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Best Practices Guide for the Folder System? (No, seriously.)

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  • Best Practices Guide for the Folder System? (No, seriously.)

    Greetings GTD readers and staff!

    This is my first post on this site. I have read the three books and am working with the (excellent) implementation guide. However I am having trouble getting set up with a one-piece-of-paper-per-project-in-a-folder system. [Edit: See clarification in post below.] Is there a Best Practices resource for this?

    I know that to some people this will be a "Duh" question ("It's simple, it's just paper!"), but to me it's not easy. I'm supposedly highly intelligent (according to intelligence tests) but have weakness and setting up an effective folder system is actually HARD. Darn it.

    A sample question I have is, If you use folders to hold Next Actions, should you list the project at the top and re-use the sheet to write the next NA? I know that this would be an easy question for many people but for some reason just "figuring it out" hasn't worked for me. Arrgh. I feel that I "get" GTD well in most areas and have a few blind spots that have generated resistance as I've tried to implement GTD.

    Thanks for the help. The DavidCo website's free report on paper planners/organizers covers just 3-ring binder organizers. Any guides/discussions/resources on the should-be-simple Folder Method out there?


    Christopher Jones
    Last edited by ChristopherJones; 12-12-2010, 05:07 PM.

  • #2
    I am with you on this one

    I just wanted you to know that you're not alone. This is something that I struggle with SO much. I, too, am intelligent, yet when it comes to GTD I have a blockage

    Thanks for having the guts to ask this. I hope you get an answer soon!


    • #3
      Originally posted by ChristopherJones View Post
      A sample question I have is, If you use folders to hold Next Actions, should you list the project at the top and re-use the sheet to write the next NA?
      I am not sure what you mean by one piece of paper per project in a folder system. I don't recall ever reading that in any of the 3 books. I am not paper based at all so, with those caveats take my advice as you see fit

      My guess is you are confusing the initial collection phase where it is suggested you use one piece of paper for each item. Then you can toss those into the inbox and when you process you can use that as a starting point for either project materials or a mind map or some other project planning stage. But that is no longer necessary once you get the system working except for perhaps collection. Using tiny paper is a good thing too, I used the back side of tear off calendar pages initially when I got started. That way I wasn't wasting paper but could benefit from only thinking about one item at a time as I did my processing.

      Processing is where you set up your folder system.

      What I would do is set up a single sheet of paper for each context. The next actions get written down on that paper. I would not use one sheet for each next action, simply a waste of paper, but instead just keep adding to the context list appropriate for that next action and then cross them off when done. One folder would be labeled Action Lists or Next Actions and all the context sheets go in there. That would be one you carry with you all the time. If you really wanted too you could create a folder for each context and put next action papers in it but to me that would be highly confusing. YMMV

      Folders for each project may be necessary. Create a single sheet of paper for each major project or any that needs some additional work. Put your project planning materials on that paper, these might be next actions, might be mind maps if you do that, might be notes, whatever you consider project support. Label the folder for each project name. I would only carry with you the project folders for each active project that you are actively working on. Someday Maybe project folders would for me go in the same filing system as my reference material. I don't need it now but will eventually or may.

      The duplication of actions in both project folder and context list is one reason I give up on paper usually within a few days of trying it in spite of it being simple. It's too frustrating for me to update and maintain over a long time. I've only used paper when changing from one electronic system to another.

      I do however, use paper as an initial collection device. Personally I use a very small spiral bound 3 x 5 notebook I buy by the dozen at the big box store. When I have an idea or something I need to collect I write it on the next free page in my notebook which I carry with me all the time. Then I tear off the pages and toss into my inbox. When I process I enter those items into my Omnifocus system by following the workflow map.


      • #4
        I have to concur with Oogie on this one, and I've been doing the GTD approach for nearly 20 years. What do you mean by "one-piece-of-paper-per-project-in-a-folder system"?

        Did you read that somewhere?


        • #5
          Whoops, Clarifying

          Thank you. I was referring to using folders for list management. David Allen wrote in the Productive Living newsletter that:

          "My educated guess is that, for senior professionals, about ten percent are most comfortable with simple pieces of paper or documents inside folders (e.g. a file called "Calls" with post-its, call-back slips, or just papers torn off pads for their at-phone reminders). Another twenty percent probably prefer some form of loose-leaf planner or notebook, with their lists on separate single pieces of paper within tabbed sections. And the rest like some digital form of list management...."

          What would be the best practices for the ten percent group? I know, I know, that's very basic!

          Thank you for replying.


          • #6
            project titles

            There is no need for project titles, even among best practices. It is, instead, an optional practice.

            One difficulty with putting project titles on the top of the sheet and writing the NA on that same sheet, then tucking it into a folder entitled "Calls", etc., is that you would need a second sheet with the same project title for "Errands", etc.

            We could discuss the concept of using one project sheet per project, with various sections for each type of NA... however, it would be an academic discussion. The recommended practice is to make a list of Calls, irrespective of the project they are associated with.

            The 10% may have a folder that says "Calls" and that would typically contain a sheet of paper with a list of calls, and may also contain phone message slips or scribbled notes, which were not transferred onto the paper Calls list. Anything in the folder is a Call to be made, so copying would add time to the system without adding any particular benefit.

            If you have more questions, feel free to post them. There are many helpful people here.


            • #7
              This is more-or-less how I've been running my system, so I can talk a bit about what I do. Whether my practices count as 'Best Practices' is something I'll leave to the reader.

              Probably about 80% of my projects are basically one-sheeters or what I tend to call "Fat Next Actions" (because they tend to become numerous sheets stapled together.) They live in the Next Action folder and consist of some completed crossed-out Next Actions and a live Next Action near the bottom. They tend to work best for relatively straight-forward, short-lived projects that have a mostly-linear sequence of actions.

              The other 20% are more heavy-weight projects that have their own project support folders, multiple live Next Actions, etc. They usually also have a single sheet of paper in the Projects folder that doesn't really do anything except pop up on the Weekly Review radar.

              Very occasionally there's some migration between these two divisions but it's not inherently problematic.

              I'm not entirely sure I'm answering Christophers's questions either, but hopefully that helps a bit.



              • #8
                Hi Christopher,

                What David refers to there is simply the concept of one page per list. This is the recommended starter set of lists:

                Someday Maybe
                Waiting For

                The 10% refers to those preferring the way he describes doing that on paper in folders.

                Does that help?



                • #9
                  I was thinking about the folder question, too.

                  For now, I ended up with several folders for my paper-based projects as described before,

                  Originally posted by Roger View Post
                  The other 20% are more heavy-weight projects that have their own project support folders, multiple live Next Actions, etc. They usually also have a single sheet of paper in the Projects folder that doesn't really do anything except pop up on the Weekly Review radar.
                  only that most of these folders contain ~ 3-10 sheets of paper.