What is “clear working space” on a desk? Involuntary Clutter Makeover for RandsInRepose.com

Source: RandsInRepose.com’s CAVE ESSENTIALS


I’m still reflecting on RandsInRepose.com’s CAVE ESSENTIALS post. And while I think Rands has the perfect idea about the job of a desk:

“A desk’s job is to build productivity, and for me, it achieves this by first providing an immense amount of clear working space.”

I don’t think Rand’s desk meets his criteria. Why? Because:

  1. Rand’s desk is neither clear
  2. Immense


Here is a close-up of Rand’s desk:

The elements of a desk being “not clear”

Clutter is the STRATEGIC enemy desk productivity.  It is impossible to remove all clutter, but the more you remove, the less brain energy wasted. For example, I think facial pictures are “the queen mother” of all clutter. Why? Because our brains are hardwired to recognize faces. Whenever a face is in front of your eyes, part of your brain is concentrating on an infinite decode loop (“Who is it? Who is it? …).

One of my MBA students heard me say facial pictures are the queen mother of clutter, and moved her daughter’s picture from next to her monitor, to out of her peripheral vision to the left. The pic is still there, she can look at the pic whenever she wants, but she is not burning energy decoding the picture when she’s trying to work. The result:

“I can’t believe how much less tired I feel at my desk.”

  1. Monitors are not on arms that would:
    1. Lift monitors clear of the work surface to allow the work surface to be used … for work!
    2. Allowing monitors to be effectively removed from the desk when one is not being used
    3. or both are not being used
    4. Allowing use of the desk space now taken up by the base of the monitor stands. Rands barely has space to lay down 3 3″x5″ cards, let alone to try to arrange cards to hot-boot a project.
      1. As my go-to hot-boot project methodology is Rough Organizing with 3×5 cards, this is a major defect in my eyes. *Note* Rands probably does not organize with 3×5 cards like I do. To each brain, it’s own organization scheme.
    5. Allow monitors to be precisely aligned/arranged
    6. Prevent the instinctive piling up of clutter on monitor bases
  2. Visible clutter on the desk
    1. What is visible clutter?
      1. Anything not being used to work, that is within the eyesight envelope of the person working.
      2. Take the above picture, and make the 0 degree line perpendicular to the center of each monitor, and then you can construct the full “clutter envelope” of a desk.
      3. I recently had a work desk that had 180 degrees of isolation when I was sitting. Action shot:
      4. Here is the close up of the work surface
      5. Sitting at this desk, the walls of the alcove were just long enough to shield my peripheral vision from any motion. And having all motion and clutter removed from peripheral vision is FANTASTIC!!!
  3. Wires, wires, everywhere.
    1. Can’t tell if Rand’s mouse is wired, but the keyboard looks wired.
    2. I switched to Apple’s Magic Keyboard 2 and Magic Trackpad 2 this summer and both are “Meh” not great, but they are … wireless and minimally increase clutter.
    3. *Note* that I have a Jabra 410 talking hockey puck speaker phone which is wired, mounted on the lower left hand corner of my iMac.
      1. I just recently discovered Velcro with “Rogue Adhesive” which allowed me to get the Jabra 410 off my desk surface, and removed 1 wire’s worth of clutter.
    4. Pay me now, pay me later.
      There is no such thing as a free lunch. I have just as much wire clutter as Rands, I just insure that I can’t see the wires when I’m working. Here is the back of my iMac:

      1. From left to right I also have a USB hub/DVD ROM driver,
      2. an extra Apple cable to charge my (Meh) Apple Keyboard and Mouse. Tucked in at top center under the Apple.
      3. And a 3×5 card/pen reservoir
      4. And last but not least, I have a low intensity under-counter LED light attached to the bottom of my imac so I can work in the dark on my (meh) keyboard and still see the letters.
      5. 1.E.i. above show the clutter seen when working

The elements of a desk not being immense

Rands’ desk looks like it is 2.5’x5′ which in inches is 30″x60″ which is not bad by today’s standards. But … the I would change about Rands’ desk is to make it deeper. Like a foot deeper. My IKEA conference table desk is 43″ deep, and 73″ long.  Rands likes having his couch super deep, he needs to do the same thing with his desk.

Surface to Arm Ratio

After using my IKEA conference table work surface for a year, I felt like I was not able to use enough of the desk surface, so in true barbarian style, I slid the work surface far forward on the support frame. This made the front overhang off the support by 15.5″ and allowed me to cut a 15″ diameter hemisphere out of the desk front.

I can now roll my chair all the way into the hemisphere and reach both the far left (with my left hand) and far (with my right hand) right corners of the desk. So the surface to arm ratio for me on this desk = 1.

Makeover Suggestions for Rands’ Desk

  1. Two VESA monitor arms + iMac VESA adapter
    1. If your two display devices are vesa, two $30 single monitor arms are the way to go. I’ve tried the dual monitor arms and they don’t allow enough freedom to arrange the monitors.
    2. If you like Rands, have a recent vintage iMac without VESA support, then you’ll need the $100 MacSales.com VESA adapter. 
  2. Larger desk surface
    1. Deeper by at least 12″ is a must
    2. Wider would be nice too
    3. I would look for a larger desk surface at IKEA’s clearance area. There are lacquer panels in blood red that might do nicely while costing next to nothing.
    4. Try mounting the new surface over the top of the existing surface. Height change will not be too great. Chair goes up and life goes on.
    5. Rands probably does not need as much desk space as I do because it looks like 300 3×5 cards are not a big part of his thinking life.
    6. So Rands won’t need the 15″ hemisphere cut out either.
  3. Clutter (pictures, polar bear, etc.) moves left until it is out of peripheral vision while looking straight at the left-hand monitor.
    1. There seems to be a credenza at left, I would move that 3′ into the room perpendicular to the front of the desk (to get stuff out of peripheral vision), and put the clutter on the credenza.
      1. Idea = Minimal change and clutter eliminated.
      2. As David Allen says, you want “just enough” organization.
  4. Wireless keyboard/mouse/trackpad
    1. I switched to a track pad because I move my right wrist less on a track pad, and less movement has led to zero wrist pain.
  5. Twist ties or cable ties to hide all the wires from view while working at the 2 monitors.
  6. ScanSnap iX500 next to the printer at right.
    1. Scansnap is the digital on-ramp to
    2. Evernote to go paperless
    3. Printer is the digital off-ramp

Best GETTING THINGS DONE Scanner Alternatives


The dominant alternative scanners if you are looking to use Evernote as your GETTING THINGS DONE reference filing system are:

  1. ScanSnap Evernote Edition $495 (*Note* that you get a year of Evernote worth $45)
  2. ScanSnap iX 500 $448
  3. Epson WorkForce DS-510 USB ($279) or WiFi ($399)
  4. Brother ImageCenter ADS-2000 $308
  5. NeatDesk Desktop Scanner $339
  6. HP ScanJet 3000s2 $350
  7. ScanSnaps on Craigslist

Which one should you buy to get GTD off the ground? Any of them! Even though they cost real money, the incredible lightness of being you will get from being paperless will more than compensate. Do it, click a link and order. Do it now!

Having purchased a scanner (ScanSnap iX 500) recently, my fourth Fujitsu ScanSnap, here is the decision process I went through.

Came out just after I purchased. I missed my chance to have all the drugs. This scanner today, is a great first choice for an Evernote person. There is a scanner control panel for the Evernote ScanSnap edition that looks like this on a mac:


When the ScanSnap Evernote Edition came out, it was featured prominently on Evernote’s web site. It is much less prominent today. In fact, I had to Google to find the direct link to it. So this *might* be a white elephant that gets abandoned by the green elephant in the future. Still, it is a ScanSnap so you probably can’t go wrong.

And which routes documents, business cards, receipts, and photos automatically to Evernote notebooks that you specify. If automatic routing of documents to folders is something you are looking for, stop reading and buy the ScanSnap Evernote edition.

The reason to buy this scanner is that it is top rated. It has the highest satisfaction rating in document scanners on Amazon.com. When I’m buying a product on Amazon.com I look for as high a proportion of ratings as possible in 5 stars. And, the distribution of ratings has to be at least a triangle. Draw a line from upper right to lower left in the ratings bars, and if there is a bar over the line, I won’t buy that product. Look at the iX 500’s ratings:


The iX 500 has the questions and most answered questions, and it is the best seller. Great machine, neutral price (because it is wicked good), and as you push click, you will think of the machine’s price for the last time. Having four successful ScanSnap purchases, this is what I bought last time around.

I looked at the Epson last time around. But it has less traffic, fewer ratings, fewer answered question. And is 1/2 star lower rated by Amazon customers.


Still, this would be a better buy than the $250 ScanSnap scanner. The automatic document feeder on the lower level Fujitsu scanners is … um … not strong. I’ve owned two of the 300ish ScanSnaps and I’d rather gamble my money on the Epson DS-510 than re-buy a 300ish. Also, I like that there is a USB-only option for $120 less. Wireless connections are demon possessed by definition. I tried wireless on my ScanSnap iX 500 to make sure it works. And even got scan to phone working over wireless. But for everyday trouble free scanning, wireless can’t compete with USB.

If you go for the DS-560, you are just $50 away from the price of the defacto standard iX 500. So knowing I was going to like the iX 500, I just paid the extra money. Buy the best only cry once. But, I bet the DS-510 is a great product.

Like the Epson scanner, the Brother unit looks good. But again, fewer reviews, and less highly rated.


Again I thought hard about this, but for $150 less, the 150 customers giving it 5 stars vs. the 1,070 giving the iX 500 5 stars, might give me pause.  Still, saving $150 bucks could be done. Amazon.com has great return privileges I hear. But I’m old and lazy so I did not go there.

NeatDesk does the most advertising, so many people see this as THE scanner to get. Until they check out the Amazon.com customer ratings:


NeatDesk flunks my “triangle rule” as the number of 5 star reviews is actually lower than the number of 1 star reviews. Too bad, the slots that this scanner has for receipts of different sizes might be a great feature. Anyway, when I looked at the ratings, I knew this was not what I was looking for. Also, NeatDesk has separate versions of the scanner for Mac and PC which is always a bad omen.

Having worked at HP with HP’s Digital Sender 9200, I would like to love this scanner. The 9200 was the first product I ever saw scan to PDF and email the PDF. It was a network only device. An amazing work of art from HP Bergamo (may it rest in peace) and a software artist section manager.

A quick look at the Amazon.com feedback is instructive:


Only eight 5 star ratings. And very few customer reviews. HP’s entry is a poor bet just because there is so much less user information about it.

  • Craigslist ScanSnaps

If you are no-money-down GTD person, Craigslist is for you! Yes, you can find ScanSnap scanners locally. Here are three that are available in Portland OR near me.


I’ve had students buy ScanSnap S1500 scanners for $100 and be very happy with them. I’ve also found ScanSnap S1500 in liquidation shops. New-in-box ready to get you on the GTD wagon for good!

Hope this helps you pull the trigger! Order the scanner of your choice, and then go to my Getting Started with GTD 2014 post and start at the top of the list.


Be careful what you wish for …

Keith posted a reply to the blog post on Ever-noteCards pointing me to CardDesk.net. This post is a quick look at CardDesk.

What is it?

CardDesk is a bolt-on web interface to Evernote that allows you to drag your notes from the left column, and drop them on a cork board, where they turn into electronic note cards. Here is what CardDesk looks like pointing at my “Graphics” notebook where I’ve pulled out four notes and turned them into cards:


Cards are organized into groups by creating desktops. The cork board above is one desktop with four notes on it. It *appears* that the desktop is limited in size to your screen size. Notes can not be moved off the edge of the screen. You can also zoom out from the desktop to make it larger, but you can’t grab a desktop and pan across it like a Google map. This allows you to put a card at the edge of the desktop, but once there, you can’t zoom it up in size. Zooming in takes you back to the top left corner of the desktop.

You can edit notes by double clicking them, which opens Evernote web. Oops, time to get on with how it works …

How Does It Work?

CardDesk is a web application. Not a plug-in to Evernote desktop on your computer. You authorize CardDesk to access your Evernote account, and when you drag a card from a notebook, it can take time for the note to download to CardDesk. So, best to have a big internet pipe.

Cards can be removed from the desktop by selecting “Remove Cards” at the top of the desktop. Right clicking on a card does not control CardDesk, you see just the normal browser options.

To make a note a card, you hover your mouse over the left edge of the CardDesk window and your Evernote notebooks pop up to allow you to scroll across your notebooks and see your notes. You can “pin” CardDesk’s menu so that it stays open. But, if you have not organized your Evernote system into notebooks, you’ll have to do a lot of scrolling or querying to find your notes.

And … you can’t text query your Evernote tags. You have to open tags (bottom of list at left same as in the Evernote client) and clicking on them. Once you find the note you want to make into a card, you drag it to the desktop (cork board).

What Are The Problems?

  1. CardDesk is not yet deep indulgent or complete.At present, CardDesk is a toy app. Shortcut notes are gone (big deal for me) from upper left. Once I create desktops in CardDesk I won’t be able to access them inside Evernote on my computer. Cards are rigidly stuck in orthogonal relationship to one another (upper left hand corners of all cards are always at the same rotation).

    Even though a toy app, CardDesk is the best integrated web app that I’ve seen touch Evernote.

  2. CardDesk’s grouping capabilities for notes, are too limited. CardDesk can’t compete with paper 3×5 cards.I’m looking for a note card manager that can allow me to spread out many cards, and then drag them around into groups. I think of this as “letting the cards talk to each other.”

    This is a natural planning tool from Mr. Edmundson, David Allen’s high school English teacher (GTD Chapter 3, p. 72). And, CardDesk can’t yet approach cards talking to each other.

    For example, you can’t drag a notebook to CardDesk to get all the cards on the desktop at once. Further, you can’t select all the cards in a notebook and drag them to the desktop at once. CardDesk currently sticks you with dragging notes one by one. Ugh for a big project.

    Electronic note card programs are dying from the lack of breakthrough ways to extend human powers of grouping. Evernote’s “related notes” function is currently the best card tool for automatic group finding. Yet, just a baby step in the direction of a killer app for conceptual grouping of information.

  3. No Thing 2 (click and do the scroll down)Being able to morph cards from computer screen to paper, mark them up, and then import them back to the computer, is a killer capability for mental-antiques like me who have to write on paper. And CardDesk isn’t in the ball park of this functionality yet.

CardDesk is a step in the right direction, but for now, I’m staying with physical 3×5 cards.

bill meade
























Dungeon Desk

Source: 13th Age via Adam.Legendary.org


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.

The Mess Is The Masterpiece: Appendix A


Source: ActionCoach.com

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.  


Source: WalterOrlowski.com

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 

2012 Fall Semester: How the smart student will organize – Part 3 Articulating GTD Student Functions


Source: http://www.mamapop.com

Articulating GTD Student Functions:

For a student, the seven functions of GTD are:

Studentfunctions05 1
GTD for Students

Q. What in GTD is new to students?

A. Filtering, Organizing, Reference Filing, Refreshing


GTD functions New to Students (in red)

Undergraduates are just-in-time work delivery machines.  Many students do not capture until forced to back track when attempting to do an assignment under deadline.  These “crises of capture” manifest themselves when a student emails the night before a midterm and asks for the course syllabus to be emailed “again.”  They know they have the syllabus in email, they just don’t know where.

So, introducing GTD to undergrads is often problematic because of a “too cool for school” attitude that boils down to something vaguely hostile like:

“I’ve never had to filter, organize, reference file, or refresh before, why do I have to do these functions now?”

My answer in plain English is because organizing the GTD way:

  • Decreases pain,
  • Increases quality,
  • Makes work a lot more fun (unlike sweating deadlines),
  • Will allow you to capture more value from your education,
  • Saves time,
  • Allows you to invest your time savings, say in sleeping or partying more.
  • GTD eliminates the temptation to cheat or cut corners, because when you get a plan clearly in mind, doing the work is the shortest distance to turning the work in.

But students, you are going to have to trust me on this.  I know organizing is counter intuitive to the US school culture of cramming.  But GTD will not only work for you this year, it will work for you after you grow up into a memory challenged adult and parent.  Remember that I went all the way through the education system, then worked 20 years in industry, and had never systematically organized myself until after I read GTD.

Fellow educators, I realize that telling students that GTD will make their time more available and disposable is a little like Josh McDowell making a film on Chastity for college students, and titling it “maximum sex” but the logic here, is the same.  Focus now, benefit from now on.

OK, OK, What are the GTD functions for students in plain English?

  1. Capturing
  2. Filtering
  3. Organizing
  4. Reference filing
  5. Trashing
  6. Doing, and
  7. Refreshing

1 of 7: Capturing

Capturing is simply having few places (in boxes) to put everything coming into your brain, that will need to be dealt with.


When you are capturing ideas or deadlines, or assignments or whatever, the process is to find the correct in box, and if you do not have a correct in box, to create the inbox.

But, … be careful not to create too many in boxes.  David Allen’s advice is to set up “just enough” inboxes to get by with.  For me this has meant “cramming” ideas into in boxes where they don’t always fit comfortably.  Cramming is not pretty, but it works because the requirement for an in box is that it prevents you from forgetting or missing ideas.  Any in box where you will get to the idea in time, works.

Stuff to be captured for students includes: Event dates (midterms, practice, games, dating commitments, parties, homework due dates, etc.), class materials (syllabi, handouts, slide decks, etc.), work related (work schedules, etc.), people related (Facebook status updates, email addresses and messages, phone numbers, etc.).  David Allen recommends a physical inbox and an email @action folder so that everything coming in can be put in a holding area so that it is not lost.

The key technique in capturing, is using one piece of paper/electron per idea.  One idea, one 8.5×11 page.  One idea, one 3×5 card.  One idea, one electronic note.  Why?

Because the single most powerful way to increase student productivity is to implement idea modularity.  Idea modularity is being able to take a single idea and freely group it with other related ideas.  Unbound cards and paper sheets with manila folders, give students modular control over their ideas.

One idea, one piece of paper/electron has a second benefit: it reduces feelings of being overwhelmed.  David Allen talks in terms of “mind sweeps” to get the mind emptied so that the brain can be released to focus on the most important next action.  This is a by product of having way to capture ideas modularly.  See the “idea modularity section below”.

2 of 7: Filtering

When you have all your incoming stuff captured, then you’ll need to process each item and dispose of it where at the next step of determining where the item belongs.  The key GTD question here is “Is there a next action?”


If the answer is yes, then you’ll need to put the item aside in a pile to organize. If the answer is no, then you need to decide whether to trash the item, or put the item into a pile to be reference filed.  Stuff that goes into reference filing is anything that “Might be useful later.”  If there is no forecasted use, then recycle, trash, or delete the item.

3 of 7: Organizing

Once you have cleared all your inboxes (physical and email) then you should have a nice big pile of stuff to organize.  Probably, you have an electronic pile to organize, and a physical paper pile to organize.  The logical process either way is to pick one pile to start with, take the top item in that pile, and then decide what kind of next action you have.


If you have a single step next action, and you can do it immediately in less than 2 minutes, then immediately complete the next action.  If the single step action will take longer than 2 minutes, put it into a pending actions file (electronic and/or paper).  If the next action is really a project that will need multiple next actions to complete, then either create a new project, or add to an existing project.

To illustrate the logical process of organizing, I’m going to share the organizing system that I use.  You may decide to use 3×5 cards + manila folders as I do, or you may decide to use Evernote’s Today/This Week/This Month, or you may decide to use an electronic system like Outlook or OmniFocus.  No matter.  The big point of whatever tool you choose to do your organizing is that the tool allows you to comfortably exploit idea modularity.  Huh?

Idea Modularity in Organizing

One example of how idea modularity in capture, facilitates organization was when Beth and I set up a workathon after we moved into our new house.  Getting all the tools and materials was trivial.  What I found myself procrastinating on, was getting the task organization ready.  There was just a vague panic in my mind when I think about sitting down to organize.  Like going to choir practice, the overthinking-before is more difficult, than the event.  So, I had no organization up to 30 minutes before everyone arrived to help.

So with my 30 minute deadline, I Beth and I brainstormed all the tasks that needed to happen.  This brainstorming produced 26 next-action project cards for six sub-projects of the workathon.

Once the cards captured all the work tasks we rearranged them into related groups.  The groups that popped out for these cards were the sub-projects for the day.  Until these “idea modular” cards were laid out on the table, and then moved around in a way that felt pleasing, I had no idea how many sub-projects I had.  Check it out:

Emergencycards 2

Workathon Project Organization
With this organization, the project ran very smoothly.  As people arrived, we told them to look at the rows of cards and pick the left-hand-most-card that looked like the most fun to them.  So, the major projects were accomplished by people working in parallel so thing ran smoothly and quickly.

Another Idea Modular Example: Pop-up project organizing (for this post)

Very often, I’ll wake up in the morning and ask myself “What do I need to do today?” That is, I do capture, filter, organize, fresh from scratch.  I think of these projects as “pop up” projects.  Stuff pops into mind and then I write one idea, one piece of paper (3×5) and get all the ideas out on to the table.
Popuporganizing01 1 1
Again, I tend to procrastinate sitting down to an empty table with blank cards and a pen.  But, when I do, I inevitably walk away feeling great relief at having all the worries out on the table and in some kind of organization.  Also, I’ve found that I can’t clear my mind of pop up next actions and projects when there is a computer present.  So I’ve taken to using our empty dining room table so that I have no temptations, distractions, or priority interrupts (no phones present).
When I sat down to try to distill a reduced-form version of GTD for students, I had a lot of other pop-up projects on my mind.  Teaching my 2 undergrad classes.  Changing the cat litter and feeding my piglet kittens.  I had to write the one-idea, one-piece of paper thoughts about these on cards, and arrange the cards before I could start on the reduced-form organizing for this post.
This is normal.  Keeping your mind clear of “things that cannot be forgotten” is a never ending task.  The more you empty ideas out of your mind, the more ideas your mind has, … and about more things.  But let us note, this is what we are after, maximizing the impact of our minds (unconscious as well as conscious) on our lives.  You know you are appropriately (David Allen’s idea of “just enough”) organized when you open a folder (manila or electronic) and you have a visceral feeling of “ahhhhhh everything I need is right here.”
Some times (mornings for me) when you organize you will get all your ideas out on the table, then arrange them, and then find that you can get all the projects (i.e., strings of >1 next actions) completed in a day.  Then, you don’t bother making a

4 of 7: Reference-Filing

The only sane alternative I see for reference filing for students in 2012 is Evernote.


Everything that might be useful goes into Evernote.  If the items photographed, scanned, printed, or emailed, are sacred, then they should be physically filed as well.  But, 99.9% of paper will be scanned and recycle.  Why?

Because when your stuff is in Evernote:

  • You can find it much more easily, more often, and faster than you could ever find paper files.
  • You no longer need dedicated furniture or office space.
  • You are automatically backed up to your other computers with Evernote on them.
  • You have access to your files when you don’t have internet access.
  • You can share access to your files easily and securely (famous last words).
And the last reason I like having student materials in Evernote, having a great reference filing system eliminates last minute “crises of capture.”

5 of 7: Trashing

Trashing is not new to students, and trashing is almost self explanatory.  But two thoughts are critical to trashing:


Thought 1: Is this true trash or false trash?

When you ask yourself true/false about dumping an idea, you touch on the refreshing function of GTD.  Asking true/false activates your brain and brings to mind any other projects or “might be useful” contexts that would make the idea worth keeping.  How these related activities come to ming might be a clear “aha!” moment.  Or, they may come to mind as a vague uneasiness with hitting delete.  Either way, put the item back into the filtering pile if you are not sure you can get rid of it.

Thought 2: Am I ever wrong when I trash stuff?

If you empty trash instantly, if you are wrong, you will have a healthy chance to recover.  So trash things weekly, monthly, or quarterly, not daily or hourly.

6 of 7: Doing

Doing work for students is anything but simple.  This post is written from my professor’s eye view of challenges students face in doing work well, and on time.  *Note* There are only three boxes that are actually accomplishing work in the doing figure.

The difficulty is not in doing the work once you realize you need to do it.  The difficulty I perceive in students is how to cut through the wilderness of mirrors that is their priorities.  Once the priorities are worked through, students can sit down and crank out the work.

*Note* This flow chart is not orthodox David Allen.  It may not even be “good” GTD.  But, it is what I wish my students would do to cut through paralysis of doing that eats up so much available time for assignments.


If you have questions, leave them in the comments or email me at bill@basicip.com and I’ll try to post answers.

7 of 7: Refreshing

Refreshing is the “wormhole” or “Q” function of GTD to use a Star Trek metaphor.  Because refreshing simultaneously touches every other GTD function. This produces interesting results, for example:

  • When you are doing refreshing well, you no longer need todo lists.
  • Refreshing will help you over time spot “drone work” that does not need to be done, even after you’ve missed it in the filtering stage.
  • Refreshing gives the mind a sense of release from worry, and confidence that there are no secret trap doors of destruction about to open underneath.
  • Refreshing allows your work to almost spontaneously organize itself, or to organize by osmosis as you are touching your projects daily.

Studentfunctions05 1

Refreshing is so important that David Allen puts in a variety of refresh techniques into GTD.  For example, the weekly review.  A weekly review is a once a week 2 hour event where you review all your projects, all your in baskets, and then step through each project making sure you have a next action planned out.  But refreshing isn’t a single explicit process like the weekly review, refreshing is an integral part of all the functions.  For example:

  • Capturing
When you capture ideas to process them, refreshing is there as you ask yourself implicit questions like “Is this task REALLY something I need to do?  Is it bogus? Am I doing this just to please someone else?”  So you will find that refreshing while you capture will kill a lot of what I think of as “drone work” before you even invest the effort to capture the one idea one piece of paper or electron.
  • Filtering
Refreshing touches filtering with other implicit questions that you ask yourself as you go.  For example: “Why did s/he send me this?  There is no way I’ll ever have time to read it.” Which is an evaluation which comes from refreshing.  Because you keep touching and moving forward all your projects.  When something comes in that has no next action, you get better and better at evaluating whether the item can be trashed or filed.
  • Organizing
Refreshing is a big part of organizing, because as you organize you can’t but help think about how you are doing all your other projects.  So as you organize a new project, you often realize that something you learned in another project is very related.  It may be Excel PivotTables, or it may be something you learned in the other project.  But, projects moving forward compound and help one another.  This builds enthusiasm as you go.
  • Reference filing
 A huge way refreshing helps you get projects moving forward results from sharp reference filing tools like Evernote’s Clearly and Web Clipper.  As you are web browsing, and you see articles and people that are related to your projects, with a click you can capture the content and the long term web link to the source.  Random web surfing moves information into projects because as you reflect on what you see, you can easily capture.
Refreshing can also travel from reference files back to organizing as you discover helpful materials by serendipity.
  • Trashing
As described in the trashing section, you reflect before permanently disposing of ideas.  Trashing is all about reflection and protecting your future self from your current self.
  • Doing,

 While doing projects, some of the time you lose track of time, loose track of space, and you have unlimited energy to burn because your brain is in total flow.  But, most of the time you are working on projects, you are less absorbed in the moment.  And when you are not fully absorbed, you will have ideas relevant to project D while you are working on project A. This is reflection at work.  After you realize that project D could use a link to what you are doing in project A, then you reflect on the slickest and simplest way to capture that pointer, and then you move on with project a.

Filtering is 20% explicit reviews, and 80% a calm sense of flow in your mind as you quietly and productively move your day forward.

I almost hesitate to talk about refreshing with students, because largely refreshing emerges from doing the core GTD functions.  State of mind improves continuously as GTD becomes natural and as you “get your brain back” from wasted energy spent “not forgetting” disorganized ideas.

The big picture:

So here is the “big” picture of how I wish my students would organize.  If you’d like a full size jpg of the file, click here to download from Evernote.

StudentFunctionsBigPicture05 1

OK, I’ll get to Part 5 as soon as I can stop upgrading the graphics and description on this post (Part 4).  Hope you’ve enjoyed this reduced form exposition!!!

bill meade

2012 Fall Semester: How the smart student will organize – Part 1 Get Infrastructure


Source: CollegeMagazine.com

“Professor Meade, how should I get GTD organized for school this year?” What follows in the rest of this post, is my default advice for freshmen coming to college this fall.

Step 1: Get a laptop computer …

… with at least a 500 gigabyte hard drive.  A new hard drive is surprisingly inexpensive ($64 for 500 GB and $75 for 750 GB on Amazon as I write this) so think about adding a new hard drive to your existing laptop, or if you buy a used laptop, upgrading the hard drive.

If you have no money you still have options:

  • Option 1: Start your laptop quest at your local version of Portland’s FREEGEEK.ORG.  Since you don’t have cash, you can trade time working for FreeGeek.org, for a computer.
  • Option 2: Ask around family and friends for a laptop that is “too good to throw out, but not good enough that anyone is using it” and then put Linux Mint on it.
  • What is Linux?  A free operating system with a free clone of Microsoft Office 1997, and a large free software library.  This is the no-money-down-gtd operating system and software system.
  • Why Linux Mint and not one of the other Linuxes?  Because Linux Mint has all the drivers you need from the start, no hassles to get your DVDs to play.
If you have some money then you can:
  • Option 1: Buy a laptop at FreeGeek.org.  You can get a good enough laptop for about $180.
  • Option 2: Shop a Goodwill store in Lake Oswego OR and pick up a pretty nice laptop without hard drive (see above links to buy a big new shiny hard drive) and then install Linux Mint.  My students inform me that the Lake Oswego store has tons of laptops without hard drives.
  • Option 3: Go to Walmart and buy a cheap Netbook for $250.  I *think* you will find that the used laptop is a better value than a new netbook.  But your mileage may vary.  I don’t have a preference between Windows 7, Mac OS X, or Linux, I use them all.  The Mac has been the least work for me, that that is what I use for my laptop.
  • Option 4: Check out laptop prices at local retailers like Staples, Office Max, Best Buy.  Do this on-line so you don’t have to deal with pushy sales people.  Compare local retail to Amazon.com laptop prices for PCs and Macs.
If you have more money and want more performance:
  • Macintosh options I think look good:
    • If you want to buy a new Mac, the cheapest way I’ve found is to go to Apple’s online store and look for refurbished computers.  These will be one to three generations older than current models.  But … they are often much cheaper than new.  If you live in a city with an Apple store, buying a refurb is low risk because if you have a problem, you can schedule an appointment at the genius bar, go in, and have the Mac Geniuses fix it.  If you are worried about having long term support, you can buy an Apple extended service plan and a refurbished computer for less than the purchase price of a new mac alone.
    • If you must have a new Mac, then look around.  Portland’s Best Buy (13″ Macbook Pro for $1139) and Amazon (13″ Macbook Pro for $1,140) both often sell Macs for less than the educational price for Macs bought directly from Apple, although for the 13″ Macbook Pro, the lowest price is currently from Apple ($1,099).
  • Windows options I think look good:
    • Ultrabooks are a great value. Instead of buying an iPad and a laptop for school, or an iPad, a laptop, and a Kindle device, just get an ultrabook.  These are from $800 to $1,500 in price, they weigh about 3 pounds, and you can carry an ultrabook in a backpack without pulling your shoulder off.  Ultrabooks are also a great place to start if you want to have a wicked fast Linux machine.  *Note* I have not installed any Linuxes on any Ultrabooks, but it seems like this would be a cool thing to do.

Step 2: Do not spend money on Microsoft Office or Anti Virus.

Your college will have a “no-additional-cost” copy of Office and AV software waiting for you when you get there.  First thing that happens after you get your login to the campus network is that you’ll be able to download Office over the network and install it on your laptop.  *Handy Hint* when installing over the campus network, don’t use wireless, plug your laptop in with a good old fashioned ethernet cable.  10x faster.  Also, the campus wireless will be so clogged with other students installing Office wireless will take for.ever!

Step 3: Install your software platform for this semester:

You will need to create accounts for all of these services except FireFox and the office suites.  So the process is: install software, create account, validate account (via email) and then link account to each of the programs.  After you have installed all these tools, go back to their respective web sites, and take the tours they offer.  This will only make your brain hurt, but, the process of sprouting organizing roots is fertilized by brain pain!  So, lean into the brain pain, but don’t worry when you don’t understand everything at once.  The roots are growing….

Step 4: Get a copy of David Allen’s GETTING THINGS DONE and read THE FIRST THREE CHAPTERS ONLY. 

After they make it through the first three chapters, students usually want to read the entire book, but I advise against this.  David Allen documents a process in chapters 4 through 13 that 100% cuts you over to GTD in 3 days.

When students attempt to implement the 3-day-cut to GTD, they run out of root system, and like the seed that fell on the hard ground, get fried as life burns down their attempts to improve.  Getting organized is hard work, and is filled with setbacks.  The setbacks are why I titled this blog “restart” gtd.  Like exercising, doing GTD is restarting GTD once life has taken you off track.

This is normal.  So, what readers of GTD need is acknowledge that change will take time, that implementing GTD is an exercise in experimenting with tools.  So, a more pragmatic way to get started is to read, absorb what you can, then pick one tool to experiment with in moving your brain into the GTD groove.

My current formula for students is to have them read chapters 1, 2, and 3, and ask themselves, “How does it make sense for me to start growing some organizing roots?”  So, read 3 chapters, and think about how they apply to you.

Step 5: Start classes and let GTD percolate.  Give yourself a month before coming back to GTD.

Your subconscious will be working on understanding GTD, understanding school, and figuring out how to bring the two together.  So, don’t force yourself to implement anything in GTD, just let time work for you as you compost the David Allen model.

Step 6: Finish building your GTD 1.0 infrastructure

In addition to the above infrastructure, you need a study area.  If you have space for a desk, that is a great study area, but most students don’t have space for a desk, so instead, find a conference room, or table, or study carrel where you are comfortable and can work.  Think of this place as home base for your work.

Next, get a briefcase desk organized.  You may want to check out my restart GTD post on my briefcase desk.  But the goal here is to consolidate everything you need to do your college work in your briefcase.  Think of your briefcase as a “station” that you can do all of your homework at.  Everything you need to do homework, should be in the station:

  • Blank 3×5 cards (20) and 8.5×11 paper (10)
  • One in-box manilla folder to gather ideas as you work
  • Foam ear plugs to block out noise.  You can also use in-ear headphones, but listening to music costs you about 10% of your productivity while studying, so foam is more efficient.
  • 2 pens and/or pencils as you prefer
  • Space in briefcase to hold your laptop and power adapter
  • Microfiber cloth to keep your device screens clean

In the next installment of GTD for students I’ll introduce the idea of articulating GTD, which takes a GTD process and builds a system for that process.  For example, GTD’s “one idea, one piece of paper” can be implemented with 8.5×11 paper or 3×5 paper or 4×6 paper, or with an electronic note.  Articulating is the process of thinking about how you could implement GTD processes, and then picking one articulation of that process.



Taught my “Getting (re)started with GTD” class last weekend.  One student needed to apply GTD without cash out of pocket.  So, I’ve been thinking about how to get started with GTD without spending anything.     

So, below please find the GTD office available for no money down (but you have to drive to pick everything up, so alas, there are time and gas costs included) available in Portland on 2012/04/25.  *Note* the links to Craigslist don’t live long, but they worked when I wrote this post.  More important items have the picture that was up with the post.  

An office, for free?

Step 1: Get a desk.  Portland’s Craigslist is a treasure trove of free desk options.  For example:


Source: Portland Craigslist Free


Source: Portland Craigslist Free


Source: Portland Craigslist Free


Source: Portland Craigslist Free

Step 2: Get organizing supplies like:

  • hanging file folders (Urban League of Portland)
  • home fax machine (Sharp plain paper inkjet fax from Vancouver WA – home of HP inkjets!) Homefax 1
  • A wood credenza to boost your desk space up to 30 square feet and give you some drawers and cabinets to organize withWoodcredenza 1
With all the free stuff listed to this point in the blog post, you have everything you need to implement GTD with a manual system.  But, you are not limited to a manual system.  Using community provided computers (libraries, coffee shops) you can digitize much of your GTD system, especially the pieces of your system that interact with your colleagues and peers.  So, on to step 3 … 
 Step 3: Take advantage of free electronic infrastructure.   
  • Evernote free account gives you 60 megabytes of upload a month for no charge.
  • Google Drive/Docs Gives you an MS Office substitute, and a Dropbox substitute.  Also gives you email, streaming music from the net, picture editing, and picture web hosting, etc., etc., etc.  And, if you don’t own your own computer, this will allow you to share and store documents with your class mates and you can access your stuff from any web connected computer.  *Note* Concordia University where I teach, allows students to check out Dell laptops with wireless in the library and at the computer help desk.  We also have computer labs to provide access to the internet.  
  • MicroSoft SkyDrive which currently gives you 25 gigabytes of cloud storage for 1 year for free.  Sign up and then go to account upgrades and take the free upgrade from 5 gigabytes (normal storage available) to 25 gigabytes.  
  • Kindle Reader.  If you don’t own your own laptop, you can still download (thousands of) free Kindle books and read them with Amazon’s Cloud reader.  If you have a laptop, you can download the free Kindle software (PC Mac) and read books on your computer and up to 5 other devices (phone, iPad, Cloud reader, etc.).  


The basic infrastructure you need to start implementing GTD is available all around you if you live in or near Portland Oregon.  Probably, the bigger the city, the better infrastructure available.  Even though I thought I “knew” about craigslist and free cycle I did not realize how rich these are as resources to get people booted up on GTD.  
Hope this helps!
bill meade 


Abomination of Deskolation … Redeemed!

First the before pictures:

Ladies and gentlemen, 28 years in the making, RestartGTD brings you THE ABOMINATION OF DESKOLATION!

IMG 0977

Figure 1: The Abomination of Deskolation!

IMG 0979

Figure 2: The Accompanying Office

Now the after pictures:

IMG 1106 JPG

Figure 3: The wait, … what?

IMG 1102

Figure 4: Wow, just wow!

IMG 1106annotated

Figure 5: How It was accomplished

The Story:

This is John Niebergall’s desk.  John is an engineering teacher at Sherwood High School in South Portland.  As I’ve gotten to know John (i.e., seen his desk and had him over to my office to see my desk), I encouraged him to read GETTING THINGS DONE.  Over the holidays John listened to GTD three or four times via Audible, and then wanted help translating the ideas in GTD to his work processes.  I believe the specific words were “I’m a visual learner, I don’t do well reading books.  I need to see it.”

John is the target blog reader that I started RestartGTD to serve.  I’ve traveled to John’s office, carrying my Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500M (I use portable Macs), had John take down one of the three ring binders against the back wall of his office, and we scanned it into PDF.   Done!  Four minutes, and now the paper and the binder both can go in the recycle bin.   It was hard to let that first binder go.  But the liberation grows on you rapidly.  It gets easier the more space you free up in your office.

Seeing scanning is believing.  John ordered his own Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500 (PC) and I made another trip down to his office to take the scanner out of the box.  Maybe I should do a poll of how many GTDers have purchased scanners and never taken them out of the box? You know who you are! De-boxing is the key next action in getting a scanner up and contributing to your mind-like-water.

In addition to the visible things on and around John’s desk, I believe there is a second USB hub that is hidden inside the typing elevator drawer space.  And also, that there is a power adapter in that space to feed the label printer and scanner.

Reflections on Abomination’s Redemption:

Note in Figure 1, that John had a trackball on his desk when he started GTD.  This desk makeover has shifted him to a small travel mouse. There are wireless trackballs from Logitech and Kensington, but they cost $30 more than the Logitech M305.

John chose to keep his legacy desk with leg stalls.  That is this style of desk is like a horse stall, only for your legs.  I prefer sliding side to side so that I can start parallel projects on different parts of my desk during the day as interruptions happen.  My advice to John was to cut the surface off this desk and then mount it on IKEA legs. Ikea’s desks have inexpensive cable management options, and they are simple to work with.

The glass on the desk feels disruptive to me.  Glass is cold when you put your hands and forearms on it.  I think I’d prefer to remove the glass, and then I’d probably resurface this desk with white-board-contact-paper.  White lightens the room (always welcome in Portland where we get 5.5 inches of rain per month), and gives you a place to jot notes with white board pens, so you can save paper.

John is a public school teacher who has been in Sherwood High School for 28 years.  And he is digging his way out via GTD.  Teachers, you CAN DO THIS!   If I can shift to GTD, anyone can.  The key is to start.  Don’t start big or small.  Don’t give yourself the chance to over think this.  Just start.  John got the scanner, Evernote, and then beautifully reconfigured his desk (putting the scanner on the old typewriter elevator is genius!:-) to support his workflow.

Thank you John for sharing your before after.  Anyone else interested in sharing?  Before/afters are fantastic motivators.  Email me if you have pics you are willing to share.