Book Recommendation Direct from David Allen



Received book advice from David Allen Friday:

“BTW, if you haven’t got it yet, absolutely get the new book
out – The Organized Mind– by Daniel Levitin. A tome of
research validating GTD principles (amongst a lot
of other stuff).”

To order click here. I’ve ordered but am not very far in yet. I’ll update this post with some sound bites from the book as I make my way through. Another book like THE ORGANIZED MIND that is very good (with an interview of David Allen and an example of Drew Carey implementing GTD) is WILLPOWER by Baumeister and Tierney. 

It *looks* to me like both THE ORGANIZED MIND and WILLPOWER would be ideal to read via That is, install the app on phone and listen while on your commute.


What is GTD? RestartGTD’s GETTING THINGS DONE technology notable



I once worked in Hewlett-Packard future-products-marketing. HP had a tradition of preparing single piece of paper, with writing on both sides, that answered five questions, and calling these documents “Technology Notables.” And while I was at HP, I fell in love with the format.

The technology notable five questions are:

  • What is it?
  • How does it work?
  • What are the benefits?
  • What is the strategy?
  • What are the objections?

Technology notables translate product features, into benefits for customers. Writing notables was a hated job, so I volunteered. And discovered the power of a simple format, to make complex features into understandable benefits.

I don’t know why I haven’t written a GETTING THINGS DONE notable until now. I just had the idea this morning after 3.5 years of writing But, whatever, NotableGTD01.pdf draft 1 is now downloadable.

For GTD evangelists reading, this is a document that is intended to be an skull-piercing shell. That is, you can send this to your hardened, cynical, anti-GTD friends who need GTD, but don’t want to listen to you talk about GTD. And, … some of your friends may come around.

Cynics are frustrated idealists. The key to overcoming cynicism is to penetrate the skull and reach down to whatever embers of idealism remain, and to feed the embers oxygen in the form of hope.

When I was at HP, I knew that a technology notable was dialed in once I began to get “Thank you!” voice mails from sales people around the world. Always after they had briefed themselves on a technology notable for a sales call, and then closed a sale at the expense of a competitor. Not a bad result for a Ph.D. in marketing! :-)

——————————————————————————————- Uglified HTML Version. Click for pretty PDF

Technology Notable      


What is IT?

A way of looking at your life through the lens of an organization system that accepts and processes work. Developed over 40 years by David Allen in his book Getting Things Done.


How does IT WORK?

  • By applying pre-processing rules:
  • Is there an action needed? If so, what is the next physical thing that needs doing?
  • One-Idea-One Piece of Paper.
  • If you can do it in 2 minutes, just do it.
  • Plan work naturally.
  • Review work weekly.
  • By separating processing work, from doing work:
    Step 1: Get your work into your inbox … everything.
    Step 2: Take one piece of work out of your inbox and process it based on actionability.
    Step 3: Once all work has been processed, decide what to do next.
  • By using simple infrastructure tools: Inbox, Calendar, Reference Filing, Project Files, Contexts.



What are the benefits?

Release of Mental Stress: Having all open-loops processed into project actions, reference files, recycle bin takes an enormous load off your mind. You recover memory until now, wasted with “not forgetting.” And, worry about forgetting stops, adding more mental power. An emergency department doctor who implemented GTD said “I can’t believe how much less stress I’m feeling.” An MBA student who implemented GTD said “I’m not dreaming about work any more.”

Increasing Quality and Quantity of Results … With Reduced Stress: GTD’s system is a container that pre-processes work focusing on actions. GTD distills work to its essence, clarifies tasks, and allows your mind to fully “get around” every work item. Time you spend worrying vanishes, and the mental energy you recover by not worrying and “not forgetting,” shifts via the GTD invisible hand, into closing out projects. You get more done. A lot more if you are prone to over-thinking, and worrying. A spouse of GTD implementer said “Why are you so happy?” More results at less stress will put a GTD smile on your face too.

Death to Guilt: Generalized guilt about work, is the quiet desperation of our time. You achieve the American dream, house, mortgage, cars, kids in evil-and-anti-family team sports (I may be a little bitter about team sports). And you are likely to feel constant guilt over being pulled in many directions. GTD cuts guilt, allowing you to savor blessings, and begin to consciously budget more your life.


What is the strategy?

To build an organizing system that allows you to maximize your brain. GTD gets your unconscious into the game of processing work. If you are disorganized, your unconscious burns enormous work energy, the unconscious is 90% of our cognitive processing power. And the unconscious is obsessive about what it does: put a picture in front of your eyes and the unconscious facial recognition neurons spin up and fire-fire-fire until the picture is out of view. Have an important piece of work come into your life that you don’t process and put in its proper place, and your unconscious will be on you, just before you go to sleep, to review all the things you can’t forget. Do you enjoy dreaming about work? If not, develop a GTD system, and like the MBA student, you’ll say “I’m dreaming again.”


What are the Objections?

  • I can’t implement GTD.

True, but irrelevant.[1] Everyone, even unemployed people, fail in implementing GTD. I started because GTD success means starting, falling off the wagon, then restarting GTD.

The real question is “What is in GTD that I could implement, that would make my work life much better?” And that system for most people is reference filing in Evernote. Full instructions here.

  • I’ve tried other organizing systems, they did not work, so GTD can’t work.

This is fear talking. “I’ve tried B, so A can’t work.” May be convincing emotionally, but not logically. If you really take a look at Getting Things Done (Chapters 1 – 3), you will find that you are using lots of GTD, successfully, right now. Probably, the previous systems you have tried, are working. But, because you have not processed your work all the way to the edges (including personal tasks as well as occupational), you have not experienced the benefits of your subconscious letting go of worry and letting go of “not forgetting.” GTD for you is likely to put in place one or two keystone infrastructure pieces (Evernote reference filing, in my case), and a couple new skills (Next actions, and project lists). C’mon, you in the game, and … you are almost there!

  • Implementing GTD, or reference filing, or the 2-minute-rule will take too much time and I’ll fall behind.

Gilb’s law is that there is always a way to measure, that is superior to not measuring at all. I think “Allen’s law” should be that: “There is always a way to organize, that is superior to organizing unsystematically.” If you can just get the pile of your stuff, processed into “projects” and “other, “ you increase efficiency and effectiveness enough to pay back initial time costs, in one week! After one week you’ll be at break even. Every week after that, you’ll be at a >1 multiple. Productivity increasing over the long term should be the goal.

Validation Test: How many projects are you working on right now? Take a second and think. Fix a number in your head before reading more. OK, got your number? Double it just to be conservative. Now compute 300 – [2x your number]. The average GTD newbie has 300 projects. 300-[2x your number] = worry, guilt, not forgetting and procrastination. Just process all those 300-[2x your number] projects and you’ll feel a lift, a lightness of knowing what is going on. And you will gain a giddy GTD smile.

[1] If you can implement nothing else from GTD, you can implement asking yourself “What is the next action?” from work events, and using the 2-minute-rule. Which is, if you can do it in two minutes, just do it.


Nice post on “just do it” getting started with GTD


Check out EricTheGeek’s great post on Getting Started with Getting Things Done at Life is PERL. Eric takes exception to my 27 Steps to getting started with GTD. And if Eric’s approach works for you, go for it. Don’t look back. Just do it!

I have also written on simple GTD start up methods. And would like the record to show that 27 steps is many fewer steps than in the 11 chapters in the Bible of GTD … GETTING THINGS DONE by David Allen. But I’m evangelizing more than GTD. I think Evernote keeps me on the GTD wagon. And, I’m also evangelizing getting a ScanSnap to help break with the past. And a monitor arm. Wireless keyboard. Wireless mouse. Real Desk. But I digress. All these recommendations in 27 steps here.

bill meade

ScanSnap GTD Tricks #1: Next Action Stamp


As I was depositing a check with my ScanSnap this morning, I had the idea that I should post a few ScanSnap GTD tricks. Then Joe Terrana posted a comment to the 2014 Getting Started with Getting Things Done post, with a cool *new* trick.



Go to Amazon, then order this custom rubber stamp, and then follow the instructions to “Contact Seller” and send them “Next Action” as the message for the stamp.

Then once the scanner arrives, you can stamp paper with “Next Action” scan the paper into Evernote (Click here to subscribe to Evernote), and then after Evernote does optical character recognition (OCR) on the stamped part of the note, you can search for “Next actions” and find all of your scanned next actions.

Very slick.

Very Simple!

Thank you Joe for the ScanSnap GTD Trick #1.

bill meade

p.s., I had the idea, since Evernote also attempts to recognize hand-written characters, that I could scan a note card with “Next Action” on it, and perhaps achieve the same result as using a custom rubber stamp. Here is what the card looks like:


Expecting Evernote to be able to read my handwriting is not a fair test, I know. But, it seemed like a fun trial. Evernote’s explanation of how OCR works says that it take a “few minutes.” I’ve always assumed that Evernote takes “over night” to complete OCR operations, so we’ll see how long it takes for this note:

  • 1st check on indexing status: 20 minutes later … not indexed.
  • 2nd check on indexing status: 11 hours later … not indexed.
  • 3rd check on indexing status: 23:10 later … not indexed.
  • 4th check on indexing status: 33 hours later … INDEXED!!!!

However long it takes, I’ll update this post after Evernote indexes the card to see if it is possible to simply write “Next Action” and have OCR recover the magic GTD words.

You can tell if an Evernote note has been indexed by clicking on the i at the upper right of the note:


And then looking at “Attachment Status” 3/4 of the way down the dialog box (red arrow).

While it is true that GTD indexing can be measured in minutes 33 * 60 = 1,980 minutes. It is not a safe workflow to depend on Evernote scanning documents immediately.

Success … kind of

After my index card was OCR’d by Evernote, I am able to search for the word “Next” but alas, “action” in my hand writing was not recognized. :-(


I was not able to determine precisely how long it took for Evernote to do the text recognition.

Lesson Learned:

You can buy a self inking stamp, and Evernote will read it. Thanks again Joe Terrana for giving me the stamp idea, so I could have the stepping stone idea of just writing “next action” on the card.

It would be smart to create a sample card for yourself, scan it, and then see if Evernote can recognize your hand writing. In fact, if you’ve already written “next action” on a 3×5 card that you scanned into Evernote, you might be able to test this out today. Just search on the GTD Magic Words! 

Use OneNote and Snipping Tool for your Excel GTD Crib Sheet


I’m teaching a remedial Excel class this week, and so I’ve developed a tutorial to get people going using OneNote to capture crib sheets in Excel. I store my GTD crib sheets in Evernote (Example, Click here to subscribe). But OneNote is a great program too and if you have Microsoft’s Office, you have OneNote for free.

  • If you have a Mac Office, you probably don’t have OneNote but you can get OneNote for free.
  • If you have an older version of Office for windows you can get OneNote for free here.


To create your OneNote Excel crib sheet do this:


When OneNote opens, then create a top Tab titled “Crib Sheets:


Then add an Excel page:


Then copy the first entry from the image at the top of this blog post.

  • To enter A1 + B1 = C1 do this
    • With the pinky finger on your right hand, push the = 
      sign on the keyboard


Now, start Excel so we can get some practice using our Excel crib sheet!

Next question: How do I snip from Excel?









You have created an Excel crib sheet, and made your first entry!!!



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.


Quick Index of Most-Read Posts


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 When I’m buying a product on 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. 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 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 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.


RestartGTD with Evernote Clearly

I’ve Tried Evernote … but I don’t use it

OK, it is possible that I’ve raved about Evernote. Perhaps you installed Evernote and paid for an account based on my recommendation or a step-by-step. But, then … you never reached critical mass with Evernote. And your Evernote account has gone dormant. And, you’ve fallen off the GTD wagon. If so …

This post is for you.

The stumbling block with Evernote is that it comes in two pieces: (1) A database piece that takes care of reference filing, and (2) a web-browser-plug-in that takes care of sweeping all worthwhile internet content into your reference files.

Most people install the database and are so tired after getting their minds around yet-another-software-install, that they don’t go “ALL THE WAY” to having the on-ramp, the web-browser piece, installed. The on-ramp never gets installed, so the database never builds.

If this is you, follow these steps to rejuvenate your Evernote (reference filing) experience.


  • Click “Download for Chrome” or if you are using Safari, you can not install Evernote Clearly. You have to use some other browser. For instance Chrome or Firefox.
  • Or if you are using FireFox you can click “Download for Firefox” like this:


  • Or, if you are using Internet Explorer for Windows, you are in the same boat as Safari users. Sorry. You have to use Chrome, Opera, or Firefox.

Whether you use Chrome or Firefox on Mac or PC, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to install Evernote Clearly into your browser.

Click the download link and take the defaults to the questions that pop up, and then you should see a Luxo Lamp icon in your Mac or PC browser. Look for something like this:


  • Now, you have Clearly downloaded and installed. Let’s go to the world’s ugliest web page: When you arrive the page will look something like this:


Source: = Clutterville in the Firefox web browser

Now, either wait, click the the escape key, or click the circled X in the “Signup now….” pop up box. to bring the web page to the foreground of your browser. Now you’ll see this:


Source: in Firefox

Next, find an article like “AMAZON FIRE PHONE NOW ONLY 99 CENTS” and click on it. If you need help finding the article, follow the red arrow here:


Source: in Firefox

When the article comes up with all its fireworks of flash (thank you IBM!), it will look like this:


Source: in Firefox

Now, click on the Luxo Lamp icon in your browser. and you will see this:


Source: in Firefox, via Evernote Clearly

No flash advertisements. No advertisements of any kind. Just the pictures from the core of the article, and the text. Next, click the Elephant icon. This will save the article into your Evernote database. Don’t worry, you can delete it easily, once you see it in Evernote.

Anyway, when you click on the Elephant icon you will be asked for your Evernote username and password. So get those out if you don’t have them handy, and then fill in the dialog box. The dialog looks like this:


Enter your user name and password. If you have Evernote’s two factor authentication turned on, then you’ll see this additional prompt:


And you just need to fill in the numbers and click “Continue” and then your screen will look like this:


Where now we can have some fun. Click on the highlighter icon underneath the elephant icon at top right. Then, select the title of the article. Your page will look like this:


And if you open Evernote, and then synchronize it with your cloud database, the note will look like this:


And, the note will be editable!

You can use clearly to read notes, highlight them, and after you add new highlights, Evernote Clearly will re-synchronize the new highlights into the note in your Evernote database. Cool!

But … it gets better!

Not only can you strip annoyances from the web page, you can also set the default font size, and page style of the pages you read. To do this, click once on the “Aa” icon at middle right of the Clearly-processed web page:


You can pick the page style from “Newsprint” or “Notable” or “Night Owl” or “Custom” and the fonts as “Small” or “Medium” or “Large” and …

if you mistakenly highlight a passage (Sign of Genius!) you can mouse over the passage and a small circled x will appear that you can click to delete the highlighting. Here is large font size, newsprint, with the circled x appearing on “fire-sale price of 99 cents.”


To highlight notes already in Evernote, select the text and if you are on a mac, type Ctrl + Command + H. If you are on a PC type Ctrl + Shift + H. is constantly working on the highlighting to make it smarter. I’m hoping before long we will be able to highlight in multiple colors. And, that we will be able to insert sticky notes on top of the web pages we capture.


Take the trouble to get Evernote Clearly working, and you will go a long way to restarting your Evernote GTD use. It is SO EASY to capture web pages in Evernote. Then, when you need to send a friend a link, you open Evernote on your computer, type in the two words that will search out the web page you are looking for, and then click the saved link on the page. The saved link is available in the note when you are not editing the note.


Click on the note at left, then click on the link that pops up over the top of the note. This will open the original web page, so you can see the link is still working. Then copy the link, and paste it into an email to your friend. Or tweet. Or Facebook post.

Once you have the most vital source of information (the web) functioning as an on-ramp for your Evernote database, I defy you to not use Evernote. And once you are using Evernote, your reference filing will get better. Better to the point where you are doing GTD reference filing.

Because reference filing is a capstone GTD skill. Evernote will pull you back into GTD and hold you there. Hold you because it is easier to do reference filing in Evernote, than to live in a blizzard of paper, browser book marks, and desk clutter.

Getting Started with GETTING THINGS DONE – 2014 – in 28 steps



Getting started with GTD is much easier if you have a buddy. Preferably, two buddies, and experienced GTDer buddy, and someone who is at the same experience level as you in implementing GTD. See GTD buddy system for more details.

How To:

If you asked me how to get started with GTD today (see What is GTD before embarking on this journey), this is the advice I would give. Step zero, take a picture of your desk. If you follow this guide, and get GTD to stick, starting point chaos, will be a valuable data point to refer back to. Here’s my initial desk before embarking on GTD


  1. Order GETTING THINGS DONE and 1,000 3×5 cards
    a. Buy the unabridged audible version of GTD and listen to it while you are driving.
    b. And, buy a Kindle or paper version so you can highlight passages, when you circle back to re-read GTD.
  2. Order a Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500
  3. Go to CostCo and get 4 large (free) boxes in which to triage documents
  4. Subscribe to Evernote
    a. Go to and click on “Sign Up”
    b. Get you your credit card and pay the $45 a year
    c. Get your email confirmation that you account is set up. Write down your username and password for evernote on a 3×5 card.
  5. Download Evernote and install the client on the computer you use most
    a. Download Evernote
    b. Install Evernote
    c. Connect the installed software on your computer, to your evernote account (use the username and password you wrote down in Step 4 c.
  6. Install Evernote Clearly into the web browser you use most
    a. Clearly is a browser add-in, separate from the software you installed above. Evernote = database. Browser add-in = on-ramp to database.
    b. Go to a favorite web page of yours, then click Clearly (a Luxo Lamp Icon) and watch as Clearly removes the clutter from the web page, allows you to highlight text. And most importantly, allows you to save the page to Evernote when you highlight or click sae. You are done for day 1. Time to walk your dog. Your dog will feel stress lifting off you as Millie demonstrates in the picture at the top of this post.
  7. Practice with Evernote (open it up, see the pages you have captured, add manual notes, create notebooks, etc.) each day as you wait for GETTING THINGS DONE and your ScanSnap to arrive.
  8. Practice with Clearly every day as you wait for GTD and your scanner. You might want to read the RestartGTD post where the capstone line is: “Clearly all by itself makes Evernote worth it!” towards the bottom. Then go back and play with Clearly and Evernote.
  9. When the ScanSnap arrives, unbox it immediately, and install it on your computer with the included DVD. This will take you about 20 minutes. Do not read GETTING THINGS DONE until instructed to do so in Step 12. If you procrastinate on installing the ScanSnap to save 20 minutes now, it will take you 20 months or never, to get the ScanSnap installed. Do it. Do it now! (31 seconds in)
  10. After the ScanSnap is installed, get it working so you can Scan-To-Evernote with one click.
    a. Start the installed ScanSnap software by clicking on its icon at the bottom of your screen
    b. Left-click once on the ScanSnap software icon after it is running
    c. Look for “Evernote” in the pop-up list, and left-click once on it
    d. Put a page in the ScanSnap, push the blue button, and watch as the page appears in Evernote. Cool!
  11. Once you have steps 1 through 10 accomplished, then …
  12. Read the first three chapters of GTD.
  13. Read only the first three chapters of GTD. Don’t give in to temporary energy and enthusiasm, and read the entire book. Just chapters 1-3.
  14. Energized by your first wave of hope after reading …
    Mark the 4 boxes you brought home from CostCo as
    “To Scan”
    “IN” and
  15. Next put all your papers into the “IN” box. Don’t worry about making a mess. Just put each document in as a document. You will process and re-organize these documents later.
  16. After “IN” is full, then stop. Take the rest of the day off. I know you are eager to sprint to GTD nirvana. But, you need to pace expectations. Expecting to do a single good block of work at a time to implement GTD is a maximum. If you try to do more than a single block of work, you set yourself up for failure, self recrimination, and external ridicule. 83% of people who attempt to implement GTD fail. And they fail because they try to do too many things, too quickly, while tired. You did not make your organization a mess in a day. And you can’t transform it to a masterpiece in a day. One good thing a day is enough. If you want to see an organizational mess, check out the RestartGTD post on GTD Time Lapse at the top for before pictures.
  17. Next day, approach the “IN” CostCo box, and pull the first document from “IN” box, hold it up. Look at it, suppress any feelings about it, and ask yourself:”Will this ever have a next action?”
    a. If the answer is “Yes” put the document into “To Scan” and then go back to “IN” and repeat this step.
    b. If the answer is “Maybe” then put the document into “To Scan” and then go back to “IN” and repeat this step.
    c. If the answer is “No” then put the document in “Recycle” and then go back to “IN” and repeat this step.
  18. Once your “IN” box is empty, or your “To Scan” box is full (whichever comes first) then take another rest. At least 90 minutes to let your brain reset.
  19. When you come back, move the “To Scan” box next to your ScanSnap. Take each document out one at a time. Put the document into the ScanSnap, push the blue button. When the document is finished scanning, either put it in the box labeled “Recycle” or the box labeled “Precious” if the document needs to be saved.
    1. Once your “To Scan” box is empty, take the rest of the day off. Manage your expectations. One block of GTD work. One day. P-a-c-e yourself.
  20. Go back to Step 15 if you have more papers to process. And repeat Steps 15-20 until all the paper in your life has been recycled or captured in the box marked “Precious”
  21. Take the rest of the day off. Manage your expectations. One block of GTD work. One day.
  22. Once you have all the paper in your life captured in Evernote, the next step is to get your desk clear. Everything off. No pictures. No teddy bears. No momentos. Nothing on your desk in your field of view as you work. In particular, no pictures of faces in front of you where you work. Your brain will work processing faces without ever shutting off. One student has commented to me that this HUGELY reduced her fatigue.
    a. If you don’t have a real desk. Get a real desk. No substitutions, kitchen tables do not count. Floors do not count. You need a big space where you feel pleasure when you work. Go to IKEA’s “As Is” department and buy returned legs, tabletops, panels, conference tables. And modify to taste.
    b. Go to Amazon and get a monitor arm, wireless keyboard, and wireless trackpad or wireless mouse, to transform your desk back from being a giant monitor stand cluttered with paper, into being a brain’s desk that facilitates work. This is the most disregarded step in my instructions. But, it REALLY HELPS. So give yourself a leg up and try investing in your desk.
  23. Once you have a clear desk, and all your paper captured in Evernote, it is time to take your first “After GTD” desk picture. Put the “Before GTD” desk picture into Powerpoint on the left. And the “After GTD” desk picture on the right. Then save the PowerPoint slide where you won’t lose it. Here is my before/after PowerPoint slide:BeforeAfterDesk_pptxBefore/after pictures are important. Before/after pictures are hope. Elephant food if you are a Heath & Heath SWITCH: How to change when change is hard fan.
  24. Next step is time to clear your mind. Most people have 300+ projects in their minds when they start GTD. Sitting down to scrape these out of your head and on to paper, is terrifying. But once you start, you won’t believe how it lightens your mind, and how the time flies.
    a. Sit down and write down every open loop you can think of on 3×5 cards. Go for 100 at your first sitting.
    b. Once you get to 100, take the rest of the day off. Manage your expectations. One block of GTD work. One day.
  25. Repeat step 23 until you don’t have anything else on your mind.
  26. Once your mind is clear, then lay the cards out on your desk. The bigger the desk, the easier this is. Then
    a. group the cards together in clumps of similar stuff.
    b. These clumps are your projects.
    c. Organize each project’s clump into a neat stack on your desk. Once you have all the cards into their natural clumps
    d. put rubber bands around each stack of cards/clump.
    e. Take the rest of the day off. One block of GTD work. One day.
  27. At this point, your mind is clear. You have all your ideas where your brain knows they won’t be lost. Now you have to decide how you want to move forward with GTD.
    a. Whether you will go all analog, using manila folders – one for each project – with 3×5 cards in them, and keeping a master project list by hand.
    TrustedSystemgenerations01_pptx 2
    Or …
    b. Go digital OneNote to organize your projects. Creating project lists with [[projectname]] and then transcribing your 3×5 card notes for each project, into next actions. *Note* your 3×5 cards are likely not Next Actions in the David Allen sense. The step of taking a thought on your mind that you are feeling guilty about, and then compiling it into next actions as you transcribe the card into OneNote is not wasted effort.
    c. Using Evernote to manage your projects as well as your reference files. Create a “Projects” folder in Evernote. Then, create a sub folder for each project. And then either transcribe your 3×5 card into next actions as in b. above with OneNote. Or, by scanning your 3×5 cards into Evernote.
    d. Using OmniFocus (if you are a Mac person). OmniFocus is powerful … and dangerous. OmniFocus is probably the highest fidelity GTD software system. But you may experience over-organization from OmniFocus with the consequence your brain refuses to use the system … as I did. However, if you are a sales person, think hard (try) OmniFocus because David Allen has refined the GTD system to work for sales people. Nobody works harder than sales people, you will need all the system you can get to do your job well.
    TrustedSystemgenerations01_pptx 4
    e. Some kind of hybrid system. My GTD trusted system is broken up across paper and electronic tools. This is less simple to explain. But, my brain will use it. I tried OmniFocus in a monolithic trusted system (27 d.), but I hated sitting down to my desk. So I had to retreat to paper.

The Goal

The above 28 steps are the process that I’ve seen work the best for the about 200 people I’ve helped boot-up GTD. Personally, I’ve stayed on the GTD wagon because I have a ScanSnap and Evernote. These tools make it easier to capture information correctly, than to live in a mass of disorganized papers. My love of 3×5 cards and manila folders gradually gives way to electronic project organizing as a project lifts off. The cards and folders are early stage capture tools for my projects.

Your mileage will vary. My tools will not be perfect for you. I’ve changed my tools so many times (except Evernote and the ScanSnap) that I’m proof that one size does not fit all.  Single design does not even fit one person all the time. But the point is to build your system gradually, experimenting, testing, reflecting on how it *feels* to your brain. Does it allow you to swing, to stop constantly worrying you’ll forget something? Does it *feel* fun to work with? Does your system cut your procrastination and guilt? Are you trying to do too much, too fast?


This process will not get you 100% to the way David Allen’s system. But, it will get you to the nearest local maxima of GTD productivity and GTD swing. Once you go paperless you will discover what a drag paper is. Your Evernote reference filing system will allow you to find everything … in 15 seconds. Evernote *secret* = Evernote does text recognition on all your documents. All you have to do is think of two words that would only be on the document you need, type them into Evernote and *zap* the document is at your finger tips.

Once you have all your projects in some kind of place (manila folder, OneNote folder, Evernote folder) you will feel release of stress. An emergency department doctor who I dragged kicking and screaming to Evernote and a clear desk said to me “I can’t believe how much less stress I’m feeling now.” After my first week of GTD my wife said “Why are you so happy?”


  • When doing a mind sweep, I do not follow David Allen’s two-minute rule. This is the only time in my GTD life, that I don’t DO anything that can be done in 2 minutes, and instead, just write down the 2 minute tasks. After my mind is empty, it is easy to take the 2 minute pile, and burn through it. And, it gives you quick wins to keep expectations at bay.
  • I’ve found that three steps in the above process are sticking points:
    a. Getting the scanner out of the box and functioning. I’ve had to drive to people’s desks and make the scanner go for them because of this “out of box” sticking point. See RestartGTD post abomination of deskolation for case study.
    b. Getting the desk clear. Again, I’ve found it easier to drive to desks and show people what their desk looks like REALLY EMPTY. If you contact me ( for advice. The first thing I will say is “Tell me about your desk?” and what you need to say back is “I got EVERYTHING off it.”
    c. P-a-c-i-n-g yourself. Manage your own expectations. Do not change everything in your organizing, all at once. Know that change will take t-i-m-e. Match building your GTD system, to when you have blocks of fresh energy. Energy is temporary. Read that sentence again!
  • This step-by-step puts getting your computer infrastructure working as a pre-cursor to reading GTD. If you don’t put infrastructure first, you will try to get Evernote and your ScanSnap working while you are tired. Not a good strategy.  
  • When starting out, keep two separate kinds of files: (a) Project Files, and (b) Reference Files. Consciously separating the two kinds of files can prevents confusion. *Aside* I suspect that I *resist* using Evernote for project files because my brain likes having physically separate project and reference files.
  • Reference filing is a capstone skill of getting into and staying with GTD.
  • Having a real desk is a capstone skill of getting into and staying with GTD. Clutter is the enemy, and there is more clutter on desks than everywhere else in your life. Win the battle against clutter, GTD will work.
  • Managing expectations is a capstone skill of GTD. One block of GTD work. One day. Is the rule.
  • Experimenting with new tools, selectively, is a capstone skill of staying with GTD.