3×5 Cool Tool

Amazon_com___Oxford_At_Hand_Note_Card_Case__Black__63519____Index_Card_Binding_Cases___Office_Products

Purpose of this post is to share a *find* … of the 3×5 kind. I have started carrying an Oxford hand-note-card case. And, it is FANTASTIC!!!

I keep the case with 10 or so blank 3×5 cards (stored in the middle pouch so the cards do not get beat up) in my right front pocket. Even the pen holder is useful. I keep a skinny red pen in the case, so I can drag the case out and be ready to capture. Ideas, projects, action items, … whatever. There are also front and back slots to keep cards that have been written. So the case allows me to keep next actions with me, separate from blank cards.

The workflow:

  • Take card case out, and capture the GTD open loop.
  • Slide the open loop into the front or back slot
  • Front slot is for general GTD open loops that can be closed without capture in my digital system. Probably about 50% of the open-loop-cards I capture will be completed without being entered electronically.
  • Back slot is for project related cards that for the most part end up in OneNote or Evernote.

The confession:

  • I lost the first hand note case I purchased, but because it had become indispensable for me, I’ve re-ordered another from Amazon.com

Discussion:

  • How can someone who uses both Evernote and OneNote need 3×5 cards?

Because my brain loves 3×5 cards. The most powerful organizing that I do is to lay out 3×5 cards on a giant table, and then re-organize them by sliding them into columns of related ideas.

popuporganizing01-1-1.jpg

When I put my entire trusted system into the MOST EXCELLENT OmniFocus, my brain refused to use the system. I could not bring myself to sit down at my desk. I *think* in Ready for Anything David Allen actually says “If you get too organized, your brain will refuse to use your system.” Certainly the case for me. So as I’ve documented in the evolution of my trusted system, I use 3×5 cards as my default “one idea, one piece of paper” capture system.

bill meade

Getting Things Done: Reviewing GTD in a complicated organizing program

Evernote_Premium

Source: PixelLight.com

Introduction

I have an artist friend, Mark VanderSys

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Source: BetterLight.com (2/3 down the page)

who runs a small, extremely high-touch graphics business: PixelLight.com. 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 …

Better_Light_2011_Owners_Conference_Report

extremely clean low-retouch photography

Architecture_-_pixellight

New Addition:
The picture at the top of this post is an un-retouched image taken of objects spinning. It was taken with a BetterLight.com 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, Asana.com, 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

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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:
      Add_New_Post_‹_RestartGTD_—_WordPress
    • 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

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

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Amendment:

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

GTDBefore01D3M_2516.jpg

  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 Evernote.com 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
    “Recycle”
    “To Scan”
    “IN” and
    “Precious”
  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.
    TrustedSystemgenerations01_pptx

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?

Incompleteness

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?”

Notes

  • 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 (wkmeade@gmail.com) 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.

GTD Time-Lapse

In the beginning, I was disorganized, no GTD, no Evernote, no OmniFocus, no Dropbox, no OneNote. My desk looked like this:

TrustedSystemgenerations01_pptx

Then I went from no GTD to GTD via Paper and Evernote:

GTD03_ppt

My desk changed to this:

TrustedSystemgenerations01_pptx 3

Then, I got really excited, and went to a 100% digital GTD system via Omnifocus:

TrustedSystemgenerations01_pptx 4

This is the first time I fell off the GTD wagon. I could not stand to sit down at my desk. The feeling of drowning by binary proxy kept me out of my organized office and away from my organized desk. Ugh! But the seeds of RestartGTD.com were born. Somewhere I’m POSITIVE I heard (via Audible copies of his books) David Allen say “If you get too organized, your brain will refuse to use your system.”

I refactored, cut back the role of Omnifocus, got a new job, Evernoted/digitized the 94,000 pages of notes I had from my Ph.D. and went to a hybrid paper and digital system that looked like this:

TrustedSystemgenerations01_pptx 5

And my four desks looked like this:

TrustedSystemgenerations01_pptx 6

Then as I experimented with my system and changed jobs I :

  • Dropped Dropbox for Google drive when I bought a ChromeBook. Google drive is not even in the same league as Dropbox as far as reliability goes, but I’ve stayed with Google drive and Google Apps for simplicity’s sake.
  • Added OneNote to keep work notes separate from home notes. This has actually facilitated manila folders as OneNote makes it *trivial* to print all my tabs (virtual manila folders) and put them into real labeled GTD manila folders.
  • Kept 3×5 cards. They are indispensable for organizing. Laying a large number of cards out on a big table, then re-arranging them into thematic clumps, is the most powerful project organization tool that I possess. *Note* to OneNote and Evernote folks, please please please add 3×5 cards and a flexible user interface for re-arranging cards to your programs!!!!!
  • Kept manila folders. In my new job, I can see my boss relax when I pull out a folder that has an updated project plan in it. And once she saw that she could look in one place for my project list and see what is going on, again, I could visibly see her relax.
  • Kept eMail.

So my system now looks like this:

TrustedSystemgenerations01_pptx 7

And my dungeon desk looks like this:

IMG_20140104_143951.jpg

Thoughts on Tools:

  • OmniFocus is an awesome tool. If you are going to implement GTD to the letter, I don’t think there is a better software package. But I learned that implementing GTD to the letter is not for my brain. But there is TREMENDOUS power in OmniFocus if it is for you.
  • Evernote has been with me since the beginning of my GTD journey. I remember listening to David Allen say “the lack of a good general-reference system can be one of the greatest obstacles to implementing a personal management system” (p. 95 Kindle L1500) and realizing “Evernote! I can use Evernote to be my reference filing system!” You see I had Evernote before I read GTD, I just did not have a use model for it, because I did not appreciate how critical reference filing is to GTD.
  • Evernote keeps adding tools. Some of them are wonky (Evernote Hello for example), but Web ClipperClearly, and Skitch have been game changers for me. Evernote has also gradually increased the kinds of files that it indexes (Word for example was a pain before Evernote started indexing it), and the handwriting recognition is slowly improving. The growth of Evernote’s tool set has kept me loyal as I know I don’t need to jump ship for the latest slick tool. Probably, this reticence kept me for too long from trying OneNote again. I was on the beta team for OneNote 1.0 and getting a change made to the program was like trying to teach a pig to sing.
  • Dropbox is also an awesome tool. But it was (a) too expensive and (b) to focused on single users, at the time I adopted it. Dropbox too is adding tools, but unlike Evernote, Dropbox has not added tools at the point of most intense need for me, and built out from there. I’m sure to Dropbox, Evernote’s file replication must look plebeian, a pale copy of Dropbox with a different user interface. But to me, Dropbox is infrastructure first, and OneNote and Evernote are tools first, with backing infrastructure.
  • OneNote has surprised me. The community of kindred minds around OneNote is much larger than Evernote. And OneNote has the same wonderful enthusiasm of Apple products and Evernote, among its users. OneNote has many of the same over-structured limits as Evernote, only 1 level of sub folders, for example. But, the user interface and the integration with Microsoft Office are freeing to my mind. And, I can’t wait to investigate OneNote add-ins. Evernote’s add-ins are a pallid picture of the promise of its API. More on OneNote as I delve deeper.
  • Google Apps and Google Drive have converted me. I’m now keeping my evolving documents (like resume) on Google drive. I’ve had to delete and re-download my stored files three times. And when I look into my Google Drive folders now, I’m often missing files, finding renamed folders that indicate Google Drive has a problem with becoming confused. Dropbox has none of these issues. So I do miss being able to have confidence in my cloud storage. But I’m careful, back up A LOT, and limp through.
  • Google Now. Another fun surprise. Google now reads my emails and then puts notifications on my phone and in my web browser automatically. This is a huge help for my absent mindedness (call me “Dr. Spaz” please).

Where GTDers are on our own.

David Allen does not recommend technology. Technology is too fad-y I suspect. So we are on our own in sharing experiences and frustrations. And, in dealign with providers like Evernote and MicroSoft and OmniGroup in advocating for GTD-helpful features.

GTDers are also on our own figuring out how to separate work and personal trusted systems. “When you’re trying to make a living there ain’t no such thing as pride.” Richard Marx – Don’t Mean Nothing Lyrics | MetroLyrics. And when you are in the middle or the bottom of a big company, keeping separate personal and work trusted system is a key survival skill.

Number 1 Reason GTDers Don’t Use Evernote … after installing Evernote

False Start in Swimming Competition
S
ource: Corbis

TLDR:

You can do both GTD and Evernote if:

  • You read only chapters 1-3 of GTD, then
  • implement Evernote as your reference filing system,
  • don’t forget to install three Evernote add ons,
  • be well rested when you work (don’t sleep walk) and
  • focus on doing one new GTD skill (reference filing) well, before adding others.

If you don’t do all these steps, you … will … fail and then likely stop using both GTD and Evernote. Failing does not have to happen.

/TLDR:

Reason #1: Too Many Changes At Once

The only reason for time is so everything doesn't happen at once.
- Albert Einstein

OK, you’ve picked up GETTING THINGS DONE (GTD) and you read the first three chapters. You stopped, considered my explicit instructions (see step 4) not to read the rest of the book for a year. In fact, when I give away GTD (I’ve given away over 50 copies so far) I physically cut the binding at chapter 4, and then do not give the last part of the book … until a year later. iPhoto

But most people do not buy defaced copies of GTD, or cut their books. So, they get excited in the first three chapters, and with boundless (temporary) energy, read the rest of the book. Embarking on a mission to change years of organizing habits, in three days. Prepare thine head … to be pulled off.

Even unemployed people can’t implement GTD in three days, a week, or even a month. I’ve seen them try. Changing everything at once is too much “shaking the jello.”

For example:

  • Gathering work into a reduced number of  inboxes
    =new jello … shaking.
  • pre-processing inboxes without doing the work simultaneously
    =new jello … shaking.
  • Setting up separate project and reference folders
    =new jello … shaking.
  • And in the middle of all this shaking GTD jello, you are becoming tired, overwhelmed while excited, so you are basically sleep walking, while continuing to read and continuing to decide to shake more jello because David Allen has given you hope.
  • Hope is something you have not had about organizing your work in say, 3 years. Hope at this point, inebriates.
  • So, you set up an Evernote account, downloaded Evernote, install Evernote, check that Evernote works. Evernote is (sleep walking) working!

But, implementing GTD is such an overwhelming experience, after you get Evernote installed and running, you sleep-walk back to read GTD chapters 4-13. More jello!!!

Then you take a break. Spontaneously your hope from reading GTD, begins to dissolve in guilt. Wait, what?

Trouble with the GTD editor. 

Captain Awkward calls it JerkBrain. I think of it as my internal editor. In THE WAR OF ART, Steven Pressfield calls it resistance, whatever you call it. As soon as you learn some of the tools of GTD, something inside your head will begin to fight against you implementing any of the tools of GTD. An this internal counter-GTD force, will begin piling up guilt in your mind.

A growing sense of guilt, combines with growing exhaustion from trying to reorganize all organizing tools … at once. And it is inevitable. You are going to have to stop implementing GTD and rest. And once you rest, JerkBrain, internal GTD editor, RESISTANCE, whatever you call it, sees its job, as keeping you from going back to GTD, and doing more implementing. One force in your head wants to implement, the other wants you off GTD the wagon.

And in this subconscious battle zone, enters the thought of installing Evernote. Or, … OneNote, … OmniFocus, … Dropbox, … Google Drive, … Google Apps, … maybe even buying a ChromeBook, … whatever. On the left hand side of your head, you have a list of many new GTD tools to implement: inbox, project list, project folders, 2-minute-rule. And on the right hand side, you have a list of many applications programs and systems to implement.

The key to actually implementing GTD is concentration. Concentrate efforts on fully implementing one GTD aspect, an aspect that will get you a big enough payoff, to shut down JerkBrain/GTD editor/RESISTANCE. For me, the one big thing was reference filing.

But, when you are tired, overwhelmed, and barely back to GTD after a night of sleep, or a weekend of family, or the latest big-baby-drama in your life, the automatic thought about reference filing is:

“Reference filing, no big deal.”

This.

Is.

Wrong.

Reference filing, the green box in this image, is a keystone skill of GTD.

Snapshot-10412-1030-AM-2.png

Not a mote, reference filing is a board in your eye. A board because if you are going to make the switch to GTD, Step 1 is to get (currently) useless paper out of your face. Going to paperless reference filing with GTD is a HUGE payoff. You will be able to find information in 15 seconds, that you currently are too discouraged to even try to look for.

And once you can find all the paper that your brain knows you should be able to find. JerkBrain/GTD edtior/RESISTANCE will be shut up long enough, to let you get some work done. And, the work will go faster than you are used to, because you can actually bring together ALL the key information you know you should be able to find, and get quick wins.

Did I mention that reference filing is not trivial? Hope I remembered that!

Reference filing setup requires:

Reference filing is a HUGE challenge. But if you can implement Evernote for reference filing and suddenly have all your key information available, you will:

  • Clear your desk of paper (“So there JerkBrain!”)
  • Clear your office of file cabinets (“Hah GTD editor!”)
  • Allow you to find anything in your old paper files in 15 seconds (this is HUGE it allows your subconscious to trust your change to a new system where subconscious does not need to “not-forget” all your important historical materials).
  • Give you a quick win to overcome cynicism in yourself, and in your peers (it is much better to hear “Why are you so happy?” after a week from your spouse, than “You were all diarrhea mouth about GTD, but nothing has changed. What is up with that?”).
  • And set you up to be successful implementing later pieces of shaking GTD jello.

*Note* having an Evernote account, having Evernote installed, and having Evernote running, is not having an Evernote reference filing system.

Installing Evernote while sleep-walking makes you miss three key components of Evernote’s dominant design.

  1. Evernote Web Clipper.
  2. Evernote Clearly. And
  3. Evernote Skitch.

Without all three of these tools your GTD system will leak all your internet information. As the internet is now the largest source of reference materials, this omission is sin. One byte of data about this …

A Clearly Example:

Last weekend I helped a friend who had bought Evernote Pro based on an enthusiastic Evernote demonstration two years ago. But after installing, she did not use Evernote. When I reviewed her Evernote installation, Web Clipper, Clearly, and Skitch, were not installed. So, we installed them  (2 minutes) and then I pointed her to PC Magazine (single most cluttered web site on the internet) and demonstrated Web Clipper and Clearly. When she saw that in one click:

– she could strip all clutter and advertising from web pages, and
– she could highlight passages in web pages, and
– that the web pages automatically save into Evernote, and
– that Evernote automatically put documents in folders where they are wanted,

she said:

“Clearly all by itself makes using Evernote worth it.”

Read that sentence again!

Summary:

I’ve heard that of all the people that attend the $800 GTD seminars, only about 17% actually successfully implement GTD. If there is an 83% failure rate implementing GTD, and in the middle of that failure there is this “Reference filing, no big deal!” trap where you run into:

– a ton of short term setup,
– need-for-un-wavering-attention,
– budgeting time to work while being well-rested, and
– significant costs,

There is no way you can reach Evernote critical mass. Heck, 83% of people don’t reach GTD critical mass! Changing one organizing habit at a time, is a TON of work. 83% of people succumb to JerkBrain/GTD editor/RESISTANCE.

So, if you want to implement GTD, plan on doing so part time. Budget mental resources in advance to confront JerkBrain/GTD editor/RESISTANCE. But most importantly plan to be patient. Plan to slow down.

And, did I mention, plan to slow down. Organization is a skill like personal training. You got fat over a long period of time. You will not get lean in 3 days. Your physical trainer will manage your expectations for you. But with GTD, you don’t have a personal trainer. You have to manage your own expectations.

Pick the one GTD tool that will give you the highest payoff, implement one tool well, and then move to the next tool.

GTD’s tool payoff precedence for me has been:

  1. Reference filing
  2. Getting a real desk (see Restart GTD’s best-selling-post: Perfect GTD Desk)
  3. Natural project management

Good luck! If you have questions, post them below this post. So far, this is the most read post on RestartGTD. Everyone has questions about reference filing and GTD. Everyone who starts implementing Evernote will run into a roadblock. Roadblocks are the keys to the masterpiece.

-bill

And these three tools take at least a year to master. After you implement these three, I deputize you to read chapters 4-13 in GTD. But, … not until then.

bill meade

GTD: Before and After

GETTING THINGS DONE (hereafter GTD) has had a big impact on me.  As witness, this post shows as much of the before/after GTD as I can articulate, it will evolve as I refine the post into enough detail to please visual learners (you know who you are John Nieberall!).

Question 1: What is GTD?

To my mind, GTD is a brain hack. GTD may look like a self help book, it may feel like a religious cult.  But, GTD is an approach to organizing that helps you shop around for tools that allow productivity with a peacefulness.

GTD is important because life does not come with an owner’s manual that says “get organized in a sustainable high performance way.”  So people go through school, work, phd programs (I did all three) and never spend a day getting organized beyond coping with the next deadline.

Here is the GTD architecture diagram taken from the PDF accompanying the Audible version of GTD:

TrustedSystem03 pptx 5

Question 2: What did your life/office look like before GTD (circa 2009)?

TrustedSystemgenerations01_pptx

GTDBefore01D3M_2516.jpg

In the garage, I also had a 5 drawer horizontal filing cabinet with 94,000 pages of journal articles, research data, and miscellaneous documents that were too good to throw out but not good enough to use.  Here is the filing cabinet in the garage next to the Y2K water barrel.

D3M 6097

Question 3: What does your life/desk look like after GTD?

iPhoto

Note that this desk is: (1) large 6′ x 35″, (2) clutter free from the surface up 6″, (3) canted (the front edge is 1″ closer to the floor than the back edge.  I will write more posts on desks and their requirements as taking back my desk was a key stepping stone for implementing GTD.

<<Aside>> the most up to date “after” desk picture is available in the Dungeon Desk post.

Next comes my physical filing system (Target totes) with 5″ book ends in the tote if there are not enough manilla folders to completely fill the tote:

TrustedSystem03 pptx 3 1

D3M 2955

D3M 2956

But, over the years, I’m using fewer and fewer of these totes, and shifting the vast majority of my projects into electronic formats. The reason for this is Evernote. Go buy Evernote. Do it. Do it now!

Nothing has helped me to stay on the GTD wagon more than Evernote. Makes it easier to file documents correctly, than to deal with the clutter, loss, and despair of messy papers.

So while before GTD had the 5 drawer horizontal file cabinet, after GTD I have a modified GTD system:

TrustedSystem03 pptx 1

To get from paper to Evernote I raked through the 94,000 pages of paper in the file cabinet, and ask myself for each document “Will there ever be a next action for this document?” 80% of the documents were instant “No!” and they went straight into recycling.  The 20% that were yes or maybe, were 17,500 pages which I scanned in a week on my Fujitsu ScanSnap.

Here is my annual capture of reference file information.  The median monthly count of documents captured for the first three years of my using Evernote, is 65.  For the most recent 3 years, the median is 164 documents per month.

Many of the documents I capture in evernote are web pages, the Evernote Webclipper and Evernote Clearly browser add ins have become indispensable for me. I’ve capture 3,336 documents via Web Clipper (to see how many you’ve captured type source:web.clip* in Evernote’s search box). The total for Clearly is 1,441 documents captured (source:clearly*). I use Web Clipper whenever I need to assign the notebook the document needs to be placed in.

Here is my cumulative Evernote document count over the 57 months I’ve been doing GTD.  The jumps happen as I have scanned and recycled, as I Evernote has lifted limits on file sizes, as I’ve moved, and often, when I start a new job. I have 48 gigabytes of information in Evernote as of 2014/10/01. But I’ve paid just $45 a year, which has felt like rounding error. Nothing.

Screenshot_2014_10_02__10_43_PM

My final offering to the visual learner on Before/After GTD is a worksheet that covers more pieces of my system (GTDInfrastructureEvolution01b.xlsx):

NewImage

Here is a summary view of how I am doing GTD after 3 years:

Trustedsystem04

See also 5 years of subsequent GTD system evolution in GTD Time Lapse.

bill