My Killer GTD Setup — Part II

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This is part II of My Killer GTD Setup, inspired by a good challenge from the Getting Things Done Blog. As I have just changed all of my tools for time, task, and project management, I thought I’d take the challenge as it gives my readers a “look over the shoulder” of the reasoning behind the tools and what was selected. The first part of these three articles — My Killer GTD Setup — Part I — looked at my office and home environment and talked through the emotional decision to change my tools.

This article will look at how I was using my old setup and the criteria for new tools. The third article will look at the tools themselves and how I am using them. This ended up being very long, so I broke up the entire article into three for what I hope is better readability.

What was my old setup?

From a GTD perspective, one wants to a) get everything out of your head and into a trusted system, and, b) have the trust in the system to be able to look at it and be ready to do the next action. Coupled with a weekly review of the items in each context list (at home, at work computer, errands, etc.), one should be comfortable that everything has been captured and recorded into the system so that we know what we should be doing and are comfortable with what we are not doing.

My original thinking here was to focus on utilizing Outlook as the tool of choice for capturing and reviewing all that needs to be done. Most of my stuff, at the office or at home, really comes through e-mail. And, with a lot of help from ClearContext in use with Outlook, I have had an incredibly simple way to capture, schedule, and review all of my work. Outlook is still my preferred tool for GTD, but, as you will see, it was not going to work for me.

What you can deduce from my environment is this: I have two of everything and three computers. Two ‘work’ sites, two different PC’s, two different Personal Information Managers, and no ability to sync everything into one place or set of places to get the work done. Even syncing two PC’s with each other at home causes more than a few headaches (and trial and error in getting things to try and sync).

When thinking through this, many people have suggested to just take either the home or office PC and have that be the one place to keep everything. For me, it can’t be home, because I process way too much stuff in the office to have that make much sense. Putting things in a e-mail at work and sending it to my personal e-mail account to put in at home meant that I double entered everything and had to process stuff more often.

For the office, I have lots of personal issues with putting all of my stuff on an office PC owned by someone else, namely, the company. In an age where one can be laid off in a heartbeat with virtually no warning, keeping my stuff on a PC system owned by a company subject to being evaluated, read, subpoenaed for court or anything else, keeping personal stuff on company-owned equipment seems foolhardy at best. Not that I have an interesting personal life…

Having two setups also meant maintaining two systems, having two weekly reviews, and having similar, but somewhat different context lists. Was that errand to do on the work system or the home system? Or, did I even put it in either system in the first place?

The other strategic piece — the Personal Information Manager used while not at a computer — I only used rarely and usually for passwords or other encrypted information needed to visit web sites in my work and play (what’s the really long password for the banking online system again? Or the retirement account at the other place?).

Then, after having the PIM for a couple of years, it stopped syncing with the home PC. This meant going out and getting a new one…and that was the catalyst around how I really work and asking myself if I really had the right tools for what I do now.

Multiply my daily working of the system by a few hundred times over the course of a couple of months and you can quickly tell how my systems were not very attractive to me.

David Allen advocates having just one system, but completely understands this “office/home” conundrum that people go through with their system.

My conclusion from my tool review was: throw all the tools out. Start over for how I really work and then find tools that will enable me to work on one system.

It is this kind of environment, by the way, that makes the “hipster” GTD system — all done on plain paper — so appealing. It’s appealing to me, as well, but I do way too much stuff electronically to go that route. And I won’t put passwords on paper.

Tools selection criteria

In my search for tools, I came up with the following criteria for selection:

  • Single place to record next actions.
  • Single place to record reference “lists” such as “Restaurants to go to in Seattle” or “What to Pack for travel.”
  • Single place to record projects
  • Not use a Personal Information Manager — it was too hard to synch it between work and two computers at home
  • Find a password/critical data program that would be independent of PC or location

Hopefully, you can see that this isn’t just one tool, but a tool collection working together with clear edges around the purpose for each. So far, that’s been the case.

The tools suite for Scot:

I won’t tell you all of the different tools I tried — tools are tools and what I think works great, other people think totally suck; perfectly normal in this dispersed knowledge world of ours. Instead, I’ll tell you about what I am using now and how it has gone.

Note that to really test a system, you need to do everything you normally do using it to see how it feels for you. Mine is feeling pretty good at the moment — but everything, I mean everything, is being done through it. That’s the smoke test.

Tomorrow, I’ll lead you through the tools themselves and how I use them.

  • […] series looked at what my current work and home environment was and what led me to change tools. The second part examined my current tools and then looked at the criteria for new tools. This third installment […]

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