GTD in Overcoming Adversity


Came across an awesome post on overcoming adversity on Hacker News ( this morning. Here is the original question:

And here is the first response up when I looked at this thread:

Wow, I wish I’d written this! I’ve touched up against the edge of saying this before (About Fear, Scroll down to Stations, and GTD System Notable). But when you read the above answer, and think “What would David Allen think of this?” to my mind *ka-ching* I think “David Allen would emphatically agree!”

bill meade (from Traverse City, MI)

Evernote Biggies

This post is the text of an email I wrote to a reader who asked about Evernote.
/begin email
I’ve written a lot of posts on Evernote:
The biggies with Evernote are:
  • Install Evernote app on your computer
  • Get Evernote app connected to your Evernote account.
  • Install Clearly and Web Clipper in your browsers on all platforms. 
    • In each web browser, Immediately clip a (any)pagetoEvernote
      • From clearly
      • From web clipper
      • You have to authenticate via Clearly and Web Clipper separately. Stupid but necessary.
    • This on-ramps all your net-found materials to Evernote.  
  • Force yourself to use Clearly and Web Clipper religiously for 1 day, capturing notes that “might be useful … ever.”
  • Then useClearly and Web Clipper when you get a *twinge* that you might want to find the web article again. 
    • Default to using Clearly and Web Clipper too much. Or …
  • When you catch yourselflookinginEvernote for something, and you figure out that the document isnotinEvernote. Put a copy of thedocumentinEvernote so your reality is consistent with your expectations.
    • Example: Somewhere I read that “Nipper” the RCA dog was listening to a recording of his (deceased) master’s voice in the famous painting.
      • I said to someone “I can give you a link to the page from my Evernote account.” And then I went into Evernote just to check myself. The article was not there, so, I found the information on the web, and snipped the information into Evernote with Web Clipper, and now I can share it on demand.
    • The more I use Evernote, the more “stuff” that goes into Evernote. I use Evernote as the ultimate single A to Z reference file ala David Allen GTD
  • Get a Scansnap ix500 ($405 today) 
    • In addition to being an Evernote fanboi I’m also a ScanSnap fanboi.  There are quite a few ScanSnap articlesinRestartGTD.
      • ScanSnaps are optimally valuable ingesting paper into Evernote. I converted 94,000 pages of reference files into Evernote in 4 afternoons.
      • But after you have your data into Evernote, you won’t regret the money spent on the scansnap. My scanning backlog is perpetually zero as I can scan anything in a minute.
      • Buy the best, only cry once.
  • Triage all your paper into:
    • To scan. Then scan and put in …
    • Recycle 
    • Precious can’t throw out, scan and file for posterity
  • Don’t worry about Evernote tags
    • I useEvernote tags only on documents that are hard to find using my default “what two words will only be on the document I’m looking for” query.
      • After I eventually find the article I set the tag to whatever concept I was trying to find. And then I also add the concept name into the note (belts+suspenders strategy).
  • Play with Evernote’s notebooks (I think of these as folders). For the most part notebooks hold two species of documents for me:
    • Projects
      • I gather all the reference materials for a big project into a notebook that I can share with people working on the projects. I out-read pretty much everyone on a project, so I’m a natural keeper of the reference materials.
    • Reference files
      • I have a general “Articles” notebook (folder) for PDFs of articles and captured via Clearly/Web Clipper HTML articles. Motto: “I read therefore I am” so I’ve got approximately 15,900 documents in Evernote.
      • I also have a “Data Science” notebook where I put technical documents on R, ggplot2, Azure Machine Learning, etc. that I work with.
      • I also have a “family” notebook with sub notebooks for reference documents for each family member.
  • Use Evernote’s shortcut feature for folders. 
    • My most used shortcut is a notebook I call “cribsheets” which are notes with the distilled essence of stuff that is important to me. For example, Introduction to R, Excel commands I can’t remember, Introduction to Azure Machine Learning for data scientists, what Neal Analytics is looking for in new hires, etc. 
      • Sub idea: I use notesharinginEvernote quite a bit. This is particularly valuable to me as I can edit the note and not have to notify people of the changes.
        • Right click on the note to “copy shared link” and then email the person the link.
    • But I also add notebooks for hot projects to my shortcuts, and that saves a lot of steps in finding and filing
  • Use OneNote to process a project into tasks. 
    • OneNote allows you to re-arrange scanned 3×5 cards in a note. Evernote does not allow re-arranging of graphics within a note. *Note* readers, correct me if I’m missing something about Evernote here.
    • OneNote and Evernote are complements, not substitutes. I work a lot with Microsoft people, and they just don’t “get” OneNote vs. Evernote. Competitive instincts rear up instantly, and die hard in the face of data.
    • I find OneNote to be superior for decomposing a project into next actions. But, I’m biased by my brain’s refusal to use only 1 electronic system.
  • Use Evernote for reference filing only. 
    • Even my “Articles” and “Project” folders are just reference filing.
  • I use Evernote on both Mac and Windows 10 on my Macbook Pro and iMac. I find it easiest to have my Evernote archives kept separately … even though it sucks to have redundant data. It sucks but works flawlessly.
Does this help? Ask again if not! 
Bill Meade

Evernote vs. OneNote … Redux



In my current job, I’m working with a lot of people from Microsoft. If I mention “Evernote” I often hear “You mean OneNote … Right!?!”

This post is just a small scream out to the inner Microserfs (The t-shirt with “IBM Weak as a kitten, dumb as a sack of hammers!” alone makes the book worth reading!!!) of my anonymous Microsoft partisans:

OneNote and Evernote are different. Really different.

Let me use a Microserf-ish analogy:

  • OneNote is Excel. Evernote is Power Query.
  • Or, OneNote is Excel, and Evernote is PowerPivot.

Yes, their functionalities overlap. But no, they are not competitors. To a GTD person, they are complements, not substitutes. Oops, another analogy from economics just inserted itself.

There is a healthy humility at Microsoft today. Gone are the arrogant people looking at your extended hand and saying “Do I need to know you?” They’ve been replaced by mortals who worry about being laid off as well as worrying about whether their market share can be *significant*.

My Microserf partisans, embrace this humility!

But, don’t let your healthy humility combine with an unhealthy fear of failure, that will react with humility to produce defensiveness. OneNote is great. OneNote is powerful.

But not as powerful as OneNote+Evernote.

Read that last sentence again!

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


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 Things Done: Reviewing GTD in a complicated organizing program




I have an artist friend, Mark VanderSys


Source: (2/3 down the page)

who runs a small, extremely high-touch graphics business: 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 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,, 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

Good People Doing Good Things



I have this high school engineering teacher friend John Niebergall. Long time readers of will remember John as the character studied in the abomination of deskolation from January of 2012.  Here are John’s Getting Things Done before/after desk makeover pictures:



Well, John has embarked on something of a teaching odyssey. But before I get to that, I should point out one of John’s previous odysseys: female-only engineering classes, which you can watch on the CBS Evening News.

John was trained as a shop teacher (Oregon State, go Beavers!) but what he really teaches is engineering. Here’s a picture of the all girls class in the computer aided design lab (from the CBS story above):


John’s CAD lab was so advanced that it could certify students in Solid Works, Rhino 3D, and several other CAD packages. All this on ancient computers with tiny (40 GB) hard drives.

I met John while building a college-level experiential entrepreneurship program designed to get people to learn cad, design products, then apply customer development to refine the products until customers said “I must have this” and once the product concept was strong enough to scale, to apply accounting, sales management, etc., the normal business curriculum, so that students could emerge with a business degree and a running business. Ideally, at a profit.

Yes, this is crazy, out there, impractical, etc., etc., etc., except … it works.


A former student of mine, Garrett Staples actually succeeded in building a company: Prink Tech which you can find on the web, Facebook, Pinterest, and many other places in social media.

So Niebergall’s stuff has magic success pixie dust all over it. So much pixie dust that he should be viral. But so far, Niebergall’s magic pixie dust has not translated to virality.  This morning I realized why. RestartGTD has not alerted the 100 daily readers of this blog. So without further ado, let me tell you about …

Niebergall’s Magic Pixie Dust World Tour and Odyssey De Jure

Last year John wrote an educational grant to buy a RV and fill it up with laser engravers, 3D printers, CAD work stations, vinyl cutters, etc. and then drive around Oregon to spread the gospel of fab labs in middle and high schools. John’s grant was funded … fully. And this year, he is living the dream. You can follow John’s magic pixie dust world tour on his Facebook Page

This week, John was in Sutherlin in mid-Western Oregon:


and here  is a picture of the effects of the Niebergall magic pixie dust which is in a word: empowerment. You can see it in the face as people pull the first things they’ve made from a CAD program, from the vinyl cutter or 3D printer or laser engraver:


The fundamental importance of empowerment, was probably discovered by Neil Gershenfeld, a leader of the development of Fab Labs, Check out Gershenfeld’s fab lab TED presentation and his book FAB. The story of Fab Labs starts at about 10:30 in the TED video, this clip is from 11:20


So John is taking fab labs around the state of Oregon, allowing people to hands-on discover for themselves that they can change their lives, and by extension, the world.

So, check out John’s Facebook page for updates on the magic pixy dust world tour. And when rapid prototyping begins to turn the Oregon, and then the US economy around, you’ll know where it all started.

Appendix A: The Oregon Engineering Education Dream Team

John Niebergall is to going to kick my rear end if I don’t add that he is not a lone genius. There is a cadre of lone geniuses behind this story. All of which have pulled together to use fab labs to extend from shop curricula into teaching engineering proper. These people are changing the game of technical education because they have amassed a body of skill, equipment knowledge, and a world view, that is a decade ahead of college engineering and college business education.

I met John at a high school engineering teacher boot camp for rapid prototyping put on by Pat Kraft (and the NSA) of Portland Community College – Sylvania campus. Pat is a behind the scenes guru of additive manufacturing, rapid prototyping, and change management.


Don Domes, another high school engineering teacher who has worked behind the scenes to get the state of Oregon to think in terms of fab labs changing the economy. Don’s relentless, skilled, and refreshingly idealistic advocacy for technical empowerment has produced successful students, programs, and a communion of kindred minds for high school lone geniuses to plot improving technical education.


Don Domes image from

Another lone genius is Tim Morley of Century High School in Beaverton Oregon. Tim is a first class idealist, protecting himself under a thick skin of cynicism. But long time readers of know that cynicism is nothing more than frustrated idealism.

Co-conspirator with the Niebergall, Kraft, Domes gang, Tim is a specialist in finding the skeleton keys to unlock high school minds to become interested in learning. If you talk to Tim, ask him about tasking his students to cut precise dimensions with a laser. Little things matter. Little things like “How wide is the laser beam?” :-)


Tim Morley from

Paul Reetz is the final person I’ll call out here. Paul teaches math or more accurately, he tricks the students into teaching each other math with an amazing collaborative math curriculum. Paul coaches a robotics team, has put together an amazing welding curriculum, and was the most difficult person to find a picture of. Somehow, no surprise. Paul is all about students.

If you talk to Paul, ask him about how his students make skate boards and wheels for their skate boards. When touring high schools while building my entrepreneurship program, I was continually surprised. Every high school is unique. And every high school was way more advanced than I expected. Paul’s choice of a problem that his students love, skate boarding, and his progressive development of a fab lab that allowed experimentation around student enthusiasms, were transformational. Layering wood, carbon fiber, and whatever other materials the students wanted to try, into a skate board deck, blew my mind.


Paul Reetz

The conspiracy to take engineering education to the next level despite falling funds, discouragement, a bad economy, etc. is much larger than just these people. But these should give you an idea how behind the scenes deep embers of burning idealism can bring together amazing approaches to education, and ultimately, amazing results.

bill meade

“Companies don’t innovate, people do.”


Just read a very interesting MEDIUM article by Peter Sims: How Andreessen Horowitz Is Disrupting Silicon Valley about how venture capital is being disrupted by talent management driven by CRM (Customer Requirements Management) systems. The title sound bite of this post comes from Peter’s article.


Three thoughts came to mind about GTD in reading this article:

  1. Because we GTDers are focused on seeing the world outside-in and keeping our projects moving, we don’t have a GTD equivalent of CRM, or a strategy to exploit networks, in particular, a strategy like Andreessen Horowitz’s. A.H. sees network power as coming from the outer-most edges of the network. When GTD people are embedded in get-it-done corporate cultures, team building gets crowded out by relentless execution. Perhaps too much individual-contributor execution when the world is becoming network centric.
  2. There should be dramatic increasing benefits of people employing GTD TOGETHER. CRM systems as Peter Sims describe’s A.H.’s, look a lot like shared GTD systems. But we don’t see shared GTD systems, CRMs are not really GTD. We don’t see shared GTD systems disrupting industries. My second thought was, “What is wrong with this picture?”
  3. My third thought was related to the first two: “Why not?”

GTD Teams

Yes, GTD has “Waiting For” buckets, and we all use address books and jot down notes about when and why we met someone. In a way, like senior executives who encounter a new business fad, we can kill the idea of needing team GTD with “Really, we’ve always been doing [insert business fad here].” But GTD team practice is a pallid picture of the promise.

And don’t forget the apps. There is Twillo (thanks John) that uses my beloved card metaphor to allow teams to share. There is Microsoft’s SharePoint. There is Evernote for teams. There are more apps for GTD and teams than a sane mind can keep up with. But these have not taken off. Tons of tools. No critical mass? Why?

Because GTD is about evolving a system that works with each GTDer’s individual brain. GTD as practiced, is idiosyncratic, individualistic, and evolutionary.  And the BIG ANSWER to getting teams to work together, is uniformity. CRM systems work by imposing a rigid, interlocking, pull-together-or-perish, uniformity on how people work. Uniformity is monolithic, and take-it-or-leave, and freezes work into fixed patterns.

If you’ve ever worked with another GTD person, and had a collaborative review, and come away amazed at how productive the encounter was, you’ve touched the potential. The problem is, I’ve been doing GTD for 5 years, and I’ve had exactly one of these encounters. Why? Probably because as a GTDer, I focus not on the edge of my trusted system, and bridging to others. But rather, on the core of my trusted system, and staying on the GTD wagon.

Perhaps the limit of GTD to transform teams lies not at the core of trusted systems. But at their edges. The innovation that will unlock GTD for teams, will come from an individual who can enable individual trusted systems, to work together.

GTD Time-Lapse

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


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


My desk changed to this:

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

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

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

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And my four desks looked like this:

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

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

So my system now looks like this:

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And my dungeon desk looks like this:


Thoughts on Tools:

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

Where GTDers are on our own.

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

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