Musings on eighth grade organizing …




THE NEW YORK TIMES has a curious article: Working From Home, Without Sideshows, today.  

 Work OR Home?

From a GTD perspective, this OR dichotomy *feels* odd.  The GTD perspective on where to work is not an OR.  GTD is AND.  As in, how do I work at the office, and at home, and on the way between office and home, and when I’m at any phone, and when I’m at any computer, and …  Which is to say, all the places in our lives and moving among them, are interruptions to work that we must pre-organize our GTD selves in order to work around, in, over, under, and through.  

Now while I feel like a robot for looking at the world as a place to work rather than play, GTD has allowed me to feel less stress and live with increased happiness, because I am in harmony with my American cultural programming to work, work, work.  But more sanely, GTD has allowed me to sneak fun into my work in many new ways, so GTD has an impish rebellion component as well as the Protestant Work Ethic component.  

Source: Stetson Hills School

Work or Home, todo list, checking off todo list, the NYT article is written from what I have come to see as the “eighth grade school of productivity”.  

  • Make an outline of the work you need to do.  
  • Letter the projects in capitals, 
  • then break down the projects into sub-steps 
  • and number them.  
  • Underneath the numbers use lower-case letters, etc.  

This “work is accomplished by sitting along and developing documents” paradigm was the crowning achievement of my eighth grade year at John A Hannah middle school in East Lansing Michigan.  

Microsoft Word = Eighth Grade Thinking With Unlimited Money Pushing From Behind
*Note: the outlining in Word has never worked* 

Home offices then are most productive when optimized for the eight grade approach to work: 

  • Separate space to work that “sets a tone that says ‘work happens here.’ -Angie Mattson
  • Rules with significant others to prevent interruptions -Angie Mattson
  • Organized work space “If your work space is cluttered, your mind is cluttered” -Janet Bernstein 
  • “Your desk … should only have the essentials you need….”-Janet Bernstein
  • “Don’t work in pajamas or sweats…” -Janet Bernstein
  • “Build the kind of accountability found in traditional offices” -Jason Henham
  • “Create a to-do list for the day and cross each task off as you do it.” -David Smith 

But, … but … but … 

While I adhere to most of the above bullet points, the idea that a grown person’s organization can be improved by re-voicing the eighth grade perspective on productivity and adding new bullet items, is bogus.  When working adults talk about productivity by going back to the eight grade productivity model, we don’t learn.   

How can you say that?  

Because one of the fun things I’ve learned about Getting Things Done by helping people get started with GTD and Get restarted with GTD, is that school teachers are very disorganized.  

Source: After Kutscher & Moran

Not out in the open, but in inner mental lives, and most aggravatingly for GTD parents, in organizing infrastructure.  Now, before you launch the flame to [email protected], let me say, “thou teachers do protest too much”.  I’m actually not in the ballpark of criticizing teachers with this comment.  Instead, I’m replaying comments of my public school teaching clients.  Many public school teachers have abominations of deskolation organizing infrastructures.  

And I think this outside of the cup neatness vs. inside the cup chaos is part an parcel of the eighth grade organization model that is the default organization taught in US schools.  

Think about it, the reason that GTD was different when you were first exposed to it, was that it was not an 8th grade step-by-step process, or a list of platitudes to crank up self-control.  Instead, GTD is a system.  A system plus a workflow template that works end-to-end.  Even more in that David Allen has refined GTD over decades, with hundreds of users.  

Another contrast between 8th grade organizing and the real world is given by looking at what eighth grade organization training did not provide: 

  • An organized infrastructure for doing knowledge work that is larger than 1 notebook
  • Something along the line of David Allen’s “trusted system” 
  • A-Z filing 
  • Capturing all sources of important documents 
  • Paper
  • MS Office documents 
  • Web pages
  • eMail 
  • Illustrations 
  • How to think with paper
  • working out ideas via draft after draft of writing, vs, working out ideas with meta-writing tools like: 
  • Given a set of facts, create a powerpoint in 2 hours to present the story of the facts, as coherently as possible
  • Fill in gaps with assumptions, and document each assumption
  • How to take an organization for a project, and then evaluate what is missing and what is un-necessary
  • How to apply common sense in the face of “groupthink” and “Abeline paradox” pressures in groups
  • How to distinguish important knowledge gaps from trivial gaps 
  • How to think for oneself about what is necessary and what would be “nice to have” 
  • How to do “raiding party” research to fill in important gaps
  • How to confront fear of criticism in a group, think for oneself, and then opportunistically obtain information
  • How to divide up research across a team
  • Matching people with passions
  • Helping team members get over paralysis through analysis 
  • Using the network of all team members to find “hot” information

Enough Musings What Was Cool in the NYT piece? 

The links in the article were very interesting in a GTD-way.  In particular I liked Janet Bernstein’s web site questionnaire

“Clutter words” like: overwhelmed, frustrated, procrastinate, embarrassed, lack of organization, stepping stone their way across the questionnaire.  

I thought it was Fun-ronic (fun+ironic) that the organizers had broken/empty links in their web sites on the big day of a NYT article.  This is a goof that I would make!  Sign of genius! 




Hope this was enjoy able! 

bill meade