GTD: Problems Are Opportunities

Warm Booting GTD: Building A New Trusted System


≈ New Job Desk 1.0

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

New Job = New Set of Constraints on Organizing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bill meade









What is Evernote Web Clipper?

How_to_use_Evernote_Web_Clipper___EvernoteWeb Clipper is …

Evernote has a web page at that shows you how Web Clipper works, and, what you can do with Web Clipper. I have not read Evernote’s entire web site, but it seems to me that Evernote is as meticulous about not mentioning GETTING THINGS DONE as David Allen is meticulous in avoiding mentioning electronic technology. The purpose of this post is to explore the roles Evernote Web Clipper can play in a GTD trusted system.

*Aside* David Allen is the master of the game of organizing. I yield to no one in admiration for the refined, focused, and effective system that Allen has made GTD.

But …

… if I were David Allen, I would be pushing a two “gateway” technology tools to catalyze GTD implementation. For example:

  • Dual-sided-single-pass-50-page-input-scanners. Currently the ScanSnap iX500 is the top rated scanner in customer satisfaction (based on Amazon revues). A professional scanner is a gateway technology because it allows you to get paper out of your face. My 94,000 page massive filing system took four long afternoons to import to computer.
  • Evernote. Because once you have all the atoms of your “might-have-a-next-action” converted to electrons, you need a way to Google your electrons to find documents as you need them. I wish that Evernote had competitors, but right now, there just are none.

Zooming Out …

There are three GTD universes that trusted systems need to interact with: atoms, bits universe (email, web pages), and images (physical stuff reduced to bits or images):

BlogGraphics02_pptxThe reason we have headaches about all the stuff we have to do, is that all the objects in all three of these domains will live in our brain if we do not have a better way to manage them.  GTD is a better way to manage all the “stuff” objects in these three realms, but implementing GTD is hard.  Why is implementing GTD hard?

  1. Because we have to recognize all the stuff that we are carrying around in our subconscious. For example, how many projects do you have? Common answer “10 or 12” actual answer >300. Understanding how one is organized before GTD, is sure to overwhelm.
  2. Because to get all the objects in our subconscious out of minds, we have to take their real-world counter parts (atoms, bits, and images) and move them into a trusted system.
  3. Because we have to build a trusted system before we move anything.
  4. Because we are afraid we will “do it wrong” when building our trusted system.
  5. Because doing steps 1 through 3 is exhausting and it takes a pretty big investment to accomplish these steps. And, life does not stand still while doing steps 1-3.

What does this have to do with Evernote Web Clipper?

Glad you asked!!! Because Evernote Web Clipper is the principal means of moving important “bits stuff” from the world, into your Evernote database.

This image is an idealization of how the world should work to on-ramp stuff-with-next-actions (STNA) into an Evernote reference file system.

BlogGraphics02_pptx 2

Q: What is Evernote Web Clipper?

A: The principal on-ramp to move bits from the world into your Evernote database.

Q: Why is this a big deal?

A: Because when you have captured the bits your subconscious is diligently not-forgetting, and your sub conscious sees that it can trust your system. Your brain will go through the-mother-of-all-defrags and you will reclaim massive quantities of now-empty memory slots to renew your creativity and amplify focus power.

In this analogy, why is a scanner so important? Because a scanner is an on-ramp for all your paper into your Evernote Database. And, once the atoms have been turned to bits and brought into Evernote, you can recycle the atoms and gain two physical degree of freedom over your work environment: (1) Elimination of clutter, and (2) Rearrangement freedom as you can CraigsListFree your file cabinets and take back tons of office space. And, you reclaim memory slots increasing creativity and amplifying focus power.

What about Web Clipper on tablets and Smart Phones? It appears that Evernote has not gotten there yet. So Evernote gets a Janus (my little marker for stuff that isn’t in Evernote yet, but I find does make it in over time) as I predict this will happen.

800px-Janus1Source: Wikipedia

I did find, however, Jonathan Mergy’s web site where he has a workaround to simulate Evernote Web Clipper for iPhones and iPads. I am an Android, so I have not tested this. But once you install Web Clipper and get accustomed to it, you instinctively reach to click on Web Clipper when you are using your phone or tablet.

bill meade

Appendix A: Basic How Tos:

To see several of the things Web Clipper can do:

  • Go to






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

GTD on the cheap!


Just noticed today that Amazon has GETTING THINGS DONE Kindle version for $6.49. If you’ve never read a Kindle version of a book you may not know that:

  1. You can install the free Kindle reading software on your cell phone, laptop, desktop, or tablet (Kindle on iPad is THE BEST!)
  2. When you buy a Kindle version of a book, you can have it simultaneously on up to 6 devices. I have GTD on my phone, 27″ iMac, iPad, and 13″ venerable Macbook.
  3. When you read in kindle software, Amazon tracks where you have read, and what you have highlighted. What this means to busy GTD people is that you can read on your iPad at home, and then if you get stuck waiting for a train, you can pull out your phone, and pick up at the page you left off on.

At $6.49 this is a double opportunity. First to get a cheap copy and gift it to that special someone who really needs to read chapters 1-3 (you know who you are Jeff!), or, you can use this as an opportunity to refresh yourself on GTD, and to learn about the wonderfulness of reading on Kindle.

bill meade


My advice on reading GETTING THINGS DONE for the first time is to buy the Audible version. Because:

  • David Allen reads the book. And it *helps* to hear from the master.
  • “Reading three chapters” seems like a big barrier, if you get the audio book you can do the same work in 1 commute.
  • Once you have your first audio book you can *feel* why people who listen to audio books READ MORE THAN THREE TIMES AS MUCH as people who only read paper.



Dungeon Desk

Source: 13th Age via


When was the last time you stopped working in your office, and started working on your office? Kind of like the E-Myth idea of not working your business and instead working on your business.

Well, this week I decided to spend my low-energy work time from 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm, working on my new office. I recently moved my home office into the furnace room, and as always, I’m having a lot of fun optimizing, without spending money.


I discovered pre-cut white boards at Home Depot. Here is the in-aisle display for the 2’x3’ model:

IMG 20140102 151218e

In our furnace room we have two cabinets for storing canned goods.  The cabinets have sliding doors that were begging to have whiteboards on them. I bought one 2’x3’ board ($6.88) and one 2’x4’ board ($9.97) at Home Depot and then “hung” them on the food storage cabinets by putting 3/4” screws with large heads, around the edge of the board.  Here is what the cabinets look like now:

Presentation1 22

Alas, I found that the whiteboard was sagging away from the cabinet door 1/2 up.  So I added 2 middle screws 1/2 way up each board.  These middle screws pierce the board and hold it flat to the cabinet door.

I found Industrial strength Velcro® at Home Depot (UPC 0-75967-90595-8) and used this to attach a whiteboard eraser on edge and a whiteboard marker directly to the larger white board (see Cabinet 2). No hunting for writing implements!

Tuesday and Wednesday:

On Tuesday and Wednesday I added my 3 tier paper tray to my desk setup, and on Wednesday I added a 1’x1’ IKEA Lack shelf to hold the portable Canon inkjet printer I use in my office. Here is what they look like now:

IMG 20140104 142648 jpg 11


Light is luxury in a dungeon. So Thursday’s task was to get better light into the office without any cash changing hands. I was able to do this because I had an old Home Depot Hampton Bay track light setup from four home offices ago that I was able to repurpose. The only components I needed to buy were power connectors (2 @ $10 each = $20) to run the two separate tracks I set up.

Presentation1 6


On Friday I spent an hour re-arranging the power setup for my desk. Step 1 was to test my UPS. It was dead. Bother! I pulled it out of the setup and re-wired. You can’t really see a re-wiring in a picture, but for me it *feels* like I’m taking next actions off my mind. Wiring gets tanglier and tanglier over time, and my brain apparently, is monitoring that.

So here is the Dungeon Desk:

IMG 20140104 143951

I’ve broken my own rule of “nothing on the desk” to implement my Bose Companion 5 computer speakers.

  • First, the sub-woofer is on the desk because the speakers get glitchy if the USB cable is longer than 5 or 6 feet.
  • Second, the speakers are on the desk because they sound fine on the desk, and I don’t see them while I’m working on the computer.  The sound reflects under the iMac and comes up over the keyboard and trackpad. *Note* I used to mount the speakers on the top of my 27” iMac, but they don’t stay well and it is just a hassle to have more weight on the arm.
  • Third the Bose “hockey puck” sound controller is on the desk because the cable is fraying by the hockey puck, so I can’t mount it on the lower right corner of my iMac any more. iMac mounting requires the cable to make tight turns that wear it out.

And, I’ve broken my rule to have Puffs on my desk because I have chronic rhionitis and I was sick for the month of December 2013. so it is just convenient to have tissues close at hand.

I’ve mounted a 12 outlet power bar at the left end of my desk’s work surface. This is handy for laptop repair and use. I also have another 12 outlet power bar behind my rolling file cabinet at the right of my desk.  This powers all the devices on to the right of my desk.

Out of Sight Infrastructure:

I’ve been evolving my out of sight-while-I-work-but-close-at-hand infrastructure lately, I’m pretty pleased with it so far. You may be able to file off the serial number on this idea and use it for yourself. Here is what the rolling file cabinet looks like:

IMG 20140104 142736

Here is an annotated shot:

IPhoto 50

Here is a closer shot:

IMG 20140104 142725

Support RestartGTD by buying your ScanSnap iX500, Label Printer, Cordless Phone, External DVD driveBose Companion 5 speakers, Apple Mac, or Windows Ultrabook at Amazon!

bill meade

RestartGTD is a blog about getting back on the GETTING THINGS DONE bandwagon after falling off.

3″x5″ Cards and Manila Folder GTD Startup

IMG 20131230 203033


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

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

Cards and Folders:

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

ALPFAGTDAsPresented pptx 13

Accountant Before

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

ALPFAGTDAsPresented pptx

Accountant After

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

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

The basics of a GTD 1.0 makeover:

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

And, … that is it.

How It Works:

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

IMG 20131230 212643

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

IMac27label01 lbx

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

IMG 20131230 213221

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

IMG 20131230 213627

And then insert a small metal book-end inside …

IMG 20131230 214039

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

IMG 20131230 203109

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

The Payoff:

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

IMG 20131230 213318

bill meade

Three Questions and Ten Steps for Hoarders to get to GTD “First Base”




Advice on getting started with GETTING THINGS DONE for hoarders. 

Step 1: Get an premium account
Step 2: Get a ScanSnap ix500 single-pass-dual-sided scanner
Step 3: Get three large packing boxes from CostCo.  Label them To-Scan, Over-Due, Precious
Step 4: Triage your documents into the three boxes according to this flowchart:


Step 5: Stop triaging once either the Over-Due or To-Scan boxes has been filled to capacity.
Step 6: Take the Over-Due and To-Scan boxes, sit down, and scan them into Evernote
Step 7: Recycle the documents once you have them scanned into Evernote
Step 8: Take a break from the hoard
Step 9: If there are documents remaining in the hoard, go to step 4 and repeat
Step 10: Once everything is into Evernote, take a 2 day break

GTD “First Base:”

Once a hoarder has recycled and scanned and recycled, s/he has “kissed” Getting Things Done for the first time.  

S/he won’t have the big GTD payoffs of a clear mind (that is GTD “second base”), but will have a lot more elbow room for setting up a proper desk, and taking control of work environment. 

bill meade 




You may be interested in …

RestartGTD …

In addition to writing RestartGTD, I have another blog around my “PatentGeek” consulting. I am a former patent portfolio manager for Hewlett-Packard’s LaserJet Group, and I love “lighting up” inventors to produce more and higher quality inventing than their legal departments can imagine.  

I’ve developed a “How To Invent” course and launched it on  If you are interested in the business side of intellectual property, you might enjoy checking the course out.  It is free until it exits beta testing, and it is very step by step: how do ideas make money, how ideas are captured, and how ideas are enabled, 14 lectures in all with homework and multiple choice quizzes.  

Here are the details

480x270 banner02

Here is the 2 minute promotion for the class:

And here is the syllabus:

Udemy Online Courses from the World s Experts


The course is wide open, you can step your way through all 14 lectures without having to watch them by clicking the check button in the lower right hand corner of each lecture screen.    

Udemy Online Courses from the World s Experts

Each lecture is downloadable (1) and PDFs of all the presentation slides (2) are downloadable as well.

Udemy Online Courses from the World s Experts

Please take a peek at the course and send me questions, ideas (thank you Darren!), and suggested refinements!  I’m

bill meade  

The Mess Is The Masterpiece: Appendix A



Appendix A:

This appendix is an *aside* that I meandered along while writing section “6. Organize in Layers” in this morning’s post.  

I went on this journey because “Where should I start?” and “How should I organize?” are the most frequent questions about GTD. And ever since starting GTD, when people ask I vapor lock. Of course I tell everyone to go to the basics:

  • Yes they cost $700 but to get your organization to the next higher electron shell of organization, it will cost money (not a lot, the returns are huge – read below) and it will take time and though.  
  • Do what David Allen says in the book.    

But …

After this advice, my friends say “Yes, I see that, but that is just too much … where should I start?”  So I vapor lock because I feel like the steward of the productivity door which I can’t open for someone else.

I can talk you up to the door, tell you which key will fit the lock and how turning the key will open the door, and that once you are through the door, you will feel SO MUCH LESS STRESS and you will be more productive.  I can give you names of people I have helped apply GTD to become the most productive people in their organizations.  But, these are just words.  

Becoming GTD productive comes from pig-headed relentlessness change implemented for one week.  Doubts before and during the boot up of GTD just lead to excuses after GTD fails.   

I think of Allen’s method (chapters 4 through the rest of GTD) as the “whole-hog-cut-over” to GTD.  I’ve not seen anyone succeed with whole hog, and I tried it and had to drop back to organizing in layers. In the 3.5 years I’ve been doing GTD, I have evolved a “shortest path” startup for GTD based on my observations of MBA student success and failure in inculcating GTD into their lives.  I think the shortest path is to: 

  • read the first three chapters of GTD and then stop
  • buy Evernote and a Scansnap iX500 and go paperless 
  • Easier than you think, this took me 4 days to get to zero starting from 94,000 pages of paper
  • get a real desk

Evernote-paperless-real desk is an organizational retro-virus.  If you can make it to this point, it is not if you will implement GTD, it becomes … when.   

But I can’t afford to switch to GTD … 

David Allen’s prescriptions are too extreme for more than about 1 in 5 people attending his seminars to implement.  And, I’ve observed that my “shortest path” retro-virus prescription is also too extreme. I think this is because fear of change makes people focus on costs.  And, costs are an *instant* reason not to think, change, or explore.  However, costs do not win the race, productivity wins the race. 

So, let me swim up this impossible productivity waterfall a bit, by exploring the costs and value of the “shortest path” GTD startup.  I assume that an hour is always worth $75 to someone considering getting into GTD.  And, that the prospective customer is starting with near-zero organization as I did in 2009.  If your time is billed out higher or lower, you can adjust the spreadsheet (link) accordingly.  

The shortest-path GTD costs are: $2,283

Now let’s build a simple ROI model.  Assumptions: 

  • Work = 40 hours per week for 52 weeks 
  • Week 1 of GTD 0 hours productivity
  • Week 2 and > increase in work productivity by 1 hour per week up to 8 hours additional work per week 
  • ROI = $75 * hours saved / initial startup costs of $2283

So, break even productivity increase of $1283/75=30.44 hours saved. And these 30.44 hours will be saved by week 10 after starting GTD.  In fact, assuming that GTD yields just 8 additional hours per week of work lead to a first year return of 1248.36% (by my back of envelope non-discounted, rough estimation – download worksheet here).


Bottom Up Forecast of GTD Value Year 1

How many times during your career can you get into a 1,248%% return for $2,383?  Who rationally can afford to pass on the opportunity to capture $28,500 more value WITHOUT WORKING LONGER OR HARDER?  

Well, it seems, many people.  So … 

What are the objections?

  1. Is the ScanSnap essential? What if the company has copier/scanners? Not as good? Why? 
  2. Is the paid Evernote essential? Would free version do enough? If not, why not?
  3. Forcing me to go paperless is too disruptive! 

1 Is the ScanSnap essential?

In short yes.  Office scanners and copiers can scan paper into Evernote, but ScanSnaps lower transactions costs of dealing with paper.  Transactions costs?  Yes.  Why?  Because we may think:  

  • My next action is to scan this document into Evernote.   

But … oops, that is not a next action.  There are several steps, scanning at a remote scanner is mentally expensive.  The individual actions are: (121 seconds)

  • Pick up the paper – 1 sec 
  • Walk to the office copier – 60 seconds 
  • Sign into the office copier – 15 seconds 
  • Remember how to put the office copier into scan mode – 30 seconds 
  • Scan the paper, recycle the paper – 15 seconds 

Now the entire transaction takes 1 second longer than 2 minutes, so it just *barely* graduates in complexity to a GTD project by evading the GTD 2 minute rule.  

But the problem with office scanners are more fundamental than the 2 minute rule. Brains calculate costs in terms of complexity, the more steps, the more cost.  The more cost, the more delay.  The more delay, the more likely you are to lapse into disorganization.  So when you have to use an office copier, you will let your scanning pile up, then when you have a big batch of documents to scan into projects, you will go to the copier and have to mentally reconstruct what project each document is going to.  Because this is a big pain, you won’t do your scanning.  

When you have the ScanSnap at your desk, you cut the transactions costs.  For example the one page “scan project” is now: (21 seconds) 

  • Pick up the paper – 1 sec
  • Scan the paper into evernote – 15 seconds
  • Recycle the paper – 5 seconds 

And believe it or not, scanning promptly even with a ScanSnap at your desk takes intestinal fortitude. Just a lot less than dealing with a remote office scanner.   

2. Is the paid Evernote essential?

Again, yes.  Because Evernote Pro users get these additional benefits

Screenshot 5 26 13 9 51 PM

  • Paid evernote has a much larger cap on the data you can scan into evernote monthly.  Free version is 60 megabytes monthly, the paid version is 1 gigabyte monthly.  1 gigabyte divided by 60 megabytes = 16.67 times as much upload capacity. 
  • Upload capacity is most critical to people starting out with GTD.  With 60 megabytes you will exhaust your first month’s Evernote uploads in a short afternoon of importing documents.  
  • Paid evernote guarantees your documents will be text-recognized within 24 hours.  The unpaid accounts MAY be text recognized, but Evernote does not guarantee text recognizing for free users. 
  • Paid Evernote is less worry.  Partially this is because you never have to worry about hitting caps, and partially because Evernote is so valuable, if you don’t pay you will feel guilty.  Guilty because Evernote is in Guy Kawasaki’s words “Deep, Indulgent, Complete, and Elegant” as a product.  I happily pay $45 a year because I want the Evernote guys to stay in business.  I’m a little worried about them because Evernote is charging $45 a year for the storage that Dropbox is charging $240 a year for.  
  • These are enough reasons for me to pay.  Happily.  

3. Forcing me to go paperless is too disruptive.  



Ok, here you are needing organization, … and you are looking at a 4,000% return on getting better organized.  The faster you get yourself organized, the faster and higher your return.  In this context “Paperless organization being too disruptive” is approximately the same as saying “I choose not to accept a 4,000% ROI, because I don’t want to change.”  

If you have a system that isn’t competitive and you focus on avoiding change to the uncompetitive system, you are not sold on jumping to the next higher electron shell of organization.  You may not be happy with the details of your current organization, but you are content with the electron shell of organization you are in.  


The addition of 8 hours of additional productivity per week from implementing GTD produces and additional $28,500 return in the first year.  Against this additional $28,500 which is gained without longer hours and with less stress and pressure, the $425 to do your scanner right is rounding error.  The one week of forcing yourself to think in new ways, is nothing.  The nastiness of dealing with an office over flowing with paper, is the ante to make more by doing less.

I think that people very experienced with GTD tend to be annoyed with prospective GTD people who are deliberate in deciding whether to take the GTD plunge.  I can feel that way and I’m only 3.5 years in.  David Allen must be internally blowing a gasket when people can not move forward without perfect understanding and perfect planning.  

Personally, I’ve found that the real problem with disorganization is that in an average week I was getting 16 hours of real work done.  After implementing GTD for a week I was getting maybe 32 hours of work done, later I was getting 40 hours of work done, later I was getting 60 hours of work done in a 40 hour work week.  So my personal sense of GTD productivity improvements have been a doubling from 16 hours work completed in a week to 34, and then further increases until when I’m hitting on all cylinders I’m running at 60/16=3.75 times the productivity that used to be normal for me.  

To keep the spreadsheet simple, I did not incorporate these dynamics.  Including them would dramatically increase the return on investment.  

I hope that I’ve talked you up to the door, showed you which key will fit the lock and how turning the key will open the door (shortest path), and given you a feeling for how once you are through the door, you will feel SO MUCH LESS STRESS and you will be more productive.  But, these are just words. 


bill meade