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What have I done since I started Getting Things Done?

To be honest, I’ve spent more time setting up the Getting Things Done systems than I’ve spent getting things done. At times it makes me wonder if GTD is just another way of putting off actually doing things.

Tickler File System

Tickler File System

But you have to admit it looks cool. This is my Tickler File system (as opposed to my real file system, which is in a filing cabinet). The Tickler File system is a series of 43 folders. 31 of them are labeled 1 through 31, and 12 of them are labeled January through December. This is just one small component of the Getting Things Done system.

First thing each morning I empty today’s tickler folder into my in-basket and then move the empty file to the back of the numbered files. Throughout the day I add time-sensitive material to various folders in the system. For example, I’ve got a requisition form from my doctor to get a follow x-ray done in six months – I stuck the requisition form in the November folder. My books are due back at the library on May 19th, so I’ve placed a reminder in my folder labeled 18.

You can use the Tickler system to store reminders and actual documents so they resurface precisely when you need them. My old system involved leaving everything lying around so I’d see it frequently and therefore not forget about it. This system is so much more elegant, don’t you think? (See Tickler File description and instructions.)

The Labeler

The Labeler

At the heart of the Getting Things Done system is an electronic labeler, which makes everything look far weightier than it is. Psychologically, this is very helpful.

The Getting Things Done system requires that you break everything down into next actions. All you need to know is what the very next physical action is that you need to take to move the project along, and then you just keep doing them and updating your Next Actions list as you complete each action.

Okay, so apart from setting up files and binders and a desk and so on, what have I actually done? Well, I’ve done lots and lots of Next Actions. But so far I’ve only completed two projects: I did my taxes on tax deadline day (yay me, I’m still capable of impressing myself) and I bought and installed a doorbell. These might not seem like huge accomplishments, but they are. Especially the doorbell. I’ve wanted a doorbell since I moved here two and a half years ago.

These were the steps involved in Project Doorbell:

Go to Home Depot and buy a doorbell.
Find glasses strong enough to read the sub-microscopic installation instructions written in six languages on a one-inch square piece of paper, complete with cryptic diagrams.
Fail to note that the unit requires three batteries, and only one of them is included, which is an easy mistake to make when the packaging says BATTERY INCLUDED!
Buy two more batteries.
Put two batteries in chime unit. Put one battery in push-button unit.
Test doorbell and figure out why it only works when the back is off.
Attach push-button to door frame with double-sided tape.
Attach chime unit to inside wall with screws.
Test unit/scare cat.
Cross Install a Doorbell off the Master Projects list.

10 comments to What have I done since I started Getting Things Done?

  • Ooooh – I like the Tickler File system! I too leave things out so I will see them, but then they get buried. That’s why my breakfast bar resembles an archaeological dig. Now I have a strategy for sifting through that pile. Thanks for sharing the GTD secrets!

  • I use a similar system, but on my Blackberry (which I use more for its calendar and to-do list than for anything else). It’s familiar vibrations remind me of what’s next for me to do.

    This past Sunday, facing a heavy load of action items (currently at 31, including those I’ve crossed off), I decided to make a list on the back of an index card (a.k.a. “hipster PDA”) and set the goal of doing at least six of them. I made sure to include things that I would be doing anyway, like meeting someone for tea and my regular Sunday dinner. I also did a project-sized task that wasn’t on the list, so I added it to the list and crossed it off (and increased the number of tasks for Sunday by one).

    I ended up doing nine items!

    To my surprise, I got six more done on Monday.

    With the to-do list on my Blackberry, as soon as I mark something as completed, it disappears, so all I ever see is stuff that needs to be done. By setting myself the goal and being able to see and count them when they were done, I was much more motivated to do them (and much more satisfied afterwards).

    Without the list, I probably would only have done four or five things on the list, including tea and dinner.

    – RG>

  • Lisa in Toronto

    Now I finally understand what 43 folders meant, and also that I was not paying attention to the GTD system when I checked their website.
    I may try a modified system at my office, which is always a mess of papers. I also always need things in plain sight.
    12 month folders
    4 week folders
    one TODAY folder
    At least I may have a cleaner desk.

  • That does look cool. And I know what you mean about getting things done.

    And good stuff about the doorbell. :)

  • Tom Sawyer

    I use a notebook. Six inches by nine inches. Made in China. One dollar at the dollar store. I make lists. I keep papers in it. I do things & deal with things. The coiled binding holds a pen.

    Doorbell? Who needs it? Let ’em knock.

    I’m the most organized person I know. And everybody knows it.

    Life is short. I like to keep it simple.

  • Oma

    I have filing systems, notebooks, bulletin,white and chalk boards,AND piles in plain view … and I still procrastinate!

    Maybe it’s because I don’t have a label maker. Good luck, but when you get tired of it all please lend me your label maker.

  • Nancy

    I’m with Tom. Dollar store notebooks. Sadly I keep starting new ones, so perhaps I should buy more expensive ones and not be so wasteful…label maker – no way, I love writing on the file folders myself. I don’t like plastic. I firmly believe, though, that once a procrastinator always a procrastinator. I’m used to me even though I drive myself crazy. Besides, my friends would no longer be able to say “But Nance, you do this EVERY year!” if I changed. They would miss the routine.

  • Jen G

    Zoom, I enjoyed the list of ACTIONS leading up to the completion of project doorbell. How did you celebrate?

    It’s not the same, but your list reminded me of the to-do lists I made for myself just after my son was born, e.g. “Take shower. Get dressed.”

    I enjoyed reading all the comments on this post, too. I like Lisa’s modified version of 43 folders – I think I’ll try that!

    Thanks for reading GTD so I don’t have to – I’d rather read your blog any day.

  • Anne Onimos

    There’s something rather cultish about the GTD thing that makes it repellent to me.

  • Oma

    One of the things I have noticed is that if I clean everything up and create a tidy space, even less gets done because “out of sight” kicks in …