) to 25 gigabytes.  
  • Kindle Reader.  If you don’t own your own laptop, you can still download (thousands of) free Kindle books and read them with Amazon’s Cloud reader.  If you have a laptop, you can download the free Kindle software (PC Mac) and read books on your computer and up to 5 other devices (phone, iPad, Cloud reader, etc.).  


The basic infrastructure you need to start implementing GTD is available all around you if you live in or near Portland Oregon.  Probably, the bigger the city, the better infrastructure available.  Even though I thought I “knew” about craigslist and free cycle I did not realize how rich these are as resources to get people booted up on GTD.  
Hope this helps!
bill meade 


Natural Planning Model: Silent Secret Weapon





GTD’s natural planning model (Ch 3) is my silent secret GTD weapon.  

Let Me Explain:

While an undergraduate, I was plagued by writer’s block.  Then, I discovered Gabriele Rico’s (1985) WRITING THE NATURAL WAY, and the concept of “clustering” (today called mind mapping) …

Writing the Natural Way  What is Clustering


… “trial web shift” feeling the time when mind mapping can graduate to writing, became tools for me.  Discovering the tools in WRITING THE NATURAL WAY gave me *tingles* of recognition.  I could not articulate why they were important, but I immediately knew.  

Next, I discovered Betty Edwards’ DRAWING ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE BRAIN which is really the drawing analog of WRITING THE NATURAL WAY.  Each book broke its domain down into a set of 5 or 6 orthogonal tools, that empowered the reader almost immediately to be able to articulate creative constructions on paper.  As I drew my own hand in perspective for the first time  ….


Source: Praterposte

… again, I had *tingles* of recognition that I was exercising an important new skill.  

Enter time (25 years), a Ph.D., three kids, moves, jobs, 5,000 books, 94,000 pages of personal papers, and finally in 2009, GETTING THINGS DONE. All this time, mind mapping laid mostly dormant.  I had tried to incorporate mind maps in my work, but I found that I could not show them to anyone without being stereotyped as “a creative” which meant in effect “so heavenly minded, no earthly good” + “unable to follow through.”  So, I kept mind maps to myself, and gradually stopped using them.  

When at the opening of chapter 3 of GTD, I heard these words (I was listening to David Allen’s recording via Audible 

/Begin *Aside* My students say that David Allen and George Clooney sound exactly the same


Separated at birth?  

Source: David Allen, George Clooney 

… so if you like Clooney, you’ll love the Audible version. 

/End *Aside* 

I’ve found the biggest gap to be the lack of a project-focusing model for “the rest of us.” We need ways to validate and support our thinking, no matter how informal.Allen, David (2002-12-31). Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (p. 55). Penguin. Kindle Edition.

 I had the by now familiar *tingle* that I was about to put my hand on a new power tool.


 Source: Discovery Channel – Thrill of Discovery — Ars Thanea

The five phases of project planning, i.e., the natural planning model, knitted together the long dormant clustering/mind mapping, organizing, with the big question “why am I doing this?”  So, David Allen had brought to project planning and management, the same 5 or 6 tool kind of thinking that I had experienced in WRITING THE NATURAL WAY, and DRAWING ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE BRAIN.  



And something else.  David Allen emphasized not trying to do all phases at once, not trying to use all the tools at once.  GTD’s separation of many of its tools (The five phases of natural planning, Processing stuff from doing next actions) are on of the simple things about GTD that I love most. I now consciously think about doing just one thing at a time.  Time was invented, after all, so everything would not happen at once.  

The five phases of natural planning gives an older person, a unique vantage from which to observe college students.  If you don’t have any in the house or on your 1040, let me refresh you that in terms of GTD, college students by default, insist on doing all phases of projects at once, using all organizing tools at once, and repeatedly plead the value of a looming deadline, to make them productive.  

And I have to confess, that I fall into this exact same pattern when I fall off the GTD wagon.  Natural planning out the window and reactive planning back in control.  


With natural planning’s five phases, I’ve found:

  • It is easier to break out of reactive planning. I just need to think of how much easier natural planning is, than reactive planning.  
  • I don’t need to hide mind maps any longer.  Being branded as a creative = no follow through has been replaced by being branded as “That rare creative with great follow-through.”  

I think this is because the natural planning model allows you to keep the momentum you build generating ideas, and spill it without missing a step, into organizing and next actions.  When people observe you grinding through problems with the natural planning model, the cynicism that often pervades workplaces, is suppressed.  People step back and say “Whoa! … What was that book you were talking about again?”  

Restarting Natural Planning  

My emphasis on a lot of open desk space is driven by the five phases of natural planning.  I need to spread out ideas, paper, artifacts.  And, my open desk space often calls to me “Biiiiillllllll put some paper on me, let your ideas oooooouuuuuuuutttttttt.”  But I find, that probably as much as I resist weekly reviews, I resist using natural planning as often as I should.  



Next post will be on “When to use natural planning” and will include my natural planning form and my evolved criteria for full blown natural planning on projects.  

Hope this helps! 


bill meade 

Recipe to get going, when you can’t get going


Source: Brandon Doman


I often have the problem of not wanting to get started on a project. Or, of sitting down at my desk and being vapor locked.  Then, I begin to get skittish about even sitting down at my desk.

This post is the GTD-ish recipe I’ve evolved to use when I feel resistance getting to work.

Three Steps:

  1. Get away from the office/desk (meetings are perfect) with 3″x5″ cards.
  2. Say to yourself, “What are the parts of this project?” And then write down one part of the project, per card.  And do a mind dump about the project. Once You have all parts captured, you’ll feel relief.  

    You are seven plus or minus two next actions away from feeling better.

  3. Next, I take the cards back to my desk and never refer to them. Once I have the moving parts in mind, I can sit down and crank out all the next actions as I do the project.


Time for a family story, my grandfather Billy (Ugh, I hate being called Billy, but my grandfather loved it.) Blyth was an episcopal minister.  He wrote his sermons at a typewriter.  He would be typing up to the moment the service started, while in full regalia, and then run into the service and leave his sermon notes in the typewriter.  The typewriter with paper in it was a trusted system for an individual project (sermon).

3″x5″ cards that I write but don’t refer to, are my version of the Billy Blyth trusted sermon system.

Another fun thing to note about my grandfather is that he was the center forward on the men’s collegiate championship hockey team at the University of Toronto.  And he married, the goalie on the women’s national championship hockey team at the University of Toronto.  At least, that is what the family lore claims, I should probably check the records. :-)

This recipe IS NOT the GTD-approved way to do GTD.  But it works for me.  My students who don’t use GTD, manifest an extreme form of the above “cooking up next actions in the process of doing.” Todays college students sit down to the computer (no desk work first, no next actions) and then research, compose, write, edit, all at once for their projects (papers).

What is important for my workflow, is getting the project into buckets that carve a project at its joints. Hope this helps!  Comment, good, bad, or ugly please?

bill meade








Simple GTD Startup

*Note* to the first-time-GTD-reader …

I advise people new to GTD, to read the first three chapters, and then stop. David Allen, please don’t excommunicate me for saying this, but when a green person is trying to do GTD on their own, what begins as a warm embrace, can grow into a guilt trip. The inner editors hound us about what GTD failures we are. So the warm embrace of discovering GTD pretty quickly morphs into self-recrimination.


So, don’t sweat that you are not doing all of the “official” GTD system. Enjoy discovering!

I think a year is the minimum amount of time to implement basic GTD. I had one MBA student who implemented 100% of GTD in a week. It almost killed them, and they dropped out of the MBA program without explanation. Cutting over to new infrastructure can be a killer. Don’t under estimate the impact of new routines.

So, I recommend that you not try to be a hero. If you still want to be a GTD hero, call me, stop by Portland, I’ll take you out for 3 beers and talk you out of it.

Back to GTD the book!  Let the words in the first three chapters sink in. Savor them, reread and absorb by osmosis. These chapters are battle tested and ready to rock your world. Take your time to discover them fully. Life is about discovery, not performance.


There is no need to bite off the entire GTD system to make big improvements in your work. All the big-picture changes you need at first, are in the first 3 chapters of GTD.

For example: after listening to the first 3 chapters on a 20 mile bike ride, I realized that I needed to:



  • Set up a reference filing system (Evernote + Fujitsu ScanSnap)
    • Most of my messes and clutter came from not having a good place to put X in.  Where X is an email, a piece of paper, a mind map for a project, or an agenda for a conversation with a client.  When you have the “ughhh” feeling when you need to put X down, but don’t have a good place to put X, then you’re experiencing hardening of the categories.  New rule, whenever you don’t have a place to put an X, then instead of just piling X up with other X, first put the X in your inbox and then add a project to think through a place that makes sense for X and its siblings.  Then, when you have time, you can ratchet your organization up a notch by systematically plugging the holes in your trusted system bucket.  Just having a place for X is a huge improvement over piles.
  • Write ideas down one-idea-one-piece-of-paper
  • Set up project folders (both electronically and in physical manila folders)
  • Separate the processing work, from doing of work (a HUGE leap forward for me personally)
  • Work more efficiently by consciously keeping my constraints in mind. Energy, focus, enthusiasm for tasks are HUGE in my getting tasks completed. Before GTD I would just work to exhaustion, sleep, repeat. After GTD I started pre-processing tasks (lists for “buy” that I put stuff on, and then look at the list in the store, lists for “people,” where I write down stuff as stuff comes to mind relating to a person) and then consciously switching to lower involvement tasks when I get tired.
  • I realized after reading GTD chapter 3, that I was not doing enough natural project management. I have always loved mind-maps, but I never realized they are best at surfacing next actions and list items. David Allen put them in context for me in Chapter 3. Now I am holding myself accountable to doing enough mind mapping and brainstorming (going for quantity not quality). Natural project management dramatically speeds up projects.
  • I found the beginning of the trail that is leading me to clutter-free work spaces. And, the unbearable lightness of being … paperless. :-)
After you’ve read, I next recommend these interventions:



  • Intervention #1:  Get a real desk! Every brain deserves a kick-ass place to work.  Typically this means
    • Make your desk much bigger. You need 30 square feet of desk space in your office. Not 30 squares in one desk, but 30 squares locally available.


  • Source:

    Get your desk completely clutter free from the surface of the desk up to 6″ off the desk. Only exception should be a monitor arm.  Monitor arms prevent your current small size desk from being turned into an overgrown monitor stand.


    Http www flickr com photos fogonazos 3051525726

    Source: Flickr

    To do your work you need elbow room. You need to be able to spread 3″x5″ cards, letter sized mind maps, and even butcher block sized mind maps across your desk all at the same time. When you get a big desk and fill it up with monitors, iPads, scanners, etc., you loose the opportunity to so much as fit a sandwich on your desk. Computers are not your brain. They are small piece of what GTD is about. Keep computers in proportion to your desk, as they make a true contribution to your job.  Don’t let computers be the tail that wags your work dog.

    The balance of computer/thinking-work facilities have shifted in the past three decades.  Back in the day, a 30′x60″x30″ desk was the default.  Here’s a pic:



    And companies had huge “bull pens” of hundreds of this kind of desk lined up.


    Source: John Lubans

    You might want to check out the Early Office Museum if you’d like to see more early office pics. Space was made for desks, though far from perfect this was more clutter-free than today’s cubicles.  Here is a representative home office desk today:



    And then an office-office cubicle environment.  The unique innovation of the modern cube is that the workspace itself is visual clutter.  But, it gets better when you have phones BBBBBBBBBRRRRRRRRringing and people talking.



    The bottom line is that today, a desk sized to allow brains to work are considered luxuries.  And modern offices have “furniture police” (see chapter 7 of Demarco & Lister’s book PEOPLEWARE (free summery here)) who take it as their mission to impose total uniformity.

    I feel very lucky to be able to control my desk. Control is important because your desk is a way that your conscious mind can demonstrate to your unconscious mind, that the unconscious is fully respected, valued, and celebrated. Without desk control, people take sick days when they need to get something done, spreading out on the dining room table (a great starter desk!).

    Conscious?  Subconscious?  Wait!  What?

    Right now I’m reading a fantastic book READING IN THE BRAIN. This book is about the brain as computational image processing pipeline. The research reported in the book steps millimeter by millimeter through the brain mapping out which neurons are doing what.  Neurons seem to be hard wired to recognize the sub-shapes of word. Every word is a complex tree.  In the following image, see how the neurons assemble letters from the primitive sub-letter shapes in the bottom row of processing.


    Source: READING IN THE BRAIN L 755

    When we put a shape in front of our eyes, we kick off large quantities of unconscious recognizing and processing.


    Source: READING IN THE BRAIN L 670


    “This view holds that the letterbox area of the brain initially evolved to recognize natural images, but not the shapes of letters or words. Nonetheless, evolution endowed it with a capacity to learn, and thus to turn itself into a reading device. Our writing systems have progressively discovered and exploited the elementary shapes that this region is capable of representing. In brief, our cortex did not specifically evolve for writing—there was neither the time nor sufficient evolutionary pressure for this to occur. On the contrary, writing evolved to fit the cortex. Our writing systems changed under the constraint that even a primate brain had to find them easy to acquire.”

    Source: READING IN THE BRAIN L 2346-2351

    I am only 1/2 way through the book, but based on what I’ve read so far, clutter triggers unconscious processing that is at the least an energy drain and at worst an energy drain + constant distraction.  Look at your desk and pretend you are a monkey.  Is there anything on your desk a monkey would be intrigued with?  We are monkeys, GTD monkeys. And clutter is intriguing to our inner monkeys.

    David Allen, when interviewed for the book WILLPOWER used a very provocative Buddhist image:

    “When he began working with overtaxed executives, he saw the problem with the traditional big-picture type of management planning, like writing mission statements, defining long-term goals, and setting priorities. He appreciated the necessity of lofty objectives, but he could see that these clients were too distracted to focus on even the simplest task of the moment. Allen described their affliction with another Buddhist image, “monkey mind,” which refers to a mind plagued with constantly shifting thoughts, like a monkey leaping wildly from tree to tree.”

    Source: WILLPOWER (pp. 77-78)

    Here is Drew Carey’s description of his desk before GTD:

    “I have self-control in some ways, but not in others,” Carey says. “It depends on what’s at stake. I just got so fed up with the mess in my office. I had boxes of paperwork and a desk I couldn’t get through. Both sides of my computer were piled up with crap and old mail. You know, it was at a point where I couldn’t think. I always felt out of control. I always knew I had stuff to do. You can’t read a book and enjoy yourself because in the back of your mind you feel like, I should go through those e-mails I have. You’re never really at rest.”

    Source: WILLPOWER (p 74)

    OK, let’s piece a couple ideas together.  First, we are evolved from monkeys (hey, God had to create us through some physical mechanism, why not evolution?) so we live in hot-wired monkey brains.  Second, we have an innate propensity to attract work and paper.  Like the Peter Principle of managers being promoted to their level of incompetence, it may well be that knowledge workers attract work to the point of “monkey mind” incompetence.

    And what is insidious is that clutter organizers, just magnify the problem.  See what Mindy Starns Clark says about organizing tools:


    “I thought that getting a house organized began with buying lots of cool holders, bins, dividers, and charts and then the stuff would almost jump inside and organize itself. I didn’t know I should never buy any organizational product unless it serves a specific function in a specific place. And even then the purchase should be made only after I’ve measured for it and determined the exact size and shape of organizer I need. In fact, it wasn’t until I began researching housekeeping in earnest that I learned that most organizational products create more mess than they help to contain.”



  • Intervention #2: Get a reference filing system that is easier to use, than to not use. See: Evernote + Fujitsu ScanSnap



  • Intervention #3: Do a complete mind dump.
    • Sit down for an hour with Excel, or Paper, or Word, and write down every thought that comes to mind about anything that is out of place in your life. I typically give students 20 minutes to do this in class, which I let run for 40 minutes (the student’s don’t notice because they all have a TON of open loops in their minds).  Do it for an hour the first day, and then 20 minutes a day for the rest of the week.
    • *Note* Mind dumps are a great method to get back on the GTD wagon after you have fallen off.


    Source: Austin Kleon

  • Intervention #4: Get a copy of THE HOUSE THAT CLEANS ITSELF and read up on the author’s ideas around “stations.” In short, the method Mindy Starns Clark uses, is to let the messes build up in your house by not cleaning.  Then, get a ladder, then climb the ladder with a camera by each mess, then take pictures looking down from the ladder, then print out the pictures, and then figure out the root cause of the mess, and design stations, to prevent the root cause from recurring. “Stations” allow you to do 100% of a job in one place, without having to make side trips to get materials or tools. In our new house, I’m going to build a charging station by the front door or the garage door once I figure out which door I’ll usually use. In the apartment I had a charging station by my desk, which was great for getting the devices on the teat, but not so good for taking them off before I left for school
    • The concept of “stations” resonates in harmony with GTD. Much of the GTD methodology itself can be decomposed into stations. The desk is a station. The phone is a station. Agendas for conversations with important people, are mental stations for future conversations.




After you have lived with GTD for three months, then try reading further into the book.  GTD is a puzzle, you need to start with the corner pieces of the puzzle (GTD chapters 1, 2, and 3) and then get the pieces assembled.  Once you have the basics down, you can move deeper into all the habits of GTD.
Hope this helps you get started with GTD!  Comment or email if you have any questions!

bill (“the” GTD excommunicatee :-) meade

Top 10 GTD Tips For Moving


Having just about completed my second move since starting GETTING THINGS DONE (GTD hereafter) 3 years ago, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on how great GTD is in facilitating a move.  Bottom line, applying GTD to a move is worth 2 days of effort, cuts worry by 75%, and saves you ingesting at least a bottle, of Naproxen.

Top 10:

#10 Use Next Actions to Cull

Before you pack, go through your stuff and ask “Will this EVER have a next action?” if the answer is no, then recycle it or put it up on craigslist free.


Recycling is good, cuts about 80% of the stuff-clutter out of your life.  And, giving away is even better.  I have a hard time giving anything away that isn’t in new condition, but putting the scratch and dent stuff up will give you a great check on how blessed you are. Don’t be too proud to let someone else benefit.

I estimate the next action filter saved me moving about half my stuff and 98% of my paper reference files.

#9 Resistance Is Futile, … Reference Files MUST Be Assimilated!

If you bite the bullet now and get the Evernote pro and a scanner, you will arrive at your move’s destination, with an unbearable lightness of being … PAPERLESS!!!   Triaging your paper a month before you leave, and start scanning at least two weeks before you leave.

My example: I had 94,000 pages of paper in a monster 5 drawer SteelCase horizontal file cabinet.  I triaged every page, pulled out 20% that might have a next action (17,500 pages) and scanned every potentially useful page into Evernote in 4 days.  But, I know that it is hard to read these perfectly good words and reach a critical mass resolution to go to Amazon and buy the scanner and then to Evernote to buy the premium account.

If you are not convinced, please let me relate to you what happens in my 1.5 day GETTING STARTED WITH GETTING THINGS DONE classes when we cover reference filing.

Imagine you have arrived at my class with a box of papers that need to be scanned and put into Evernote.  Great!  I sit you down to your computer and my Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500M (works on both Mac and PC) and then I say “Pick the nastiest document in your box to scan.”  You pick a 3 ringer binder from a conference you attended, pull the front cover page out, pull the contents out, remove the dividers between sections, and put the first 50 pages into the scanner.

“Wait!” I say, check the time.  It is 10:11 am.  Then, you push the scan button and the pages start feeding.  When we are 30 pages through the 50 in the ScanSnap, we put another 30 pages into the ScanSnap so it will put all the pages into one continuous file. Repeat as the next 30 pages feed, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next. Now the binder is scanned.

Once the entire binder is through the scanner and the Fujitsu driver has gone back to sleep, we look at the clock.  Let’s see: time is 10:15 am.  Fear of scanning 0, data, 1!  This is the sufficient experiment I use to help people  produce the data they need to evaluate for themselves, the value-in-use of scanning (Shout out to you Paulina!).  So far, everyone completing this exercise has had a funny “But this was easy!” look on their face, and then they’ve ordered a scanner.  And the best part is still to come.

Putting documents into Evernote.  Why is Evernote the best part?  Because if you pay your $50 a year, the day after you put a document into Evernote, the document is full-text searchable.  Now not only have you recycled all your paper, but, you’ve found a way to ACTUALLY FIND your reference materials.  Search and ye shall find.  First law of evernote.

#8 Upgrade Your Desk

A move is a great time to engage in desk hegemony.  In my first post-GTD office move, I upgraded the legs of my desk to IKEA Galant “A” legs which allowed me to tilt my desk forward and fit the desk into a smaller space in my office.  In my second post-GTD office move (Today, March 2012), I upgraded to a conference table sized desk.  Here’s the first peek.


The iMac is not on an arm yet, I have not figured out how to get goofy paper trays on the arm, but you get the idea of an even bigger mother of perfect GTD desk. Peopleware decrees that every knowledge worker should have 30 square feet of desk space in their office.  This gets me a lot closer to 30 square feet.

#7 Look for GTD-Furniture-Bricolage

I think of this as “furniture like water”.  When you are in a home, in a routine, it is just culturally normal in the USA to think of furniture solely in terms of “What’s the next piece of furniture we need?”  When you are moving, your mind can open up to new possibilities as a result of having new thoughts like:  “I have too much furniture?!” But the very best part of furniture and moving, is GTD-bricolage.

One GTD bricolage that has been FANTASTIC for me, is when I realized the shelves in a Home Depot purchased organizer, fit into the ancient TV entertainment center where the stereo used to be.  This allowed me to put my large format Epson R1800 printer behind the dividers where the TV used to be, and all the ink and paper for the printer in the organizer behind the smoked glass, and over size paper in the entertainment center’s drawers.  People are getting rid of entertainment centers these days, they can be used for a lot of organizing, setting up stations to keep clutter out of sight.  I’ll add a picture of the entrainment print center once it is moved next week.

#6 Upgrade Your Bed

Beth and I have used a waterbed for 26 years.  Our bed gets an upgrade every time we move it (5 times so far).  This move, I upgraded the bed by making it into modules that could be assembled more quickly.  And then, once the bed was up, I drilled cable run holes through the headboards on the attached dressers.  I have no clue how I could have not thought of drilling cable holes long before now.  Now I’ve got a slick simple solution that cost $4 (Ikea Signum cable outlet kit).  Again, pictures soon.

#5 Next Action The Garage

You know you’ve been postponing doing this for 15 years.  Or at least, I was.  But a month before the movers descend on your house, have some pride, and make a “Will there ever be a next action?” pass on your garage.  This takes a lot less time than you think.  It took me three hours.  It takes my students no more than four hours.  TECHNICALLY this was covered in point #10.  But the layers of procrastination build up into a coral reef when it comes to garages.  Don’t be like me and wait 15 years to do 3 hours of work.  Just do it!

#4 Use Open-Topped Boxes

The kinds of boxes typically used for moving conceal too much information.  If you go to CostCo first thing in the morning, you can get the cardboard fruit cases (which have nice thick handles) and then pack them by station where the stuff was organized.  When you have open-topped boxes, it is easy to see what the box’s destination is.  I think you get about the same amount of stuff loosely packed in a fruit case, as you do in a standard moving box.

D3M 3221

Open topped boxes 100% sourced from CostCo for free

#3 Or, Use Your Label Maker to Make Labels As You Pack Boxes.

If you follow my advice and get a label printer, you can make a label in 10 seconds.  If you follow David Allen’s advice and get a slow alpha numeric labeler, you can make a label in a minute.

#2 Make Floor plan Of the New Dwelling

And number each room.  If you can get nothing else done, label the boxes by the room that is their destination.  Bonus points for putting up a map on the wall so that your movers or (like us) helpers from church, can easily see the location of the room number of boxes as they walk into the house.

#1 Build Two New “Stations” When You Land

Stations hark back to the most excellent THE HOUSE THAT CLEANS ITSELF.  A station is an organized work area that allows a specific job to be done without side trips for materials or tools.  The two stations I’m gong to build at our new home are: First, a charging station by the front door for phone, bluetooth headset and iPad.  And, second, a station to organize the UPS, cable modem, router, NAS, etc. in a convenient spot (at waist height or better) but, out of sight.


bill meade




Restarting GTD: The Bow Wave


I saw this great article on bulbous bowed ships a month or so ago. The key illustration in the article is of the natural bow wave of displacement hulls (green below), the bow wave of the submerged bulbous bow (blue line) and the resultant combined wave (red line).

Figure 1 – Source:

Bulbous bows reduce the drag on ships. The energy savings can be huge, like 500%. Since reading the article, I haven’t been able to stop reflecting on how GTD reduces drag … like a bulbous bow. Wait, stay with me now! And, I’ve been exploring analogies between how GTD works and how bulbous bows work. In this post, I’m going to explore how the analogy fits, and use the analogy to articulate some of the visceral sensations I’ve experienced in (re)starting GTD.


So what?

This analogy allows me to articulate some of the visceral sensations I experience when re/starting GTD. And, it was a stepping-stone for me to quantify component costs of organizing that I experience.

Visceral Sensations:

In the beginning I was disorganized. For example, my wife said “I have to have a door that I can close on Bill’s office, then, ‘it’ is OK.” This starting point is represented with the green line on Figure 1. As I implemented GTD I had a sense that the hills I was climbing, were flattening out (shift from green to blue in Figure 1). The bow wave became less steep. Work began to flow without drama, I was able to stop using todo lists. Crises slowed down, and then, for the most part, stopped. I developed a “situation awareness” of all my projects that allowed me to prioritize my time dynamically, and cut down dramatically on stress and energy drain from work.

Now the quantification part.  To try and put an equation around my experience, I set up costs of organization as follows:


Equation 1

Just for the sake of illustration, I’ll subjectively make up scores for these costs before I got on the GTD wagon. Assuming there are 2,000 working hours in the year, I would apportion the hours in each category as:


Now After:

My costs of organizing before GTD were substantially higher than they are now. My current costs of organization I would guess are as follows:


I admit this is an anecdotal comparison.  But let’s not forget the point, I’m trying to get a handle on how to articulate how GTD has freed up time and mental strain.

Back to visceral sensations:

My dominant visceral sensation from shifting to GTD was a sense of relief. Let’s compare before and after and see why:


Comparison 1

Table 4 displays each of these elements with my subjective sense of what happened.


Table 4

OK, so this comparison before and after GTD compares the green with the blue line. Before has lots of drag, after has a ton less drag, huge savings in time and energy and clarity. Actually, one of the hardest things to describe well about GTD, is the feeling you get as you calmly work through next actions and projects, and realize that you are catching up.

Read that sentence again!

How long has it been since you had the hope of being caught up? I’ve spent my adult life behind. But as you implant GTD and find the right mix of digital/paper/people/reading to keep you humming, you begin to have a glimmer of hope that you can get everything done. Viscerally what this feels like to me, is being under water, like 10 meters under water, and being short of breath.  You are down and you know you need to go up, you force yourself to be calm as you swim as fast as you can. At some point, you realize that you are going to make it to the surface before your air runs out. That point of realization, is what going from the green bow wave to the blue bow wave *feels* like.  As you implement GTD, you start down wave from the green line.  You begin to see light.

In my first cut at implementing GTD, this release sensation, and the feeling of being on top of my work for the first time in my adult life, was very powerful.  Almost intoxicating.  My wife said “Why are you so happy?” after the first week of GTD.  As I fall off the GTD wagon, and then get back on, the seeing light sensation is not as great.  But, it is still there.  After getting back on the wagon over December 2011, I’ve had a month of clear mind.

Even though I have a clear mind, I find that I am confronting many bad habits picked up in decades spent being behind.  For example, I find that when I think about prepping a class meeting for my quant methods undergrads, I automatically and instinctively panic, start feeling guilty for not having the prep done already (even though I haven’t had time to do it, guilt is free once it become part of habit).  So panic, fear, and guilt are there for many tasks I have to do.  But what I’m finding is that so is a quiet side of my mind.  A calm, confident side of my mind.  This calm/quiet/confident part of me over this past month, has taken the tasks away from my habitual panic, guilt, and fear side.  I find myself saying “Why am I feeling guilty about this, I have a ton of time to get this done.  Oh, and another idea I can put in that class…”

Seeing the light, having the hope of catching up, allows me to SPEND my time before the task, much more productively.  Instead of worrying, I’ve dropped the worry, I’ve shifted to reflection.  As I reflect on the class I need to teach, I find that I am able to use the information on where the minds of the students are, and develop smaller, more focused Excel exercises.  I am much more in touch with the students when I’m not self-criticizing about not being omniscient.

The blue line is hope.  The blue line is GTD flow.

What About The Red Line?

Here’s a refresher on Figure 1:

Figure 1 – Source:

I think the red line is a metaphor for what happens when ahem …, “a certain person” falls off the GTD wagon. Immediately, I ooops, … “they” become less efficient, “they” have a visceral sense of the bow wave of daily work, becoming steeper. This kicks off panic. Panic decreases clarity and increases self-criticism. In the face of chaos and criticism, interruptions become drop everything crises.

Speaking of crises, how does one’s boss know to walk in during panic chaos and self-criticism moments? “Whoops” the person has another “suppository project.” Drop EVERYTHING NOW!


When you implement GTD, you have many visceral responses. Because GTD works on both subconscious and conscious levels, these visceral sensations are important signals. Signals that you are making progress. Signals that you may be back sliding. When you get into GTD work flow, you have a sense of stress relief, a sense of time slowing down, a sense of clarity of mind, these are good. All nourishing to, … mind-like-water.

However, I find that some people I help implement GTD, respond to these positive visceral sensations, with a lot of self criticism. Self criticism as you implement GTD drives you from the blue or red curve, back to the green curve. Exhausting. That is what falling off the GTD wagon fells like.

I hear questions like “I thrive on chaos. What will I do if I don’t have chaos in my life to thrive on?” These can really drag over-thinkers to the green bow wave in a hurry. Remember, if you can’t get everything done, the most likely cause is that you are not organized enough. When you get organized enough, you surf down from the green bow wave, to red, and if you buckle down, to the blue. You can feel it. You will feel it, just focus, breathe, and organize. When you panic, organize more, and then get back on the wagon.

bill meade

Abomination of Deskolation … Redeemed!

First the before pictures:

Ladies and gentlemen, 28 years in the making, RestartGTD brings you THE ABOMINATION OF DESKOLATION!

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Figure 1: The Abomination of Deskolation!

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Figure 2: The Accompanying Office

Now the after pictures:

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Figure 3: The wait, … what?

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Figure 4: Wow, just wow!

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Figure 5: How It was accomplished

The Story:

This is John Niebergall’s desk.  John is an engineering teacher at Sherwood High School in South Portland.  As I’ve gotten to know John (i.e., seen his desk and had him over to my office to see my desk), I encouraged him to read GETTING THINGS DONE.  Over the holidays John listened to GTD three or four times via Audible, and then wanted help translating the ideas in GTD to his work processes.  I believe the specific words were “I’m a visual learner, I don’t do well reading books.  I need to see it.”

John is the target blog reader that I started RestartGTD to serve.  I’ve traveled to John’s office, carrying my Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500M (I use portable Macs), had John take down one of the three ring binders against the back wall of his office, and we scanned it into PDF.   Done!  Four minutes, and now the paper and the binder both can go in the recycle bin.   It was hard to let that first binder go.  But the liberation grows on you rapidly.  It gets easier the more space you free up in your office.

Seeing scanning is believing.  John ordered his own Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500 (PC) and I made another trip down to his office to take the scanner out of the box.  Maybe I should do a poll of how many GTDers have purchased scanners and never taken them out of the box? You know who you are! De-boxing is the key next action in getting a scanner up and contributing to your mind-like-water.

In addition to the visible things on and around John’s desk, I believe there is a second USB hub that is hidden inside the typing elevator drawer space.  And also, that there is a power adapter in that space to feed the label printer and scanner.

Reflections on Abomination’s Redemption:

Note in Figure 1, that John had a trackball on his desk when he started GTD.  This desk makeover has shifted him to a small travel mouse. There are wireless trackballs from Logitech and Kensington, but they cost $30 more than the Logitech M305.

John chose to keep his legacy desk with leg stalls.  That is this style of desk is like a horse stall, only for your legs.  I prefer sliding side to side so that I can start parallel projects on different parts of my desk during the day as interruptions happen.  My advice to John was to cut the surface off this desk and then mount it on IKEA legs. Ikea’s desks have inexpensive cable management options, and they are simple to work with.

The glass on the desk feels disruptive to me.  Glass is cold when you put your hands and forearms on it.  I think I’d prefer to remove the glass, and then I’d probably resurface this desk with white-board-contact-paper.  White lightens the room (always welcome in Portland where we get 5.5 inches of rain per month), and gives you a place to jot notes with white board pens, so you can save paper.

John is a public school teacher who has been in Sherwood High School for 28 years.  And he is digging his way out via GTD.  Teachers, you CAN DO THIS!   If I can shift to GTD, anyone can.  The key is to start.  Don’t start big or small.  Don’t give yourself the chance to over think this.  Just start.  John got the scanner, Evernote, and then beautifully reconfigured his desk (putting the scanner on the old typewriter elevator is genius!:-) to support his workflow.

Thank you John for sharing your before after.  Anyone else interested in sharing?  Before/afters are fantastic motivators.  Email me if you have pics you are willing to share.



Poll: What GTD tools did not work for you?

Buzz Bruggeman of Active Words Fame asked about doing a survey on what tools people have tried to implement GTD with, that have failed.  A great idea!  Hat tip Buzz!

If your (failed) tool is not listed, you can nominate it with a write in “Other” at the bottom.  Also, don’t even THINK about not voting because you’ve failed with so many systems.  This poll will allow you to write in and vote for as many options as you’ve worked with.


OK, in with the new.  How do you claw your way back into GTD flow?  What has worked for you??


Ok, the “off the GTD wagon” poll is now closed.  The results for 234 votes are as follows:

Getting overwhelmed with next actions is a problem in starting up GTD.  No question.  I look at the “Inertia” and “Snap Back” answers as kind of the same thing, scoring 46 votes. IT IS VERY EASY once you get into GTD, to never do that first weekly review.  I “have a friend” who has coasted with GTD for 3 years without doing a systematic weekly review.

I also seen the “Panic” and wonder if it should be lumped in with the #1 alternative of “Overwhelmed” or with #3 “Pushed out of GTD by crisis or situation.”  Or maybe all three should be lumped together?  There is definitely a mental game of GTD that needs to be played to stay on the wagon.

Please comment if you see anything I’ve missed.