LoFi-HiFi GTD Whitepaper 1.0
(or: a time-capsule into 2006, when I used index cards for everything)
People still seem to really like this document even though it doesn’t accurately reflect my current state of affairs.
Status of this Document
This document was written by R. Emory Lundberg and edited by nobody, which will be obvious to the reader. Comments may be left with the author, and all feedback, discoveries, and changes in workflow will hopefully be documented here so that others may find inspiration.
This paper is nothing more than a summary and use-case of implementing David Allen’s Getting Things Done™ (GTD) using both hifi and lofi weaponry with a primary focus on Mac OS X but the general desire to be as desktop platform agnostic as possible, except where not possible. The author puts portability, mobility, and efficiency above all other considerations. The author is an information security researcher and engineer for a large organization with offices around the globe, as well as a consultant, and a freelance writer. Due to the very nature of the author’s responsibilities, a suitable workflow to implement GTD was difficult to accomplish. As something of a (wince) subject-matter expert for mobile tech specifically relating to Mac OS X and wireless connectivity this paper is decidedly low-tech.
Presently the online methods for implementing GTD are deemed by the author to be not mobile-friendly and the author places the utmost importance on accessibility and reliability. For most of my friends at 43Folders this will read like an erotic novel. Hello, everyone! This is my trusted system. I trust it. It works for me. It has helped me sleep better, work better, play better, and live a much better life. With all things related to productivity, it comes down to what works for you.
Tools Used or – Bill of Materials.
I use a healthy mix of tools and regularly throw in new ones as needed. I have tried various online services and find that the only one worth using at this time is Backpack for managing reference material that must be shared, collaborating on documents, and to act as a simple publishing system for any odds and ends. The document sharing system it provides is great, so I can easily make a list of things and share it with my wife or coworkers that demand up-to-the-minute updates on a project.
I have used Palm OS devices, BlackBerry devices, had a Windows Mobile device for 32 whole hours, and an assortment of smartphones based on Symbian OS such as S60 devices (Nokia 6600, N90, 6680), Series 80 devices (Nokia 9500) and UIQ devices (Sony Ericsson P900, P910). I spend most of my time day in and day out in OS X, Win32, Linux, OpenBSD, and Solaris. I have come to the conclusion that anyone that can use a PDA for GTD isn’t busy enough. What I’ve found is that in spite of these devices being digital and therefore super extensible, they are completely limited in the freedom of motion that they give the user. You are at the mercy of software updates, developers in the marketplace, and hamstrung by limitations in the devices themselves that make it very difficult to manage multiple projects concurrently. You can only look at one item at a time on a digital device. There is no such thing as peripheral vision and a “horizon” when you’re on a digital device. No big picture. No overview. Everything you do on a PDA or smartphone is limited by device. My life, my projects, and my tasks are bigger and badder than a 320×320 display can possibly show me.
I cannot imagine why I even bothered trying for so many years. If I was simply managing a flat list of Todo’s, that’d be one thing. But I have a lot more going on than that. PDAs are still completely one-dimensional. Item after item is sterilized and pushed into pixels. No good. This is why right now I am using a Nokia N90 smartphone on the S60 platform. It has a solid Contacts application and a great Calendar, but its Tasks program stinks. This is fine for me, since I’m managing tasks and projects on 3×5 index cards, where I can have versatility and depth of field easily managed by not merely having a metaphor for the tasks, but actually being able to actually lay them out and organize them with my two hands. This provides me with a great deal of control and visibility. Working with index cards lets me be immediately ready to view all of my current tasks and projects, immediately discuss anything I’m working on with a manager or peer, and let me immediately brief anyone on the status of Project Y without keeping myself at a distance by using a laptop, pda, or otherwise removing myself from the equation. I can also see, by merely moving my head a couple of degrees, all of my projects, all of my tasks, and all of my open issues, or even just what I want to be working on based on the current context. On a PDA I’d be fidgeting for several minutes to get the big picture. With index cards, all it takes is a glance. And moving a project or changing priority involves simply picking up the card and putting it somewhere else. Sometimes simple is better. Going analog has shortened my response time and given me even greater clarity. Go figure.
The following tools are used to process, capture, and store reference
materials and project materials digitally.
Not entirely relevant. Several workstations, half of which are running OS X and the rest are other OS’s.
- Apple’s Mail.app or Thunderbird. You should be using IMAP because that way all of your email is in sync no matter what device or computer you’re using.
- iCal for hard-landscape (schedules, appointments, tickles for other things)
- DEVONthink Pro
- Service: Backpack
- Service: del.icio.us
- Service: Newsgator
- Quicksilver makes it all faster than it would otherwise be.
- TextPander lets me have auto-text without migraines.
- Inbox in home office three-tray model that I think I got from Ikea a few years ago. Mesh-y. Nice.
- Inbox at the office office – something from Staples.
- Inboxes in the living-room: collapsable boxes, His and Hers.
- Writing utensils such as these lovelies
- Levenger shirt-pocket briefcase (SPBC)
- Levenger 3×5 card docking station
- Levenger leather rope case
- Co-worker built me bleachers for 3×5 cards.
- Cheap Labelmaker from Brother. Its a “hobbiest” model. Works perfectly. Fits in a bag so you can label things when you’re on the run from the cops.
Working with Email
Email is one of those things that easily crushes the weak-willed. It is the best way for you to die a thousand times each day if you’re not careful. The Inbox Zero series is worth a read. I am very good about keeping my email interrupts down to nearly nothing. My job is heavily email-based. Open issues with customers, discussions, and other notifications are largely handled via email. I have tried to keep my actual email processing times down to a few a day.
A few thoughts about Wireless Email
Wireless email is usually horribly implemented by most people. I find that the majority of people who are hooked up to the email Skinner Box are driving themselves completely insane by thinking they actually need to know the moment someone spews something. Most mobile email is nothing but a distraction, a diversion, and actually impedes the ability for you to work. Think about it: When you’re getting beeped, buzzed, or alarmed every few moments, think about what that does to you. Your brain or your body is constantly being forced into a reactionary state of being outright hostile. If you are using a BlackBerry or other mobile email device, disable the message alerts. Read your messages when YOU want to, not when the device fish-hooks you. That device that you think is helping you stay on task is interrupting your every thought, your every word. You are being reduced to a sub-human creation of Pavlov, salivating all over yourself the moment you hear a 2-track midi file play. That isn’t a way to work, and it certainly isn’t a way to live. So just like you shouldn’t have an alert on for emails on your desktop, you most certainly shouldn’t have an alert for mobile email. It disrupts you, and it disrupts everyone around you. Having said that, I only follow my own advice about half the time. But I have also completely eschewed mobile email from the office. I turned off my BlackBerry 6 months ago, and I’m still as in-the-know as the people still being force-fed. It was a leap of faith, and you can’t believe how good it feels.
Lowering the INPUTS is inversely proportionate to the OUTPUTS. Go figure. What do you want to do for a living: read email, or build, create and blow some minds? You aren’t going to change the world in your Inbox. Period.
Email Mojo and Methodology
I have a session of pine open and connected to the office Exchange server all day long. I also have one connected to my personal email server all day long. I like this because it it runs in a little terminal window. No pop-ups, no loud dings, and certainly no giant jumbo full-screen display of crap. A list of messages. Simple. Using the GTD kung-fu grip on time allotment lets me quickly stay sane. If I can do it in 2 minutes or less, I do it. Usually these are just things that require a reply, and not even a very well thought-out one. If something requires thinking, the coffee-crazed caffeinated captains of industry like a lot of touching. So I use a TextPander macro that says something like “I have your message, I’m thinking about it, and I’ll get back to you later” and then I save it into that @Action folder. I weed through @Action when I get to the office and when I leave. This is because I’m also on-call or effectively required to work at all hours to stay above water, so I file things into @Action when I’m not even in the office. Mainly to tickle myself when I’m in a working mood. Out of office email is mostly triage and little movements. Just keeping things nice and tidy. If something is a favor or otherwise low-priority, I file it into @Deferred. If it is merely something I want to keep handy while I’m working on other things, I file it into @Reference. This lets me keep the latest IP address of Lab Machine Beta readily available. Again, because I’m using pine most of the time, I can easily recover anything I file into these folders. I treat them as Inboxes in pine so they all show up in a nice list for me.
Figure: what my pine session looks like
When I’m actually “doing email” and not just trying to stay on top of things, I run Mail.app (or even the travesty of email we know and love: Outlook) because it lets me mine things faster. For doing triage and just trying to stay in-the-know, you can’t beat pine. Except with mutt, but I have pretty much decided to move back to Pine because, well, it looks nicer.
I archive messages by year. Search in Spotlight (or when I’m using the MegaCorp Thinkpad and Google Desktop) is quite good, and I don’t need to file messages any other way. I used to file based on project, but that was too slow. I had to think too much about where to put things, and what I called the project. This way I don’t have to analyze every single step. I use server-side rules to route messages that are not directly addressed to me into a folder called Low-Priority. This includes mailing lists. I skim them throughout the day and actually read them when I’m doing my processing time. I have another rule that supersedes all others to put things from my management directly into my inbox even if it goes to a list. If I need context, I can go surf Low-Priority to get it.
These are the typical things that I (or you) deal with in email on a
daily basis, and how I apply my workflow to them.
Urgent issue, help!
I get an email from a customer-relations manager that reads something like this:
“I’m on fire and going to die in less than 2 minutes. I have a customer who wants to know if we deployed signatures on our IDS devices for the latest of many vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer.
Help me! I’m going to be crispy in 80 seconds!”
I see that they even marked this message as high-priority in Outlook. They must really mean it. I type ‘r’ to reply and type in this message.
“Yes, we deployed them last week. All customers received a notification of this on the portal, and they were covered against not only proof-of-concept exploits, but our wicked-awesome intel team whipped up some amazing signatures that go the extra mile to catch variations on this attack as well.”
I then save their message into my archive.
What do you think of…?
A lot of my job is thinking. This is a good gig if you can get it. It means you have truly arrived because not only are you good at what you do, but other people come to you to do their thinking for them. This is because you’re awesome and they know it. When your job function is a heavy support role for everyone else around you, this is the bulk of the important parts of your career. In my organization, we are all experts at what we do. But the engineering and development staff are especially thinky because we’re all in the habit of solving problems that nobody has ever come across or been able to solve before. That is our sole reason for existing. If we could just go to Google and find an answer, we wouldn’t be here. Our customers could go to Google. They come to us because we’re brilliant.
“What do you think of Product X?”
This is the kind of thing that requires thought, so I am going to file it into my @Action folder for when I have time. I fire off my TextPander macro that lets them know I have their message and will be thinking about it, and then personalize it a bit: “Hope your daughter’s dance recital went well.” I may write down “think about product X” on my @work context card. I may not. It is possible I’ve already thought about this product and written down a lot of notes about it in my DEVONthink reference library. I certainly have accumulated useful things about that product there, and I’ll check it out later when I’m not putting out a fire or working on another project.
These are probably the least interesting things I get in my inbox.
Someone wants to meet to discuss something. This may be because the attempts to discuss it in email or IM have been fruitless or because they’re lazy and don’t want to just walk over and discuss something with me right now. I decide if I’m going to go or not, usually on the spot, or I file it into @Action to think about later.
Documents: Organizing and Filing
I have managed to come to terms with filing things. I was always really bad about it, and had an ex-girlfriend who was a total Jedi at it. In fact, many of my hand-written tabs on my file-folders in the filing cabinet are written in her amazingly legible script, lovingly, many years ago.
I don’t use a tickler file. I think they’re stupid. If I need to be tickled to do something on June 4th, I make an all-day appointment in iCal for June 4th that says “You need to do X” and I put a link to the webpage, file on my computer, or a description of where I filed it in my filing cabinet. My filing cabinet holds tax records, old and new letters (oh la la), reference material that only exists physically. Credit reports and manuals for gizmos. Warranty information. The cards I got after getting married that should get a nice card in return, but it has been over a year now and I’m embarrassed. Auto records, repair statements, the titles to the vehicles, the postcards I get from people that I want to keep, the receipts for tax year two-thousand-whatever. I am currently going through and archiving older stuff by scanning it and putting it into DEVONthink so that I have it digitally instead. I don’t mail much of anything. Most of my bills are paid online or in person. I don’t need to keep the last statement. I throw things into my Inbox and process it weekly or so, and most of it goes right into the trash. I also file stickers, or anything that I don’t want to throw away but don’t need in arms-reach. Insurance paperwork. Policy information. Contracts. You get the idea. I label them with my labelmaker. I use a drop-folder for the category “manuals” and manila folders for organization “tv”, “dvd-recorder”, “microwave”, “dishwasher”, etc. Referencing things that are physically filed is easy. I just make a note of it. If a Task or Project involves a trip to the filing cabinet, I make a note of it being there. At the office I hardly ever file anything. Almost everything I ever touch is digital. I think I have four whole folders in my filing cabinet. Which is good, because it leaves room for Chex Mix and Pringles.
Since I mostly use Mac OS X workstations, my digital documents live in my home directory under Documents. Unfortunately, a lot of badly behaved applications dump their crap into Documents. I like a nice and tidy place to store my current working directories for projects and ongoing work (this document lives in ~/Documents/@TRUNK/Writing, for example) that is easily accessible, easily backed-up, and easily synchronized. I have a directory called @TRUNK in Documents that is where I store all of my current projects. I call it @TRUNK because I also store it into an SVN repository. This is somewhat out of scope for this paper, but essentially I keep full revision control over everything I’m working on. For work, for home, for side-projects, whatever. It all lives in SVN so that I can restore from changes, look at how things have improved (or worsened) over time and easily sync my output between any workstation I’m sitting at. My PowerBook syncs to the household fileserver via Portable Home Directories. This is a neat feature of OS X Server, and I highly recommend it. Basically, if my PowerBook blows up or gets stolen, I lose nothing. Every hour it merges my home directory with the fileserver. My Solaris or BSD workstations can just check out a copy of my work at anytime using SVN, making it easy to build myself a nice sandbox for doing work. I can write, work, code, break and vandalize my own stuff to my heart’s content and sync changes back. I’m never wondering if I have the latest version of a document. So my writing lives in Writing, my latest household stuff lives in Household Hijinx, and my work related stuff lives in Employer and has sub-folders for my work-related projects. It is a swell way to easily browse for things and indexes well for Spotlight or Google Desktop. At work I only have a checkout of Employer/ since I don’t really need my personal stuff when I’m at the office. Sometimes I need a form if I have to fax something in or run an errand. It is trivial to login the machine at the house and retrieve that document. Old projects get archived into my SVN repository under Attic, which means I’m not looking at piles and piles of old crap. It saves me around 2GB of disk space to not keep that stuff on-hand. It isn’t a hassle, since I can just browse or checkout any file at any time via SVN. It is a super-duper locker for my crap. I love it.
Saving Disk Space on your Notebook
I don’t keep an iTunes music library in my home directory. That lives on the network at home on a mountpoint called, surprise, Music. My wife’s iTunes library is /Music/Liz’s Music/, and mine is /Music/Emory’s Music. When I’m at home my PowerBook can play music. My desktop can play music. When I’m away from my desk, I play music on my mobile phone or my iPod or my PSP. I have an iTunes library that weighs in at around 70GB. I do not have the time or energy to maintain a separate iTunes library just for my notebook when I already have mobile music devices. I keep this year’s photos in iPhoto locally under Pictures. I move old libraries to the network. I am playing with ways to organize and archive photos better, and I’m thinking about buying iView Media Pro for that purpose. I tried out Adobe Lightroom or whatever, but it is way too slow.
Research and Reference Materials
A lot of my job and even my personal life involves researching things. I accumulate vast amounts of snippets, clippings, chunks, bits, and notes. I scribble a note onto index cards, I write in my journal, and I subscribe to hundreds of RSS feeds. I used to pile these into a directory called Reference, but this quickly became clearly a horrible idea. I never go into that folder because it is horribly organized and just ends up being a pile of crap.
Keeping a Notebook and Desktop in sync
If you don’t have OS X Server and lack Portable Home Directories, I can’t stress enough how neat Unison is for doing your own sync solution. Note: there is a USENET binaries client called Unison also, but I’m talking about the file synchronization Unison here! This works with Windows, Macs, and every UNIX-like OS I use. Its great, its free, and its been very nice to me. If you are just interested in keeping documents in sync, may as well focus on SVN first. Not only can you keep documents and all your work in sync, but then you also have full revision control and can pull old versions of documents. Very nice use of SVN, if you ask me.
Heavy Endorsement of DEVONthink
One of my favorite applications, ever, is DEVONthink. It lets me build a nice and tidy knowledge-base, organized however I want, and builds associations between documents better than you can possibly imagine. When I’m reading a blog post, article, webpage, email, or anything else that I want to actually keep on-hand forever and ever and will be able to mine new nuance from in the future, it goes into DEVONthink. PDFs I download? Papers I read? Chunks of code? Examples? Into DEVONthink. Receipts? Electronic Statements? Paper-things I scanned? Anything that ever could possibly be referenced by me? Device session-logs? Ebooks? Manuals? How-To guides? Into DEVONthink. What I dump into DEVONthink is nothing compared to what I get out of it. It has a fantastic method of organizing and grouping things into folders and building associations. It knows that what I’m currently reading and reviewing is related to something else I found a few months ago, or something else I wrote a year ago. It knows how it should be classified, and it lets me freely create new documents and clippings and associates those to other related things. When I’m solving a really weird issue at work, I dump the session transcript into DEVONthink. I can search on the problem or the issue, and it will return to me anything related—including the session log. I commit notes from meetings written in a journal or 3×5 cards. I push whatever I can into DEVONthink. Every truly big idea I’ve had, every big post on a website (this one included), article I’ve ever written, all started at some point as an index card, webpage, graphic, or textfile that got dropped into DEVONthink. It is a complete miracle of modern engineering and there is no better way to manage your reference and research than DEVONthink. It is almost always running, waiting for me to feed it a document or query. I can tag it, classify it, organize it and create links in between folders—you just can’t beat it. It is amazing. If I wasn’t adamant about not requiring a laptop at all times, I could do even more with DEVONthink, I’d imagine. Someone has a template database for doing GTD with DEVONthink as well. And if you find DEVONthink Pro too intimidating, please do check out DEVONthink and DEVONnote.
Protection of Data in DEVONthink
I use portable home directories on my PowerBook and FileVault encryption on same. My “home” DEVONthink syncs between the PowerBook and fileserver seamlessly which is nice because I regularly sit at the console of the fileserver and use it as a workstation. Since the PowerBook is encrypted, I don’t worry too much about theft when I’m out with it. At the office I do not sync that DEVONthink database to anything because it has information in it that cannot leave the facility. I keep that DEVONthink Database on an encrypted sparse image created by Apple’s Disk Utility. It works great. Plus, doing that means I can easily back it up to a DVD (until it gets bigger than 9GB, at least) as it is just one file (the disk image) that I have to backup. And the Backups are encrypted because the disk image is encrypted too. Gotta like that.
Wishlist Lazyweb Item:
If someone could come up with a way to mount an SVN repository as a
virtual filesystem in the Finder, that would be fan-fscking-tastic.
Imagine if committing changes were as simple as dragging files around in
Projects and Tasks
As I mentioned in my BOM, I have a lot of decidedly lofi analog input and output devices. I am especially a sucker for Levenger’s attention to detail and downright usefulness. The hipsterpda isn’t just retro-hip, it is LoFi cool and actually works. This is because the fastest, most efficient bus for data is the index card. And that, really is, what an index card is: a bus. The bits on them are the important parts, but they’re the data that needs a medium, or, vehicle to get out of your head and into something else in order to stop constantly fretting about it and allow you to actually do something about it. The thought itself is nothing more than a seed, it is meaningless clutter while it exists only in your head. Committing it to a reliable bus that is efficient and trustworthy is the only way to get legs to your thoughts and actually do something with them. I’m not perfect about this, but what I’m attempting to do has been the best way that I have ever come across to track my open loops, my projects, my dreams, my goals, and my fears. It has proven, time and again, to be the best method of Getting Things Done for me and when I say it was difficult to come here, I mean it. It is the very antithesis of what I perceived to be an ideal solution. But I like the name hipsterpda so that kind of urged me into action. My cards for projects, waiting/for lists, and contexts are hand-written. I use the DIYPlanner Hipster PDA GTD cards as templates but am I am writing everything out. I think this makes me more aware on a subconscious level what I am working on. It also keeps me close to my projects. I don’t know why, and I don’t care, but writing these things down means more to me than typing them. My GTD lists and such were not a trusted system by me when I was doing them all electronically. I was still freaking out all the time. Having them on the 3×5 bus made me feel a lot better.
Organizing the HipsterPDA Cards
I use the Levenger Rope Case to hold all of my cards in bulk. I use the DIYPlanner Hipster PDA cards printed to cover stock 2×2, 4-up, on my Epson Stylus RX500. I cut them with scissors if there are a few, or on a paper cutter at the office if I have several.
I will put an all-day event on my calendar for my next workday that says, “Please take uncut hipster cards to office for slicing” so that I’ll see it on my mobile phone and in iCal while I’m getting ready to leave the house.
The Rope case holds around fifty cards. This is presently enough for me because I also cache some of my Someday/Maybe projects “offline” in a small index card box. Active projects, my contexts, and a suitable supply of blanks are all I need, really. I also have that ballistic Shirt Pocket Briefcase that is a fantastic device but doesn’t hold as many cards. I am currently in a quandary about how I should proceed. Use the rope as a filing cabinet for my projects and such, and the SPBC as a capture-only device? Perhaps I should carry fewer Someday/Maybe’s with me and archive more of them? Perhaps I should consider the option of applying a Someday/Maybe to more of my projects? That is of course the beauty of this. I could do anything I want. They are on the crazy-fast and remarkable lofi 3×5 bus.
I don’t have a “projects list”. Know why? Because I always have the most current project list right in front of me. They’re on cards. The same cards I use to know where I’m at on every project, every open loop. This is great when I’m doing a review with a manager or workgroup. Also works great for meetings. I don’t even have to consider all the work I’ve done since the last meeting, I have it right there in front of me. I just pull out the card and start giving an update. Couldn’t be simpler. I’m really stunned I don’t see more of this in my office yet, but I think it could be coming. I group my @work context card and all my @work projects together in the same section of my hipsterpda. You can see in this photo how I do it. I just use the label-maker to make little labels for tiny index card dividers I got at my local office supply shop (Morrison Office Supply on Thayer Street, Providence, RI, US).
I have my Project cards, upon which I dutifully scrawl out the project, where I think it applies (@home, @work) and the desired outcome and some more materials. I outline the list of tasks. I’m usually pretty good about this part, but I sometimes forget to break things down as much as possible. I then put the Next Action for that project (or two or three if I’m feeling like I can deal with it) on the appropriate Context card (@home, @work, @calls, or @errands) and that, as they say, is that. I “prioritize” my tasks by reviewing my Projects and assigning tasks to my contexts appropriately. If something is high-priority, it gets more visibility. Period. I don’t care if something is a “1” or a “2” or a “3”. C’mon. It is either important, and getting done as soon as possible, or it isn’t as important, which means it will be some other time. If it isn’t important, you wouldn’t be doing it. There really is no system of priority of what needs to be done. If you have something that is super critical to do, make that the only item on your appropriate context card. If you have only one task on @work, that is all you’re presented with. When you do that, then go ahead and promote some other tasks into visibility. Not sure that will cut it? Make a card that is @anywhere and write in big letters “THIS MUST BE DONE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE” on it. You’ll see it. You’ll be poked every time you glance at your deck. I’m getting much better about saying no or sending things to other people if I can’t do it or wouldn’t be the best choice to do it. We don’t succeed as a team if we’re not all doing something we care about. My co-worker JDP calls this “GAS,” or “giving a shit”. If you don’t GAS, you do crap work. If you do crap work, the team looks bad and your manager has to keep intervening.
If you have something you’re supposed to GAS about and don’t, find a way to make it interesting, and fast, friend—sometimes even doing something for a different reason can turn a dead project around.
I hate doing taxes. I always have to pay, usually a few thousand dollars, and it freaks me out to no end. I GAS about this Taxes 2005 project because once I put it to bed I will feel better. I will not have it weighing heavily on me. This tax year has been the easiest one ever. I think it is in no small part because I’ve setup a GTD project called “Taxes 2005” and have been diligently banging out the hurdles and doing the work.
My Taxes 2005 project card has the following steps on it:
[x] Gather W2’s.
[x] Gather 1099's. [x] Waiting-For ORA 1099 [x] Sort receipts, inventory expenses [x] double-check Schwab and ETrade paperwork [x] scan in W2's, 1099's [x] send all tax documents and expenses lists to accountant [ ] get a big fat bill [ ] decide if you need both kidneys, any other organs? [ ] cut the check [ ] take State and Federal filings to Post Office [ ] mail taxes [ ] tip a 40 on the driveway
I write the Next Actions on this project card to my @home or @work card.
When I do something, I mark it as done and at my Review I mark off
completely stuff off the Project cards and move next actions onto the
I use @home, @work, @calls, and @errands. Some of the @home and @work things get done at other times. Since I work from home a lot, (usually after-hours, mind you) I frequently have my @work list out on my 3×5 docking station. I also sometimes have my @home card out on my bleachers when I’m at work. I think context sets theme fairly often, and in my attempt to balance my life better I didn’t want to have a massive @anywhere card that had personal and business running together into some sort of horrible serving of Ugly Soup. Those context cards are my pre-prioritized tasks as of that moment. If something big comes up at work or at home, I don’t hesitate to put it right there on the card. If it is a small project that takes a few steps but I expect them to be done very quickly, I don’t bother creating a card for that Project. Maybe I should, but I don’t today. I just drop the two tasks off at the pool and hit them on my list. My contexts are not ordered lists. They are options. Possibilities. I can surf that list and say “hey, this sounds good right now,” or sometimes even I end up thinking “I need to do this because it is driving me nuts and I know I’ll feel better after I do it.” I work the cards. They are where it all happens. I can spread ‘em out and get review the status on any project at any time.
Context Use and Examples
I have a project that doesn’t live on a Project card, because it is only
a few steps. Those steps currently live on my @home card and look like
this, along with the other NextActions:
Next Actions @HOME
[ ] check dns secondary for jesse (@Ref) [ ] take pics for coasters [ ] print pics for coasters [ ] box up coasters and cam [ ] write out shipping/addy label [ ] scan w2's and 1099's for taxes [ ] email docs and expenses to acct. [ ]
I used a ‘tag of @Ref on the first task to remind me that Jesse emailed me a list of domains that he thinks I’m still providing secondary DNS for. I moved that email into my @Reference email folder. I have to check and make sure that all of that is working, and delete the old ones that are no longer active. So I will see the task, and know that I have something relevant in a special @Reference folder. I’ll also use microtags like @DT for things in DEVONthink, or @journ for things I may have written down in my journal (a Moleskine notebook, naturally). When I am done with a context card because I’m exhausted it, or because I just need to start a new one (because I’m a messy writer?) I take a picture with my N90 smartphone and tear it up. I like to archive my cards, just in case. I store them in DEVONthink under a folder called HipsterArchive and I provide some sort of metadata to the entry such as what the project was, what the context was, etc. I have a small library of sortable, searchable, 3×5 cards that way. As you can probably tell by now, it is hard for me to throw anything away unless I am certain I can recover it. I’m trying to get better about that, but honestly storing something digitally is much better than storing it in the physical world. It takes a lot less physical space, for one.
Restore from Loss? Archive? “Sync”?
I don’t “sync” my cards. I won’t bother until something reasonably
accessible on the web also prints great 3×5 cards.
Read: If you require Ajax to do simple functions, you are breaking
your application for mobile devices. This is unacceptable behavior for
a trusted system that needs to be accessible from the widest variety
of devices and methods.
You can use a flatbed scanner or smartphone to capture your active cards. I was just playing with this tonight because someone was asking me how I restore from a disaster. In this case the disaster could be capsizing while kayaking, surviving a plane crash only to lose my Levenger Rope Case, possible spontaneous combustion of my trouser or jacket pocket, scooter mishap, Chinese organ thieves who take a liking to my kidneys and my Shirt Pocket Briefcase, or perhaps aliens from another planet take my entire Boblbee backpack up in a tractor beam to examine its contents and probe it. Remember. Most of the “loss” that occurs with a PDA or laptop is because it eats itself, not because it goes missing. You drop a notebook computer or PDA and you’re screwed. The storage could go bad. Disk could fail, flash could fail. Battery could die. Battery could leak. LCD could break. No wonder we sync these devices compulsively. They are brittle. Except the BlackBerry. I think if they filmed Crocodile Dundee today (and please don’t), Mick Dundee would take some Wall Street suit’s ‘Berry, and hurl it 50 yards into the back of the head of a pickpocket and crush their skull. I’m certain that we should keep all BlackBerry devices away from Naomi Campbell before she kills someone. I can take my Rope Case or Shirt Pocket Briefcase and throw them across the room. I can sit on them. I can drop them. I can spill soda on them (and they may smudge). I can hurl them into my bag. I have found that I am very mindful of my hipsterpda. It is very unlikely that I will leave it anywhere. It is about as likely as leaving my wallet, mobile, or laptop somewhere. I do minimal “backups” of my hipsterpda for that reason. If I think about it, I could implement my suggestion to scan the cards in periodically as part of my weekly review. Perhaps that would be a simple step to further enforce my weekly review, since it is something that I am really bad about.
Hands-On: “Write GTD Workflow Document”
So maybe you’re curious on the actual steps themselves. I had a Someday/Maybe project called “GTD Workflow Doc” that I had been sitting on for a “rainy day”. I’ve had a fever and stomach bug the last few days, so that is why you’re even seeing this document. It was something I knew I could write with minimal effort and that a lot of people wound find fun or even interesting and useful. Usually when I have a Project or Someday/Maybe card I have it populated with known tasks. I then promote a step or two to the appropriate context cards, such as @home, @office, @calls, @errands. For this project, I figured my fever-plagued stomach-cramping self could have a context all its own. @sickday was what I decided to call it. I do not usually work directly off a Project card. I certainly don’t work off a Someday/Maybe card. I didn’t bother to move my Someday/Maybe to a typical Project card. I’m sick and lazy and pretty much ignoring my other contexts giving myself special permission to relax and not get wrapped up things I can’t do. I started by promoting a few starter tasks from this Someday/Maybe Project to my @sickday Context. Usually I will promote items onto @home, @office, @calls, as needed. I give myself what I think is a slightly-more-aggressive-than-possible load in my Context cards based on what my active projects are. I will add something to the Project or Someday/Maybe card when I think it is important to be captured there. It is usually some sort of required step, or milestone. Even if it doesn’t sound like a milestone. Sometimes I will write something on the Project card if I think it is important to the development of that project. Other times I will write things directly on the appropriate context card.
Figure: GTD Someday/Maybe Sample Card
You’ll see in that figure that I have a recommendation to do this project on a rainy day. Says so right on the card. I often write something to give guidance on when I would be most likely or best suited for a Someday/Maybe. There is a reason that they are Someday/Maybe projects. Some of the things on my @sickday Context card are not on a Project or Someday/Maybe card. Eventually everything on a Project card will wound up on a Context card, unless the last step I have to promote to a Context is easy and I just do it right away and cheer having finished another project.
Figure: GTD @sickday context card
As I think of things I can do easily and want to do while I’m home sick, I did this card. I was going to take pictures of these cards, but decided to use my scanner because I was curious how well it would work as an archival mechanism. I will soon be able to cross off “take picture of this card” and “how to ‘sync’ 3×5 cards” from the @sickday Context! How exciting! And you are right here on the front line! I didn’t take a nap today and it is unlikely that I will get to bed early tonight. I’ll leave it on for tomorrow if I’m still suffering from a gut-wrenching virus that is sapping my will to eat.
Things I take to Meetings
Oh gnos! Yet another meeting. What I bring to a meeting is short and
- HipsterPDA with my Projects and Contexts.
- If asked to talk about my projects, I’ll know what I’m working
- If manager or peer is giving out assignments, I’ll know my
workload and judge my availability accordingly.
- I can write down meeting notes on a blank card. I can write
notes to someone else on a card and flick it to them like a
- If asked to talk about my projects, I’ll know what I’m working
- A nice pen or pencil.
I very rarely take a computer to a meeting. I feel that usually they slow a meeting down and also have the side effect of all of us sitting around staring at computers instead of each other, and at that point we may as well be IM’ing each other at our desks. If we are meeting, it is because we need to use our heads. No crutches allowed. If I got something to do from the meeting, or started a new project, I create that when I get back to my desk or when I’m processing my inbox. If I don’t have time to setup the project right now (i.e. it will take me more than two minutes to create the card and come up with the tasks, ) I toss the notes from the meeting into my Inbox and catch them later. I am trying to get better about not taking my phone to meetings. You really shouldn’t. If you’re expecting a call, don’t schedule meetings during that time. Every disruption lengthens the meeting.
I’m a fine one to talk though, I constantly interrupt. That is one of the things I have on my Better Emory project card. More as a reminder than an actual task, since “listen better talk less” isn’t a
task item I can just cross off. I like people to be happy so I crack a joke now and then, and I am trying to keep that more reasonable.
Carrying it All, Personal Luggage
Odds are good that you carry something with you that holds all your crap. I’ve had a lot of different bags because quite frankly, I love to be prepared and this means that I am usually carrying a bunch of crap with me that I do not need. But I’ve been getting better about that lately. So I always have two bags in heavy rotation. One bag that I cannot get rid of, and probably never well, because it is so damned good, is my Boblbee. That hard-sided monster can carry a laptop, a bunch of gadgets, a change of clothes, entertainment options, notebooks, my index cards, and more.
I should update this photo since I’ve shed the sidewinders and have new gear baglets.
I also have a smaller canvas messenger-style bag from Element. It works well for lighter days or just running around town when I don’t need to haul a lot of stuff. I’m now also using killer baglets from Waterfield to hold gadgets, cables, and other gear. If you’re wondering which baglets I have:
- One (1)
Medium. Holds all my adapter cables, Griffin iMic, USB lamp, other
electronic odds and ends. Great bag. It also has a bunch of reusable
cable-ties I got from Staples.
- Two (2) Gear
Pouches, one small, one medium. Small one holds medical/personal items, larger one holds my Shure E2C headphones, my oldschool iPod, headphones for my Nokia N90, remote lead for my PSP, and an adapter for PopPort to standard headphones. I also have a little ziplock with some replacement earpieces for the E2C’s. I prefer the foam ones because they are super isolating.
I like the gear pouches because I can just take them out and toss them into another bag with minimal “repacking”. My notebooks are still loose, my pencil case is a “bag” of its own, and my index cards in Levenger cases can easily be tossed in as well. I love the Waterfield bags. I also got my wife an iPod pouch from them, which works great. I just wanted a more generic bag for my iPod so I could also toss my PSP into it. If you don’t have a Waterfield slip-case for your laptop, you’re doing your laptop a huge disservice. They are, hands down, the best. You are paying, maybe, a 10 dollar premium for hand-made items from the heart of San Francisco. It will outlast any competing product, I think.
I recommend them to anyone I can. Everyone needs a place for their stuff. It doesn’t have to be big, in fact it should be as small as you can manage. I like the Boblbee because I can haul a computer, cameras, and other junk around without much fear of breaking anything inside. Plus, it is big enough to hold a change of clothes so I can just hop a train for a weekend.
- More examples of GTD workflow on index cards