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.

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