Quarterly GTD System Refactoring Report


Source: Mert Kavi’nin Blogu


For the past couple months I’ve been really enjoying 3×5 cards, but alas, my innate absent-mindedness combined with the conservation of matter, to take 3×5 things too far.  Shortly after I took this action shot of my marvelously simple 3×5 roving inbox: 


I misplaced the cards while teaching.  Doh!  

Yes, cards are great and cards are powerful, but it is the “not losing” them that does the work!  

So this brings up a key GTD point: whatever technologies you use for GTD, you are going to have conflicted relationships with those technologies.   If you use atom-based technologies (3×5 cards, for example) you will enjoy the strengths (modular ideas easily arrangeable that boot up instantly), and suffer with weaknesses (3×5 cards get lost … sometimes).  


The conflicted struggle with technology strengths and weaknesses is one of three drivers behind my constant tweaking, experimenting, prototyping, and reverting of my GTD system.  The other two drivers are: 1 what my brain is ready to do next, and 2 discovery.  

GTD System changes in this report: 

  • Next actions are no longer going on 3×5 cards.  Instead, they are going into my Omnifocus inbox which uses an Evernote GTD trick that I posted about February.  The trick is to organize a list into daily, weekly, monthly.  Instead, I’ve organized my list in Today, This Week, This Month, and Eventually.   

Snapshot 10 18 12 2 12 PM

I’ve been using this for about a week and it has restored a sense of calm that was shattered by loosing my next action cards.  Unlike prior attempts at using Ominifocus, I don’t feel pressured by the software and having to use a computer.  I think my brain was ready to trust something new after I lost its 3×5 cards.  

  • 3×5 cards have been refined from the default thought capture mechanism, to two distinct roles:   
  • First as the default thinking mechanism.  This is one slide of the role for 3×5 cards have been playing in my GTD system.  I’m surprised at how after 30 years of mind mapping on paper, how much more flexible 3×5 cards are than writing/typing.  One idea, one card, then you can move the cards relationally close to one another. With a camera phone, you get the same ability to capture relationships as with mind mapping, but, cards:
  • don’t have to boot up
  • don’t weigh much
  • easily expand to use all the work real-estate available (think library table sized area)
  • Second, as the default capture mechanism for bits and pieces of long gestating projects.  3×5 cards capture the bits and pieces, and then manila folders accumulate the bits and pieces.  My GTD project life cycles have changed as follows:
  • Snapshot 10 18 12 2 33 PM 3

    Project Cycle Pre-GTD

    Before GTD I would have a brain itch, typically long before the project needed to happen.  My brain would keep itching because I was not writing down project related ideas, and then a pod of related project ideas would build up, then I’d realize that I needed to accomplish a project.  Then, I would procrastinate through the 5 stages of grief before realizing I needed to just sit down and do the project.  Then, I would brute force the project to completion.  

    Snapshot 10 18 12 2 33 PM

    Project Cycle Post GTD

    Today projects start with a brain itch, just like always.  However, in the 4 years I’ve been doing GTD I’ve realized how important it is to mind sweep when I have the brain itch.  First I mind sweep, then I make a manila folder, then I put the project related mind sweep cards into the manila folder (pre-processing).  Over time, the folder builds up with ideas for the project, and then when the project trigger happens, I open up my manila folder, and then brainstorm more ideas and develop an initial project focus.  Next, I’ll transpose the project from the manila folder and cards, into electronic files that go into Dropbox. Once I have the electronic files, the project becomes a series of rapid released prototypes.  Typically, I’ll have a project running, the materials all in Dropbox, and then as the project comes up in issues with colleagues, I’ll take emails as an opportunity to assemble a prototype solution.  Then I get lots of feedback (often that I am stomping out in the weeds relative to what someone wants).  Then I can refine and re-release the project.  

    • Back to 3×5 cards now.  The second function of 3×5 cards is to capture the bits and pieces of downstream projects, and then safely secure those thoughts in a manilla folder savings account that will have all the information withdrawn when the project starts and is transposed to electronic form.  

      In just the past six months I’ve become able to articulate and refine my “after GTD” project cycle.  As a result, the role that 3×5 cards play in the gestation period of projects has assumed a lot of importance.  Gestational 3×5 card management! 


    These are the refinements that are floating my GTD boat right now.  What refinements have you incorporated? Post in comments or email bill@basicip.com.  

    bill meade