GTD of Fear at Work

Quick note on the GTD of fear at work:

I recently started a new job. A dream job. But all dreams come with some crazy, and some weird (C&W). The C&W in the new job was extreme time pressure. This post is my observations on what extreme time pressure and the ensuing fear did to my use of GTD. Or better, what my use of GTD did to my productivity under extreme time pressure + fear.

  1. The biggest positive of this experience was that GTD put me in a focussed frame of mind. There was no possibility of having a mind-like-water when I was desperately behind. Ready for anything? I was barely able to keep up with meetings tomorrow.

    But, … GTD did allow me to develop an attitude towards worry = that worry was a complete waste of time. Being afraid, and resolving to not worry about it. I focused on doing good work, and living or dying based on the good work. This turned out to be an ace that I can keep. I’ve been able to re-use the “We are data scientists, all we can do is good work. And we will live or die based on doing good work.” and so far, good work has produced nothing but breakthroughs. And, …

    I don’t miss the time spent worrying. :-)

  2. I’ve heard about trotting horses that you train them to swing right and left legs together, and then very gradually, you train them to speed up with the trotting gait. If you push them to faster than their training can support, the stop trotting and gallop. This slows the horses down.

    Fear at work pushes my use of my trusted system, to the point where I stop using it. And like trotter horses, I begin to gallop with stream of consciousness organization. And I slow down.

    When I go from trotting with my trusted system, to galloping without it. I’m off the GTD wagon. :-(

    I find that I have to budget time to focus on organizing all the information pouring in. Budget time to refactor and build-out my trusted system towards new challenges. But because of the time pressure, I have to sneak trusted system building into time cracks of the day.

    This is the sentence we GTD users bring upon ourselves. Raising productivity, taking on more, getting to the point of galloping. Then, refactoring and refining. Over time, responsibilities increase, and the refactoring of the trusted system never gets easy. It just works. No guarantee trusted system refinement will be easy.

  3. Looking back on the past 3.5 months, I wonder if the focus GTD has brought, or the ability to put aside fear and worry, has made me more sensitive to patterns. Patterns have been leaping to mind. For example:

    (a) A common pattern of our customer sales cycle.
    (b) The repeated pattern of co-workers under pressure.
    (c) The validation of my “radar” that sees future problems … far in advance

Perhaps there is a self-induced “Hawthorne effect” for GTD people in struggling to keep work life functioning smoothly from a trusted system. Whatever the source, GTD has stood me through.

bill meade

Good People Doing Good Things



I have this high school engineering teacher friend John Niebergall. Long time readers of will remember John as the character studied in the abomination of deskolation from January of 2012.  Here are John’s Getting Things Done before/after desk makeover pictures:



Well, John has embarked on something of a teaching odyssey. But before I get to that, I should point out one of John’s previous odysseys: female-only engineering classes, which you can watch on the CBS Evening News.

John was trained as a shop teacher (Oregon State, go Beavers!) but what he really teaches is engineering. Here’s a picture of the all girls class in the computer aided design lab (from the CBS story above):


John’s CAD lab was so advanced that it could certify students in Solid Works, Rhino 3D, and several other CAD packages. All this on ancient computers with tiny (40 GB) hard drives.

I met John while building a college-level experiential entrepreneurship program designed to get people to learn cad, design products, then apply customer development to refine the products until customers said “I must have this” and once the product concept was strong enough to scale, to apply accounting, sales management, etc., the normal business curriculum, so that students could emerge with a business degree and a running business. Ideally, at a profit.

Yes, this is crazy, out there, impractical, etc., etc., etc., except … it works.


A former student of mine, Garrett Staples actually succeeded in building a company: Prink Tech which you can find on the web, Facebook, Pinterest, and many other places in social media.

So Niebergall’s stuff has magic success pixie dust all over it. So much pixie dust that he should be viral. But so far, Niebergall’s magic pixie dust has not translated to virality.  This morning I realized why. RestartGTD has not alerted the 100 daily readers of this blog. So without further ado, let me tell you about …

Niebergall’s Magic Pixie Dust World Tour and Odyssey De Jure

Last year John wrote an educational grant to buy a RV and fill it up with laser engravers, 3D printers, CAD work stations, vinyl cutters, etc. and then drive around Oregon to spread the gospel of fab labs in middle and high schools. John’s grant was funded … fully. And this year, he is living the dream. You can follow John’s magic pixie dust world tour on his Facebook Page

This week, John was in Sutherlin in mid-Western Oregon:


and here  is a picture of the effects of the Niebergall magic pixie dust which is in a word: empowerment. You can see it in the face as people pull the first things they’ve made from a CAD program, from the vinyl cutter or 3D printer or laser engraver:


The fundamental importance of empowerment, was probably discovered by Neil Gershenfeld, a leader of the development of Fab Labs, Check out Gershenfeld’s fab lab TED presentation and his book FAB. The story of Fab Labs starts at about 10:30 in the TED video, this clip is from 11:20


So John is taking fab labs around the state of Oregon, allowing people to hands-on discover for themselves that they can change their lives, and by extension, the world.

So, check out John’s Facebook page for updates on the magic pixy dust world tour. And when rapid prototyping begins to turn the Oregon, and then the US economy around, you’ll know where it all started.

Appendix A: The Oregon Engineering Education Dream Team

John Niebergall is to going to kick my rear end if I don’t add that he is not a lone genius. There is a cadre of lone geniuses behind this story. All of which have pulled together to use fab labs to extend from shop curricula into teaching engineering proper. These people are changing the game of technical education because they have amassed a body of skill, equipment knowledge, and a world view, that is a decade ahead of college engineering and college business education.

I met John at a high school engineering teacher boot camp for rapid prototyping put on by Pat Kraft (and the NSA) of Portland Community College – Sylvania campus. Pat is a behind the scenes guru of additive manufacturing, rapid prototyping, and change management.


Don Domes, another high school engineering teacher who has worked behind the scenes to get the state of Oregon to think in terms of fab labs changing the economy. Don’s relentless, skilled, and refreshingly idealistic advocacy for technical empowerment has produced successful students, programs, and a communion of kindred minds for high school lone geniuses to plot improving technical education.


Don Domes image from

Another lone genius is Tim Morley of Century High School in Beaverton Oregon. Tim is a first class idealist, protecting himself under a thick skin of cynicism. But long time readers of know that cynicism is nothing more than frustrated idealism.

Co-conspirator with the Niebergall, Kraft, Domes gang, Tim is a specialist in finding the skeleton keys to unlock high school minds to become interested in learning. If you talk to Tim, ask him about tasking his students to cut precise dimensions with a laser. Little things matter. Little things like “How wide is the laser beam?” :-)


Tim Morley from

Paul Reetz is the final person I’ll call out here. Paul teaches math or more accurately, he tricks the students into teaching each other math with an amazing collaborative math curriculum. Paul coaches a robotics team, has put together an amazing welding curriculum, and was the most difficult person to find a picture of. Somehow, no surprise. Paul is all about students.

If you talk to Paul, ask him about how his students make skate boards and wheels for their skate boards. When touring high schools while building my entrepreneurship program, I was continually surprised. Every high school is unique. And every high school was way more advanced than I expected. Paul’s choice of a problem that his students love, skate boarding, and his progressive development of a fab lab that allowed experimentation around student enthusiasms, were transformational. Layering wood, carbon fiber, and whatever other materials the students wanted to try, into a skate board deck, blew my mind.


Paul Reetz

The conspiracy to take engineering education to the next level despite falling funds, discouragement, a bad economy, etc. is much larger than just these people. But these should give you an idea how behind the scenes deep embers of burning idealism can bring together amazing approaches to education, and ultimately, amazing results.

bill meade

Get “IT” Off Your Desk!!!


Screenshot 6 26 13 9 10 AM

Source: Ebay


I’m always on the lookout for paper trays that get paper off my desk, so the entire surface is free to organize 3×5 cards on.  Ken in a comment pointed to a very interesting family of off-the-desk products.  Purpose of this post is to show the product family off and point out the relative cost-effectiveness of these desk accessories compared to say … Steelcase desk accessories.  

The accessories:

In addition to the three tray unit for $40 above, there is a two tray unit for $30 … 

Screenshot 6 26 13 9 16 AM

And a two tray + phone organizer for $40 … 


A formidable six tray unit for $40 (the unit that Ken alerted me to) … 

Screenshot 6 26 13 9 20 AM

Note that the paper trays are rotated 90 degrees from their orientation in the three tray organizer, so it looks like the trays can be mounted to the tower, from either side, or the tray’s back.  

A rotary catalog + paper tray organizer for $40 … 

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And to mix it up a little, a catalog + phone organizer for $80 …  

Screenshot 6 26 13 9 26 AM

For comparison, here is a Steelcase task light for … $340!   

Screenshot 6 26 13 9 29 AM

So what? 

These desk accessories are significant because, like monitor arms, they allow you to clear the surface of your desk.   Here is my desk before monitor arm: 

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Here is my desk after monitor arm:  

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Having the monitor off the desk surface allows a dramatic increase of usable desk space.  Having a monitor arm allowed me to write on my desk or sort 3×5 cards (my atomic unit of thinking) without restraint.  

My desk surface is an IKEA conference table, so it provides a lot of space.  I used this table for a year and then on impulse leaned over the desk and stretched my arms to see how much of the surface area I could reach: roughly 40%.  I composted this for a few months and then with the help of my cats … 

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I cut out a plug for the mandatory hole in IKEA conference tables, and then diagrammed a semi-circle of 15″ at the middle of the desk:  

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and then cut it out:

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Then bought white edging material at Home Depot that I ironed on to the raw edge of the cut. 

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 With the cut-out I can now reach 80% or so of the remaining desk.  Of course I have lost some usable desk space from the cut out, but I have gained much more use of the remaining desk space.  For example, without the cutout, I needed to push my keyboard 14″ or so from the edge of the desk in order to get my forearms on the table (my perfect ergonomic position for typing).  As I type this my keyboard is about 5″ from the top of the cut out, and my forearms are just wresting over the edge of the cutout.  Comfy! 

So what? 

The signal in the noise of this post is that if you work at it, you can get your desk clear, you can improve the usability of your desk, you can be more organized and more comfortable at the same time.  The more of your desk you can use, the more focused your work can be.  

bill meade  





Perfect GTD Desk +2: Desktopia Redux

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See also: The Perfect GTD Desk +1

See also The Abomination of Deskolation Redeemed 

See also: The Perfect GTD Desk


Perfect GTD desk +1 has been refactored once again.  The above action shot displays several changes:

  • The monitor arm has switched ends of the desk
  • The cable access door in the Ikea Galant Conference Table has been filled in with wood
  • Gave up on mounting the Fujitsu ScanSnap on the monitor arm.  It was cool to look at, but even cool stuff is clutter when you are trying to get work done.  So I resurrected a shipping box and mounted both the ScanSnap and the Brother label printer on the box.  So far so good, the box has not interacted with the chair legs.
  • Screwed the chair mat to the floor in the correct location with 4 2″ drywall screws.  *Bam* no more wandering chair mat!!!
  • A 15.5″ semi-circle has been cut out of the center front of the conference table.
  • To create a 15.5″ radius, the conference table was slid forward until the back edge of the desk was flush with the Galant support frame.
  • I also slid the conference table surface to the right until the left edge of the work surface became flush with the left side of the Galant support frame.  Here’s an action shot of the top left corner of the desk:
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  • Power adapter moved from underneath the work surface to Galant table legs.  With diagonally crossing cable ties it was simple to mount the power adapter and then slide it around to readjust it.
  • A cordless remote control light switch was added (mid right hand of the back of the iMac) controlling the keyboard light, the floor lamp over the desk, and the floor lamp in the corner of the office.
  • The “un-drawer” was shifted left and canted at a diagonal angle from lower left hand corner of the desk, to upper right hand corner.  This removes the un-drawer from constant collisions with knees.
  • The purpose of the undrawer is to hold all the items that need to be at hand, but that clutter up the desk surface.  I have stapler, tape dispenser, utility knife, a 10 port USB hub, flash light, and my Plantronic USB headset (wireless headsets suck!).
  • Action shots:

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  • USB and power were added to the right hand end of the desk (form the semi-circle side of the desk).  While I wanted usb and power plugs available, I need them to be out of sight, and they can’t be mounted under the surface without cables working their way out with gravity.  So I turned both poet and USB adapters 90 degrees and mounted them with cable ties and cable tie anchors.
  • Action shot:

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When I sit at my desk now, I’m in the semi-circle and can rest both elbows on the work surface at all times.  I can also reach a much larger proportion of the work surface.  I especially noticed the altered surface to volume ratio of the desk when I wiped it down with Windex to shoot the pictures in this blog post.  Standing in the semi-circle it is easy to wipe down the entire surface of the table.

When people try the desk out, the first word that comes out of their mouths is “Game changer!” and then “I’m going to do this to my desk!”

The monitor arm now swings the iMac completely out of the way of the desk.  Action shot:

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And when sitting at the desk, it looks like this:

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How To Section:

I started with this configuration:

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This worked OK, except that it began to bug me that the cable access door in the work surface did not do anything.  If a feature is not doing work then it is clutter by definition.  So I stripped the monitor arm off the desk, removed the power outlet and the IKEA cable management baskets, and then the un-drawer which you can just see peeking out under the work surface by the red mouse.

Then I detached the work surface, and laid under the desk sliding the surface to different places and then seeing how it *felt* from beneath and above the desk.  I had the idea to slide the desk forward and to the right to maximize the work surface overhang.

Next I started drawing curves on the surface of the desk.  Because it is a whiteboard, I was able to draw, look, erase, redraw, and play with the shape in my mind.  I like the idea of reshaping the desk with bulbous organic curves at the corners like this:


But, I was too chicken to cut very much out of the desk.  Because desks are experience goods, you can’t think your way to what you will love.  You have to generate and test.  So I decided to start simply with a semi-circle cut out.  Starting out the project looked like this (mr. batik supervising):

D3M 5576

D3M 5578

I decided to cut the cable access door plug from the semi circle and marked it with whiteboard marker.  Then I drew a 15.5″ radius semi-circle from the measured center of the front edge of the work surface.  Then cutting began with a jig saw and after the semicircle was cut out, I hustled the iMac back on to the left side of the desk this time.  I don’t know why I tried the left side of the desk.  Just happened that way.  At this point the project looked like this

D3M 5580

Once I re-mounted the iMac on the monitor arm, I was delighted to see that shifting the work surface forward created an opening between the desk and the wall, that allows the iMac to swing behind the far edge of the work surface.  This leaves the work surface completely clear for jotting down ideas, spreading out 3×5 cards, etc.  I like the additional openness of this configuration over where I started from.  Gratifying to contemplate.

At this point I cut a grommet hole out of the semi circle and then used steel straps to mount the cable access door plug and grommet hole plug from the under side of the desk.  Action shot (sorry it is blurry):

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Then I filled in all the gaps around the plugs with white plastic wood which I was very delighted to discover at  Much sanding and re-filling and re-sanding ensued. And once I got the work surface to be “not terrible” I moved on to finishing the edge the jig saw cut.

I was surprised at how easily iron-on melamine edging went on.  Get a clothes iron, cut the length of edging you need, then slowly iron the melamine edge on to the work surface.  Took about 30 minutes from start to cleaned up.  And I’m very delighted with how the edging is staying attached.

Partial component list for desk:

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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!

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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.