GTD Technology Advice: Which NAS should I buy?

… and what is a NAS anyway?

I received the following question from a restartgtd reader who works in a small business:

Been doing some homework on Synology and CRM. 
Love that OpenERP andSugarCRM are both available
as modules. Based on specs and pricing, I'm
leaning toward the DS214+ box 

Any thoughts?

Letter Writer

Before I get to advice, I’d like to describe why this reader and I are talking about Synology’s NAS products and not some other brand.

In the beginning …

I first *touched* a Synology NAS in September of 2009. At the time I was writing a review of Synology’s CS-406 (and their first) NAS product. NAS is an acronym that means “Networked Attached Storage.” What NASes do today, used to be addomplished by big expensive servers. For example, managing electronic mail used to be done with servers. Today, NASes manage email. FTP used to be managed by servers, today FTP is managed by NAS devices. CRM (Customer Relationship Management) used to be done on servers, today you can run CRM from a NAS.

In fact, it gets better. Not only can you use your NAS to run email, FTP, and CRM, you can run all three services, and more, simultaneously. Computers and disk drives are so fast now, server work is fast shifting to appliances like network attached storage. This is a big win for small business information technology!

Back to Synology’s NAS. Here is the cover picture I took of Synology’s NAS on my bookshelf in 2006.



The more I used the Synology NAS, the more impressed I became with the product. Having worked at Hewlett-Packard’s LaserJet group in new product management, I appreciate well developed firmware. And the more I used the Synology product, the more impressed I became with Synology’s firmware.

At first I was impressed that the NAS did not crash. Then, I was impressed with how future looking the feature set was (downloading bit torrents handed off from a laptop in 2006!). And then, when the NAS had proved itself as a solid performer, I began to attempt to trick the NAS into failure. I could not.

What the NAS felt like was firmware that was so strong that anyone could jump on it and not collapse it. It recalled to mind a story from a friend of mine. Her grandfather entered a design contest in West Virginia to build a bridge. When it was time to be interviewed about his design, he took a scale model of the bridge, set each end on a chair, and then stood on the model. And he won the contract.

Synology’s firmware, felt like the bridge between the chairs.


How could a 1.0 NAS be so solid? Well, it turns out there is a back story. Synology’s founders wanted to have the first software company in Taiwan. And to start their company, they landed a contract with a big Japanese company making enterprise disk arrays. And the software they picked to develop first, was enterprise RAID.

OK, I won’t torture you with the details of what RAID is. The point of brining up RAID is that it may be the hardest software problem to solve in enterprise software. Synology was crazy to start with enterprise RAID. But, that is where the DS-406 NAS came from. After tiring of enterprise hard drive companies, Synology designed its own hardware and moved its RAID software to their own NAS.

So What?

This story is why I begin this post with Synology. Synology started out with a lead in software quality and functionality, and it has pressed its advantage ever since. Simple, Synology in my opinion is the best possible network attached storage device on the market.

Back to the Advice … which Synology NAS should I buy?


There is a strong inclination with the synology boxes
to buy way more than is needed, and thus, to spend 1.5x
as much as is needed. Or, more.

The important thing about Synology is, they are all the
same software, just different processors. The slowest
unit (DS411slim) is plenty fast for Prink for the next
couple years.

So I'd *nudge* you down in cost to the DS214se at $159
you throw 2 hard drives in and you have an 
indistinguishable product from the $369 DS214+. 
"Slower" = Supports only 20 people instead of 50.

If you want to install and play with the CRM software,
I cordially invite you to come over and play with my
DS508 and get a feel for it. My experience with OpenERP
is that the learning curve is a bitch. The support
materials are like man pages that cover about 20% of
what one needs to learn.

OpenERP also runs on Win 7 so you could take an old
turkey box and put it up on that. See if you like it.
But, the Synology does way more (private encrypted
cloud, media crap, email running, etc. etc. etc.) than
a base Windows or Linux box.

For example, if you wanted to move off Google (Yay yay
NSA!) you could move most of the services to a Synology
box (maybe spreadsheet and docs too, but I don't know).


Isn’t saving money by buying less speed … risky?

No. As I said in my advice email, the slowest NAS these days is easily fast enough to service a small company. In fact, I think that Synology is hurting itself in a way, because they allow customers to buy more expensive equipment than is required.

Think about it. You buy a $200 NAS (bottom of Synology’s line) and you love it. Great story. But I think that so many NAS buyers are first time purchasers, that having too big a product line, has the unintended consequence of keeping a lot of potential customers on the pre-purchase fence. Choice has been shown to be de-motivating (PDF).

“I’ll just wait for the next product update by Synology.” or “I’ll wait until I have the incremental $150 to buy the black model instead of the tan model.” NASes are new, and it is hard to buy a new product category for the first time. Excuses easily satisfy fearful buyers who make them.

In closing, I would point potential NAS purchasers to this FANTASTIC product review of Synology’s DS213j. Have no fear.

bill meade

Ray tracing for electronic mail!

BlogGraphics02_pptx“Waxfogram” High Resolution





I found a post by Michael Waxman via Hacker News (my #1 source) this morning. I started this post with the idea that I would just write a couple sentences and then post the link to Michael’s article. But before I did that, I started reading carefully and there are so many moving parts, I had to build my own (Waxman + infogram =) Waxfogram to boil the email methodology down to something understandable.

Ray Tracing:

When I taught MBAs and engineers in St. Louis, I had one off-the-scale-genius who introduced me to ray tracing. And as I studied Michael’s post, then looked at the programs and tricks he is employing, I began thinking of incoming messages as rays.

This then led me to think of Waxman’s tools in three categories: before-inbox, within-inbox, and without-an-inbox. This table breaks down all the tools Waxman discusses into these categories:



GTD Interpretation:

None of what Michael Waxman did in his email contradicts GETTING THINGS DONE. David Allen repeatedly talks about controlling the information that you allow to come into your life and inbox. But, Waxman has creatively extended the idea of controlling input. Using and Sanebox (and even arguably outbound only email, since not seeing your inbox prevents unwanted distraction from incoming email) are all input control tools.

I’ve always ass-u-me-ed GTD as something I do after “stuff” arrives in my inbox. But Michael Waxman’s system and explanation caused me to question this and reminded me to be more creative.


bill meade

Cross Disciplinary Evil of Clutter

Keep your station clear YouTube

“Keep your station clear, or I will kill you!” 38 seconds
Source: Ratatouille


I left a browser tab open with Greg Bauges’ “Code Like A Chef: Work Clean” blog post to remind myself to create this short blog post on the cross disciplinary evil of clutter. Clutter is the strategic enemy of productivity, calm, creativity, and discovery. From kitchen to garage to office, clutter tells you that you have not organized for what you are doing.  So, potentially, you have not decided what you are doing. 

Sound bits and bites from Greg’s post:

Thomas Keller (chef) bits and bites

  • Being organized – … ‘working clean’ – is a skill to develop 
  • Organization is about setting yourself up to succeed
  • Clean as you go to avoid clutter
  • Clutter interferes with the cooking process 

Greg Gauges (programmer) bits and bites

  • “Working clean” is the most valuable concept I’ve adopted from the kitchen
  • Working clean takes two forms: physical workspace, virtual workspace
  • I am continually cleaning my virtual workspace
  • Email does not stay open 
  • The goal of a professional programmer is to produce clean, organized code
  • We can avoid pressure by keeping our systems, our code, and our design as clean as possible

This post reminded me of the scene in the animated movie Ratatouille where Colette (Jeaneane Garofalo) teaches Remy (Patton Oswalt) how to cook by avoiding clutter’s complexities “You cannot be mommy!”

On Clutter:

What I’ve learned about clutter:

1. Clutter happens when I do not have places for things  

  • Example: Reference filing materials in piles on my desk before using Evernote
  • Fix: Creating Stations (See THE HOUSE THAT CLEANS ITSELF) with everything you need to complete a specific task, kept out of site until you are doing the task. 
2. I am bi-polar about clutter.  I can be repelled by clutter, or, I can knowingly run into the burning barn of clutter  
  • Example: Mindless internet surfing
  • Fix: Understand why running into a burning barn seems good.  Usually, it is fatigue-generated for me. Naps are important, but I have a hard time taking them. Exercise is also important, etc. 

3. A clear desk and focused work environment (i.e., lack of clutter) pierces the armor of resistance to people hearing about GETTING THINGS DONE  

  • Example: I worked with an accountant at a big firm this year. My GTD implementation process is to get desks 100% clear, get all reference materials into Evernote, and then get a simple 3”x5” card and manila folder system set up for projects. The accountant’s desk was by no means messy, it was just cluttered with every possible tool that might be useful. Clearing the desk, once everyone realized the accountant was not leaving the firm, brought peers and senior managers to ask about how they could implement. 
  • Fix: I think we unconsciously hate the clutter we create at our work stations. Try nuking all objects that are in your field of vision at your desk computer. Just try it

bill meade 







Invitation to a free “Getting Re/Started with Getting Things done” Workshop


ALPFA Portland Get Things Done and Increase Productivity Eventbrite


I’m delivering a 90 minute workshop this Thursday morning for ALPFA Portland.  ALPFA Portland has graciously given me permission to invite any RestartGTD people who will be in the area, to come, have breakfast, and geek out on organizing tips tricks and traps.  

Click the link above for details.  If you want to come, RSVP at eventbrite and then come! 

bill meade
drop me an email ( if you have any questions  

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  





Perfect GTD Desk +2: Desktopia Redux

D3M 5585

See also: The Perfect GTD Desk +1

See also The Abomination of Deskolation Redeemed 

See also: The Perfect GTD Desk


Perfect GTD desk +1 has been refactored once again.  The above action shot displays several changes:

  • The monitor arm has switched ends of the desk
  • The cable access door in the Ikea Galant Conference Table has been filled in with wood
  • Gave up on mounting the Fujitsu ScanSnap on the monitor arm.  It was cool to look at, but even cool stuff is clutter when you are trying to get work done.  So I resurrected a shipping box and mounted both the ScanSnap and the Brother label printer on the box.  So far so good, the box has not interacted with the chair legs.
  • Screwed the chair mat to the floor in the correct location with 4 2″ drywall screws.  *Bam* no more wandering chair mat!!!
  • A 15.5″ semi-circle has been cut out of the center front of the conference table.
  • To create a 15.5″ radius, the conference table was slid forward until the back edge of the desk was flush with the Galant support frame.
  • I also slid the conference table surface to the right until the left edge of the work surface became flush with the left side of the Galant support frame.  Here’s an action shot of the top left corner of the desk:
  • D3M 5586
  • Power adapter moved from underneath the work surface to Galant table legs.  With diagonally crossing cable ties it was simple to mount the power adapter and then slide it around to readjust it.
  • A cordless remote control light switch was added (mid right hand of the back of the iMac) controlling the keyboard light, the floor lamp over the desk, and the floor lamp in the corner of the office.
  • The “un-drawer” was shifted left and canted at a diagonal angle from lower left hand corner of the desk, to upper right hand corner.  This removes the un-drawer from constant collisions with knees.
  • The purpose of the undrawer is to hold all the items that need to be at hand, but that clutter up the desk surface.  I have stapler, tape dispenser, utility knife, a 10 port USB hub, flash light, and my Plantronic USB headset (wireless headsets suck!).
  • Action shots:
  • D3M 5589
  • D3M 5590
  • USB and power were added to the right hand end of the desk (form the semi-circle side of the desk).  While I wanted usb and power plugs available, I need them to be out of sight, and they can’t be mounted under the surface without cables working their way out with gravity.  So I turned both poet and USB adapters 90 degrees and mounted them with cable ties and cable tie anchors.
  • Action shot:
  • D3M 5587 


When I sit at my desk now, I’m in the semi-circle and can rest both elbows on the work surface at all times.  I can also reach a much larger proportion of the work surface.  I especially noticed the altered surface to volume ratio of the desk when I wiped it down with Windex to shoot the pictures in this blog post.  Standing in the semi-circle it is easy to wipe down the entire surface of the table.

When people try the desk out, the first word that comes out of their mouths is “Game changer!” and then “I’m going to do this to my desk!”

The monitor arm now swings the iMac completely out of the way of the desk.  Action shot:

D3M 5591

And when sitting at the desk, it looks like this:

D3M 5584

How To Section:

I started with this configuration:

D3M 5567

This worked OK, except that it began to bug me that the cable access door in the work surface did not do anything.  If a feature is not doing work then it is clutter by definition.  So I stripped the monitor arm off the desk, removed the power outlet and the IKEA cable management baskets, and then the un-drawer which you can just see peeking out under the work surface by the red mouse.

Then I detached the work surface, and laid under the desk sliding the surface to different places and then seeing how it *felt* from beneath and above the desk.  I had the idea to slide the desk forward and to the right to maximize the work surface overhang.

Next I started drawing curves on the surface of the desk.  Because it is a whiteboard, I was able to draw, look, erase, redraw, and play with the shape in my mind.  I like the idea of reshaping the desk with bulbous organic curves at the corners like this:


But, I was too chicken to cut very much out of the desk.  Because desks are experience goods, you can’t think your way to what you will love.  You have to generate and test.  So I decided to start simply with a semi-circle cut out.  Starting out the project looked like this (mr. batik supervising):

D3M 5576

D3M 5578

I decided to cut the cable access door plug from the semi circle and marked it with whiteboard marker.  Then I drew a 15.5″ radius semi-circle from the measured center of the front edge of the work surface.  Then cutting began with a jig saw and after the semicircle was cut out, I hustled the iMac back on to the left side of the desk this time.  I don’t know why I tried the left side of the desk.  Just happened that way.  At this point the project looked like this

D3M 5580

Once I re-mounted the iMac on the monitor arm, I was delighted to see that shifting the work surface forward created an opening between the desk and the wall, that allows the iMac to swing behind the far edge of the work surface.  This leaves the work surface completely clear for jotting down ideas, spreading out 3×5 cards, etc.  I like the additional openness of this configuration over where I started from.  Gratifying to contemplate.

At this point I cut a grommet hole out of the semi circle and then used steel straps to mount the cable access door plug and grommet hole plug from the under side of the desk.  Action shot (sorry it is blurry):

D3M 5592

Then I filled in all the gaps around the plugs with white plastic wood which I was very delighted to discover at  Much sanding and re-filling and re-sanding ensued. And once I got the work surface to be “not terrible” I moved on to finishing the edge the jig saw cut.

I was surprised at how easily iron-on melamine edging went on.  Get a clothes iron, cut the length of edging you need, then slowly iron the melamine edge on to the work surface.  Took about 30 minutes from start to cleaned up.  And I’m very delighted with how the edging is staying attached.

Partial component list for desk:

Support RestartGTD by buying at with this link!

Perfect GTD desk +1

Screenshot 12 19 12 4 53 PM 2



I’ve been holding out on  :-(

I’ve been working since April 2012 on a successor to my “The Perfect GETTING THINGS DONE (GTD) Desk” post (which is the most read post on this blog).  1.5 years after we moved to the Portland area, Beth and I bought a house which allowed significant expansion of the good enough home office desk.

As a sufferer of chronic rhinosinusitis, I’ve found the need to keep facial tissues close at hand.  In fact, VERY close at hand as tissues go from box, to my face, to the trash in one choreographed motion.  So in the new house I have a GTD trash can.


my desk work surface is expanded from a merely “big” desk into an “Ikea conference table” sized desk that is 77″x43″.  I bought yet another Innovative 7500-HD-1500 monitor arm to hold up my 27″ iMac i5. I know that $260 for an arm seems exorbitant, but getting the computer off the desk is the best money you can spend in taking back your desk.

Also, if you’ve got a wall that you are facing when you work, you can get a monitor arm for $30 that will be great for giving you back your desk.

Anyway, to be optimal, I should have gone to IKEA and bought a conference table surface for $65 in the “as is section” but, I did not realize that the components I needed for my upgrade of “The Perfect GETTING THINGS DONE (GTD) Desk” would be available in the as-is department.  So, instead of saving 35%, I bought the full price $229 brand new white GALANT conference table (instead of the $65 as is white conference table).  I bought new adjustable Galant A-legs for $15 each, but in thinking about it I could have gotten away with buying 2 new fixed length Galant A-legs for $10 each and then 2 adjustable legs.

Screenshot 12 20 12 11 17 AM 2

Driver’s eye-view of the Perfect GTD desk +1

OK Bill, what is behind the monitor?

Screenshot 12 19 12 5 35 PM

Well, as usual, there is a lot going on behind the iMac.  I’ve used cable ties to attach a 3-tier paper tray to the Innovative hd monitor arm.  *Note* because the iMac and paper tray are hanging off the monitor arm, there is an angle that I had to compensate for with the paper tray.  Why? Because if you can’t get the paper tray approximately level, then you’ll have paper splashing on to your work surface.  = Unpleasant.  Here is a shot of the angle compensating cable tie.

And the indispensable ScanSnap S1500 rests on the base of the monitor arm. It is visible, but not when I’m looking at 3×5 cards on my desk.

Screenshot 12 19 12 5 46 PM

OK, what is going on under the desk

Excellent question!  Here is a macro shot of the under side of the desk:

Screenshot 12 19 12 6 00 PM

Once again I’ve availed myself of IKEA to provide pseudo drawer space as well as plain Signum cable management (US$10).  The Galant cable management tray (US$5) works as a static drawer.  Desk tools that conventionally clutter up desk surfaces are verboten in my conception of the perfect GTD desk.  So, I mounted the Galant cable tray a bit back from the front of the desk (to avoid hitting it with my knees), but still in easy raeachability.

In addition to microfiber cloth, stapler, and tape dispenser which are immediately available, I also keep a pocket knife and an eraser readily at hand.

Crayons?  You think Crayons are cool?

Well, in short, … I don’t know what to think about crayons.  Crayons come with memories, fun, and … crayon mess:



which … I’d forgotten about since I was 5.  But, still, writing on an IKEA conference table with Crayons™ is a great option if you are into crayons.  They come off with Scotch-Brite No SCRATCH sponges and Windex.

Screenshot 12 20 12 11 34 AM

Crayon mind mapping
(about moving ERP into b-education)
48 years after giving up crayons!

I felt giddy playing with crayons as a 53 year old!  The crappy wax mess that falls off the crayons, the problem of sharpening a crayon, the inevitable anger resulting from trying to sharpen a crayon in a pencil sharpener, the flash back to the 64 crayon set that had a sharpener in it (At least until you broke the first crayon off).  I found myself thinking about all the downsides of crayons as a dumb smile came over my face and I created a complex mind map that felt “just a little bit permanent.”

Buy crayons, write on your IKEA conference table, undo all the art formerly-known-as-damage, with a Scotch-Brite pad and Windex.  Fondly remember the voice of your mom yelling at you about using crayon on the table/wall/sibling.  You own the conference table, you can do with it whatever you want!!  Fun memories!


First and foremost, except for legs, you can make-do in building your desk by shopping the AS-IS department at IKEA.  This will peel about 35% off the total cost.

Second: grommet management.  Move the grommets away from where you will work most at your desk.  For me that is working at the computer.  And, place Signum cable grommets out of sight if you can.  You can’t control where the cable runs are, but you can control the wires between cable runs and move them out of sight.

Screenshot 12 20 12 11 22 AM 2

Third: Find a work surface that does not have a pre-cut grommet in it.  I like the simplicity of IKEA parts, but I was forced to remove the monitor arm and re-place it through the steel support deck, because the particle board of the surface was not able to carry the 50 pound load of the monitor arm and items hanging from it.

Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you for 2012!!!

So we are just almost exactly at 1 year into and about 130,000 page views.  The blog really started with the “The Perfect GETTING THINGS DONE (GTD) Desk” post which Lifehacker kindly picked up, and we are about at the end of the year with this Perfect GTD desk +1 post.  I’d like to thank everyone who has read, everyone who has commented, and especially everyone who has emailed back channel to this year.  I’ve had a blast opening my GTD kimono.  And it has been fun sharing the GTD love and enthusiasm with you.

May this year bring a happier, more robust recovery, and smarter GTD thinking than any year going before.  You guys reading this rock.  Let me know how I can help in 2013!

Support RestartGTD by buying at from this link!


bill meade

On In box to-do lists and over engineered organization



I came across a provocative post by Paul Kortman on Boomerang, an add-in for Gmail that facilitates using your email in-box as a todo list.  The “boomerang” idea is that you can:

Screenshot 11 21 12 10 24 AM 2

Source: Boomerang

In his post, Kortman talks principally about using boomerang’s 2nd feature above, sending email away to return to your inbox at a later time.  Like, … a “snooze” alarm for items that can’t be acted on immediately.  

Here is what Boomerang looks like when you install it (see Appendix A below for installation instructions): 

Screenshot 11 21 12 10 37 AM



Screenshot 11 21 12 10 37 AM


Screenshot 11 21 12 10 38 AM


Screenshot 11 21 12 10 39 AM


Screenshot 11 21 12 10 39 AM

What is the GTD angle? 

That Boomerang is yet another tool.  Something to experiment with to prototyping more efficient ways of working.  

What should my email look like? 

Good question.  The orthodox GTD answer would be to be regularly getting to in-box zero.  I find myself however, gradually drifting further and further from inbox zero (right now I’m at inbox 536) without feeling stressed or becoming preoccupied with what is in my inbox.  

The actual next actions list that I’m using is not kept in email, it is kept in my OmniFocus inbox in: Vacation, Today, This Week, This Month, Eventually buckets:

Screenshot 11 21 12 10 45 AM

 Since adopting this organization scheme from Salvatore antirez Sanfilippo my email box has become something of a ….


Source: Apartment Therapy

Yes, my email has become a junk drawer.  And the strange thing is, I don’t feel bad in a “clutter” way about it.  I pass into and out of my email all day, put the stuff that matters into my Daily/Weekly/Monthly/Eventually buckets (Vacation exists this week because I have it off school and have out-of-routine things I’d like to get done). 


Maybe, but, I don’t think so.  In the cause of being “just organized enough” I’ve let my inbox go to seed.  I’m getting everything done, I’m experiencing mind like water, I’ve just reached the point where keeping the inbox empty, *feels* like drone work.  


Maybe.  But email imposes so much overhead.  What overhead?  Well, for example, when you reply to an email, 99% chance that the email you replied to should drop itself into the @Read folder. Right?  But that does not happen.  We have to manually rake back through the inbox and waste motions tracking down and filing messages.  What is worse is that when someone replies to your reply, the entire message thread will pop itself back into the inbox.  Bother.  

More and more, I’m beginning to think that Google is on to something with search.  :-)  That I’ll be better off just searching the junk drawer for the items I know are in it, rather wasting effort on over-engineered organization.  The distinction between @Read and Inbox is loosing its difference to my mind.  

The acid test: 

For me, the acid test of newly configured organizing tools is whether they feel like clutter.  And my junk drawer inbox does not feel like clutter.  I’m not preoccupied with it because I’ve raked out the important stuff and stuck it in Daily/Weekly/Monthly/Eventually buckets.  

All the action in my inbox takes place at the top, and I find myself not really caring about how long the stack of messages is.  Where before GTD I panicked at lots of email messages, today I don’t,  I know I’ve got all the essentials covered.  And I hate wasting time organizing just to look organized.  A junk drawer inbox works, … for me.  And, I’m going to say “This is OK.”  

I may try Boomerang, but I’m an oldster, I like having my email on all my computers safely in IMAP.  I’d have to switch to Gmail on line if I fell in love with Boomerang.  We’ll see if that happens.  

bill meade 


Step 1: Open your browser and log in to your Gmail account 

Step 2: Go to \Chrome\Preferences\Extensions and click on “Get more extensions” 

Screenshot 11 21 12 11 17 AM

Step 3: Type “boomerang” into the search box and then click the “+ ADD TO CHROME” button to the right of boomerang.

Screenshot 11 21 12 11 18 AM 2

Step 4: Then click the “Add” button in the lower right hand corner 

Step 5: Go back to the tab where your Gmail is open, and click “refresh” 

You should now have Boomerang working.  Click compose and look for the Boomerang line at the very bottom of the message (on the new compose dialog in Gmail).  Click here for Boomerang help.  


Side Projects: Garden of Slow Reflections




Reading Daniel Tenner’s blog about side projects today, I had an uncharacteristic feeling of “Hmmmm.”  I have 3 of Daniel’s blog posts in my Evernote reference files at present.  The first was about picking technologies, the second was a delightful parable of “The salesman and the developer” and the third was about “How to hack the beliefs that are holding you back.”  Something I need to re-read in light of the RestartGTD conversation with Austrailia.  

All of which is to say that generally when I read Daniel, I think “Dang!  I wish I had blogged that!”  Not today however.  Today I think Daniel did not go far enough.  W00t! An opening for me to build on!!!

Daniel’s post was building on a Post by Andrew Dumont that takes a hard line on side projects.  The hard line might be summarized visually as:

Screenshot 11 6 12 11 27 AM

Source: Telegraph.Co.UK

See also:

Here is the textual representation: 

Know that when you start just a side project, you’re starting so much more. It’ll completely consume you. The worst failure in any side project is to devote time, energy and sanity for any sustained period only to close the doors.

Side projects are a means to an end.

They need to start with an end-state in mind – create a passive income stream, validate my idea. They need to have deadlines and key metrics – six months to profitability, 10 paying users to validate my idea. But most importantly, they need to be a sprint. The longer a project lingers, the harder it becomes to keep morale high and pull the plug if it’s not working out.

Now, interpreting this passage as a blanket statement on side projects is taking Mr. Dumont out of context.  Andrew is talking about startup founders getting distracted by side projects.  A serious problem for burned out minds.  And, in his tweeting Andrew pointed out a FANTASTIC Scott Belsky essay “What Happened to Downtime? The Extinction of Deep Thinking & Sacred Space” so the above is not warmongering to extinguish side projects.  

But, it does represent a left-brained view of managing work that has become the defacto politically correct way to reason, in work groups lacking trust.  So, I liked it when Daniel took (slight) exception to Andrew’s hard line saying But if you want to start a side-project today for the heck of it? Go for it.” 

Daniel did not go nearly far enough for my tastes, which was my problem really.  But the itch created by Andrew and Daniel got me thinking about GTD and my side projects.  

The purpose of this post is to take side project ideas, immerse them in the GTD amniotic fluid, and use them to explore “side project GTD thinking.”  

GTD of Side Projects

For me, GTD side projects have been a great source of mental unburdening.  For each side project I make a manilla folder and then gather 3×5 cards and letter pages with thoughts about the side project.  Side projects started as a way to mind sweep more fully.  I did not like having isolated cards with ideas that clumped together.  So just to get the ideas off my mind I would clump them into folders.  And then, I group folders into Target Totes (see before/after and scroll down).  

When I listened to GTD and David Allen said “most people have 100 projects going but can recall only” 7+/-2, it rang true with me.  Except, I think I have way more than 100 projects going.  And these projects are not all what I’d call “core” to my work.  Many of them are projects that my brain thinks up and won’t let go of until I write them down.  

After 3 years of GTD however, I notice that side project folders have a tendency to evolve into core, focused, time-constrained projects.   When I realize that a side project is now a “core” project, I sit down in my school office, a clear desk, and the folder with the accumulated detritus of cards and pages, and then a sense of calm comes over me as I see that all the ideas my brain trusted me with, are all accounted for.  

I’ beginning to be convinced that side projects that my brain wants to build, but that do not do work for me today, are a kind of “over the horizon” work radar.  By teaching me mind-sweeping and organizing, GTD has made it possible for me to have the idea in the previous sentence. 

Previous to GTD I would stop these side projects by feeling too guilty to do anything about then when I had “real work.”  The guilt kept over the horizon projects disorganized and stuffed into my overwhelmed brain.  Mind sweeping them out gave me back creative capacity.  Organizing over the horizon ideas converted randomness into a down stream GTD by product that I can use to further increase my productivity.  And, cut stress.  When you realize an over the horizon project has just landed in your lap, opening a folder to all your ideas in one place is the opposite of stress.  Prevents guilt from getting a toe-hold to derail the work.  

Or, so it seems…  

bill meade

If you’ve read this far (thank you Daniel Tenner!) you should follow RestartGTD’s rss feed.   

p.s., Daniel Tenner and Andrew Dumont, if you feel misinterpreted by the above, let me ( know, I’ll refine your input into the post!   






















In Box Zero Disease: A conversation from RestartGTD Part 4


This post is part 4 of a discussion that evolved out of the observation that when some GTDers get to InBox-Zero, they get sick immediately after.  “InBox-Zero-Disease” is the name we’ve developed for this.  The idea of coming up to, but not all the way through InBox-Zero, to avoid InBox-Zero disease sparked a discussion of self-reprogramming to avoid falling off the GTD wagon.

Dave Findlay’s words are in bold left justified.  Bill Meade’s responses are not-bold and are indented from left by one tab stop.  Hope you enjoy!

From: Bill Meade <>
Subject: Re: Thanks for blogging on Restart GTD
Date: November 2, 2012 3:33:54 PM PDT
To: Dave Findlay <>

On Oct 30, 2012, at 6:18 PM, Dave Findlay <> wrote:

Hi Bill,

Thanks for writing back! I wasn’t expecting a comprehensive reply with an essay like that. You’ve raised some interesting thoughts:

The thoughts come naturally from conversations and sharing.  I wish RestartGTD had more sharing (*hint* *hint*).  I love it when readers write in and ask questions (*hint* *hint*).  I don’t have great answers, but I’m willing to look stupid in order to move my GTD implementation forward.

- When you talk about “beating the world for traffic”, I think of crunchy blogs full of “top ten lists” and 400-word click-bait articles that don’t say anything. I’m so glad restartgtd isn’t one of those.

I’m glad that someone thinks it is *not* one of THOSE BLOGS!!!

- Great advice on avoiding the trigger while capturing most of the benefit. I’ll give that a go — an almost-there weekly review in good health is way better than an immaculate review and being unwell.

Getting to the cuttinge edge of “mind like water” has been a very slowly acquired skill for me.  I’m doing a two-step dance between my GTD infrastructure, and how my brain thinks.  Gradually, I’m evolving from a sporatic mind-like-water to episodes in GTD flow that are becoming longer.  GTD is re-programming that takes time.  I advise newbies to GTD to not read chapters 4-end of GTD.  Just to get the basic model, and then get reference filing under control.  I have not been able to reprogram all of my brain subsystems, at once.  So I think one GTD thing is enough to change at a time.

- What we would actually do once we arrived at panic-free work. That’s a fascinating insight. I’d always thought that “If only I could get all this finished …” but I wouldn’t have a clue what to do upon arriving at “finished”, due to the behind-as-normal phenomenon you mentioned. So, we’re conditioned in so many ways to strive for something (getting our work done), and also programmed to self-sabotage our efforts to attain it.

I could really feel the tension between getting my mind cleared, and then allowing old habits to kick in and derail GTD, when I first started trying to implement it.  I think our counter GTD habits are school-driven, work-driven, family-driven, competition-driven, to always be on, always having the distilled essence of our genius flow neatly and continuously from our mouths/fingers/pens/keyboards.  This perpetual trying harder gets in the way of an optimized evolutionary path of increasing organization.

Insidious! No wonder falling off the GTD bandwagon is so common — it’s like we have to get down deep and rewrite some of our internal scripts before we have a hope of staying on it for any length of time. This, then, might be the real work of sticking with GTD: rewriting the scripts that make you fall off (converting away from being a herd animal, like you mentioned).

*Ding* *ding* *ding* this is the kind of insights that I’m after!  Great observation Dave!!!

Yes, we should be talking on RestartGTD about:
• Identifying habits that run us off the GTD wagon.
• Ideas and techniques about how to re-program these habits (i.e., re-write the scripts).
• Philosophical approaches to re-programming.  NLP, wack-a-mole, whatever…

Not sure exactly how to do this, other than maybe to approach it obliquely by asking related questions until we reach the AHA! moment, or introducing ourselves to small GTD wins to prove it’s not so scary.

Stopping bad habits is one piece of the puzzle.  But I think also, that GTD people should be talking about the trial and error changes we make, and why our brains decide to, or not to, adopt the changes.

For example: I’ve talked before about my initial “cut over” from mess to GTD via putting my entire work and thought life into OmniFocus.  After a few days of having my entire world waiting for me when I sat down to my desk, I found that I was avoiding sitting down to my desk.  Then, relistening to GTD I *think* I heard Allen say “If you get too organized, your brain will refuse to use your system.”  But, I’ve not been able to put my finger on the page number.

Since then, I’ve evolved my GTD system by:

  • Cutting 100% back to 8.5×11 paper
  • Cutting 100% over to 3×5 cards
  • Dropping the use of contexts for task lists
  • Adding manila folders in “clumps” (i.e., the Target Totes where I keep related folders)
  • Falling REALLY HARD for Salvatore Sanfilippo’s daily, weekly, monthly, task tracking format which I added “eventually” to in lieu of a “someday mabye” bucket. And unlike Salvatore, I don’t use this format in Evernote, instead I’m using it in OmniFocus.

So, I’ve ended up with about a 70% electronic system.  My brain didn’t like 100% electronic 3 years ago, however, it is ok with my 70% electronic system today.  Over time I feel like my brain has aspects of a pendulum swinging first to 100% elctronic and then when it gets some experiece, swinging back to paper, then settling in to the right of middle.

Fitting new infrastructure tools into our GTD routine is a separate function from re-programming bad habits.

As for Task Zero … I’ve never been there. I’ll have to try it and see what happens, although having now framed it like this, observer bias will probably make it much less interesting.

As I said, I’ve had students email me after.  I have friends call me when they were approaching task-zero.  Both kinds of email ask me “What should I do.”  And I think the answer is reflect on what you are feeling mentally, and if you can, why.  This is a great skill taught in INNER PRODUCTIVITY in order to track down reasons for procrastination.  I think reflection *might* allow us to drill into why being caught up makes us uncomfortable.  And then, to what the source habits of the “always behind” mentality are.  This too, we should be talking about on RestartGTD.  But again, the conversation is too one sided.  Help me out anyone?  Please?

- Trying harder as a vestigial function. Haha! It’s true — and we’re in a great place when we realise “trying harder” to handle the constant load of inputs cannot be done. The firehose can’t be switched off, partly because so much stuff is open-ended. You get assigned a project, and nobody has defined what “finished” looks like, so you get all visionary, thinking “I could really go for it and create something world class with this project”, and in so doing we create extra inputs and agreements for ourselves.

In addition to finish-line uncertainty, I’m certain we have too many projects.  I know I do.  In GTD when I saw that the average person has 100 projects, I had a leap of recognition.  But killing projects before they can damage your schedule, energy, and mental work load is a skill I need.  Projects are just easier to accurately cull in retrospect once they have starved to death.

Then the lizard brain tries harder and quickly succumbs to overwhelm.

The lizard brain is the “Limbic system” which is at the top of the spinal cord.  It is the center of self knowledge and the center of emotion (I remember reading this but can’t think of the cite, forgive me please).  Our self knowledge increases reluctantly when we need to learn things about ourselves, that are upsetting.  Like “Why my wife divorced me.”  10 years later the realization “I was an asshole to her.”

Does some of this “upsetting=reluctant learning” apply to our understanding of GTD?

  • It can be upsetting when you realize how disorganized your life has been.
  • It can be upsetting to have to re-negotiate your identity not as a spazmodic participant in your own life, but as an active cause of your own life’s evolution.
  • It can be upsetting having to face up to negative criticisms “You would be awesome if you could ever get your mind under control!” we’ve had over our lives.  Especially when these criticisms are true.

- You talked about your next GTD challenge being to create a feedback mechanism to help you regulate the amount of work you handle (really, the volume of inputs you choose to address?).

In thinking about this for a couple days, I think there are two issues: First, having a closed loop feedback signal that indicates when I should turn off.  For example, not having enough time to exercise would be a good signal for me.  Not having enough time to entertain friends.  Not having time to spin down.  I’ve always taught my kids that “Meades need downtime every day.”  but I have not been practicing what I preach.

And in addition to time feedback.  I think I need a second feedback signal directly at “sources of escalation.” For example, jobs are always wringer-cranker-uppers.  I think I need a bright line in the sand agreement to shut down when the job escalates.

So, when I feel an escalation of stress and work (escalation and stress come hand in hand), I need to stop.  Rethink.  Move the fulcrum over.

Is work this kind of stressor for you Dave?

That’s tricky. I guess most people (men, especially) don’t find out they’re doing too much until their wife complains they’re never around, or their kids react/rebel, or they develop a chronic health condition. The only way I could think of to regulate that is indirectly, by putting some external speed-limiting measure in place, like the number of hours you choose to work. That might not create a quantifiable feedback signal (“work left over on Friday afternoon” isn’t useful once you’re tackling bigger projects, and several at a time), but it’d lead to intuitive regulation — over time either you have too much to do so you’re forced to cut back, or you feel like you’ve got extra capacity so you look for areas to expand in. I could be oversimplifying.

This is a great example.  I’ve always had jobs where I was home at the time the kids got out of school.  Then until after dinner when I went back to school to teach in the evening.  I could not have raised a small children while working at HP.  The norms of “be at your desk, always be in a meeting” were overpowering.

Right now, I’m working on never getting to the point where if Beth calls, I say “I’m sorry, can’t do that, too slammed.”  Beth called me on “playing the slammed card” a couple weeks ago, and it was way-useful for me to start attacking the pace at which I’m working.

- Feel free to post the email on your blog. It’d be interesting to see what comes of it. Feel free also to edit for brevity and flow as needed.

You are not the long winded one, … I am.  :-)

- There’s only one winery around here, and no Zinfandel that I’m aware of — but some of that is grown a little further south in the Granite Belt region around Stanthorpe. I’m not well versed on fine wines (coffee is my gourmet drug of choice), so you’d be welcome for a visit if you’re in the area. It’d be an education for me.

That is right, Zinfandel likes to be stressed and grow on rocks.  Gourmet coffee will work just fine!

Mel-bunn. Hehe, it should be renamed according to tech startup naming conventions: Melbn. Then we’d be pronouncing it right.

LOL thanks for the tip!

Thanks again for the correspondence.

It is a pleasure corresponding about GTD!  I hope others (*Hint* RestartGTD readers!) will join in, and that we all benefit from the communion of kindred minds!

bill meade

Warm regards,