Getting Things Done: Reviewing GTD in a complicated organizing program




I have an artist friend, Mark VanderSys


Source: (2/3 down the page)

who runs a small, extremely high-touch graphics business: By extremely high-touch I mean: gigapixel pictures with digital scan backs, heavily customized web sites, and seemingly impossible pictures without parallax (i.e., the entire width of the picture is taken at a perfect 90 degree angle to the subject) and …


extremely clean low-retouch photography


New Addition:
The picture at the top of this post is an un-retouched image taken of objects spinning. It was taken with a digital scan back in a standard 4×5 industrial bellows camera, Mark gave a tutorial at BetterLight where he showed step by step how the picture was taken. Click here for the magic pixie dust demo via an .mov file that shows the process.

Mark and I have been implementing Getting Things Done together for several years. Mark uses a customer requirements planning program,, to organize, share, and track his work. Mark and I just spent two hours looking over his implementation of Asana, and reflecting on how GTD lives in very complicated, very powerful systems like Asana.

Lessons Learned

  • Using Skype to share screens is easy!
    1. Get your Skype session going.
    2. Click on the plus thought bubble at the bottom of the screen
    Skype3. Click share screen in the pop up:
    Fullscreen_2014_09_27__3_49_PM4. Continue your conversation while sharing your screen!
  • Complexity of the tool, Asana, Omni-Focus, whatever, expands like a gas to fill your energy and memory, leading to feelings of being overwhelmed. And,
  • … complexity crowds GTD logic out of your mind.
  • When GTD gets crowded out by a tool, we naturally stop managing self-expectations. You are now standing at the top of the GTD off-ramp.

How to implement a new program

  • Get some work into the system. Don’t worry be crappy.
  • Get to know the system, really try to make it work. But, relax. Rome was not built in day.
  • When you get frustrated, talk to your GTD buddy. Getting started with GTD is much easier when you have a buddy. Mark VanderSys is my GTD buddy.

What your GTD buddy will tell you:

  • Slow down.  Rome was not built in a day.
  • Go back to basics. Now that you know a bit about Asana (or OmniFocus, or whatever) it is time to re-read the first three chapters of Getting Things Done. As you go through the chapters s-l-o-w-l-y, write ideas on 3×5 cards, page by page through chapters 1 through 3.
  • Focus on how the program allows each of GTD’s tools to be implemented. Make notes of next actions for doing GTD more fully.

Organizing Work with Hierarchy … and in an Intertwingled World



Source: Preface Intertwingled


  • Organizing tools allow different kinds of organization. In particular, different kinds of project-next action relationships.
    • Paper
      … with a next action focus, manila folders, creates an implicit one-to-many work hierarchy. One project, one manila folder, and inside many next actions. All the next actions relate only to the project indicated by the folder’s name.  
    • Outline tools
      … like OmniFocus (built around OmniOutliner), Evernote, and OneNote use an implicit one-to-many work hierarchy. That is, you start with a project, and then create N next actions to complete the project. But advanced tools like OmniFocus go a bit further. Next actions can relate not only to projects in a hierarchical way. Next actions can also relate to contexts. So the simple one-to-many hierarchy of project and actions, begins to fray. GTDers are coached to think of projects and contexts as a kind of matrix organization structure, and then next actions live at the intersection of project and context.
    • CRM (Customer Requirements Management)
      … systems like ASANA however, are not limited to one-to-many work hierarchy. Yes, you can create a project and then a task underneath the project. But in addition, Asana tasks can be related explicitly to multiple projects.

      This is a many-to-many link which CRM systems have evolved so that a next action can be tracked in relation to many projects. With many-to-many relationships, CRM allow GTDers to use “more colors of the rainbow” by tracking multiple projects that a next action relates to, but CRM systems shatter top-down one-to-many work hierarchy that a GTD person is used to seeing, and substitute an extra step of running queries, to see the full status of a next action against its projects. Very disorienting … at first.

  • Ugh, I’m feeling scared. Overwhelmed, dizzy. What can I do if I need to use a CRM system to implement GTD in my intertwingled life?
    • Go back up to what your GTD buddy told you above:
    • Just be aware of what the electronic system can do. And use GTD within that electronic system, as fully as you can. Don’t force yourself to use too much complexity.
    • Wait. Over time, as you keep your eye on GTD inside the system, you’ll have ideas. For example, you might have the idea in Asana, of doing a query that shows you the next actions in the system, that will move the most projects forward. Might be useful to try!
    • Experiment. Let these ideas come, and then experiment with them.

Thanks Mark VanderSys for a fun afternoon of GTD buddy check in!

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