The Weekly Review

by Chris Bowler

GTD Overview Part 2: My Setup

Notice: Part 1 in this series can be read here.

So now that I've talked about how I understand the concepts of GTD, I'd like to share how I've implemented my system. My current setup has lasted for quite a while as I have finally settled on the tools that work for me. This is due to two things: discipline and success. Discipline to stop tinkering with my system and success at completing tasks while enjoying the tools that I use.

I break my tools down into two categories: analog and digital.

Analog

My analog tools consist simply of two binders plus a couple of accessories. The first binder is for straight brainstorming. I most often use it for planning bigger projects with many steps. I prefer grid paper for this type of usage. The main binder is used for daily notes, reminders, big rocks etc. It also contains each days calendar entries.

Oddly enough, the tool I had the hardest time settling on was the main binder. There seems to be plenty of offerings available, but not a lot of good ones. As I mentioned recently, I had such a difficult time finding the right binder that I played with making my own and used iCal print outs.

But I finally came across one recently that works pretty well for me. It's a Blueline A29C. This book works for me because of the setup. It has a location for calendar items, action items, and phone calls on the left (shown to the right) and a blank ruled page on the right.

I like the layout of the two pages together—it has enough space for all the types of items I usually leave to pen or pencil.

And on that subject, I feel the same way about writing implements as I do about operating systems and software. Look and feel is very important. I like to use a Pilot G-2 with a point of .5 mm.

And lastly, I make use of those little fluorescent post-its to mark my current place in each binder.

Digital

Before I describe my system I have to mention one fact. Doing GTD on a Mac is great. There is a real variety of good software tools available. I cannot say the same for Windows. From my experience, GTD on Windows is best done with a purely analog system or using web applications. The desktop tools available are simply not on the same level as those for the OS X.

Here is my list of tools for GTD on my mac:

  • iCal\GCal
  • Mail\GMail
  • Things
  • Yojimbo
  • Highrise

For email and calender items, there isn't much explanation needed. I have several email accounts that are all consolidated into one GMail account. When I'm on my Macbook I use Mail to access this account. When on other computers I use the GMail web interface.

Same goes for iCal\GCal. I only use my calendar for hard entries—actual events that include a time and place. I never stick to-dos or projects in the calendar. I keep the two calendars in sync with BusySync from BusyMac.

All task management work is documented in Things from Cultured Code. All reference material for projects or goals is stored in Yojimbo from Bare Bones Software.

And finally, I use Highrise from 37Signals to document contact information and various activities/communication with those contacts.

Usage

Here is a brief summary of how I actually spend my time using the habits\processes of GTD with the tools I've listed.

Collect

Almost all of my collection happens via pen or email. So many of my tasks are jotted down in my main notebook during meetings or discussions. Or when I am working on something and thoughts about other projects (or potential projects) float through my head. These tend to be additional work on an already existing project or smaller stand alone items.

I use my brainstorming binder to map out steps for larger projects. Sometimes it's used to help me define my goals or criteria for a project or idea I have. Sometimes these ideas are scrapped completely.

Process

This step is one of the two most important aspects of GTD (the other being review). If a person can develop the correct habits around processing, they will most likely experience success with the whole methodology. Let's face it—setting up buckets to collect things is easy. Developing habits to make sure those buckets of items are useful and reducing our stress, rather than adding to it, is where people struggle with GTD.

I do my best to keep on top by processing my email two to three times a day. And I try very hard to never touch an email more than once. If an email includes an action item that is my responsibility, it immediately gets added to my Things Inbox. Emails that require a response get dealt with immediately if possible. If I need to get more information before I can respond, then the message gets left in the Inbox and is marked as unread. I then create a task in Things to get the necessary information. All emails that have been processed get filed away or deleted.

And I am definitely learning to delete more email—it has been a pleasure. So far I have not had any issues with this practice.

The main binder gets processed at the end of each day. Items that require work on my part get entered into Things. Items that I delegate to someone else just get scratched off. If a delegated item is important enough (has a very high priority or involves external contacts or vendors) then I enter the specific information into Highrise. I use Highrise to keep track of all my contacts that I interact with, internal and external.

Organize

Most of my organizing takes place in Things. The great feature that I feel separates Things from other task management applications is the differentiation between projects and areas (areas of responsibility). I receive a lot of tasks that are not projects. And they fall under one of my areas I am responsible for. Things makes this a real ease and pleasure to document.

Seventy percent of the time I add items to Things, it is done through the  Quick Entry panel and added to the Inbox. So I usually organize these tasks once a day, near the end of the day. Tasks are dragged to specific areas or added to existing projects. And when needed, new projects are created.

Review

As mentioned above, the review stage is the most important step in GTD along with the processing. This is also the stage where most people begin to fail and lose confidence in their system. The weekly review (along with daily mini-reviews) is what keeps your entire system fresh and up to date.

There isn't a lot to explain about my usage here. I actually perform a small mini-review every day by ensuring my buckets are as clean as possible and by ensuring any high priority actions/tasks are not being missed. And this is also where my organizing occurs.

And the weekly review consists of a complete analysis of every project and area I have. It's not a complicated stage. The importance here is ensuring that the review actually takes place.

Do

And of course there is the actual work (doesn't everything covered here sound like work?). If you develop good, consistent habits with the four stages listed above, you should spend most of your time in the fifth stage.

One last thing I want to touch on is reference material and Yojimbo. Yojimbo is kind of like my brainstorming journal. Some times I use if for lists of ideas or small pieces of work. For example, I keep ideas for blog posts in Yojimbo.

But the majority of my Yojimbo usage comes when I'm researching a subject or documenting steps. Examples of this usage might be information about a company or an interview subject. Sometimes it's the steps I took to find a bug or the manner in which an application should be used (context: my current job involves supporting a system that is comprised of many applications and the vendor does a very poor job in educating or documenting how to support the majority of these applications).

So all reference materials and documentation get stored in Yojimbo for use when doing work or brainstorming.


And that pretty much covers how I have implemented GTD in my life. This system of mine was not put into place in one or two days. It's been approximately fifteen months since I started using GTD, and during that time a lot of tweaking has gone on. But I finally feel like my system is serving me, rather than the other way around.

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