I don’t claim any special tricks or superiority in my GTD implementation, in fact, much of it is canonical. However, I have benefited in the past from seeing other people’s set-ups, and so I’m keeping mine posted here for the perusal of others.
I keep my GTD stuff in three separate domains: 1) Hard copy, 2) E-mail, and 3) Non-Email Electronic. I try to keep almost everything in the third of those domains, but the other two are both necessary.
Hard Copy Stuff
I keep a set of six letter trays in the lab. They are, from top to bottom (as you can see by the labels on the right), Inbox, Outbox, To-File, Folders, Scratch, Paper. The Inbox and Outbox are self-explanatory. I indulge myself with a to-file tray, with the stipulation that I empty it every day as part of my leaving-lab checklist. Folders I keep handy so that I never hesitate to file something. Scratch is for random notes, some of which end up in my Inbox. I keep a pad of engineering computational paper in there. It’s not cheap, but it photocopies without showing its grid. Plus, I got hooked on it in undergrad and can’t let go. Finally, the bottom tray is for paper sheets that I use to record ideas and drop in the Inbox. They get reused, a GTD heresy, but I waste a lot less paper that way.
I love this desk organizer. It’s from Office Depot, and I’ve owned three or four of them, including one lost to Hurricane Katrina. It has the perfect mix of cups and trays, and a spot for sticky notes. The latter I hold on with tape on the back to keep it from peeling up when I grab notes. All of the essentials are used to fill it — scissors, thick rubber bands, paper clips, binder clips, an eraser, black and red gel pens, pencils, and a highlighter, as well as the more extravagant thumbtacks, book stand, and my balls. Note, they are made of hard, polished steel.
I’ve moved away from having paper Project Support files. I very rarely need to keep something like that on paper anymore. When I have them, I put them in front of my reference files with a little divider. Per the canonical GTD set-up, I use normal manila file folders (death to hanging files!), and electronic labels. When I’m finished with folders they go back in their letter tray, ready to be relabeled. My desk drawer at work, designed for hanging files, does not have a depth-adjuster thing (no idea what it’s really called), so I have to use various objects to hold the files in place. This is why the files at the front are crooked.
The Three Amigos – Labeler, Tape Dispenser, and Stapler. I keep buying copies of these same devices when I need a GTD set-up in a new place, as all three have served me well. These are, again, canonical GTD implements. I keep the ones at work labeled with my name (stapler’s labeled on the bottom), lest they walk. I don’t lend them out unless someone begs on their knees, and I keep them locked in my desk drawer at night. Friends don’t let friends loan out their GTD implements.
Spares and Supplies
Oh yeah, and I keep a lot of spare supplies for when I run out.
For E-mail, I use the normal GTD set-up suggested in the book, with a few minor modifications. I keep “WF” (waiting for), “Reply”, and “Action” (or Pending) folders, as well as numbered folders (0-9) for my top 10 current projects. The rest of my projects and reference folders are in sub-folders under a folder titled “Projects”, to keep them out of the way during daily e-mail use. The WF, Action, and Reply folders are checked daily when I arrive at work. In the past I often let items that were not strictly e-mail stay in these folders. Now, any items for which I’m not waiting for an email, or to which I need to reply by email go into my other electronic system, detailed below. Action is hazy, and ultimately I should probably get rid of it. Action emails are typically things that I need to do that require a little more than a simple reply (such as looking something up and replying). I don’t separate reference and project folders.
There’s one other thing worth mentioning about my e-mail set-up. My e-mail account, hosted by Tuffmail, is restricted to 1 GB of storage. I therefore only keep currently-relevant items in my Tuffmail account, and delete the rest. However, all of my sent and received emails are automatically copied to a Gmail account, which I keep as an archive. This way, my daily e-mail environment is tidy, but I have complete, searchable archives. Before the advent of gmail, I used something called “Zoe” for archival and search.
This actually has two sub-parts — files and my Next Action tracking system, phpMyGTD.
My files are kept in a hierarchical system wherein projects are named consistently. To clarify, at the top level are Project and Reference folders. In these are folders named by project. I try to name all of my projects in so-called CamelCase, where there are no spaces, and words are separated by capital letters: ExampleProjectName. These names are retained everywhere — in Projects, Reference, my paper files, e-mail, and phpMyGTD. I generally just drop relevant files directly into their respective Project or Reference folders. When those folders become too full for me to quickly find what I need, I create sub-folders. Once I’ve finished a project, any remaining Project Support files are moved to a reference folder, and the project is removed from the Projects folder. These are kept on a JungleDisk account in Amazon S3, so that they are available on all of my computers, and are backed up in geographically-redundant datacenters. Furthermore, I have hourly scripts that run on my computers, keeping synchronized local backup copies of the entire hierarchy on all of my machines as long as the JungleDisk is mounted. If I’m away from internet access and I need to work on something, I copy it out of the backup, work on it, and save it to my Outbox folder. I forgot to mention that.
I keep folders like this on all of my machines. Their uses should be self-explanatory, except for “Workspace”. I use that area for storing large data files that I’m working with locally — stuff I don’t want to load into JungleDisk like 20GB simulation result files. All of my browsers and other programs that would normally dump crap on the desktop are set to put that stuff in my Inbox folder instead. All of these folders are located on my desktop, but I softlink them into my home directory as well for convenience.
This is my custom-written PHP and MySQL GTD app. So far my wife Amanda and I are the only ones that use it, although I’m happy to say that she really likes it. It’s technically still in Alpha form, which is probably why nobody has bothered to use it. Once I fix the remaining bugs, I’ll post a Beta release on Sourceforge. The Sourceforge project page is here. My previous posts about it are here (integration with Google calendar), here (the first time I squashed all of the existing bugs), here (when I added a php-based log-in system), here (when I added it to SourceForge), and here (when I first announced it). I’ll update this once I get to a real, Beta release.