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 2 The AEER Loop Don’t worry, be crappy



Source: Toolpawnandtrade.com

In part 1 of How the smart student will organize I talked about basic infrastructure.

To get organized, you have to invest in some infrastructure.  You don’t have to invest a lot, but you must get a foundation underneath you, or you will default back to filling your brain back up with stuff that is “too important to forget.”  Once you rely on your brain not to forget, you no longer make progress in organizing.

So, after you have infrastructure and you have read the first three chapters of GTD, the journey of GTD begins.  GTD is a journey because you will refine how you implement GTD over time.  I think if the progressive refinement of GTD as the AEER loop.  In this loop, you Articulate your GTD system by picking 1.0 tools for each basic function of GTD.  Next, you use the tool, and let your Experience with the tool soak in, handle a few crises with the tool, and then you move to Evaluating the tool, and then after you’ve been reflecting on how the tool works, you Refactor your tools selection into tools 2.0.

Articulating GTD in Tools:

In GTD’s beginning are tools for seven GTD functions.  GTD’s functions are: Capturing, FilteringOrganizing, Reference Filing, TrashingDoing, and Refreshing.  What these functions are, and how they fit together will be the subject of Part 3 in this series. I introduce these functions here just to give mental place holders for the kinds of tools needed to implement GTD.  Capturing tools, filtering tools, organizing tools, reference filing tools, trashing tools, doing tools, and refreshing tools.

StudentFunctions pptx 1

For example to capture all your tasks and ideas, you could use 8.5×11 paper, 3×5 cards, OmniFocus, Remember The Milk, or any of the many other capture tools that have sprung up around GTD.  In the articulation phase, you need to pick one tool for each GTD function, and then close your eyes and implement.

Why are you telling me this?

For two take-aways:

  1. Don’t over think choosing tools.
  2. If you implement GTD well, you will be evolving organization tools for a long time

You won’t stay with whatever first tools you choose so agonizing over which tool is “best,” is a time waster.  You can’t think of the optimal way to organize yourself.  GTD puts you on a path to find better and better ways to organize over time.  GTD is a mindset, not a set of tools.  David Allen’s system is a fantastic place to start, because he’s refined the system in light of thousands of people using GTD. 

The biggest point of this installment is the AEER loop that GTD allows you to implement.  You start with a tool (Articulate), you use (Experience) the tool, as you use the tool you Evaluate how it is working for you, and then, once you are comfortable that you understand the tool, you Refactor your tools.


For example, in my beginning of GTD, I put every idea on 8.5×11 paper, thence into manila folders.  As I used these tools, I began to feel uncomfortable (Experience) with them, and then to become convicted that I was wasting a lot of paper (Evaluate).  Once my vague experience had surfaced in an evaluation, I switched to OmniFocus (a GTD tool for the Macintosh).

As I experience OmniFocus, at first I was in love with having all my next actions, ideas, and projects, in one place (Experience and Evaluate).  However, once I had EVERYTHING I needed to do in one place, I became uncomfortable sitting down to the computer (Experience).  As I thought about this, I recalled David Allen saying that “If you get too organized, your brain will refuse to use the tool.”  So, I decided that over-organization could apply to me (Evaluate) and then began a step by step evolution away from 100% electronic organization, to what is probably 70% electronic organization.

Where refactoring has brought me today, is to 3×5 cards in manilla folders with an occasional printed email and an occasional 8.5×11 sheet of paper with mind maps or notes.

In the next post, I will lay out the rest of an initial set of GTD tools.  By now it should be clear to see why David Allen prefers to stay with paper and not go into technical tools: the tech tools change constantly, and they scare away many people.

Don’t worry about being crappy with GTD.  Just do it.

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.

Abomination of Deskolation … Redeemed!

First the before pictures:

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

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Figure 1: The Abomination of Deskolation!

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Figure 2: The Accompanying Office

Now the after pictures:

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Figure 3: The wait, … what?

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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.