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A year or two ago, my brother gave me a copy of the Getting Things Done book. I won’t go into the details here (partly because it’s been more than a year since I read the book, so I don’t remember the details!), but it’s basically a system for organizing tasks in such a way that important stuff gets done with as little administrative overhead as possible, while simultaneously freeing your brain from worries that you’ll forget anything.

Which is something that I can use: sometimes I forget tasks, I procrastinate on large/important tasks longer than is desirable (the GTD system has some special techniques to address that one), and my e-mail inboxes are pretty cluttered.

Of course, since this is a potentially large/important task, I immediately set hard to work on procrastinating, not doing anything about it while periodically worrying that I should be something. Which is just the wrong thing to do, from a GTD point of view: instead, I should identify the next concrete step towards implementing the system, write it down somewhere where I won’t forget it, and then take care of it when I have a free moment while I’m in an appropriate place.

I decided that the next important step was finding a place to write down various lists. The main criterion is that it has to always be accessible (part of the system is that you can write down an idea whenever you think of it, and look at your todo list whenever you have a moment). The cool kids all like Moleskine notebooks, and for all I know I might eventually move to one of those, but I didn’t think it was a good idea to start with: I don’t even know what my categories are, and I certainly don’t know at what proportion I’ll move through pages in those categories, so I’d rather start off with something random-access.

My boss carries around a case for holding 3×5 cards; a couple of weeks ago, I took a look at it. It was a bit bulky, but it fit well enough in my pocket. And 3×5 cards are perfectly suited to my random-access desires: give me some white cards to write on and a few colored cards for category dividers, and I’ll be all set. I haven’t yet found a link to that specific case online, but a local Office Depot had one, so I went out and bought one about two weeks ago.

So far, results have been good. I’ve been getting prosaic little things done quickly and reliably: if at home I think of some information at work that I need to e-mail Liesl (e.g. exactly what information I need her to get from the daycare so I can file my last 2007 dependent care receipts), I now get that taken care of the next day. I’ve taken care of some slightly larger projects, and taken a first step (and written down my next step, I just need a bit of free time at work to make a phone call at lunch and a morning when I can work from home, neither of which have been in great supply recently) towards a bigger project. I’m still in the first blush of excitement, and I’m not at all convinced yet that it will continue to have an effect of guilting me into getting stuff taken care of, but it does seem to have real organizational benefits in situations where guilt isn’t necessary. (Which is most of them!)

So far I’m using categories of “task list”, “blog ideas”, “projects”, and “shopping”. (The latter isn’t for stuff I need soon – that goes in the task list – and it’s also not for abstract wish lists, it’s for notes like “if I happen to pass an Indian grocery store, I should buy a bag of ground coriander”.) I expect that I’ll think of one or two more categories eventually, though. The card case I bought works well enough, but it really is a bit thick; I just went and ordered a Circa PDA Notebook from Levenger, and we’ll see how that turns out. It should be thinner and more stylish; I’m worried about how durable it will be, and it may or may not feel less random-access than my current index card solution in ways that matter.

I’m still very much in the playing around stage, of course. I need to reread the book, for one, to see what I’m missing. And, of the things I can think of from the book, I’ve got my task list taken care of, and I’ve stored a simple tickler file on my computer, but I need to rethink my e-mail sorting strategy. That will happen soon enough, though (yay short book queues), and it’s not urgent: if I don’t get around to rereading the book until a month from now, the plus side will be that I’ll have had a month of experience with my new system, which will give me something more concrete to test against when reading it.

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