Instructions for Kelly VanderSys (and other spouses of visual learners) on Getting restarted with GTD


There is an adoption life cycle to implementing GETTING THINGS DONE (hereafter GTD).  You can help Mark a ton by understanding what he, as a visual learner, is up against.


This is the adoption life cycle that I have personally experienced after 3 years of doing GTD.  Mark will repeatedly fall “off the wagon” of GTD.  You need to expect this, and be patient with it, and keep what you can do for him moving forward when he is in crisis mode.

When I started my new job here at Concordia last January, I fell off the wagon badly.  But then I got back on.  One nice thing about Evernote, is that you have a place to re-start from.  Once you have infrastructure, you never go back to zero.  You just go back to getting current on much less “stuff” than you started with.

When you see this cycle, go through it step by step and ask yourself “What can I do to help Mark get back on the wagon?” I think you will find that you can:

  • Do the weekly review with Mark to write down all the projects.
  • Scan, scan, scan, the important stuff that Mark is afraid you will throw out.
  • Put the paper into numbered banker’s boxes in the garage.  As you put the files into Evernote, you can put the banker’s box number on the note in Evernote so that when (not if, when) Mark freaks out and has to have paper in his hands, then he can go out to the garage and find the paper.
  • Review the papers that Mark has to pull back out of the banker’s box with Mark once a week.   Figure out what the common denominator is for the papers that Mark pulls and ACTUALLY USES.
  • When Mark pulls paper back, review with him where that paper is in Evernote, and if you Mark does not actually use the paper repeatedly, put the papers back into their correct banker’s box.
  • Papers that Mark repeatedly needs to have, and actually uses, need to go into manilla file folders and then into some kind of filing system by his desk (but out of his sight when sitting at the desk).
  • Figure out key words that corral Mark’s papers into buckets.  Then, tag the Evernote notes with those keywords so Mark can find all his stuff more and more easily over time.
  • You should get to know Evernote.  I don’t think it works well as a project manager because it does not allow you to edit in outline format.  My next-action-manager (Omnifocus on the mac) allows me to edit in outline format and outlines have become a life saver for me.
  • Probe Mark for what his inner editor is saying.
  • If what Mark is saying internally is very negative, we may need to assign Mark a writing exercise of writing down all the negative things he is telling himself. 
    • Writers do this in order to silence the inner critic.  We say things to ourselves that a fatuously untrue to ourselves.  Things like “You will never be able to write.” “You will never be able to get this project done.” “You will never be worthwhile.” These and worse.  We are our own harshest critics, to the extent that you can probe and air these things, you will accelerate Mark’s adoption of GTD.
  • Probe Mark for when he is procrastinating, and what he is thinking while procrastinating.   
    • Procrastination is self defense, it is avoidance, it is working out what Jesus really wants us to do in the crucible of a mixture of doing what we love, and doing what we hate.
  • Be patient with Mark, and encourage him to be patient with himself.
  • Make sure that Mark takes enough time off.  Scheduling dinners with friends who you love adds as much happiness to your life as making $100,000 more per year.  Life is not about money.  Life is about happiness (giving yourself away) and time.  Once Mark is on the wagon half the time, he will be much happier.  Beth (my wife 1.0) says “Bill is so unhappy when he is disorganized.” now.
  • Help Mark get better organized with the “stuff” that is bugging him the most.
  • The biggest thing that helped me at first was “One idea one piece of paper.” so be supportive of Mark doing a mind-sweep whenever he gets into “monkey mind” mode.  Because I did not (I’m still working on it) implement the weekly review, my inboxes piled up and I got disorganized.  Thus, I was unhappy for most of this year.   
    • My goofy Target totes that have all my paper project files in a clear order, enabled me to do systematic review.  Look for road blocks that are keeping Mark from being able to do reviews.
  • Getting Mark back to current on all his projects and all the open loops in his mind is the way out of frustration and too much “Inner critic” noise in Mark’s mind.  Once Mark gets current, GTD becomes possible again.  Once it is possible, then you can bite off one little additional piece of new infrastructure and try it out.  Don’t try to and implement GTD all at once (the last 10 chapters of GTD) as nobody but the unemployed can make that happen in my experience.

Visual learners have a problem with what I call “GTD vapor lock.”  After the initial flush of their minds, but before they get the ecology of system sub-components in place to do their first comprehensive review, the visual learner’s inner critic starts yapping at them and slowing them down.  Guilt, nag, drip drip drip, guilt nag, repeat.  Because you won’t see what is going on in Mark’s head, you will progress beyond him to stage 3 where you see that Mark can get a bunch of crap out of his head (project folders) and out of his face (general reference filing via Evernote).  Watch out for being ahead of him and then circle back to encourage, encourage, encourage.

Feed the elephant of Mark’s emotions, we’ve got to keep his elephant moving forward.  Don’t try to argue him forward.  Look for bright spots that you can see.  Look for bright spots that he can’t see or does not fully appreciate, and cheer-lead them into his face when he gets down.


Hope this helps!

bill meade

0 thoughts on “Instructions for Kelly VanderSys (and other spouses of visual learners) on Getting restarted with GTD

  1. Pingback: Getting Started with GTD: The buddy system | RestartGTD

  2. Bill I do not understand your point here … “You should get to know Evernote. I don’t think it works well as a project manager because it does not allow you to edit in outline format. My next-action-manager (Omnifocus on the mac) allows me to edit in outline format and outlines have become a life saver for me.” Evernote lets you outline notes and edit them. You can actually do all you writing/drafting in Evernote and copy and paste to Word for the finish touch.

    • Oops, I did not mean to say ignorant things about evernote. Especially ignorant things that might be interpreted as negative things. I use Evernote in a very simple, very non-conventional way. Evernote is simply a general reference filing data store for me. The lack of being able to take a notebook of notes, and spread them out on the equivalent of a desktop, the lack of being able to do simple yellow highlighting on reading, and my learned abhorrence to having all my GTD stuff in a single system (in the GTD Tool Ecology section of the Purpose statement for the blog I talk more about this), have steered me to a set of systems each of which is used simply.

      I love evernote, except for the vendor lock in and roach motel (easy in, hard out) document management. But, Omnifocus runs circles around Evernote’s dealing with next action. This is my opinion which I’m entitled to. But, if I have missed how to do simple yellow highlighting, I’m hoping you’ll TELL ME HOW to do what I’ve missed. I know I’ve missed a lot. I use Omnifocus simply to, Omnifocus sucks at managing documents (where Evernote excels).

      Come let us reason together!

    • Evernote v Springpad is an important thing I have not looked at. I have been working on an Evernote v Dropbox blog post though. Digging into Evernote I’m finding the distinction between attachments and supported formats to be important. Evernote does not search inside MS Word documents according to my testing. It does search inside PDFs and PowerPoint files. In practice, this has not impacted me. I’ve been using Evernote for 3 years without realizing it does not search inside .doc files. My problem isn’t MS Office files. My problem is raking through the files formerly known as paper, and those are all in PDF.

      Ay springpad fans, please post a comment or contact me with a comment and I’ll post it to the main blog.

    • Taking just a quick look at Springpad I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY, like the virtual cork board. This is a key improvement over! The way I use Evernote is not conventional for GTDers. Looking at the David Allen workflow diagram flow chart, I use evernote solely for the general reference filing and incubation part of the diagram. That is, Evernote is a reference filing system for me only. I use the three organizing tools in evernote: notebooks, search, and tagging, to bring order to my reference files. But I feel the lack of being able to spread the notes inside a notebook, for example, out on my desk. So far I’ve resisted printing out the notes ad then organizing them into groups and then scanning (or re-dragging them) into new Evernote notebooks for projects.

      In the purpose page, the second to last section tells my story of getting everything into OmniFocus and then hating to sit down to my desk because my computer is always there, and in the computer I had my overwhelming GTD system right there. My brain rebelled at having all my stuff in one system. I think in GETTING THINGS DONE that David Allen somewhere says that if you get “too” organized, your brain will refuse to use the system (priscient!). So, I have stopped looking for the one giant system to organize everything, and instead, use multiple systems (Omnifocus, Evernote, 3″x5″ cards, manilla folders in Target Totes, DropBox project folders, etc.) with each sub-system performing a narrow function. I think of this as an ecology of organizational tools. What I strive for is to refine the ecology and improve my organization gradually over time. I’m pretty sure THE ONE SYSTEM TO RULE THEM ALL is not going to work for my brain. Actually, I must confess that I don’t have a brain. I have a compost pile of trivia. So where I’ve ended up is trying to keep the composting process churning. One of the quotes in GTD that I come back to again and again is:

      THE PURPOSE OF this whole method of workflow management is not to let your brain become lax, but rather to enable it to move toward more elegant and productive activity. In

      Allen, David (2002-12-31). Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (p. 181). Penguin. Kindle Edition.

      And more sub-systems, with narrow applications for each subsystem, is how I bring creeping elegance to my GTD system.

      This said, I’m going to drill down into Springpad and see how hard it would be to migrate my Evernote store (15 gigs) to Springpad. If Springpad makes this migration easy, then I can migrate in parallel to Evernote and try it out. It sure would be great to have that cork board tool to arrange and regroup my ideas. I’ve got 2,000 4″x6″ cards I wrote by hand in my Ph.D. program in Evernote. While there are programs like Zengobi’s Curio that can pull from Evernote. They don’t (so far as I have seen) allow me to modify a card and then save back to Evernote. Something that would allow me to virtualize all my documents is what I want to arrive at eventually.

      Imaging a projector on the ceiling that projects down on to a conference table sized desk. Imagine further, that Springpad’s cork board can be projected on the desk and further that the projection allows multi-touch gestures to be implemented on the surface of the desk. Then, I think, we’d have an implementation of virtualized documents that parallel processing human brains, can process in naturally and expressively powerful ways.

      I had not heard of Springpad, thank you for the idea!

      • I use multiple tools also. I actually use springpad for some things. I think you would enjoy Daniel Golds Evernote vs Springpad post on his blog. Here is the link:
        Daniel has also written an ebook on using evernote as your Complete GTD system. It is a great book and taught me some good tips on using evernote. But, I still use toodledo as my list manager it will sync to outlook, my ipad and my android phone as does evernote. I also use a similar wallet as you and 3×5 cards. The wallet I use is from Levenger.

    • OK,

      I just did some quick exploration in Springpad. 1. They don’t do a straight sideways migration from Evernote, so I’m stuck in the Evernote roach motel (easy in, hard out). 2. Springpad’s concepts are great (cork board, pre-categorizing things based on URLs) but Springpad’s implementation is very immature. They know they need to provide an on-ramp from Evernote, but it has been 10 months so far, and they don’t have one that will deal with my general reference library. 3. There is no price model. As I have 15 GB of data, this is a show stopper for me. I know that nobody is going to give me for free, all the space I need. It is not if Springpad will have to charge, it is when. And they say nothing that I can find, about what the charges will be. 4. Springpad *feels* to me like it is a social media bookmarking and page storage service. I have thousands of documents that are not web pages. So, I *suspect* that these are either going to be left out of Springpad, or they are going to be partially supported step children. *Note* Evernote too, has partially supported step children, like searching in MS Word files (which Evernote treats as attachments = not searched).

      My thoughts are: As always with computer tools, it is more important that the user loves the tool, than that the user uses THE ONE RIGHT TOOL. So, if you love Springpad and you are already past the point of no return in using Springpad (i.e., your brain “likes” Springpad and is trusting Springpad to keep your ideas) then keep using Springpad. If you are coming back at GTD and attempting a re-start because your last attempt failed, then I think Evernote has far more mature code, and is likely to to work without causing wailing and gnashing of teeth. As an old fart (I’m 52) I like having software on my Macs and PCs that does the file replication for me, and that keeps working archives of the files consisten across all the machines. Your mileage may vary on this.

      On restarting GTD: One of the keys to getting on the GTD wagon so that you can relieve stress and get into GTD flow, is to get a general reference filing system. If you can do only 1 thing in GTD, my opinion is that getting your reference filing system into Evernote so your can clear your desk and your office, is about the best place to start. Today, Evernote is the best tool for general reference filing that I am aware of.

      I had a great conversation with the head of IT at Concordia University a couple days about about what Evernote gets me that DropBox does not get me. Evernote is DOCUMENT oriented. DropBox is FILE oriented. There are lots of kinds of people in the world. Some think in terms of finding a file. Others (me) think in terms of finding the document or better, the passage in the file. I need both tools. Dropbox for electronic project files, and Evernote for general reference files. *Note* to Windows users. Because if you use Evernote’s PC client software, Evernote keeps copies of all files on your PC, you can use Microsoft Search to find content in virtually all (specifically, MS Word) files.

      Hope this helps!

  3. I am really enjoying yor blog posts. I can’t find the rss feed url?? Did I miss it or is that to come in the future? I am looking forward to your future posts and don’t want to miss one.

    • Andrew, I’m such a newbie to WordPress, I don’t really know how to handle RSS feeds. I love Dave Winder, and have read him for years, but on the WordPress platform, I’ve looked around and not seen an obvious switch to turn on RSS. Can you try and see if that works for you

      I’ve also run through all the posts and made sure the trackbacks are turned on. But I doubt that is what ails the RSS question. Please let me know what I can do to support RSS feeds better!

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