Well, the passing comments on Philofaxy about GTD setups seem to have generated a great deal of interest, so I asked Steve if he would like me to come forward with some detail of my own....so here it is.
Please be aware, though, that this is only ‘my’ setup – and, in fact, is only my setup at the moment – I can and do change setups quite regularly, as those who know me and/or follow my comments on the site will know!
If anyone is interested in starting with the ‘received version’ of how to set up a paper planner for GTD, there is a very good white paper available from David Allen himself via his website. It’s a free download, although you have to register to get it, but that’s not likely to be a problem to anyone who has more than a passing interest in implementing GTD.
And so, to my own set-up, which is really a modified form of GTD, both in setup and in underlying principle. I’ve made these changes because they suit me temperamentally, and I think we tend to underestimate the role of temperament in what will work best for us. You, dear reader, may like a lot of structure (as I do), or you may prefer a freewheeling system which just captures everything you need to do and then leaves it to you to regularly review those tasks and make choices out of the whole range of available to-dos. That doesn’t work for me – I’m an accountant (CPA if you’re in the US) and time management consultant and have anything up to 120 ‘live’ deadlines for filing stuff with various Government agencies (or just delivering to the client) at any given moment, and each of those deadlines has sanctions, usually fines and penalties, attached, so it’s important that I keep on top of all of them, all the time.
Firstly, my go-to binder. As regular readers will know, my first choice is a Personal Malden in Ochre. I love this binder, for the combination of weight, style and accessibility. I’ve tried using my A5 Finsbury, but it weighs enough to make it undesirable as a travelling companion, most especially when I’m in London on business, as I am quite often. I have enough papers, files and overnight stuff to carry without 6-8 pounds’ weight of organiser to add to the load. One of my underlying principles is, ‘One life, one organiser’, so I don’t split my stuff between binders, or use different binders for different aspects of my life. I want it ALL together in ONE place – which also happens to be one of the underlying principles of GTD. I know that when I pick up that binder I’m going to have everything I need, all together, in one place.
Firstly, inside the front cover I have my most used plastic cards (the rest live in card-holder inserts at the back of the binder, plus my own business cards, plus postage stamps, train tickets if I’m travelling to/from London, etc. What I really like about the Malden (apart from everything else about it!) is the way the pockets are arranged here. This setup means that I can flip the binder open in the supermarket, at the cash machine, etc, and have all the plastic cards I need, right there. There is a larger pocket behind the card slots, and I use that to capture the receipts I’m picking up through the day as I move around. Because I’m self employed, I just capture everything, and then decide later, on a daily basis, what needs to be kept and what can be thrown. The ones I’m keeping them get entered into my accounting software and ‘cold filed’ away, again on a daily basis. If anyone who is self employed wants to know more about this they can get in touch and I’ll elaborate.
Now into the main Filofax areas. As you will see from the accompanying photos, at the moment I’m using a basic 1-6 divider set, but I’ve added the diary tab from a standard set of dividers at the front. I’ve cribbed this idea from Gerard (many thanks), and it works really well for me. This is my first real departure from the ‘received wisdom’ of GTD, which has the notes/capture section in first place – however, as I say, this work for me.
Diary-wise, my current plan for 2012 is to use a Day on 2 Pages diary/to do list setup, which I’ve bought from the French Filofax website, backed with a standard 2012 year planner. I can only get 3 months’ worth of daily sheets in the binder, but it’s a compromise I’m prepared to make. The year planner will give me perspective on the rest of the year (as well as on the 3 months I’ve got in as daily inserts), and pretty soon I plan to have a 2013 year planner as well, behind that, for anything truly long-term which needs noting. Generally the year planner only tells me geographically where I’m going to be at any given point – there isn’t much room for detail, but the place reminder is usually enough to prompt me.
After the diary section, I’ve currently got a makeshift index page to the other six sections. I plan to replace this with a printed sheet pretty soon, once the whole thing has bedded in for 2012.
Section 1 is my notes/capture section. This is my one concession to colour (once the index sheet has been replaced)....I’m currently using yellow lined here, it gives me the ‘feel’ of a yellow legal pad, which is what I used before I decided to unify everything into the Filofax. These notes are sorted daily, and the resulting next actions, projects, etc are transferred to the relevant sections. This is really the most important section I use daily.....the GTD ‘system’ of capturing everything in one place and sorting it later enables me to keep a clear head and to stay focused in a way which would be impossible otherwise.
Section 2 is my Next Actions, divided into home, work, personal. If the ‘work’ list in particular starts to get out of hand I create separate lists for London (when I’m there, so this is in part an ‘errands’ list), phone, email, etc. I also have my ‘waiting for’ list in here, so that i can always be ahead of the game when it comes to keeping tabs on slow-responding clients.
Section 3 is my Agendas section. I don’t use this a great deal (I no longer have that many face to face meetings, and I don’t have staff), but what do use it for is notes for my client meetings with those whom I see on a regular basis when I’m in London. That way I don’t forget anything I mean to raise when I’m in the meeting.
Section 4 is my Project Lists. These are divided into work, home and personal. These, together with the Next Actions lists, form the core of my weekly review, which I try to carry out on a Friday afternoon, last thing, so that I can start the weekend knowing I have everything ‘nailed down’ for the coming week. I don’t like using my weekend time for this, even though some of it is personal stuff. As an adjunct to this, I also confirm any appointments for the following week, by email.
Section 5 is my Project Plans section. I try to have a plan for everything which is in the Project List. Also in here are my 2012 goals, and a summary list of my Areas of Focus – again, all concepts taken from Getting Things Done and Making It All Work (which deals more with perspective than with just getting control). These also get reviewed in with the weekly review.
I reckon I can do the weekly review adequately in around an hour....not much time invested, given the payoff.
Finally, section 6 is my information section. In here I have various bits and pieces of often-accessed information. If I find I’m not accessing something on at least a monthly basis, it gets thrown, provided I have the information electronically somewhere, or I know how to find it easily.
I don’t have a contacts section. All my contacts live on my mobile phone, and are far easier to access that way. Also, I have an Outlook-based address file as backup (which in turn gets backed up in my thrice-weekly overall data backup).
I used to keep notes of my expenses in the ‘Financial’ tab of the standard dividers when I was using them, but since I dropped them (and the note-taking with it) I find that capturing the receipts and processing them into my accounting system (where they would end up anyway) is good enough.
So that’s my system. You’ll see that I mostly use plain white ruled paper (or plain for printing) and I really don’t need a lot of different forms. Presently I’m using ‘To Do’ forms for Next Actions, but these could equally well be kept on plain white. I just happen to have them lying around so I’m using them. I think this entire system can be run using shop-bought plain white ruled paper, with some unlined for printing the odd sheet.
Good luck with your planning for 2012, and have fun!
Thank you David for an excellent article and insight on your GTD set up.