Monday, March 29, 2010

Life Planning and GTD

I recently took the weekend off and went downhill skiing with some friends in Fernie, BC.  For a little light reading I took David Allen’s book “Ready for Anything”  Besides learning how out of shape I am (Oh look. Another project just popped up!!), I also read as far chapter six, in which David addresses the issue of priorities and why GTD does not begin with them, and instead focuses on getting rid of the open loops that tie up our psychic RAM.  I liken it to being taught to swim in a small pool, with a life guard and an instructor, so you can master the basics and increase your chances of success, rather than jumping into the deep end of the pool by yourself and suddenly being in a sink or swim situation with survival on the line.  Some people can do that and be successful at it, but I am not one of them.  I like everything well planned, and well prepared for, but how can one plan for the future if you can’t manage your day?

I am, by nature, a big picture thinker.  I worked out my long term goals, based on who I want to be, what I want to have, and where I want to be living, a long time ago, in great detail.  But life has a funny way of being unpredictable.  Major events happen that completely change everything.  Before I started practicing GTD, these events would create a complete failure in the trust I had for the system.  Why go through all the planning and organization, if some random event, over which I had no control, could so completely upset everything? I have no issue with redoing things, but starting everything from scratch, in fine detail, all over again, seemed to be such a waste of time.  I found that I needed to overcome a huge internal friction just to re-do all the planning, and so I put it off for a long time.  And life still continuously sent me mini projects that got dropped, or were done poorly while I sulked about my “bad luck”.  Not good.

I don’t know about everyone else, but I very often do not have the luxury of being able to prioritize every task at the moment it enters my domain.  In fact, most things that cross my desk need to be done, and are therefore not only important, but critical.  Add to that the need to coordinate various schedules for team members and assign tasks based on each members strengths to get the best result possible, and the time for detailed analysis and priority setting for each task as it goes in to the inbox is not available at that time.  GTD’s structure of every thing into the inbox first, then process with Do, Dump, Delegate, or Defer (however you choose to do so) later, has allowed me to accomplish everything (usually) that is dumped in my lap at the daily level.  In the case of really critical issues, so far, someone has flagged then as process now, but those by definition are the life changers mentioned earlier.

Because my daily stuff was being accomplished, I gained trust in the fact that I could, in fact,plan in finer detail, but only for the next week or so, and not so effectively further out.  I gradually learned that the longer term stuff could be completely left alone for a period of time before needing to have the next actions detailed and it would still get accomplished.  Limiting the detail in longer term planning has given me the freedom to plan for the future with far more effectiveness and flexibility.  My longer term goals are now more vague, and as deadlines for them approach, they are developed with greater and greater detail.  This means I spend less time planning and more time doing. The system is able to bend a little, and thus is robust enough to handle major issues.  There has not been the enormous outlay of time at the beginning, and so if a major, unplanned event happens, it is less work to change a few objectives rather than a few hundred next actions.  This revelation was, to to me anyway, extraordinarily liberating.

This is not to disparage long term, detailed, goal setting.  I still use it, I have just found that, for me, I can maximize it’s effectiveness when the steps to achieve the goal it produces can be automated.  Things like saving for retirement, getting a university degree, or anything that requires time to accomplish but the next actions are repetitive, automatic or assigned are perfect for this type of planning. A second type of long term, highly defined goals that lend themselves to this is when the next actions result in something that can be repurposed.  For example, a travel trailer savings fund can be spent on a trip to Mexico if and when a huge deal shows up. Yes, you still have to decide if taking the deal is right for you by weighing the pro’s and cons, but it is the ability to repurpose the results of your planning is what matters, the freedom in being able to choose.

So that is how I plan things.  Obviously some projects are handed to me that aren’t as flexible as I would prefer, but as long as my system can handle the strain I will just process them as best I can.  The level of task granularity increases in stages with the greatest level having a time horizon of a one to two weeks out depending on the goal. I still have a plan based on who I want to be, what I want to have, and where I want to live, but it is phrased as objectives, with far less detail than I used to put in.  The only down side is my reviews have become critical if I want to maintain any control of my schedule and any direction in my life.  But that is being done anyway, right? 


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Outlook and GTD (Review)

As a GTD follower, I am a big user of lists.  I have lists of what to do to winterize my boat and trailer, a list of consumables my computer needs, a list for commonly replaced parts of my vehicle that I do myself,  basically I have a list for anything that might need to be referenced later.  Most of these lists are stored as notes in Outlook so I have them on my Blackberry when I need them, as it syncs with Outlook every time I plug it in.  (If only there was a OneNote version for Blackberry….)

However I found for many small, repeating projects, like the weekly review, I needed a checklist to ensure I had completed everything, but to have that many tasks at that level of detail was overwhelming when it was always showing.  (A collapsible, hierarchical task list native to Outlook would help… Microsoft…..Anyone?)  In fact I found that when the list was too full , I avoided even turning on my computer unless I really had to, thus making the whole system fail because I no longer trusted that the system could keep me on track.

I experimented with putting the checklists first in Word and then in OneNote and linking a task to it but I found it too much hassle to print the check list off and manually check everything off as it was done.  (Most of the tasks were done on the computer and it broke my working rhythm.) If I left the list completely digital, I either had to copy it to a new page before I started it (which I forgot to do on a regular basis) or I had to go back and un-check all the tasks when I was done.  Either solution felt a kludge.

So back to net I went where I found an article by Michael Hyatt, the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, that detailed how to put a macro in Outlook that would generate any number of tasks when it was run.  Furthermore, it could assign a category and a due date, so if I got called away in middle of processing, I could easily see which tasks needed to be done without manually opening every task up and setting it myself.  I am a big fan of automating repetitive tasks in order to simplify my life as much as possible, so this was right up my alley. 

Unfortunately, I am unable to find a current link to Mr. Hyatt’s post, so with his permission, I am attempting to recreate his instructions here.  His blog can be found here and there are a number of helpful and interesting reads there.  For what I get right in this post, thank him, and any mistakes that occur are mine to accept.

This is the macro I am currently using


Sub WeeklyReview()

    ' Declare the variables:
    Dim oMyTaskItem As TaskItem

    On Error GoTo WeeklyReview_Error

    'Create Weekly Review Task #1:
    Set oMyTaskItem = Application.CreateItem(olTaskItem)
    oMyTaskItem.Subject = " 1.  Clean Office and Gather Inboxes"
    oMyTaskItem.Categories = "@ Computer"
    oMyTaskItem.StartDate = Date
    oMyTaskItem.DueDate = Date

    'Create Weekly Review Task #2:
    Set oMyTaskItem = Application.CreateItem(olTaskItem)
    oMyTaskItem.Subject = " 2.  Mind Sweep"
    oMyTaskItem.Categories = "@ Computer"
    oMyTaskItem.StartDate = Date
    oMyTaskItem.DueDate = Date

    'Create Weekly Review Task #3:
    Set oMyTaskItem = Application.CreateItem(olTaskItem)
    oMyTaskItem.Subject = " 3.  Process Inboxes"
    oMyTaskItem.Categories = "@ Computer"
    oMyTaskItem.StartDate = Date
    oMyTaskItem.DueDate = Date

    'Create Weekly Review Task #4:
    Set oMyTaskItem = Application.CreateItem(olTaskItem)
    oMyTaskItem.Subject = " 4.  Review Calendar "
    oMyTaskItem.Categories = "@ Computer"
    oMyTaskItem.StartDate = Date
    oMyTaskItem.DueDate = Date

    'Create Weekly Review Task #5:
    Set oMyTaskItem = Application.CreateItem(olTaskItem)
    oMyTaskItem.Subject = " 5.  Review Current Projects"
    oMyTaskItem.Categories = "@ Computer"
    oMyTaskItem.StartDate = Date
    oMyTaskItem.DueDate = Date

    'Create Weekly Review Task #6:
    Set oMyTaskItem = Application.CreateItem(olTaskItem)
    oMyTaskItem.Subject = " 6.  Review @Waiting For list"
    oMyTaskItem.Categories = "@ Computer"
    oMyTaskItem.StartDate = Date
    oMyTaskItem.DueDate = Date

    'Create Weekly Review Task #7:
    Set oMyTaskItem = Application.CreateItem(olTaskItem)
    oMyTaskItem.Subject = " 7.  Review Someday/Maybe for Project Development"
    oMyTaskItem.Categories = "@ Computer"
    oMyTaskItem.StartDate = Date
    oMyTaskItem.DueDate = Date

    Set oMyTaskItem = Nothing

   On Error GoTo 0
   Exit Sub


    MsgBox "Error " & Err.Number & " (" & Err.Description & ") in procedure WeeklyReview of Module Utilities"
End Sub


You can easily add or remove tasks as you see fit just by copying and pasting more lines between the last “oMyTaskItem.Save” and “Set oMyTaskItem=Nothing”

You can also change the Categories if you need to.  As I am not a programmer I am not sure if the date could be changed  programmatically but there are numerous Outlook programming sites out there, the one I looked at the most was Sue Moshers’s site  The forum is very friendly and helpful. (The geek in me is always looking for more ways to automate Outlook!)

Also, please note that there is a space between the first quote and the task number in each “oMyTaskItem.Subject=” line.  This is because if there wasn’t, and the number of tasks was larger than 9, Outlook would sort them by the first digit in the to do list.  Thus you would see task 1 then 10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,2,20,21 and so on.  It wasn’t an issue for this list as there is only seven tasks, but some of my work tasks are larger and it drove me nuts to have them out of order.

The instructions on how to add a macro to Outlook, and to create a button for easy access are posted here, so I won’t get in to any detail.  If there are any questions I am more than happy to try and answer them, but as I mentioned earlier, I am not a programmer, or a “power user” so I may not be the most qualified to help.

So, to sum up my work flow, I have a recurring Appointment set for Friday evening called “Weekly Review.”  When the time comes,I hit the Macro button named “Generate Weekly Review” and I have a list of tasks added to my To Do list.  I do them in sequence, check them off as they are finished, and my work is done.

My next post may be delayed.  Between my small business, university classes, and family responsibilities, I’m finding the I need to prioritize my commitments to be sure I succeed at them all.

Hmmmmm, maybe when I return that will be the topic of my next post, how I prioritize things.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Outlook And GTD (Process Part 2)

The next section in my GTD system returns to Outlook in order organize the tasks by context, and one again I have a a macro that enables a search folder to look through out my PST and actually show the tasks that I have entered. And once again the net has proven to be a huge help, specifically Simon Guest’s post here.  In it he supplies a macro that when run, builds two search folders that will show us both our tasks, and mail that is categorized by whatever we want.  Simon writes much better than I can and is far more fluent with Outlook so rather than regurgitate his post, I will just recommend you read it there.  After you have installed the macro as per his instructions come back and I will show how I use his work.

If you have followed Simon’s instructions you now have created a series of search folders.   If you added the second macro, available in the comments, you also have shortcuts to the folders already on your shortcut bar.  Simply drag the shortcuts underneath the “Next Actions” Header and you are done.  Personally, I have deleted the “mail” search folders, because I use the “Create Task From Mail” and Create Appointment From Mail” macro we created in the Outlook and GTD (Process Part 1) post. As a housekeeping note, I can safely delete the original email as a copy is attached to appointment or task I created. 

When you are finished you should have something that looks more or less like this;


As you can see I have created a search folder for each of the contexts I currently use, I have also changes the properties to show all items and not just the unread ones.

I have one other button on the GTD Toolbar in order to help me process.  It is the “Generate Weekly Review” button.  Like everything else I have cobbled together, this one came from someone other than myself.  In this case it was Michael Hyatt who provided the light.  Way back in 2004 he wrote a blog post on how to add a macro to Outlook 2003 that I followed to the letter that worked well in Outlook 2007.  The post has since vanished, although Mr. Hyatt has several other interesting posts about GTD and many other things at his blog here

Basically what the macro does is create seven tasks with a due date of today, and a category of @ computer to kick start my weekly review.  With any kind of luck, I will post a link to Mr. Hyatt’s article in the near future.

Until then, it is time for me to focus on “Do”

Sunday, March 14, 2010

OneNote and GTD (Process)

There are as many ways to set up OneNote for GTD as there are individual Microsoft Office installations.  Over the course of exploring other peoples GTD systems I read the blog posts at Seven Breaths, Manage This and more recently GTD Times and tried to implement something similar. But what I found was that most of my projects had next actions that took place at several different places (contexts) or the layout did not fit how I approach a project, so I set things up a little differently (Isn't that the beauty,(and the curse) of GTD, to be able to customise to such a great degree!!). I look at OneNote as primarily a data base for my projects and a holding system for my references (the next actions are all handled in Outlook).  There are times when I want to see my projects in terms of what area of my life they impact, career, relationships,etc.  But at other times I want an overview of what projects are being done currently, in the next year, etc, and I needed a system to facilitate this.

Set up

I have a single Notebook, with a tab (section) for Current Projects, a section group for “Life Planning” with a section for 1-2 Year Goals, 3-5 Year Goals, 5-25 year goals, a tab for Someday/Maybe, a section group for my journal, and a section group for references, broken up in sections with as much granularity as is needed for clarity.  This basically means I have grouped the working portion of my projects according to how often they are reviewed.  For my own situation, most projects are short term by the time they are fully planned out, so that is why I have the every thing longer than a year separated from current projects. (see screenshot at the end of this post)

I have created a tool bar with tags for each of the areas I want to be sure to focus on in my life (the 50,000 ft range),  Spiritual, Physical, Relationships, Career and Development, Finances, and Contribution.  This way, if I have a project that fits more than one area of focus it is tagged with both tags and I no longer have to button hole a project in only one way (My projects rarely fit into neat and clearly defined categories).  Also on this tool bar is the “All Tagged Notes” button so I can easily see at a glance all the projects are fit under a certain category in the tags summary pane.  The other tool bar I have open is the “Outlook Tasks” bar.  I have set all the buttons to show both image and text. The process for doing all this is very similar to the one outlined in my previous posts for Outlook so I won’t go into that much detail here.


I have use one page for each project and the title of the project is tagged with one or more of the “Area of Focus” buttons I set up as above. To date all of my projects have been able to fit their next action steps on a single page, but there are sub pages available if I need to plan or need to add a sub-project. Links to the reference section are easily implemented by right clicking any where on the reference page you are linking to and pasting the hyperlink in your project. 

I do not flag all of my next actions as Outlook tasks.  I do flag NA’s with an “@ OUT” or an “@ Phone” context as I usually need to know to do these things when I do not have access to OneNote. Because OneNote tags do not map onto Outlook categories automatically, you do have to open the Outlook task after flagging it as an Outlook task and set the category of the task manually, but you can do this within OneNote so it is only a small annoyance.  I also flag smaller sub projects as Outlook tasks rather than each next action because I found that too much granularity in the task list caused me to focus more on the organization of the task list and less on actually doing the project.  By this reasoning I also only flag those subprojects due in the next week.  This also allows me to drag the sub-project task from the Todo Bar in Outlook onto the Calendar and be able to block a reasonable amount of time without having it too crowded by a large number of small but related appointments as it would be if I did it for each and every next action.  But each next action is created in OneNote so if I do need it I can view it.  It would be better if Outlook supported hierarchal tasks……but…

The title of the project is tagged with the appropriate areas of focus.  I can hit the “All Tagged Notes…” button and get something that looks like this.


During my weekly review I assign the next batch of sub-projects as Outlook tasks for completion in the next week. 

So to recap, reference material is sent to OneNote, either from Outlook, from the send to OneNote button in IE or from the print driver that is installed and thus any print enabled software on the computer.  It is filed if it is a reference material, or developed into a proper GTD project and the next actions are sent back to Outlook and categorized by context.  The project is then moved forward into the DO phase.

Next we will return to Outlook and set it up so we can look at these tasks we just created in their own search folder.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Outlook and GTD (Process Part 1)

Now almost everything should be hitting Outlook and it should be as far from inbox zero as you can possibly get.  Now we will get to the hard part, well not really hard, but nit picky stuff.  I am going to assume you have added all your recurring events to your tasks list and have reminders set appropriately.   As well, I am going to assume you have a general knowledge on how to navigate Outlook’s various features.  Also, because I use OneNote, I will assume that you will use it too.

This method of organization relies heavily on the use of Outlook’s categories,  on the use of the search folders to find the categories, and the shortcut bar to minimise the amount of screen real estate dedicated to organizing our inbox.

Outlook’s categories are used as contexts.  Physical places where I typically do the work has the “@” prefix before the place, @ Home, @ Out, @ Office, etc.  If I am waiting for someone else to do something, but want to keep track of it, I prefix their name a “^”  symbol,  thus ^ Spouse, ^ Kid, etc.  I do not have a “someday/maybe” category in Outlook because those are typically projects by nature and are kept in OneNote.  I also use categories for items that are for information, but there is no prefix, for example, Bills.  So the task “pay power bill” has two categories attached to it, both @Computer and Bills.  This is so I can search (using a search folder) both the “Bills” category for a quick overview of my bills, and also will let me see what I need to do when I am at the computer by opening the “@ Computer” search folder.

All my tasks are synced with my Blackberry with their software, and I can filter the task view to just look at the “@ Out” tasks or any category I need at the time.  This means that I now have a list of things to do while I am out that is  easily accessible. 

Now lets set up the automated portion of your reading, namely emails and RSS feeds.  First, Set outlook to open to the calendar window every time I opened it. (Tools—> Options—> Other Tab—> Advanced Options) Click the “Browse”  Button next to “Start up in this folder:”  and select you primary calendar.  Also while you are here make sure the “Sync RSS feeds to the Common Feed List” is checked if you use IE for feeds.  Be sure the Task working hours per day, and week numbers fit your schedule and click “OK”  and “OK” again. to exit options.


Next click “view” on the menu bar and ensure the navigation pane is “on.”  Also ensure the “Todo Bar” is “normal” and the task list is checked. ( I unchecked the rest, but you may prefer not to.)

image image

Next, click on the Shortcut link at the bottom of the Navigation Pane.  Click “Add New Group” and label it “Next Actions”  Repeat three more times, and label the new groups  Incoming, Reading, and Filing Cabinet. I organized the groups so that Next Actions is at the top of the list to indicate that this is a time management system and not an email system, but you are free to organize them how ever you want. 

Next click the folder list icon at the bottom of the Navigation Pane ( It looks like a folder) and browse to the search folder list.  I deleted all the existing search folders and started from scratch, but once again if the folders are searching relevant things for you just use them.  One thing to remember, Search folders do not span multiple PST’s.  If you have different IMAP or HTML mail set up each will have it’s own PST file and will need to have its own Search folder set up.

To create a search folder for, say Twitter and Facebook, right click on “Search Folders” and then “New Search Folder…”


The new Search Folder window will pop up.  Scroll down to “Create a Custom Search Folder” then click “Choose…”  (Do this rather than use the ready made criteria  because if you want to modify the criteria at a later date you can.) Now the Custom Search Folder window appears.  Give your folder a name, say “Tweets & Updates” and then click the “Criteria…” button.  You can now browse the tabs and pick which attributes you want this search folder to search for.  For simplicities sake, I will check “only Items that are: unread”


Click OK and you are back to Custom Search Folder window.  Click “Browse…” and un check the root folder and the “Search subfolders”  box.  Next expand the RSS Feeds and check the Folder of the Feeds you want to view, in this case the Tweets folder and the XXX Friends Status updates folder.


Click OK all the way back out and you now have a search folder that will show you all the unread tweets and status updates from Facebook. (For instructions on how to get the Status updates from Facebook Click Here.)

Rinse and repeat for each grouping of feeds you have and slice and dice the criteria until you have a search folder system that works for you. I read blogs from about twenty or so sources, with each one posting on average five or six posts a day.  This is in addition to the tweets and status updates from Facebook.  The Feeds cover a variety of topics, so I have a search folder named by the topics covered for each group of related feeds that only pulls from those particular feeds.

You can also use Outlook’s rules to move any mail from newsletters, or mailing lists to their own folders from the inbox, and then add the mail folder to appropriate search folder just the same as you did for a feed. 

Next, right click on each of the search folders you created and click properties.  Be sure the button to the left of “Show total number of items” is checked, and click OK. Do this for each inbox you have as well.


You now have a group of search folders that spans your PST file and organizes your Blogs and mailing lists into a more manageable layout.  Remember to do this for each PST file Outlook accesses, or use Outlook rules to move the message to the appropriate folder in your Personal Folders PST.

Next, click on the shortcut button at the bottom of the navigation pane again and click on“Add New Shortcut” , Navigate to the search folders and click on your newly created search folder.  Repeat for each search folder you created.  You can now Drag and Drop the search folder shortcuts to the appropriate group heading . and you are done.  Now all your reading material is organized and any new material is be automatically sorted and presented in a more meaningful manner.

Add a new shortcut for each separate inbox you have, and place them under the “Incoming”  Heading.  I also have a shortcut to each junk mail folder and deleted items folder placed under the “Filing Cabinet” header so I don’t forget to empty them or scan them quickly for misplaced mail.  My set of folders looks like this:


There is one last thing to note.  Unless you intend to keep every last feed, status update, and tweet forever, you should change the auto archive setting for each folder the mail actually gets delivered to.  For most feeds and tweets I have set the root folder to automatically delete each feed, tweet, and update after they are more than three days old. I accomplished this by right clicking the folder and choosing properties.


Then click the “Auto Archive” tab and set the folder up as follows

image Every time you subscribe to a new feed you must do the above step.  By default, regardless of what the auto archive settings are, new feed folders are set to never archive.  Very quickly you will have a PST folder that is so large Outlook hangs if you are following a number of prolific writers.

Finally, after I set each folder up with how long I want to keep it I set Auto archive to run every day.  To find this setting click on the Tools Menu, click Options, click on the Other Tab and Click on the “AutoArchive…” button.  Then set your options to look like this:


The primary thing here is to be sure that the checkbox at the top is checked and it is set to run every day.  

If you want to keep a specific post or email, simply highlight the post in the main window and click the send to OneNote button.  It will now be in the unfiled notes section in one note ready to be tagged and filed in your reference section in OneNote.


If an email or post requires just a single next action or just the scheduling of an appointment, it is a pain in the butt to send it to OneNote and then back to Outlook.  So to deal with that you can do one of two things, just flag it so it appears on the todo list or create a task or appointment with a macro.  I prefer to use the macros because I can then be sure the task will have a proper subject.  The task list is about next actions, and next actions begin with a verb.  (“Do  something” or” Call someone” for example.) After much mucking about on my own, I found numerous helpful people on the web who had done something similar.  So with much trial and error I now have two buttons on their own tool bar named “ Create Task from Mail” and “Create Appointment from Mail” 

The Create Appointment macro, I found here, and the Create Task macro I found here. ( The task macro was written for Outlook 2003 but I have found it to work in 2007 as well.) There are instructions on how to add the macros to Outlook here.  

Now we need to create a toolbar to put those macros where we can easily access them when we need them.  Click Tools –> Customise.


The Customise window appears, Click “New…” and  name your new toolbar (I left it as custom 1because  I already have a GTD toolbar), and  a toolbar will appear to the right of the window.

imageClick the  Commands tab and highlight Macros category.  Drag you newly created macros onto the tool bar. You should now have a tool bar that looks like this.


Right click on each of the buttons and rename them to something that is less wordy.  You can change the button image if you like.  You can also drag to “Send to OneNote button to this tool bar as well.  Then when you are done modifying click the close button at the bottom of the Customise window.  Drag your new toolbar up to the other tool bars reside and place where it is accessible to you, and we are done with the set up, for now…. (insert evil laugh here).

So what have we accomplished.  A mail, blog post, tweet or status update comes into Outlook.  It is sorted into the appropriate search folder automatically.  Those items that are just short term reading or not important information can be left alone after they are read because they are cleared out automatically in a day or so.  There is a one button action if you need to book an appointment, there is an action button if you need to assign a next action, and there is an action button (send to OneNote) if it needs to be kept for future reference or is needing to be developed into a full project.  A little more processing in OneNote is all that needs to be done and the process section of GTD is done.

Now while I could stay with Outlook (there will be another macro or two before we are finished) for the next post, I think I will move on to OneNote so that the processing step will be complete before I go on to Do.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Outlook and GTD (Capture)

This post is all about how I capture everything and move it into Outlook for processing.  The actual processing is usually rather quick, but getting it set up is at least its own post, and perhaps two, and takes a fair bit of time to set up.

Outlook is my primary window for social networks (Twitter and Facebook), my News Aggregator, and my email client for POP3, IMAP, and HTML mail services.  I am not running an exchange server, however I do use the Outlook Connector from Microsoft to bring in my Hotmail account.  Gmail is brought in as an IMAP folder rather than POP mail to keep the PST file Outlook uses smaller.  POP mail from my ISP is pretty standard and needs no explanation.

Outgoing items to Twitter and Facebook are enabled with two add-ins from TechHit; TwInbox and FBlook.  I however prefer to get the updates from Facebook friends and my tweeps in Outlook as a message so I can use organise them properly, and automate them as much as possible.  To get the status updates from your friends as a message, you need to use these instructions to get an RSS feed for Facebook.  TwInbox put the tweets in a separate folder as a note so nothing else is needed at this stage of the game.

Speaking of RSS feeds, I  use IE8 for browsing for many reasons but an added perk is when I find a feed I want to subscribe to, it is automatically added to the feed list in Outlook when I subscribe in IE.

In my previous post, I made passing mention to Note2Self, my mobile capture on the Blackberry.  It has become my “ubiquitous capture device.”  With it I can record a voice message and the program emails it to me.  This allows me to capture on the fly and be sure that all of my ideas (mind clutter mostly!) is in a single place.

Most of my non-electronic inputs (read snail mail) usually hits one of my physical inboxes, but surprisingly, very little of it is immediately actionable.  Most of it is recurring items, the reminders for which are already set up either as tasks or as appointments.  

As each monthly item (bills are a good example of this) came in I entered it as a recurring monthly task with a due date and a start date (a week before it comes due) and gave it two categories, @Computer and Bills. The paper bill goes into the “outstanding bills” folder in my vertical file folder on my desk until I actually make the payment.  Credit card statements go here too as they need to be paid.  Bank account statements go into the “reconciling” folder with a task set to “reconcile statements in quicken” as that recurring task with similar categories.   Automatic withdrawals are set up as all day events on my calendar categorized as “Bills” rather than tasks as they require no action on my part, although if finances are tight you might want to consider including a task to check balances a few days before each one comes due so you have a reminder. Everything else is either reference, and filed in the filing cabinet, or recycling and filed in that box.

This pretty much covers the things that are “pushed” to me.  For  the things I need to “pull”  I set a recurring task to “download XXX and process,” and give it appropriate categories.  For example my kids monthly school calendar, which tells me when there is no school, early dismissal, etc, etc, is posted online only.  I also use a reminder task to “get so and so’s schedule”
if I need to have it entered on my calendar for information purposes.

(Yeah , yeah, I know.  Technically when I am processing a “pull” action I am actually executing a next action, but the only difference between that and “pure capture” is that I don’t have a recurring daily task that says “open mail.” Besides, the end result is more projects, next actions and reference material, so I am including it in the capture section.)

So now most, but not all (I still mess up and think “I’ll remember that!” but forget it moments after I think it.)  of the information I use and read over the course of a day is in one place.  Next, organising and automating.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

My GTD Setup

This is going to be the first of a series of articles on my GTD set up and how I tweaked it to fit my needs.  I follow the GTD workflow model of Capture and Process into Do, Defer and Delegate categories, and I will take a side journey into the realm of “Should-ing”  ( how I determined which projects were the right ones for me to take on) as I explain how I use several tools in managing both life planning and how I deal with the everyday interruptions that inevitably occur.


Getting Things Done: The Art Of Stress-Free Productivity

The very first tool is David Allen’s book.  The processes explained within it are some of the best when it comes to dealing with the things that come into my sphere of influence when they have little or no structure in and of themselves.  If you haven't read it yet, you should, but if you just want a primer click here.  He has written follow ups to the book that expand on areas, but for pure basics it is the best place to start.  The remainder of my posts will assume you have a fair understanding of the GTD process so I will not do a rehash of this system, but will concentrate on the modifications I implemented.

My own set up has  a decidedly electronic bent present in the implementation, even though most of my inputs are non electronic in nature. I will list the tools first and then go into the modification I made to each in follow up posts.


Planning is probably the weakest part of my GTD set up.  I have really tried to find a perfect fit for me, but have been unable to do so.  All the different tools allow for some, but not all of the functions I need.  I am current working with OneNote 2007 to see if it’s tagging abilities will let me slice and dice the plans up to look at every project individually as well as by timeframe.  I think I am making it too complicated, but any system has to be trusted and should be bent to the need of the individual not have the individual make all the adjustments.


My primary reference holder is also done with  OneNote.  It is here that I can contain most of the reference material I need to keep as well as plan my larger projects , and have the ability to link the action steps to my other tool, Outlook 2007.  I have had OneNote available to me for some time now, but have only recently been using it as my main filing system for virtual documents.  I have installed Microsoft Live Mesh on my computer, and through that, the OneNote folder is synced with the cloud so I can access the same files on my laptop if needed. 

Another reference bin is a physical filing cabinet, with one drawer for the current items (bills, statements and other such what have you), one drawer for archive, one drawer for unused supplies (file folders).  It is organised much like it is suggested in Getting Things Done.

On my desk is a vertical file holder that serves as a holder for the the short term recurring items, like monthly bills, and for the project folders that are frequently updated.  For example, through out the year personal income tax receipts are kept in the filing cabinet but that folder gets moved into the vertical holder when there is  less than two months to go until the filing deadline.

Capture and Process

Outlook eventually captures and sorts everything that happens on the daily level.  It has been customised to a fair degree and as such it deserves its’ own post.  I have two in baskets in my home, one by the phone in our main living area and one on my desk in the office.  I carry a Blackberry with Note2self installed on it to get the random ideas into my inbox at home.  As well I carry a Dayrunner zippered binder when I run errands.  It is here in Outlook that the Calendaring and Action lists get pushed to the daily action plan. Applying the GTD methodology is where I have spent the most time to date in modifying Outlook.


The next post will deal with Outlook and the modifications I made to make it usable for me.