Monday, January 17, 2005

GTD: Organizing - setting up the right buckets.

This isn't the first time I've reorganized my filing system. I do it every time I move my office (5 times in the last 8 years), then when I re-arrange the office, and finally when I've gotten frustrated with not being able to find things I need. That brings the total time of me reworking my files a little less than once a year. So you might say I've done some thinking about filing. In part I've done so much thinking about it because I hate it when I know I have X, which would really help me to do Y, but I just can't figure out where I put X. At this point in my life, I've come to the conclusion that if I can't find X when I need it, I might as well get rid of X. I figure the reason to have X is to have it when I need it and not just to have it.

The last time I did a file re-org, I read Julie Morgenstern's Organizing from the Inside Out This is really a great book on setting up a workspace and filing system. I learned from Julie a couple of things: the above maxim re: item X, that I ought to use a labeler for my files, and to let my creativity dictate how & where to store my files. The problem (which brought on moving to GTD) was that at the end of the day I had a really snazzy file system, but hadn't made any adjustments to how I did my work, which is what got my filing system into trouble in the first place. (Julie has other books on time management, but I didn't read them. Maybe she addresses the issue there.)

What I really like about David's approach to Organizing is that his filing system, though nicely unsophisticated, is integrated into the entire GTD system. For David, Organizing is what has to happen once you process your stuff. Here's where it fits in his total process:
There are a couple of new things to me in David's approach that I really appreciate. One is his identifying seven primary types of things I need to track: (keep in mind that a list could be a piece of paper with things listed, or, at its simplest, a grouping of things)
  • Projects (a list)
  • Project Support Material (storage)
  • Calendared Actions & Info (a kind of list)
  • Next Actions (a list)
  • Waiting For (a list)
  • Reference Material (storage)
  • Someday/Maybe (a list)

    Good ideas from David: (I'll paraphrase where possible)
    "Your filing system should be a simple library of data, easily retrievable - not your reminder for actions, projects, priorities, or prospects." If you have files that are grouped naturally around large subjects (like a major project), go ahead and group them. But for general things, David advocates simple alpha order. Then label your files (using a labelmaker!) with an intuitive name. Even if it takes a couple of tries to remember what you named something, you can easily look for it if your filing system is alphabetically ordered.

    Many people want to put actions on the calendar that they'd like to get done on that day. Resist this impulse. You need to trust your calendar as sacred territory, reflecting the exact commitments of the day, which should be noticable at a glance while on the run.

    Organize your As-Soon-As-Possible Actions (which are your "Next Actions") by the context or tool required of them, e.g. At Phone, At Computer, Errands, At Home, At Office, Agendas, Read/Review. That way, you don't have to re-sort every time you're in a new context or you have a different tool available to you.

    What David is building is a system where you're free to think about the work you want to think about, when you want to think about it. So, organize your ASAP actions according to context and the moment you change context (or want to change context) you can immediately start deciding what to do, rather than have to think about which actions fit in the new context.

    So that's what I've been working on, slowly, over the past week. I'll stop here and post later on my thoughts as I went through the process and began to do my work according to GTD principles.

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