07 August 2014

Guest Post - How I use my Personal Filofax for Getting Things Done - David

This is the follow-up to my previous post, which detailed my Filofax set-up for Getting Things Done (hereafter referred to by its usual acronym of GTD). I’m sorry this has taken so long to see the light of day despite reminders and requests from members of the community. The honest truth is that I‘ve been experimenting almost continuously for the last four months or so, with different variants of the set-up, different binder sizes, form formats, etc, and in each and every case I’ve found myself back with the set-up I first detailed in November of last year. The only differences are that I’ve since become the very happy owner of a Cavendish with 30mm rings (goodbye, ring capacity issues), and that I’ve altered the sequencing of the sections slightly to make them more intuitive to me. Otherwise, the system is exactly as it was nearly a year ago, and having ‘wandered far and wide’ in search of what are in reality minor improvements, and returned to the system basically unaltered, I’m pretty sure this is the set-up for me.

As promised, this post really isn’t about the set-up at all (you can get that from my November 2013 post), but about how I use it. For the record, however, the sequencing of the sections is now
  1. Notes/In
  2. Diary
  3. Next Actions
  4. Agendas
  5. Projects
  6. Waiting For
  7. Someday/Maybe
  8. Focus and Direction
  9. Reference
  10. Contacts
I’ve combined Project Plans in with Projects to make room for the Focus and Direction section following reading the new GTD Guide to GTD and Paper Planners. I like the GTD system a lot better with the Focus and Direction element included than I did before….. <A sample of the Guide>

So…..what principles do I employ for operating the system, and what routines do I have in place?

Basically there are only three principles which undergird everything I do:-
  1. Capture ‘stuff’ instantly – don’t rely on your memory, it will let you down. Trust me – I’ve learned this the hard way, through everything from missed appointments to overdue tasks.
  2. The right set-up is the one you’re going to use. If you don’t love it, you won’t use it.
  3. Don’t try to make it perfect. The perfect system doesn’t exist.
1. Capture stuff instantly. This is vital for me. As I said in my previous post, everything (and I mean Everything) goes immediately into the system through Notes/In, with no exceptions allowed. If I come across a task, a project I’m about to take on, an item of information or anything else, it gets written in the Notes/In section straight away. I find even a minute’s delay (or less) means I’ve lost the thought I had in my mind. Once it’s recorded here, I know that I’m going to revisit it at the appropriate time (see below) and decide what has to be done, when, and by whom, and then make the decision about where it ‘fits’ within the system as a whole, either as a Project, an Action, a Someday/Maybe or whatever. Incidentally, this is the main reason why I’m still in the Personal format. Gents – can you really imagine yourself whipping out a Cuban zip binder, or something even bigger, in the pub, the gym or a restaurant. Good. Neither can I……ladies, I *know* you (mostly) carry bags for this purpose and others, but just make sure you can see yourself using that Filo in any and all circumstances……
2. The right set-up is the one you’re going to use. I’ve been through some great set-ups that were just too complex and time-consuming (including some GTD variants), some great binders that were just too bulky to carry, and had some great ideas which would really work well except that I’m never going to apply myself enough to ‘lift that weight’ (to quote David Gilmour). For me, this means I need a system that I can use (not over-complicated), will use (not ‘time-hungry’) and enjoy using. My Cavendish and my ‘reserve’ Hampstead (which I still sometimes move back into just for the fun of having it around) are both great binders I’d happily use all day every day (and do).  In terms of paper quality I’ve moved over almost entirely to Raymay Davinci because I can use any of my favourite pens with it. If you enjoy using your system, you’ll use it. If you don’t enjoy it, it will quickly become a chore to keep updated, and no-one likes a chore, do they?! The next stop is neglect and eventually (usually quite quickly) dis-use.
3. Don’t try to make it perfect. A long time ago I sat in a meeting where a wise person lectured us on the dangers of seeking perfection. I wish I’d listened (more). There is ‘perfect’ (which doesn’t exist, by the way) and there is ‘good enough’, which is, well………Good Enough. Real wisdom knows when Good Enough has been attained – and then stopping! (Can you tell I’m lecturing myself here?) I would have spent far less time trying and then abandoning slightly-altered set-ups than I have, and would have been far more productive, if I’d taken that advice earlier.
Ok, so those are the three principles by which I try to operate my system. In addition I’ve adopted a couple of routines which help keep me on track:-
  1. The ‘daily tidy’
  2. The Weekly Review
1. The ‘daily tidy’. Obviously if I’m constantly capturing ‘stuff’ in my Notes/In section, I’m going to have a bunch of loose ends by the time I’m getting towards the end of each day, so I make it a rule to spend 10-15 minutes before I finish the ‘work’ part of my day sorting these through, making decisions, and neatly logging them into the relevant lists within the system (GTD is really just a set of related lists). Anything captured after that goes into the following day’s Notes/In page(s) and gets dealt with the same way. There are no exceptions to this, no excuses, and I don’t consider 10-15 minutes every day too big a price to pay for the security of knowing that all the loose ends are dealt with. The other thing I do during my daily tidy is to set my MITs (Most Important Tasks) for the next day, so that I come to my desk knowing exactly what they are. For more information on the MIT concept, see Leo Babauta’s excellent book ‘Zen To Done. I set a *maximum* of two MITs  each day, and I make sure they get finished first, before I do the ‘small stuff’.
2. The Weekly Review. Obviously I can’t take any credit for the idea of the Weekly Review because it’s an integral part of the GTD system (see David Allen’s books if you need to know more), but I do my Review each week, for about 30-45 minutes, usually in the café three doors up from where I live, or another about four miles away (I live in a small village). Doing that gets me away from my desk and from all the things ‘shouting’ to be done, and gives me the time and space I need to concentrate solely on getting my system up to date (if needed) and to brainstorm anything else which needs to be ‘brought on board.
I think it’s really important to have routines and stick to them. If I’m away on business and can’t make my usual Friday Weekly Review for some reason, I either do it on the train (and I’ll admit that writing on a train isn’t easy), or make sure I make time to visit a coffee shop in London (or elsewhere) and get that review sorted. The great thing here is that I have my Cavendish with me all the time, and this is always my response to the standard and rather tired argument I get in favour of digital planning, namely that of ‘single data entry’ which then ‘pops up’ on different digital platforms.

I have Single Data Entry (OK, count the initial note and the ‘proper’ logging as two if you like) and once I enter it, it stays entered. And I don’t have to rely on it maybe/possibly/probably ‘popping up’ elsewhere, because my Filofax is always with me.

Over all I don’t think 15 minutes a day and 30-40 minutes once a week is too much time to spend to keep up-to-date, and I hope you don’t either. Mostly it’s a matter of discipline. Do I want to save the review time for something else and know I’m going to struggle all week to know what my ‘compass’ should be? Probably not. Do I want to know I’ve always got everything with me, all the time, and that I can’t be ‘ambushed’ by new ‘stuff’ because I have a tried and tested system for capturing it and dealing with it later? Probably. No, definitely.

I hope this brief overview is of help to those who have requested it. Once again, I have to stress that this is the system which works for me – yours may be different. I think the important thing is that each of us should not only have a system but should use it consistently. And remember:-


Happy planning!

David

Thank you David

38 comments:

  1. David, thank you for taking the time to write this, it's very illuminating. By the time I reached the end of this, I thought that if more people actually thought about how to use their Organiser, there would be a lot less people feeling like they are going through "planner fail", a concept I disagree with. To me, a planner can only "fail" if, for example, you drop it, the rings burst open and the inserts blow away in the wind. And even that is arguable. Your system comes across as robust and workable, and you make several important points. Nobody likes using something they don't enjoy, so making it less of a chore and more of an enjoyment is key, in my book. There are lots of comments from readers who are exasperated from bouncing from one binder to another in the quest for the perfect organiser. As you rightly say, it doesn't exist. But "good enough" does. The Einstein quote at the bottom is spot on. I know you have wandered the organisational landscape like an itinerant ascetic, but it all seems to have been worth it, now that you are back in your tried and trusted system, but with even bigger rings. (I'm still curious about just how many pages of Raymay Da Vinci paper you could get in that 5/4" warehouse of an Organiser).

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    1. Hi Paul

      Re 'eaten' comments, I always copy my text before hitting 'Publish' these days, as like you I've lost a lot of text by not doing so. i think there's a bug in the Blogspot system.

      As regards Raymay Davinci paper, I haven't experimented with the empty Cavendish, but having a number of complete unopened refills to hand guess-timate the capacity to be 'around' 400 sheets if everything were on DV. I'd still have room for the ten-part divider set as well. In fact the Cavendish seems to operate best when it is reasonably well filled, so maybe I should add some more pages!

      As you well know I'm continuing to experiment with 'hacks' to the system, but only as a 'parallel' to the main system, and I can't think of an alteration over the past year which has been adopted permanently, apart from a minor alteration to the sequencing/titling of the sections, the latest version of which is listed above.

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  2. Is it just me, or do other people find that their first comment always gets eaten by the system? I now have to copy and paste into a WORD doc, then click PUBLISH a second time. Is it Gremlins?

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    1. I find if it just say google account it does tend to eat my comments however if it says Deborah-jane it doesn't I don't use tablets and phones to comment on philofaxy, just my laptop or pc

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    2. I found it happens when I try to comment without actually being signed-in (as Deborah-Jane says - just "Google account" showing). I do all everything on my iPad (through the Newsify app) so, in case I'm signed out, I click "select all" and then "copy" after I've composed my reply (no need to past into another app). If it then gets eaten, I just sign-in at the top of Philofaxy and "paste" my copied reply in the comments box. Works every time!

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  3. Only when I comment via an iPad or iphone

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  4. Sensible system. I'll be thinking about my Autumn needs the next couple of weeks, so I'll definitely be looking at this post again. Thank you.

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  5. Great post David! The "capturing everything instantly" advice is so important and definitely easier on paper than trying to log into an app-based system. I've never found the perfect way of doing this though. A5 and Personal are both too big to always have with me. Slimline is good and I've been alternating between my Holborn and a Filofax Flex Slim as both can be easily carried without needing a man bag. I confess that Ray Blake's posts and TPS Kate's articles keep tempting me to a traveller's notebook and Kent of Oz has had recent success with a pocket Filo.

    Whilst David Allen deserves credit for a lot of things, the daily tidy and weekly review were, as you know, devised long before GTD was invented, as part of Time Manager, by Danish quality systems and time management guru Claus Møller.

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    1. Hi Tim

      As you know, like you I was introduced to the routines i describe via TMI in the 80s, and yes, they are not new, although they still work!

      As regards capture devices, I don't find it a problem to carry my Personal FF with me in my hand, whereas an A5 would be way too unweildy and a pocket notebook such as you describe would introduce an extra step I'd have to take each day. I know it works for some, though!

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    2. This is a bit of a holy grail for me; I find my A5 no less portable really than my personal, particularly because my A5 binder (a Van der Spek) is very lightweight. But really, as a Personal size binder cannot fit into a pocket it becomes a hand carry which is rather inconvenient. I want to have capture with me all the time, everywhere, much like my pocket wallet. But even a mini size binder feels awfully bulky in a trouser pocket. I don't customarily wear a jacket, if I did then a slimline would work perfectly. I have a couple of four-ring pocket size filofax binders with very small rings which do fit into a pocket, and I often think about trying them out as my planner. But the pages seem so small!

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    3. David, I really enjoyed your post - my system is very similar. I really enjoy hearing about people using GTD.

      Tim, Josh, I share you capture issues. Have either of you tried a pocket Filofax Flex? It is only slightly larger than a traditional wallet. I have been using a flex as a wallet for about a year. With cards, currency, and a small notebook, it is bigger than a wallet, but definitely still pocket friendly. I use the notebook as my capture tool. I tear out the pages and add them to my larger Filo when I get home.

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    4. John - I've used both A5 Flex and Slim Flex since the day they were first launched although I've not tried the pocket version. The pocket is almost identical in size to the Midori passport and many people report that that is just a bit TOO small! It's good to learn that the pocket Flex is working for you!

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  6. Thank you very much. My System is already similar to yours in some ways but a fresh inbox page daily and the relating daily tidy method sound like they could be the answer to the chaotic notes I still find strewn throughout my binder because I didn't know where to put the information when the thought hit me and I wanted to write it down immediately

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  7. Great post! Even tho I'm not a GTD person, I do use the Capture section. Like you said, even a minute's delay and the thought is gone. So, if I slack off on using Capture, the whole system seems to go downhill from there.

    To Tim's comment, I recently changed from FF to a Fauxdori as my "carry" planner. To test it out, I made one to the size that suits me... 4 3/4" wide by 6" long. Because I write big, I need the width, but I don't need the length of the regular size MTN. I used a vinyl placemat for the cover & made my own notebooks to size. All I had to buy was the elastic. So, for a couple of dollars, I have a working, customized model. I love it! Thanks to Kate, Ray, Carie and others, I can now see the amazing flexibility these have. I had always thought these types of planners were too limiting because I thought you were stuck with bound notebooks...and I just HAD to have rings (even if they were misaligned). I will, at some point, replace my placemat with a "real" cover...I think.

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  8. How is the focus and direction section different to next actions??Curious how you use this section.

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    1. Hi Butanben

      To fully understand this you need to have read at least one of Getting Things Done and Making It All Work....the best I can do is to say that GTD's Areas of Focus (or more accurately Horizons of Focus) are akin to goals operating within various time scales (or perspective operating from various 'heights'. Focus and Dirction have started to get greater attention from the GTD people - i think in a tacit attempt to redress the criticism that the system as originally exponded was too reactive and not proactive enough. A Next Action is the next *specific* action required to progress a Project, a Project being defined as anythng which requires more than one action to complete it. If there is only one Action, it goes straight into Next Actions.

      For me, a goal equals a Project and goes on that list once I have decided to commit to it - until then it stays on the Someday/Maybe list, because until that point it's a pipe-dream, not a real Goal.

      I hope this helps.

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  9. Thanks David, it’s great to read a post on how someone uses their Filofax. I agree there is no such thing as the perfect system. It’s great to hear how you are using your Filofax as a business tool. I’m afraid I fall down on the single point of entry capture device as I don’t carry my Filofax outside of work.

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  10. Great post, David (as usual!). This was just what I needed... a GTD refresher. I dug out my GTD Guide to Paper Planner Setups because I didn't remember seeing the Reference section there. Those horizons of focus are so important, and too often I forget all about them and just concentrate on the runway stuff. I love posts like yours -- really getting beyond the bells and whistles into the heart of one's system.

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  11. Sometimes small changes can make a big difference. The point about taking your planner out in many situations resonates with me. After switching to a compact binder from a personal one, I take my binder out more because of the smaller size. I made some changes in my planner. I wanted an insert that had a specific layout. After looking at different ones, I modified the layout on one of them and the result is what I wanted. I also added tabs to my month on two pages insert that is printed back to back. I did not want to make or print tabs so I added tabs in a DIY way.

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  12. Great post David. It did clarify some questions I have had concerning GTD. I am glad the Ramay Da Vinci paper has found your favor, it is just great stuff.Thank you.

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    1. Hi Crofter! Great to hear from you, and thank you. Yes, the Davinci paper has truly changed things, and thank you for the 'introduction'! We still don't have a UK-based supplier, so it's not easy or cheap to get hold of due to shipping charges, but it's far and away the best paper I have used, and others who have tried it agree.

      Your comment reminded me that I still owe you a 'proper', handwritten note of thanks, and news. I'll get on to that shortly, I promise!

      I trust all is well with you and yours....thank you again for your comment and your friendship.

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  13. Another question, when you archive, do you do it by divider or lump the whole thing together? Thanks David.

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    1. Hi Crofter. I'm afraid I'm one of those dreadful people who doesn't archive at all! I just throw out of date lists away......the same with diary inserts. Such journaling as I may do takes place in a bound notebook (Moleskine), away from my main system.

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  14. Thanks for the great post. I run a very similar setup, albeit on A5 as I carry some standard reports from work/clients with me.

    Got me thinking about my setup and the realisation the higher level areas are pretty dormant and I appear to have dropped In and put things straight into lists resulting in some vague or rushed actions. Time for a refresher I think.

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  15. David, thank you for such a fantastic post! I have really been struggling with my setup, along with the size of my binder, and your post has really helped clarify what I'm looking to achieve. I particularly enjoy the advice to seek "good enough" status. During my work week, I attend various meetings and struggle with where to input these meeting notes. Ideally I want everything in one binder. How do you handle this?

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    1. Hi Terry

      You're talking my language! I struggle with exactly these issues on a daily basis, and feel your pain. Like you want everything in one binder, and I run a small business (I'm an accountant) as well as managing my personal stuff, all currently in the Personal Cavendish. I've certainly had to accept the 'good enough' theory in my own practice!

      So far as your specific question is concerned, I think it really depends on how permanently you need to keep the notes as made at the meeting. If you aim to translate them into a series of Projects, Next Actions and Waiting Fors, I think putting them in the Notes/In section and then getting to them in the context of the Daily Tidy would serve. If you want to keep the original notes permanently, you may need a separate storage binder.....maybe date the pages top right and file in date order? Just a thought......

      If you want to chat further you can reach me via davidcpopely (at) gmail (dot) com

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  16. I agree that GTD is a very easy system to use. If children can understand it and use it, adults tend to overthink and complicate it. I have enjoyed GTD virtual study group podcasts, a lot of my questions were answered there. Right now I have been using my phone with Evernote to hold Someday/Maybe, Reference, & Contacts. Haven't decided yet if I like the first two out of my binder yet or not--the size of my binder was reduced considerably though. Having carried a personal for a almost 10 months, I will be moving back into a FC classic at year end. The bigger sized page is what I need to keep this zoo upright--and I am not afraid to whip that baby out at any place I may be! Excellent post--thank you for sharing.

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    1. Hi Cassandra

      I carry the vast majority of my contacts on my phone, courtesy of Google Contacts, and only a few basic details in case I drop my phone somewhere it shouldn't go! I carry my Cavendish everywhere and anywhere, and it's the only way I can 'do' data capture sensibly. I agree that reference info could live on Evernote, but as I tentatively plan to ditch my smartphone at the end of this contract, I haven't taken that step for myself.

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  17. Sounds like a great system! A question regarding the capture aspect: do you find that you add enough to this area to make it worth your while? I have thought about havin this as a section in my binder but the reality is that is saves me time to just put it where it needs to live to begin with. But maybe that's because I don't have as many items to capture as most people (my work tasks don't live in my planner). Also, I usually have the time to put an item where it needs to be, and on the rare occasion that I don't, I just jot it down on a sticky and put it on that day's page so that I remember to deal with it later in the day. I'm just curious, conducting a little research to see if it's something I shold reconsider as its own section.

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    1. I would leave it just the way it is. If your life changes later and you need it, then add it.

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  18. David, I cannot thank you enough. I have been trying to comprehend GTD for couple of years now (I'm on the slow plan-lol). I went to seminars, subscribed to gazillion bloggers and sites. Then, I got the Filofax bug about a month ago. I was in dire need to be able to do both. I stuck it out, I continued my search for GTD and Filofax marriage.

    I finally have GTD-Filofax merging marriage peace - THANKS TO YOU!!! I cannot thank you enough. Your approach, your directions, your instructions, are exactly what brought the puzzle pieces together - you're a GENIUS!!

    Thank you so very much.

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    1. Not sure about the genius part, but I'm very glad you found the post helpful. If you want to discuss any further you can always get me via davidcpopely (at) gmail.com

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  19. Hi David,

    After many years in the digital realm, I'm thinking of moving to paper, and FF seems like a good choice. Personal size seems like it will work for me. My question is, is it still possible to buy the 10 section divider set that you refer to? I have done a few searches and come up empty. Does this ship with a FF binder purchase?

    Cheers,

    Phil.

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    1. Hi Phil. Unfortunately I think you may have a problem getting them. The two sets I was given were from a friend who travels extensively overseas (Paul B), and I *believe* he bought them in Dubai, although I can't be sure. I subsequently managed to mislay one sheet of one set, so I don't think I have a full spare set I can offer you, but I'll have a look. I believe you may be able to buy them either from US sources or from Japan, where they are called Bible size for reasons I don't understand. Maybe someone else in the community can help? I'll put a question on Free Fo All Tuesday and Free For All Friday this week, and suggest you might do the same. Sorry I can't be more help than that.

      You can, however, get a generic Filofax 1-6 divider set, and I also have one of those and sometimes use it in conjunction with a generic six-part Diary/Projects/Notes/Information/Financial/Addresses divider set, adding it to the back of the set. It's this generic set which usually ships with the binders when bought as new.

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    2. Sorry Phil, I checked and I don't have my second set at all, and now remember that I threw them away as one divider was missing (a disadvantage in a divider set, unless it's the last one!). However, I have raised the question of who might supply these with a couple of other groups as well, and will get back to you if I can track them down

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    3. Hi Phil, I think I've found a set courtesy of Anita Lim........whereabouts are you based? If in the UK, can you please email me your address and between us we'll get them to you if you want them. davidcpopely (at) gmail (dot) com

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    4. That's very kind. Thank you.

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  20. David, I read your guest post from today (6 July 2016) and then bumped back to read this post. I admire how you've made the whole planning, capture, review cycle so simple. Just like Einstein's adage. Thank you--this post is very helpful!

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