Order of Battle for Mark VanderSys (and other visual learners) Getting Restarted With GTD

One of my prototype customers for the http://restartgtd.com blog is Mark VanderSys, a photographer and digital artist in Boise Idaho.  I bought Mark an audible copy of GTD 3 years ago when I was in the first flush of implementing GTD.  Mark has been trying GTD on again and off again ever since.  Mark is a visual learner who has been trying to implement GTD via a single comprehensive technical tool.

After launching the first five posts on restartgtd, I emailed Mark to tell him about the blog and how I think he might be interested (bottom) and here is his response (top)

I spent two hours on Skype with Mark and his wife Kelly talking through GTD, my system, why I have arrived with the ecology of sub-systems that I use, and experiments I think would be useful for him to try to prototype his way to a system that will get him to mind-like, desk-like, office-like, and life-like water.

With Mark’s permission, here is an order of battle (with my commentary) for visual learners to get restarted with GTD.

Step 1: Mind sweep

Get to a large table with nothing but a stack of 300 3″x5″ cards, and a pen.  Spend one hour writing down every idea that pops into your head.  As you wait for ideas, feel free to organize the cards you’ve written, into groups on the table.  But, drop everything when a new idea hits you, and write the new idea down.  Logic: The subconscious is holding thousands of ideas.  This is why your brain feels like Medusa where the snakes are all wriggling on the inside of your skull.  The purpose of the mind sweep is to get your subconscious dumped on to cards so that you can experience the release of stress.  Until you release your stress, you will not be able to focus your full mental faculties on the important and urgent tasks at hand.  That is, you will be fighting with one hand, and two feet tied behind your back until you get your mind dumped.

Step 2: Totapalooza

Go to Target and get 12 or 24 totes (or equivalent) to hold manilla folders.

Step 3: Slick Simple Totapalooza Storage

Figure out how you are going to store totes with manilla folders where you can get ahold of them in 5-10 seconds, but where you will not be looking at them while you work at your desk.  I use book cases (see my system here), you will need your own pleasing arrangement.  Plan on experimenting with this through multiple iterations.

Step 4: Scanapalooza

Get a 2nd computer set up to do nothing but scanning.  Your spouse, kids, admin, or friends, can do the scanning. The computer does not need to be in your office.  It just needs to be linked to your own Evernote.com account.  Have the scanning done in one location so that the files magically appear in your Evernote account.  Since you have a Fujitsu ScanSnap S300, I give you one week to have every piece of paper in your office that matters scanned.  If you can’t get the scanning done in 1 week, then you have to spend the $440 on Amazon to buy the ScanSnap S1500 (Mac Version | PC Version).  There, get it done, save $440.  Enough incentive?  I raked all the essential paper out of my 94,000 page file system in one week with my ScanSnap S1500.  If you can’t cut it in a week, your infrastructure is too small.  No whining.  A mind is a terrible thing to waste.  The fastest way to waste a mind is to have an office full of paper.

Step 5: Manilla Folder Palooza

You know that most excellent Brother QL-570 label printer you bought but are not using?  Get it set up so that you can make a folder with a pretty label in 15 seconds or less.  Organize your 3″x5″ cards into manilla folders that are projects.  Then, organize your similar projects into clumps.  You will find the clump names as you take your mind sweep and then roll it up into project folders, and then roll your projects into similar groups.  This approach is like DNA shotgun sequencing, a VERY bottom up organization.  But since your skull is about to split open from all the wriggling worms, this is a great way to take the next logical step.

Yes, I make an exception for 3″x5″ cards because there is no good way to manipulate 3″x5″ cards electronically at present.  You could see this as a rabbit running across your trail that you could chase down and invent a solution to, but since you need to feed your family I respectfully suggest you use the appropriate low technology of 3″x5″ cards and leave the inventing to someone else.  You can always scan the cards and dump them into a suitable electronic system once someone comes out with it.  Zengobi.com has a product called Curio that is in the ballpark, but I don’t think it can beat 3″x5″ cards yet.

Step 6: Organize Totes Into Project Clumps

Make folder labels for each tote so you can easily keep track of what clump of projects is in which tote.  You should not use my tote project clump names, but since you are a visual learner, I need to prime your pump.  Here are the clumps I’ve got going right now:

1. Career History (original artifacts from all the jobs I’ve held)

2. Immediate family (Beth and I, the kids, Mom Dad)

3. Broader family (Family histories, family portraits, more artifacts etc.)

4. Concordia University Projects (classes and the program I’m building)

5. BasicIP projects

6. BasicIP prospects

7. Graduate school

8. Dissertation

9. Research


11. Projects (lots of general thought projects that I occasionally pick up, add 3″x5″ cards with ideas to, then put away for completion someday).  David Allen would probably put these into “someday maybe” but for me they are topics that I enjoy thinking about and having them in a general projects tote, is pleasing to my mind.

12. GTD (my notes, exercises, questions, thoughts, etc. on teaching GTD undergrads, MBAs, professionals, and visual learners about GTD).

Step 7: Do another 1 hour mind sweep

Since you’ve made it this far, you have an initial set of ideas rolled up into projects rolled up into totes of kindred projects.  Go back to the quiet with pen and 3″x5″ paper and re-dump.

Step 8: Process Mind Sweep 2

You will continually refine and refactor (i.e., collapse, eliminate, rename, etc.) your projects.  This is normal you should expect to be refining, it is called thinking.  You just need to give yourself permission to think on paper.  The absolute pristine beauty of one-idea-one-piece-of-paper in GTD is that with file folders and totes, you can think with paper.  Use the (low) technology!

I’ve got an appointment to talk to you again next Sunday.  Good luck and have your credit card at the ready if you don’t have all your scanning complete!

Feel the love brother!

bill meade


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