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

Office Entelechy

  • Introduction

I’m mid-job-search right now. Decompressing from a 27 month stint at a startup with 60-100 hours a week. Received an awesome job offer last week that reminded me of a Rands In Repose post.

Scan down to “Deliberate Want” and the part about Michelle. My Michelle is Rachel, but I digress.

Decompression allows this thing, reading for fun, that it has been a while since I’ve engaged in. While in startup mode, I read for survival, not fun. But while I was finding Michelle in the post above, and sending the post to Rachel, I started reading more Rands posts.

  • Do this immediately!!!

And a post on CAVE ESSENTIALS jumped out and hit me so hard, I’m pointing you to it. I’m pointing you to CAVE ESSENTIALS right now! Do not walk, run to CAVE ESSENTIALS and experience organizational ambrosia via the written word.

Entelechy is a fancy way of saying “soul” Rand’s post is the soul of office organization. The elements of Rands office entelechy:

  1. Self-pleasing environment design (red walls that nobody else can understand)
  2. Telling people “The door… it’s right there.” at criticism of your office.
  3. Your “forever 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.” There is an echo in this blog!
  4. Deep leather couch (so deep that when you put your back against the couch you are in a new time zone).
  5. “Lovingly curated bookshelves” (14)

Highly recommended!!!

Bill Meade

Easy GTD



I’ve discovered something. A way to make Getting Things Done (GTD) easy to do. Three words:




This Post’s Story:

When I finished graduate school in 1992 I read Waldrop’s COMPLEXITY. The book is about the development of chaos theory from lunatic fringe, to the Santa Fe Institute. The book is not available on Kindle, so I can’t cite the passage exactly, but there is a description of John Holland that goes something like ‘Holland is a nice guy, helping a lot of people, doing work he loves, and having a genuinely good time.’

When I read that I was … jealous. And ever since, I’ve wanted to be John Holland.

Along the way, I’ve come across books that have helped me become more like John Holland:

1. The Artist’s Way (TAW) by Julia Cameron

Mary Meade, my artist sister bought me TAW. Julia Cameron is the world’s greatest ninja in getting “stuck” creative people, unstuck. Her formula is “Write three pages every day. Does not matter what. Just write three pages every day.” Kind of like “one idea, one 3×5 card” in GTD. This unsticks writers, sculptors, painters, …

In TAW I learned:

  • About “crazy makers” who prey upon creative minds, giving them busy work and drama. Don’t have an agenda, crazy makers will give you an agenda.
  • That jealousy is a signal. It tells you what you want to be doing.
  • That getting ideas out, is critical. If you don’t get ideas out of your head, you can’t move the ideas forward.

2. Getting Things Done

Ian Watson basically got on my chest and said “I’m not getting off until you promise me you will read GTD.” I’ve tried to document on this blog, the result. If you haven’t seen the progress, start with the before/after post.

From GTD I learned:

  • Organizing is possible, and then fun. Until GTD, my wife said “I have to have a door I can close on Bill’s office.” Since GTD, the opposite is the case.
  • Organization is about figuring out how your brain works, and then structuring your work naturally. Example: I had a book that I knew I needed to write “stuck” in my head. For seven years I would sit down, try to “dump” the book, and fail. After 1.5 years of GTD, my work environment and mind became organized and synchronized to the point, where I sat down and was able to dump the book, in outline format (a first for me), into a computer.
  • When you organize, God comes along beside you and encourages. S/he has you on earth for specific reasons. Organizing is how we can figure out the reaons.

3. & 4. The House That Cleans Itself (THTCI) and 2,000 to 10,000 (2Kto10K)

  • THTCI taught me about the concept of “stations.”Stations are how you organize to eliminate localized clutter. The formula is to let clutter build up in your life, then take pictures of localized clutter storms.

    Then, figure out the clutter storm’s function. Once you “get” that you are manufacturing clutter when you are doing a specific function (ex., creating draft after draft of writing, dealing with multiple projects simultaneously, missing appointments (temporal clutter), or forgetting tasks) you can organize your environment, trusted system, calendar, etc. to focus on the function at a station optimized to slam dunk the function.

    In a way, GTD as a book, is a pre-fabricated system of stations (next actions, one idea one 3×5 card, project list, 2 minute rule, predigesting tasks by context, etc., etc., etc.). Stations are how I evolve GTD.

  • 2Kto10K taught me about matching enthusiasm to work.Rachel Aaron, a novelist and the author of2Kto10K kept a log of how much she wrote each writing session. She then figured out that she wrote faster and better when she:- Knew what she was going to write before sitting down to write (this is what I’m doing when I take 3×5 cards of ideas, rearrange them before doing)
    – Had long blocks of time (1 hour = 500 words/hr, 5 hours = 1,500 words/hr)
    – Was “was in a place other than home” while writing.
    and most importantly
    – Was enthusiastic about what she was writing.

    Being behind in Rachel’s words was “the perfect storm of all my insecurities” … (feel *familiar*)????? But her ninja-nerd writing log helped here avoid perfect storms, by structuring her work naturally. What I got from Rachel, and what provoked this blog post is …

    The importance of enthusiasm. The word roots of “enthusiasm” are en which means “in” and “theos” which means God. Enthusiasm is “the God within.” Work you loves has the God in you coming along side.

So what?

I’m in a job right now, that makes applying GTD easy. This blog post is my attempt to be a Rachel-Aaron-like nerd, to figure out … Why?

For me, it is about dread. Here is what my task completion time looked like while I work in jobs that were, well, … OK.


Dreading a task is 50% mentality, and 50% environment. When I’ve worked in jobs that I don’t love, the phone rings, there is a knock at the door, there is a meeting that pops up. And for me, very often, a crazy maker boss that drops in. So out of 100 minutes I was only getting work done during 40 minutes.

When in a job that I love, I preemptively manage the environment part of dread procrastination. I turn off the phone, close email, log out of Lync, so I can focus. And, the 1/2 of dread procrastination (just about what the task takes to complete), that is mental … evaporates.

When I love my job, I look forward to rough organizing, and then slam dunking the next action. When you love your job, you avoid the dread tax and get more done. You begin to be more like John Holland:

  • Help more people.
  • Genuinely enjoy the work.
  • Be nice.
  • Do your job effortlessly.
  • Build momentum.

I worked 75 hours this week. Trip to Mexico, lots of driving around and meeting people. Sharing the gospel of simple models applied to the obvious data, to solve obvious problems. On the flight home I realized “I feel like John Holland in Waldrop’s book!”

A first for me.


  1. If you find GTD “too hard” to do. You might need a different job.
  2. If you need a different job, you probably know it.
  3. If you know you need a different job, if you are like me, you have not:
    1. created a “find a job of destiny” project, then
    2. rough organized the job of destiny project, or
    3. started executing the job of destiny project.
  4. If you don’t execute on finding that job of destiny, you won’t find your job of destiny.
  5. It is easy to shift blame to GTD for being too hard, when the root cause lies elsewhere.
  6. Looking back on jobs that I did not love, GTD was depressing. Keeping track of all the stuff that isn’t fun, is depressing. Unloved jobs truly are “same shit, different day.”
  7. If dread is part and parcel with doing GTD for you, see implication 1 above.

Bill Meade

Rough Organizing

Source: http://www.gottabesolid.com/jobs/images/carpenter-sidebar-05.jpg

There is an analogy between “rough carpentry” and the topic of this post “rough organizing.” Rough carpentry is also called “framing” and that is not a bad description of the result of a rough organizing session.

Rough Organizing: What is it? 

Rough organizing involves the following tools:

  • GTD’s one idea, one piece of paper
  • GTD’s “mind sweep”
  • A clear desk

I start rough organizing with blank 3×5 cards. One idea, one 3×5 card. I fill in cards and then lay them neatly on the table in front of me in a grid. I fill in cards about the subject I’m working on until my mind is empty. Usually a dozen cards will do it. But, I carry 3×5 cards at all times, so I can capture open loop ideas whenever they make themselves available. So I often will have two dozen cards to rough organize.

The rough organizing starts after a mind sweep has captured all ideas, one to a 3×5 card. Then I lay the cards out on the table so that I can see them all, and then start moving related cards toward one another.



As related ideas come together, I organize them in a column, not-overlapping. After I have arranged all related cards into columns, and separated the not-related cards. I can look at the cards and “see” the structure of what I need to do.

  • If I am writing a complex document,
    I will see the document organization, and I can proceed to writing an outline. But usually, I’m in a hurry and I just write the document. Once it is off via email, I throw the cards into recycling.
  • If I am organizing a project,
    I can distill next actions for the project and who to delegate what actions to. This goes into OneNote and then the cards into recycling.

Rough Organizing: How does it save time? 

I find that rough organizing makes writing happen faster. Instead of free writing, then editing, the refactoring the writing. I can see the big elements that need to be covered, organize them in a sensible sequence, and then proceed to writing.

Time is saved because:

  • Ideas jump from 3×5 cards into a computer, in a much more organized fashion than using other writing tools (mind maps, outlines, detailed note cards, Scrivener, etc.).
  • Rewriting is dramatically cut down. The 3×5 card/ideas … are the floors, walls, and ceilings of my writing. It has always been hard for me to go from a writing project idea, to an outline. But with a mind sweep of 3×5 card ideas, to framing in an argument, is … easy. Perhaps I am just writing an outline, by writing the individual ideas without organization, and then organizing them after they are all out. Whatever … works.
  • It is much easier to make writing flow, when one arranges the stepping stones thoughts travel across. And my personal writing nemesis, the creative “leap” (leaving readers behind), has all but vanished since I’ve employed rough organizing.
  • I save time because I write modularly. I’ll make a first pass at a document. Get the ideas framed in, use the document. Then, I find later I’m building out the document and repurposing it for other tasks. Getting feedback from colleagues, to put up drywall, paint, and sometimes, even decorate rooms.
  • I save time because I no longer experience writer’s block.

GTD of Fear at Work

Quick note on the GTD of fear at work:

I recently started a new job. A dream job. But all dreams come with some crazy, and some weird (C&W). The C&W in the new job was extreme time pressure. This post is my observations on what extreme time pressure and the ensuing fear did to my use of GTD. Or better, what my use of GTD did to my productivity under extreme time pressure + fear.

  1. The biggest positive of this experience was that GTD put me in a focussed frame of mind. There was no possibility of having a mind-like-water when I was desperately behind. Ready for anything? I was barely able to keep up with meetings tomorrow.

    But, … GTD did allow me to develop an attitude towards worry = that worry was a complete waste of time. Being afraid, and resolving to not worry about it. I focused on doing good work, and living or dying based on the good work. This turned out to be an ace that I can keep. I’ve been able to re-use the “We are data scientists, all we can do is good work. And we will live or die based on doing good work.” and so far, good work has produced nothing but breakthroughs. And, …

    I don’t miss the time spent worrying. :-)

  2. I’ve heard about trotting horses that you train them to swing right and left legs together, and then very gradually, you train them to speed up with the trotting gait. If you push them to faster than their training can support, the stop trotting and gallop. This slows the horses down.

    Fear at work pushes my use of my trusted system, to the point where I stop using it. And like trotter horses, I begin to gallop with stream of consciousness organization. And I slow down.

    When I go from trotting with my trusted system, to galloping without it. I’m off the GTD wagon. :-(

    I find that I have to budget time to focus on organizing all the information pouring in. Budget time to refactor and build-out my trusted system towards new challenges. But because of the time pressure, I have to sneak trusted system building into time cracks of the day.

    This is the sentence we GTD users bring upon ourselves. Raising productivity, taking on more, getting to the point of galloping. Then, refactoring and refining. Over time, responsibilities increase, and the refactoring of the trusted system never gets easy. It just works. No guarantee trusted system refinement will be easy.

  3. Looking back on the past 3.5 months, I wonder if the focus GTD has brought, or the ability to put aside fear and worry, has made me more sensitive to patterns. Patterns have been leaping to mind. For example:

    (a) A common pattern of our customer sales cycle.
    (b) The repeated pattern of co-workers under pressure.
    (c) The validation of my “radar” that sees future problems … far in advance

Perhaps there is a self-induced “Hawthorne effect” for GTD people in struggling to keep work life functioning smoothly from a trusted system. Whatever the source, GTD has stood me through.

bill meade

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

Getting Things Done: Reviewing GTD in a complicated organizing program


Source: PixelLight.com


I have an artist friend, Mark VanderSys


Source: BetterLight.com (2/3 down the page)

who runs a small, extremely high-touch graphics business: PixelLight.com. By extremely high-touch I mean: gigapixel pictures with digital scan backs, heavily customized web sites, and seemingly impossible pictures without parallax (i.e., the entire width of the picture is taken at a perfect 90 degree angle to the subject) and …


extremely clean low-retouch photography


New Addition:
The picture at the top of this post is an un-retouched image taken of objects spinning. It was taken with a BetterLight.com digital scan back in a standard 4×5 industrial bellows camera, Mark gave a tutorial at BetterLight where he showed step by step how the picture was taken. Click here for the magic pixie dust demo via an .mov file that shows the process.

Mark and I have been implementing Getting Things Done together for several years. Mark uses a customer requirements planning program, Asana.com, to organize, share, and track his work. Mark and I just spent two hours looking over his implementation of Asana, and reflecting on how GTD lives in very complicated, very powerful systems like Asana.

Lessons Learned

  • Using Skype to share screens is easy!
    1. Get your Skype session going.
    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. Continue your conversation while sharing your screen!
  • Complexity of the tool, Asana, Omni-Focus, whatever, expands like a gas to fill your energy and memory, leading to feelings of being overwhelmed. And,
  • … complexity crowds GTD logic out of your mind.
  • When GTD gets crowded out by a tool, we naturally stop managing self-expectations. You are now standing at the top of the GTD off-ramp.

How to implement a new program

  • Get some work into the system. Don’t worry be crappy.
  • Get to know the system, really try to make it work. But, relax. Rome was not built in day.
  • When you get frustrated, talk to your GTD buddy. Getting started with GTD is much easier when you have a buddy. Mark VanderSys is my GTD buddy.

What your GTD buddy will tell you:

  • Slow down.  Rome was not built in a day.
  • Go back to basics. Now that you know a bit about Asana (or OmniFocus, or whatever) it is time to re-read the first three chapters of Getting Things Done. As you go through the chapters s-l-o-w-l-y, write ideas on 3×5 cards, page by page through chapters 1 through 3.
  • Focus on how the program allows each of GTD’s tools to be implemented. Make notes of next actions for doing GTD more fully.

Organizing Work with Hierarchy … and in an Intertwingled World



Source: Preface Intertwingled


  • Organizing tools allow different kinds of organization. In particular, different kinds of project-next action relationships.
    • Paper
      … with a next action focus, manila folders, creates an implicit one-to-many work hierarchy. One project, one manila folder, and inside many next actions. All the next actions relate only to the project indicated by the folder’s name.  
    • Outline tools
      … like OmniFocus (built around OmniOutliner), Evernote, and OneNote use an implicit one-to-many work hierarchy. That is, you start with a project, and then create N next actions to complete the project. But advanced tools like OmniFocus go a bit further. Next actions can relate not only to projects in a hierarchical way. Next actions can also relate to contexts. So the simple one-to-many hierarchy of project and actions, begins to fray. GTDers are coached to think of projects and contexts as a kind of matrix organization structure, and then next actions live at the intersection of project and context.
    • CRM (Customer Requirements Management)
      … systems like ASANA however, are not limited to one-to-many work hierarchy. Yes, you can create a project and then a task underneath the project. But in addition, Asana tasks can be related explicitly to multiple projects.

      This is a many-to-many link which CRM systems have evolved so that a next action can be tracked in relation to many projects. With many-to-many relationships, CRM allow GTDers to use “more colors of the rainbow” by tracking multiple projects that a next action relates to, but CRM systems shatter top-down one-to-many work hierarchy that a GTD person is used to seeing, and substitute an extra step of running queries, to see the full status of a next action against its projects. Very disorienting … at first.

  • Ugh, I’m feeling scared. Overwhelmed, dizzy. What can I do if I need to use a CRM system to implement GTD in my intertwingled life?
    • Go back up to what your GTD buddy told you above:
    • Just be aware of what the electronic system can do. And use GTD within that electronic system, as fully as you can. Don’t force yourself to use too much complexity.
    • Wait. Over time, as you keep your eye on GTD inside the system, you’ll have ideas. For example, you might have the idea in Asana, of doing a query that shows you the next actions in the system, that will move the most projects forward. Might be useful to try!
    • Experiment. Let these ideas come, and then experiment with them.

Thanks Mark VanderSys for a fun afternoon of GTD buddy check in!

bill meade

Evernote Bugs … or bad Evernote weather … or an uninitialized variable (file name?)


In the past week I’ve noticed problems with Evernote capturing from Web Clipper and Clearly. For example, go to this WIRED article on an artist who did a self portrait with GPS equipment and DHL taking the equipment around the world.



When I opened the article in Chrome for Mac, Evernote Web Clipper, and clicked Save:


Evernote said that it saved the clip:

Artist_Admits_He_Didn_t_Actually_Use_GPS__DHL_to_Create__Biggest_Drawing_in_the_World____WIRED_and_Evernote_Premium But … the clip did not appear in Evernote on my Mac after I synchronized.


GTD Evernote users, *might* want to check that web clippings are actually being captured. Just to be sure.

Fast Ways To Double-Check-Web Clipper:

  • When Web Clipper displays the confirmation that your note has been captured:
    Artist_Admits_He_Didn_t_Actually_Use_GPS__DHL_to_Create__Biggest_Drawing_in_the_World____WIRED_and_Evernote_PremiumClick on the title of the article to open the note in Evernote, to make sure the note is there.
  • Or, instead of using Web Clipper, capture the note with Clearly. I’ve had no trouble with Clearly capturing notes this week.
  • Open Evernote on your computer, click the Sync icon
    Evernote_PremiumAnd then click on the “All Notes” (or “Clear” icon if you have run a search) and then scroll to the top of your notes to make sure the note Clearly or Web Clipper says it captured, is there.

This might be a problem of capture (from Web Clipper or Clearly) or it might be a problem of synchronizing. I’m using Evernote Mac 5.6.0 which I think is a beta release.

Nice post on “just do it” getting started with GTD


Check out EricTheGeek’s great post on Getting Started with Getting Things Done at Life is PERL. Eric takes exception to my 27 Steps to getting started with GTD. And if Eric’s approach works for you, go for it. Don’t look back. Just do it!

I have also written on simple GTD start up methods. And would like the record to show that 27 steps is many fewer steps than in the 11 chapters in the Bible of GTD … GETTING THINGS DONE by David Allen. But I’m evangelizing more than GTD. I think Evernote keeps me on the GTD wagon. And, I’m also evangelizing getting a ScanSnap to help break with the past. And a monitor arm. Wireless keyboard. Wireless mouse. Real Desk. But I digress. All these recommendations in 27 steps here.

bill meade

ScanSnap GTD Tricks #1: Next Action Stamp


As I was depositing a check with my ScanSnap this morning, I had the idea that I should post a few ScanSnap GTD tricks. Then Joe Terrana posted a comment to the 2014 Getting Started with Getting Things Done post, with a cool *new* trick.


Source: Amazon.com

Go to Amazon, then order this custom rubber stamp, and then follow the instructions to “Contact Seller” and send them “Next Action” as the message for the stamp.

Then once the scanner arrives, you can stamp paper with “Next Action” scan the paper into Evernote (Click here to subscribe to Evernote), and then after Evernote does optical character recognition (OCR) on the stamped part of the note, you can search for “Next actions” and find all of your scanned next actions.

Very slick.

Very Simple!

Thank you Joe for the ScanSnap GTD Trick #1.

bill meade

p.s., I had the idea, since Evernote also attempts to recognize hand-written characters, that I could scan a note card with “Next Action” on it, and perhaps achieve the same result as using a custom rubber stamp. Here is what the card looks like:


Expecting Evernote to be able to read my handwriting is not a fair test, I know. But, it seemed like a fun trial. Evernote’s explanation of how OCR works says that it take a “few minutes.” I’ve always assumed that Evernote takes “over night” to complete OCR operations, so we’ll see how long it takes for this note:

  • 1st check on indexing status: 20 minutes later … not indexed.
  • 2nd check on indexing status: 11 hours later … not indexed.
  • 3rd check on indexing status: 23:10 later … not indexed.
  • 4th check on indexing status: 33 hours later … INDEXED!!!!

However long it takes, I’ll update this post after Evernote indexes the card to see if it is possible to simply write “Next Action” and have OCR recover the magic GTD words.

You can tell if an Evernote note has been indexed by clicking on the i at the upper right of the note:


And then looking at “Attachment Status” 3/4 of the way down the dialog box (red arrow).

While it is true that GTD indexing can be measured in minutes 33 * 60 = 1,980 minutes. It is not a safe workflow to depend on Evernote scanning documents immediately.

Success … kind of

After my index card was OCR’d by Evernote, I am able to search for the word “Next” but alas, “action” in my hand writing was not recognized. :-(


I was not able to determine precisely how long it took for Evernote to do the text recognition.

Lesson Learned:

You can buy a self inking stamp, and Evernote will read it. Thanks again Joe Terrana for giving me the stamp idea, so I could have the stepping stone idea of just writing “next action” on the card.

It would be smart to create a sample card for yourself, scan it, and then see if Evernote can recognize your hand writing. In fact, if you’ve already written “next action” on a 3×5 card that you scanned into Evernote, you might be able to test this out today. Just search on the GTD Magic Words!