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Prepare to Be Very Jealous of My Killer GTD Setup


Disclaimer: Buckle up, this is a long one!

When Jennifer of Lifemuncher tagged me with this little meme, I have to admit, I was a touch apprehensive. Not because I’ve fallen off of the GTD wagon or anything (which I sort of did a few weeks back), but because I have changed my GTD implementation about as often as I’ve changed my socks in recent weeks. But, being the community-minded nerd that I am, I decided to oblige in spite of myself.

So, to follow the prescribed order of things, we’ll start with my current set of tools (and their particular GTD application, just for clarity’s sake):


Calendar – I use I find it to be a stellar web application with an excellent user interface. Basically, it does what you’d expect it to do and stays the hell out of your way (which, if you ask me, is the definition of any good piece of software). It supports natural language processing (e.g., it knows what to do with “dinner with Mom tomorrow at 6pm”) and is much more responsive than Google Calendar (my old flame). As I’ve said before, it’s the best web-based calendar application I’ve ever used, period.

My Levenger Notebook

Lists – For awhile and up until pretty recently, I was using Backpack to manage the lion’s share of my lists, reminders and calendar. Now, I use a Levenger Circa notebook (that was given to me by my new employer – pictured above). Since this is my 3rd or 4th attempt at paper-based list management, I’ve pretty much got things nailed down. Truthfully, any paper notebook would work for me now. But, as Merlin Mann once quoted somebody (whose name I don’t recall) as saying (and I’m paraphrasing here), “there’s always a cheaper pair of shoes, but there’s something to be said for the nice ones that put a skip in your step”. I think this applies just as easily to the tools of the productivity nerd.

This notebook houses all of my lists including Project lists as well as context-based action lists. The paper is a joy to write on and I’m pretty sure I have a crush on the binding system. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one of these up, especially if you’re a Moleskine fanatic.

RemindersAs I mentioned in a very recent post, I’m one of the lucky few to be taking Sandy out for a test drive. She handles all of my reminders, and dutifully so. Once Sandy is out of beta, I’ll give you guys the tour. For now, just know that she rules :)

Filing – I have a vanilla filing cabinet at home which houses all of my reference materials and project folders. Honestly, it’s not anything spectacular, but it works for me.

Mobile Filing Setup

Mobile – Since I (like most people) have one of those “day jobs”, I spend a good deal of my time away from my home base. For that reason, I carry with me a little pocket-thing (pictured above, right) that can hold about 5-10 project folders. It fits nicely in my messenger bag and affords me the luxury of portability for my stuff.

I also have a thin, folder-sized plastic contraption that I call my “mobile in-basket” (also pictured above, left). Again, it’s pretty unremarkable, but if I’m heading out of the office in a hurry and notice a stack of junk in my in-basket, it makes a great temporary home for it until I can sit down and sift through it properly.

Moleskine Cahier Notebook - Open
Moleskine Cahier Notebook - Closed

Ubiquitous Capture – I think of all of the different iterations my system has undergone, this has gotten the most refining. Up until this past weekend, my capture tool of choice was the Moleskine Cahier (pocket-sized) notebook (pictured above, both open and closed). They’re pretty inexpensive, but still have that feel of quality and craftsmanship. There was but one item that could dethrone my oft-crumbled pad of Italian love – the Levenger Pocket Briefcase. My lovely wife bought one for me for Father’s day – and it’s fantastic. It fits perfectly in my back pocket, kind of like a very thin wallet. It can hold something like 20 index cards, as well as my “plastic” (driver’s license, credit cards, etc.) and doesn’t look “overstuffed”. I’m can say with a pretty strong degree of certainty that this thing is going to be around for awhile. Here it is:

Levenger Shirt Pocket Briefcase

The second have of my two-pronged capture assault team is my cell phone working in tandem with Jott. I gave this service a try awhile back, but (for some reason) wasn’t impressed. Having gone back for a second look, I now recognized the killer-ness of this tool. The primary reason is that my car is an unwieldy beast and, while in motion, requires at least one hand on the wheel. So, there’s no “steer with the knee while scrawling something down”. I’ve tried it, it didn’t work out. Now, I just flip open the old RAZR, hold ’9′ (yes, I have Jott on speed dial) and I’m off and running.

That about does it for my set of tools. The next question – why do they rock so hard?

What makes my system so badass?

Well, I recently had something of an epiphany. I was (as a few friends have accused me in the past) spending more time working out how exactly my lists, etc. were being stored and managed and not actually doing any of the crap on the lists. So, I decided to stop waiting for the killer app/notebook/pen/blah and just start freakin’ working through my lists. You know what? I’m actually doing things and marking them as ‘done’. It’s a great feeling.

Of course, there are probably a great many of you that would find my configuration to be annoying, archaic or even downright unusable. That’s the beauty of GTD – it’s not a prescription or a set of concrete directives, it’s a framework. A scaffolding for your mental crap, if you will. It doesn’t matter if your system consists exclusively of cocktail napkins and golf pencils – if it works for you, then more power to you, my golf-pencil-toting friend.

How long?

How long have I been using these tools? Well, exactly these, probably 3 days :) But in a more general sense, probably about a month. And I’ve never been more comfortable with everything (which might be due in part to my “attitude adjustment” described earlier).

Why these tools work

Well, as I said, I haven’t been using this configuration for very long. But one thread that runs through each of the components is simplicity. There’s very little work in keeping things up (compared to other setups I’ve used in the past) and everything (or at least the important things) is with me 99% of the time. I’m never caught thinking “crap, I need to add all these to [some list on some website]“. It’s just paper and it’s right there in the passenger seat or whatever.

If I could use this to give everybody one piece of advice, it would be this: The Perfect Tool Does Not Exist. Pick something you like and get on with it. Remember, you’re the developed mammal with the capacity for abstract thought and reason – and it’s just a notebook/website/piece of paper. You’re in charge, so bend it to your will and start accomplishing some of those pesky projects.

Oh, and I tag Jason :)

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