Tuesday, January 18, 2005

GTD: Organizing II

As I went through the Processing stage I dutifully filed things that were non-actionable, or which generated an action but were too big to be the action reminder, into their own manila folders and put them into an empty banker's box. I wasn't quite sure how I was supposed to build them into my old file system, but I hadn't had my "General" files epiphiany yet.

At the end of processing I had a big pile of Next Actions, one per sheet of paper. I also dutifully sorted them into contexualized piles. I now have a number of As-Soon-As-Possible lists: Financials to Process, Current Expenses, Read Me!, At Anywhere, To Call, At Office, At Home, At Computer, Errands, Waiting For, Someday/Maybe, and Agendas - General, All Staff, Amy, Anna, Carrie, Liz, Jimmy, Joe, Kells, Mike, Sean, Small Group, Willis. I cleared my calendar of items that I just wanted to do on a given day, and moved them into the appropriate ASAP folders.

I also created a "Tickler" file system made up of 43 folders (1-31, Jan-Dec). This is a system that acts as my "personal assistant" in the absence of an actual human. If I need a particular thing on a particular day (like plane tix, or an agenda, etc.) I put it in the appropriate folder. For a much better explanation, check out this explanation on 43Folders, a very cool blog about, among other things, GTD. (I'd heard about having a "tickler" file a loooong time ago when I first came on IV Staff from my first supervisor, Tom Oster. Tom told me that I needed to have a tickle file, so I could put things in it which would remind me of things I needed to do. I dutifully created a "tickle" file, and never looked at it again.)

So, at the end of the day, I had two boxes of general files, a stack of ASAP folders, and a stack of Tickler files. And then I really had to start doing some actual work. So I stopped thinking about Organizing the files and started going through my ASAP folders, picking what I needed to do at the moment. It's a good thing, too, because I was beginning to go crazy trying to figure out the perfect way to group these general files for easy reference & access.

Before GTD, I had a pretty servicable filing system. (Thanks Julie!) Three years ago I'd put Nice Labels on all my folders and organized the files intuitively. If you'd asked me for anything, I could have found it in about 60 seconds, especially within the first year. But eventually it took me longer to remember where I'd put stuff, so I'd have to look in a couple of different filing cabinets. The real problem, though, was when I'd get something that needed to be filed, but didn't fit neatly into a specific category that'd I'd intuited the year before. Usually, the problem was that the document needed to be in two different places at the same time. After spinning my internal wheels trying to figure out which file would be best, I'd usually give up and not end up filing the item. That accomplished two things: (1) I was now frustrated, and (2) I'd resigned myself to never finding that item again, which only furthered my frustration, since my whole point in filing it in the first place was so I could find it again!

For David, this indicates a catastrophic failure of my filing system. Not only does he want things to be able to come out of the filing system quickly, things need to be able to be put into the system just as quickly. After re-reading David's chapter on Organizing, I realized that the problem was that I was trying to subcategorize things to the extent that I would never need to have "General" file cabinets. But for me, at least half of the stuff I want to keep is "General"! Part of that has to do with my personality, which finds categories restrictive and generally resists categorizing because I enjoy so much seeing patterns and relationships between things that on the surface seem unrelated. But there is also the external reality that when something can fit into more than one category, it probably has "General" application, and should be filed as such.

So, there I was, working from my Next Action Lists (more on that in another post), when I thought, "Oh, I need folder X for that, and I know where it is because I just put it in the cardboard box." Then I worked on a different Next Action and the same thing happened, "I need folder Y, and I know where that is." This happened a number of times, and then it dawned on me: I didn't need to sub-categorize the files in my cardboard boxes! All I needed was alpha order, and it was working just like it was supposed to! (The "General Files" epiphany happened.) This made me rethink my already established filing system, and I pulled out everything that wasn't grouped into a few big categories (e.g. Staff Files, Team Meetings, Cornerstones) and put it in the general files boxes. This is much better.

More later. . .

CORRECTED: because I have folders for Sean, Amy and Willis, too! Annnnd, to actually put links where I said there would be links.

Previous GTD post | Next GTD post

No comments: