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GTD, Implementation – 1

1 – Choice of central tool for the system – difficult

This week, as promised, I am focused on implementing GTD. The least I can say is that it’s not simple. Especially due to the number of available electronic applications, and because I want to, and must, have a system for collecting and processing that is reliable, which I can count on, and which meets my requirements. I have identified my primary requirements and needs as the following: The system must allow me to:

  • Identify all my important personal and professional tasks, as well as my ideas, and categorize them by type (office, home, professional, personal, etc.), level of energy needed, importance, due date.
  • Be able to take notes and enter the tasks into the system from anywhere, at any time.
  • If I use an application it must allow me to access my system at the office and at home, and ideally from any computer, anywhere.
  • Avoid rewrites as much as possible, which cause errors and waste time.
  • Minimize paper as much as possible and opt for digital. Digital is the easiest to store and minimizes the problem of physical space, it is transferable, convertible, and easiest to safeguard. It also allows searching by key words and it is much easier to edit data already entered. What’s more it is ecological – generally. And yes, I am a geek convert and I like the latest technology 😉 .

My primary requirement is to be able to carry my system with me, so that I can enter things into it and consult it anywhere. Ideally, I don’t care to use a system of temporary notes which will force me to have to re-enter the notes into my system, and most of all force me to remember to enter them, I therefore reject Moleskine’s idea of a notepad, even though I discovered this excellent article on the art of transforming your notebook into a machine for GTD for less than € 20. So I am going to look for a digital device that includes an application. As luck would have it, I broke my PDA a few days ago and my cell phone is an old Nokia on which Smartphone functions are limited and not very useful. I have a laptop which I lug around with me every week, but I generally only it take it on my personal travels and I have no wish to open it up – and take it out of hibernate mode which takes several minutes – just to write a quick note or look something up.

Okay, I will use this as the right time to invest in a portable tool that can become my GTD companion – and must also fulfill other functions.

After some thought and looking into different articles on the web, I see two possible solutions:

  • Get a new PDA with a plug-in to add GTD capability to Outlook. But okay, when the phone and PDA are combined, having a device like that in my pocket is still a burden and somewhat pitiful. But I have a GPS Fujitsu Loox N110, which is light and easy to carry, that I could perhaps tinker with and convert it into a PDA. That would at least have the advantage of being cheap, but it will take me some time. Then I will need a tool to add GTD capability to Outlook – there are plenty of those, Jello Dashboard, which is free – and especially to synchronize this new capability with a PDA – good luck with that, most plug-ins don’t support all this functionality, in the belief that most GTD users sit in front of their PCs all day! But it would be good to find, the advantage being that I use Outlook 2007 a lot at the office and at home for email and the calendar, if I could use this application for GTD it would allow me to bring everything together in a single interface. Alternatively: I could also get a Smartphone with Windows Mobile capability and then synchronize it to Outlook.
  • Get an iPhone and use Remember the Milk. Remember the milk (RTM) is a free, user friendly software program that seems to be rather popular on the web for using GTD. Furthermore, RTM offers a complete tutorial on its blog about integrating GTD using RTM. Until recently the problem with RTM was that you couldn’t access it online, but it is nonetheless possible to synchronize with a PDA or a Windows Mobile Smartphone and especially with an iPhone. Why especially with an iPhone? Yes indeed, I have I always wanted this little toy, first because I have always liked Apple’s products – I have a 1st generation iPod nano which is still working after 2 years, and I just love it –  because it’s very sexy and it has a lot of integrated capability that is very useful, which means you don’t have to mess with three different devices. What’s more the unlimited web package that is generally associated with it will let me continuously synchronize with the RTM online database, although a scheduled synchronization might even be enough.

In my heart I am leaning more towards the iPhone+RTM solution, but I need a few days to think it over. If you have any ideas about it, I’m listening 😉 . I would also like to testdrive the input system first, because I would like to be able to write notes and ideas easily on this electronic device, and I know that if the interface is not intuitive and fast, I won’t use it – I learned the hard way with PDAs, when I thought that I would enter my tasks and notes, but the difficulty in using the device made me give up on the idea.

Remember the Milk, l'iPhone et GTD

A great little gadget isn’t it?

II – What I have already done.

  • Email.

I have had a system in place for managing email for a long time and I think it’s efficient. Fortunately, in light of the number I receive every day. I use Outlook 2007 and I have primary folders labeled “clients,” “vendors,” “employees” and sub-folders underneath them, one for every important client, one for every important vendor and one for every employee, with a rule system which directs emails automatically and organizes them in the correct folder. It takes 30 seconds to create a folder and a rule once you know how to do it and then Outlook automatically files mail from your client or vendor for years without you having to do a thing. What’s more, with Outlook 2007’s automatic search feature, the need to file emails has all but disappeared: you can find mail in seconds, wherever it is!

I took the advice of Timothy Ferriss (author of The Four Hour Work Week) and I deactivated the feature for automatically downloading emails: right now it’s something I do manually, to avoid be constantly interrupted.

As for dealing with email, it’s very easy and in fact I have been using the GTD method, almost entirely, for years without knowing it. When I get mail, I read it and:

  • Either I delete it immediately.
  • Or I leave it alone, which means it’s automatically filed.
  • Or I reply to it, if it takes less than two minutes and if I am able to.
  • Or I mark it as unread so that I can come back to it later.

Ah yes, it is totally possible to change an email you have read to unread and it’s even quite simple. :)

In Outlook (it works the same in most email applications), right click on the email, then select “Mark as unread”

Marquer comme non lu . Simple right? Then Outlook displays the number of unread emails that I have in each folder and displays the name of the folder in bold, which lets me know if I have any actions to take care of.

Dossier affiché en gras avec le nombre de messages non lus : Folder containing 1 unread message

Dossier affiché normalement sans message non lu : Folder containing no unread messages

The thing that I don’t do, in keeping with GTD, is to integrate the emails that I reference into a system and categorize the actions that need to be taken. Outlook can do that easily by assigning a category to the email and a due date reminder using the box and flag which are found on the left of the mail item and the date you received itCategories and flags in Outlook .

Flag Categories

The flag lets you assign a due date to the email and the box lets you assign a category.

But I don’t use it at the moment and I am doing very well without it. As French reader Laurent put it, you also don’t want to get caught up in micro-managing your time, which will have the opposite effect of costing more time. At most I am going to integrate actions into the system for emails that require a certain amount of time to deal with and a follow up, for one reason or another.

  • Calendar

I haven’t used this sort of calendar for a long time:

Old school calendar

so i use the Outlook calendar function, synchronized to a PDA, which let me easily edit the calendar and assign color codes to my action – which lets me see at a glance what my day and my week look like.

Outlook Calendar

But anyway, it’s been a lot less useful since my PDA stopped working 😉 .

However, I will keep this electronic calendar, which will either be completely integrated with my GTD system – via the Outlook plug-in – or into which I will copy and paste the possible actions to be entered into the RTM.

  • Desk

Ever since I translated this article which describes how to organize your desk using the GTD method two months ago on my blog Habitudes Zen, my desk has literally gone through a metamorphosis. Before it was often cluttered with paper and different things which had no business being there.

Now, it is empty and serene: only essential items remain. My monitor, phone, a note-pad, a pen holder, some accessories which I use all the time, like the company seal and a postal scale, and a red “to-do” folder. All the papers are in it that I get and don’t destroy, don’t file and don’t see to right away. Then, when I have a little time, I open the folder and deal with the things in the pile.

The system could be further improved upon – I don’t file papers in any particular order, for example- but it is still a big improvement over my last “system,” an improvement which cost me practically nothing in terms of effort and time to set it up.

Today, when I arrive at my company, the simple sight of my clear, tidy desk lifts me up, motivates me and calms me down, all at the same time.

My principal desk

My main desk. Only essentials and a “to do” folder. Oh yes, it is red. ;)

Secondary desk

My other desk, completely empty and reserved for meetings and for dealing with the paperwork.

Filing system

My filing system, located just to the right of my desk, is barely used at the moment. It will eventually be completely incorporated into my GTD system.

Forgive the quality of the photos, I just used my old Nokia cell phone to take them 😉 .

In any case, I really appreciate the clarity of mind that comes from the sight of a clear desk, uncluttered by a ton of things that block my visual field and my brain. I really don’t understand reader French Olivier Maxime who, by way of criticizing pearl No. 7 in my previous article – rightly insisting on the importance of tidying up your desk – sent me a photo of Einstein’s desk:

Einstein desk

Einstein’s desk. Do you think it’s a good example to follow?

As I told him, I don’t believe that taking inspiration from the defects of great men can help you find your genius ;) .

  • Filing

Similarly, I have a filing system which has worked pretty well for many years: a binder for vendor invoices – current purchases and resale purchases, with a divider to separate the two – a binder for company invoices – I keep them electronically, then print then all together at the end of the year to give the accountant – a binder for customer contracts and a binder for all documents relating to employees. I try to keep everything else electronically when I can, by scanning paper documents and converting them into PDF format.

  • Two minute rule

This is the simplest thing to apply in GTD: if something that arrives in your inbox requires less than two minutes to do, do it immediately. It’s really quite nuts, but I do it as soon as I think of it ever since I read the book and it really makes a difference: I instantly get rid of all the little tasks that would otherwise build up and overwhelm me.

III – What I Have Left To Do

A lot of things 😉 . But here is the list of my next set of actions for implementing GTD.

  1. Choose the best tool that really meets all of my requirements, see part 1.
  2. Empty every draw in my desk and apply the GTD sort method (destroy it, put it in the “to do” folder, file it, delegate it).
  3. Same goes for the filing cabinets and shelves.

The GTD method clearly takes a long time to implement, but I think that it’s a wise investment of time and will pay off for me later on 😉 . Only time will tell.

What about you? Have you tried to set it up? How did it go?

[Translated by DeansResource]

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9 thoughts on “GTD, Implementation – 1

  1. Hi Oliver,
    Thanks for the message – I think I’ll post about your project on Business Pundit before the end of the year. I love, love, love it! And I’m tempted to join you. However, I’m writing a novel, and there are only so many hours in the day!

    As for GTD – I used an Excel spreadsheet for a while, but now I’m using gtdagenda and like it a lot better. It’s easy to manage via iPhone and a very nice function is the ability to priortize tasks. I haven’t quite figured out the checklists yet, and I’m using the premium version, but you might want to check out the free version to see if you like it.

  2. Hello Lela,

    Wow thanks for your enthousiasm ! 🙂 I will like if you join me in this challenge, and i hope i will be a source of motivation for others people as well. I understand that you put the writing of your novel in the high priority, you know, i’m an -amateur- writer and i know what it feel 😉 But you can just read at your own rythmn, perhaps one book per two weeks, or one book per month ?

    If you begin, which book will you choose to start ?

    Thanks for the advice about GTDagenda (thanks you too Dan ! 🙂 ), i will examine it before making my choice. But there are so many GTD tools… (whisper)

  3. I’m a bit biased as I’m a hard-core iPhone fan, but you’re implementing the same method as me: iPhone + RTM. I haven’t fully gotten married to it, so I haven’t put in the outlay for a Pro account, but there’s a free app in the App Store called Milpon that does most of what the RTM-native app does. You just have to manually sync it every time you launch it or update tasks.

    All-in-all, a lot of people like to blast iPhone owners as hype-followers, and I’ll admit I was taken with the device the first time I saw the Flash “simulator” Apple had on their site when they introduced the G1. Fact of the matter is, though, the iPhone is a well-designed device with a near-infinite level of potential…while still remaining simplistic to use. I’m a geek, I’m a server admin of a 1000+ server farm for a multi-billion dollar Fortune 10 company…but at the end of the day, I want to be able to do things quickly and easily. Windows Mobile I’ve tried…it didn’t cut it in comparison.

    And, hey, you can get refurbished iPhones for $99 bucks now, so you don’t have to agonize over the initial outlay. 🙂

  4. Hi Olivier,

    I’ve been experimenting with GTD on my iPod touch using RTM for a about two weeks now. I’m new to GTD (I haven’t yet read the book) and I’m just going off what I gathered about it online.

    I have a pro RTM account (US$25/yr) so that I could I could use the application that they’ve recently created. It was perfect for me beacuse I’m not often in wi-fi range so the ability to work offline was a requirement.

    As to the interface for the RTM app – it’s incredibly intuitive and fast. Outside of typing the name of a new task, I actually find it more effecient than the online version. Noticeably so for creating and managing lists, adding and managing tags.

    The only major detractor for RTM on the iphone/itouch is that it’s difficult to manage a project because RTM doesn’t support task dependencies. I think it’s possible to hack dependies but the effort probably isn’t worth the effort. What alot of RTM GTD’ers seem to do is to use only use it to capture ‘next actions’. And manage their projects with something else.



  5. Tommy, I found today that one item that Milpon doesn’t support from RTM is the Smart List. Since I create my “top level” lists using those, it makes Milpon a little harder to use. Does the native RTM app support them?

  6. Yes Tony, the RTM app supports smart lists and I find it even more intuitive than online. I think many RTM GTD’ers choose to use a single list with multiple smart lists that run off tags applied to each task. Most have two kinds of smart-lists – ones like “@Home” and ones like “+MyProject”.

  7. Hello Tommy, and thanks for your sharing 🙂 .

    I haven’t decided yet which app and which device use, for the moment I use Outlook to manage my task, and paper when I ‘m not at office.

    I think I will wait for the 3rd version of the iPhone. I’m meeting and talking with a lot of people using various systems for GTD, and one thing I figured out is that the best system is the one that you designed and works well for you. It’s not easy to choose the good software in first place thought 😉 .

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