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
- Next Actions
- Waiting For
- Focus and Direction
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:-
- 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.
- The right set-up is the one you’re going to use. If you don’t love it, you won’t use it.
- 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……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:-
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.
- The ‘daily tidy’
- 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’.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.
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 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:-
Thank you David