2015 ends, Top 10 RestartGTD arguments for 2016


Desk before and after GTD


Introduction: (http://wp.me/p5btlh-urk)

2015 is ending. Tool options for “how” to Get Things Done continue to eclipse my capacity to integrate them year to year. So I will continue to argue:

  1. OneNote and Evernote are complements, not substitutes.
    1. Evernote is THE REFERENCE FILING SYSTEM for the rest of us. Use Evernote Web Clipper to capture your browsing into Evernote, or iX500 scan into Evernote, and … DONE … PAPERLESS + find any note in 15 seconds.
      1. *Note* Evernote, the company, has begun pruning the non-filing system aspects of itself after having quality and other “spreading itself too thin” problems.
    2. OneNote is THE PROCESSING PLACE for the rest of us. When you have an *explosive* next action (i.e., that project that just landed on you by instant message), put it into OneNote and then use the outlining and image pasting to turn a multi-step next action, into a project plan, all on one page.
      1. Microsoft *appears* to remain behind OneNote. Microsoft does not “get” what Evernote does (reference filing) and so OneNote continues to miss one key component of a dominant design (reference filing) to replace Evernote. So use them together, you’ll be happier than with either alone.
    3. The twain never meet.
      1. Capture to Evernote if the answer to “Will there ever be a next action?” is maybe or yes.
      2. Process next action into a project plan in OneNote.
    4. Simple really. (#ThankYouRaleighMuns)
  2. That Evernote’s defects in losing notes, are more than overcome by Evernote’s utility as a document manager for reference files.
    1. *Sigh* as I say this Evernote has lost our family’s recipe for Shepherd’s Pie for Christmas 2015. Fortunately, I have emailed this recipe so I, this once, have recovered the data and put it back into Evernote. Twice. 2011_01_08_12_24_37_pdf_pdf
    2. Defect: Customer Service
      And I too, have been misunderstood by Evernote’s support “geniuses” who like car sales people can’t hear the loud “creek” in your new car after you are off the lot. Customer service people at Evernote do not even have brain resptors for:

      1. The user I’m talking to is knowledgeable about Evernote.
      2. There is a real problem.
        But despite this, after beating my head on the Evernote customer service wall (Andy), Evernote the product *miraculously* started recognizing the 2,000 previously unindexed notes. Perhaps reflecting on conversations after the email gets pissy, does take place at Evernote.
        ***With customer service, you can only tie or lose.*** This was a tie, which means victory!!!
    3. Defect: Security
      I would strongly prefer that Evernote run on my air-gapped Synology NAS at home. And the NAS has a note app. But, with 16,986 notes in Evernote, I’m a bit past being able to migrate. If only because I’m somehow certain that I’ll lose notes in the process.

      1. AmIwrong? Suggest alternatives in the comments below!!!
    4. Defect: Interviewing
      Just for fun, I would like to *note* that I had a job interview with Evernote 2 years ago. And I’m sure that a TWILIGHT ZONE episode could be made out of being interviewed by someone who understood their product vastly less than a thunder-lizard fanboi product fanatic with a low-rated blog.
  3. That the Evernote “false pretender” substitutes:
    1. http://www.fetchnotes.com/
    2. http://realmacsoftware.com/clear/
    3. https://workflowy.com/
    4. http://brettterpstra.com/projects/nvalt
      are a step backwards from having a REFERENCE FILING SYSTEM in the GTD sense. And WORSE they (a) either mix reference filing with processing next actions, or (b) they baffle your brains by focusing on outlines, and simultaneously leave you without a real reference filing system, assuming you have everything you need.
  4. That Evernote dumping Evernote Clearly (which has been displaced by Evernote Web Clipper) is bad.
    1. Why? Because:
      1. I find that I have to have BOTH Web Clipper and Clearly, to reliably be able to capture web pages. Clipper/Clearly don’t do the same thing. The should, but they don’t. So I’m going to have to capture HTML in 2016 to get all the data I need. Ug.
      2. Evernote by allowing parallel competitive products (web clipper and clearly), and then killing the “losers” off, is shaking the jello of customer confidence. I recently listened to an end user berate Microsoft for doing the same thing. Evernote may want to be the Microsoft of notes. But it is a “unicorn” and desperately needs to be the Southwest Airlines of notes. Focus. Focus. Focus.
      3. I like Evernote Clearly. I used it first. We are Borg.
  5. And Evernote dumping Skitch for Windows (same link as Clearly above) is bad.
    1. Highlighting the “afterthought product management” which in Latin is spelled “E-v-e-r-n-o-t-e”
  6. The first three chapters of GTD is all that a human brain can process in one year.
    1. I taught GTD to 200+ MBAs and even a fanboi unemployed person can’t implement chapters 4-13 of the first edition in one go.
    2. I’ve heard that only 17% of attendees to GTD seminars can implement the system. Getting GTD going is a volatile mix of ambition and disappointment. If you get too ambitious, you will be disappointed. And that can add up.
    3. If you don’t swing for the fences, and “take the walk” of getting reference filing going (Evernote, have I mentioned Evernote yet?), clearing your desk (mind=desk like water), and implementing 1-idea-1-piece of paper, next actions, and call it good. Your GTD survival rate will be 100%.
  7. Uneeda 27″ > 1080p monitor. C’mon, you work at a computer for a living. Why not invest in 2x the productivity? Cost = $300. That’s what, like a 1 hr/day payback?
    1. Personally I use el-cheapo refurbished dual-link DVI monitors (warning dual link is a pain) that Cost $200 (now, … but the price is lower at some times) and then get an Apple Mini MB571Z/A DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter, which makes the total cost $280. 20% savings!
    2. But … I’ve seen the el-cheapo monitors for as little as $100. My boss got me 2 for work, $150 for the first one, and $100 for the second. Stalk and save.
    3. *Note* your status-oriented computing colleagues will accuse you of being happy with “crap” monitors if you follow this path. I find however, that “crap” gets my things done just as fast as $600 monitors would. :-)
  8. Uneeda 2nd 27″ monitor. Don’t argue. Just implement. Thank me later.
  9. Uneeda monitor arm to convert your (desk + monitors) from a giant monitor stand, back into a desk.
  10. We lived through 2015, we should declare victory, and gird ourselves for disciplined optimism in 2016.

Best Regards,

Bill Meade wkmeade@gmail.com

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

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

Evernote Conference 2014: Top 5 Benefits for GTD Users



Evernote had their fourth annual conference this week. A recap of Day 1, was posted by Evernote, but Day 2, and Day 3, did not make the blog. I watched from afar, underwhelmed at what the technology press were able to wring out of the conference as news. but there are a few big benefits for GETTING THINGS DONE users:

  1. The biggest benefit I’ve identified is that Evernote’s monthly upload quota has been raised from 1 gigabyte per month, to 4.
    IAccount_Info saw this in my account this week. But it was not mentioned at the Evernote conference. Looking around the web it appears that you can opt in to Evernote’s new web template, and that is what causes the bump. There is confusion about this on Evernote’s forums. It looks like trying the new web form explains the increased upload.
  2. So, Evernote has a new web form.
    Fullscreen_2014_10_03__8_48_PMAnd if you opt in, you get 4 GB of upload per month! To see the form and get the upload quota bump:
    Step 1: Log in to Evernote.com via a web browser
    Step 2: When you see a dialog box that says “Try the new Evernote Web?” click yes.
    The new web form is nice, and uncluttered. But, is not as fluid as 3×5 cards. :-(
  3. “Work chat” client built into the base Evernote application. IEvernote_Goes_Collaborative_with_Work_Chat_-_Evernote_Blogt must suck to be the product manager for Office 2013. EVERYONE on the planet is trying to kill email. Evernote, Slack, Asana (see post) and one would have to remember Google WAVE, are all attacking email. This is not likely to have a big GTD impact soon. But, it may be a big deal to GTDers before long. We tend to over predict impacts of new technology in the short run, and under predict them in the long run. I can imagine David Allen smiling at this news. He has chosen to focus on the logic of work, and fastidiously avoided entangling alliances with electronic technologies. I wonder if Work Chat will be exclusively focused on Evernote Business users, or if we individual GTDers will gain workflow advantages as well.
  4. Evernote API. I’ve been waiting for Evernote’s API to build momentum for Evernote, in the way that Twitter’s and Facebook’s APIs launched them past competitors. But, the results have been slow and … goofy. But, API results are starting to happen. Go to Postach.io, and you can see how you can blog from inside Evernote, by creating a note, and then tagging it with “published”
    Postach_io___Collect_and_share_from_all_your_favourite_apps__like_Evernote_and_Dropbox_Imagine a project story board that is organized as a blog. Every day, the post is updated and refined, so everyone can see where the project is. Hmmmm. Evernote API is getting warmer this year. But, when you check the Evernote App Center, no killer apps … yet.
  5. And finally, the last big lesson from Evernote’s conference this year, is that … getting things done is still in our hands. The conference was a blizzard of individual people, showing how they use Evernote to get things done. Using your mind efficiently and effectively is still THE GAME. Thinking drives work to completion. And while electronic tools help thinking, especially, collaborative thinking, they are not yet impressing anyone generative thought. Evernote also announced an effort to build AI into Evernote. AI by the way means “Augmented Intelligence” not artificial intelligence.

I wish GTD had a tool that aided project thinking the way that spreadsheets and databases aid analytical thinking. But .. not. Getting Things Done for the foreseeable future remains an act of will, to think.

bill meade

Getting Started with GTD: The buddy system


Source: HitchFit.com


When I was getting started with Getting Things Done (see GTD Notable PDF), I had two buddies. First, an experienced GTD buddy Ian Watson, and another novice buddy, Mark VanderSys whom I mentioned in yesterday’s Getting Started with Getting Things Done post as well as in earlier RestartGTD posts here and here.

GTD Experienced Buddy Lessons Learned

  1. I want your word that you will read the book … I won’t get off your chest until you promise. This was the GTD start for me. “Yes, I give you my word :-(” … hey, they have GETING THINGS DONE on Audible!
  2. Project file folders need to be kept separate from reference file folders.
  3. “Go to David Allen’s seminar. Do not bitch at me about the cost. No, never mind, I’ll pay the cost for you!”
  4. Check ins with an experienced GTDer help A LOT.

GTD Novice Lessons Learned

  1. I’m not the only one who gets overwhelmed.
  2. When I get overwhelmed, the best thing to do is to go back to chapters 1 through 3 of GTD, and review.
  3. We CAN do this!
  4. When writing down a next action, nothing less than a complete sentence. Cryptic next actions on cards take time to remember. And, can cause your subconscious to loose trust in your system.
  5. When creating project names, make them short, memorable, and funny. Short, memorable, funny project names are easier to remember.

How a GTD buddy helps

GTD buddies help you by:

  • Giving tips that build early GTD implementation momentum.
  • Checking in, which forces you to reflect and realize that GTD is working, even though new GTD users obsess exclusively about how GTD seems not to be working
  • Encouraging you to keep on. A month or so into my GTD implementation Ian Watson (Experienced GTD buddy) said “Wow. Having a meeting with you, is like … having a meeting with me!” HUGE!

How to find GTD buddies

  • Novice GTD buddies are found by reading chapters 1-3 of GTD, then evangelizing the idea of GTD to your friends. See who takes up the challenge, and wants to talk to you about it.
    • *Note* do not be discouraged if your spouse is not your GTD buddy. Spouses are too close to be good GTD buddies. And often, spouses read GTD and being the more organized member of your union, say “But, … I already do all of this!” Not building on your momentum.
  • Experienced GTD buddies have probably, already found you. In my rich fantasy life, I like to think that this blog is an experienced GTD buddy finding people. But, … not. RestartGTD readers have already been found, evangelized, and have taken a shot at implementing GTD before they find this blog.
  • If you don’t have an Experienced GTD buddy, try Appendix B: Talk to an experience GTD Buddy below to send questions to me. I hereby volunteer (for now) to being an experienced GTD buddy to RestartGTD readers.
    • [9 hours later 0 takers, c’mon!]

How to use GTD buddies

  1. Find the recipe …
    that you want to use to take a(nother) crack at getting on the GTD band wagon. Pick a “getting started” recipe from the book (and/or David Allen has a new introduction to GTD focusing on fundamentals
    GTD_Fundamentals), RestartGTD’s blog post recipe, or other any other recipe.
  2. Tell them
    That you are trying to implement GTD again. Send them an email. Point them to your recipe. Ask them for their recipe. I benefitted enormously from Ian Watson’s being at my elbow, eager to answer questions.
  3. Ask them to help
    specifically, if you can once a week, for one month, talk to them about their use of GTD, and get them to review your use. After a month, check in occasionally on a timed basis (8 weeks) or whenever one buddy feels overwhelmed. Read Appendix A: Using Skype to implement your GTD buddy system below. And then do your weekly show and tell, sharing screens. Just for a month.
  4. Follow up
    when a week passes and it is time to check in with your GTD buddy. Just Do It! This may be mentally tough, the universe (you may have noticed) resists us becoming organized.

Try GTD Before you Give UP

If I can implement GTD, … anyone can implement GTD. I was the worst organizational sinner on Earth. Here, … see if you can guess which desk is before GTD, and which is after GTD.

If you want to see more, then check out my before GTD after GTD post. And, my post on how procrastination and guilt go down over time with GTD.

bill meade

 Appendix A: Using Skype to implement your GTD buddy system

Using Skype to share screens is easy!
1. Get your Skype session going. If you need to set up Skype, click here for a YouTube tutorial.
2. Click on the plus thought bubble at the bottom of the screen
Skype3. Click share screen in the pop up:
Fullscreen_2014_09_27__3_49_PM4. One buddy goes first, showing how s/he has implemented GTD. Questions go back and forth.

5. Then whoever went first, clicks the + thought bubble, stops screen sharing, and it is the turn of the other buddy to give a walk through of their system. Questions go back and forth.

6. MOST IMPORTANT after you sign off, each buddy writes four “lessons learned” bullet points, and emails them to the other buddy.

 Appendix B: Talk to an experienced GTD Buddy

Getting Things Done: Reviewing GTD in a complicated organizing program


Source: PixelLight.com


I have an artist friend, Mark VanderSys


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

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


extremely clean low-retouch photography


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

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

Lessons Learned

  • Using Skype to share screens is easy!
    1. Get your Skype session going.
    2. Click on the plus thought bubble at the bottom of the screen
    Skype3. Click share screen in the pop up:
    Fullscreen_2014_09_27__3_49_PM4. Continue your conversation while sharing your screen!
  • Complexity of the tool, Asana, Omni-Focus, whatever, expands like a gas to fill your energy and memory, leading to feelings of being overwhelmed. And,
  • … complexity crowds GTD logic out of your mind.
  • When GTD gets crowded out by a tool, we naturally stop managing self-expectations. You are now standing at the top of the GTD off-ramp.

How to implement a new program

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

What your GTD buddy will tell you:

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

Organizing Work with Hierarchy … and in an Intertwingled World



Source: Preface Intertwingled


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

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

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

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

bill meade

Good People Doing Good Things



I have this high school engineering teacher friend John Niebergall. Long time readers of RestartGTD.com 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 Oregonlive.com

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 RestartGTD.com 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 Ainsworthoriginals.com

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
Source: http://meekarts.com/robotics/team.html

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

Use GTD to become an Excel guru

The Big Secret of Excel

Is that everyone who uses Excel uses this use model:



Excel is complicated. It is easy to remember the functions I use every day, but, the functions that I don’t use every day, I forget. Whenever someone, say Chris at 4:30 pm on Friday asks me to solve an Excel problem. Say with the boss’s boss’s boss standing behind us waiting for the distilled essence of our genius to flow neatly through our wrists into Excel. This kind of pressure means I can’t remember anything I was not doing earlier on Friday. I call this pressure-forgetting.

What Excel Gurus Do

Excel gurus do one thing that non-gurus do not do. Gurus keep Excel notes in Crib Sheets:


One excellent way to do this is to use Evernote (Click here to sign up). Here is my Evernote crib sheet set up:


I created an Excel notebook named “CribSheets” and dragged CribSheets to the top-left-hand corner of Evernote (top left red arrow).  At present, I have 25 crib sheets on R, ggplot2, SAS, MySQL, etc. The tools of my trade. At the top of my list (2nd red arrow) is my Excel crib sheet.

Excel’s Paradox

Excel functions are easy to learn, but hard to remember. And they are even harder to remember when the boss’s boss’s boss is standing behind you while you work. The GTD connection here is that because I have an Excel crib sheet in Evernote, no matter where I am, I can log in to Evernote, and access my crib sheet. My brain knows this. And, knowing that I have the answer on a crib sheet gives me GTD confidence. GTD confidence is a countervailing force to pressure-forgetting.

The Save

On Friday, sitting in front of Chris’s computer, with the boss’s boss’s boss waiting for the worksheet, my subconscious floated me a lifeline. It said “What about a helper column?” Helper columns are an Excel *trick* that I have stored away in my Excel CribSheet. And helper columns solved the immediate problem.

I did not open my crib sheet. Just knowing that my subconscious thought it would be worth a try was enough. I tried a helper column, and *it worked.* Then Chris said “Oh, yeah, I forgot, can we subtract the rows from this other tab?” No problem. A second helper column did that. Life is good.

Life and Excel


Richard Feynman “Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman!” p. 26

What a contrast Excel life is. The boss’s boss’s boss gets a clean worksheet and the pantry workers are fighting an epic battle between pressure-forgetting, organization, and the typical Excel problems of “The worksheet is done, but it will not let me save it!” which also happened. “Damn deez doilies!”

But no worries, the *trick* is to use helper columns to filter the data with Vlookup. I’ll rebuild the worksheet from scratch, starting by saving the empty worksheet. 2 minutes.

Crib Sheets

From a GTD perspective, crib sheets seem to fall between a reference file and a project file. Because I don’t know when I’ll need the crib sheet, it is not really a project. So I prefer to keep Crib Sheets in Evernote, my reference filing default.

However, I will post a step-by-step on how to set OneNote up to house Crib Sheets. They can live in OneNote just fine.

The requirements for crib sheets are two:

  1. Crib Sheets must be available (synched) on all your computers. And …
  2. Crib Sheets must allow you to insert screen snap shots (jpg) files in-line with the text you type.

The tool you use does not matter. Many tools will do that meets the above two requirements:


The key to becoming an Excel guru is not forgetting. And to not forget, a crib sheet is 100% effective. Try a crib sheet. See if your brain likes the taste of it. See if your brain will give you GTD Confidence when the boss’s boss’s boss is waiting.


“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.