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Helping a desparate person with GTD -how to plan it

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  • Helping a desparate person with GTD -how to plan it

    The scenario: I have friend who is is sort of GTD-aware and like me has muddled along with a less then perfectly implemented system. She is recuperating from an operation and home-bound for while and I am helping her with the mountains of papers and stuff on all the tables tops in her office. She can keep her business is we do this... for the last year she has been ill on and off and stuff is piled up in front of the file drawers, some drawers are too over stuffed (especially active projects), and the piles on writing desk, computer desk, and the work tables are very high. She has six 2-drawer file cabinets, one each for general reference, family and friends, financial by year, houses and property, professional reference and archives of work completed, and active projects (every thing from personal to professional).Between her writing desk and her files is a large groaning work table. Some of the papers are in boxes are roughly pre-sorted for the drawer it goes into, but blocking the drawers. the desk which has supplies in it is a good distance from the work table and the computer station. The desk drawers are filled with memorabilia and ancient and current supplies. She has reports to finish, customers to bill, taxes to prepare for, proposals to finish, etc.

    Surprisingly, she believes she knows where to look for thing she needsat any given time (which mountain I guess, even if it takes two hours to find the item she wants). She wants me to process each paper with her one by one, entering the action right into her next action list and then filing the item. I want to take a short cut and put the action on a slip of paper and the original paper in a box according to the drawer it will later go into. Tthen when a number of actions are captured, we can enter them and at a later point we can file from the box that goes into a particular drawer. I think we can bring order faster and she will still know where to look for things. I think we need to do this so we can get all the surfaces cleared and also have access to the drawers. She is afraid that I will lose track of the current stuff that she needs to get done. This is mixed in with the top layers.

    I also want to move the furniture so the desk and work table are closer to the file cabinets but she is freaking out over my moving the piles first.

    I would really like to hear how others would begin. I told her I can work with her or for her for 4 to 6 hours a day for three days and then 2 hours a day for five days. By then she should be able to move about for longer periods. She is a reasonable person. I think my approach should be tried and we should maybe start building the action lists after an hour or two of sorting and noting actions. See how far we get. Any suggestions, ideas, prayers, spells, mantras are welcome!

  • #2
    Originally posted by Jamie Elis View Post
    Surprisingly, she believes she knows where to look for thing she needsat any given time (which mountain I guess, even if it takes two hours to find the item she wants).
    This could be a pointer to a hidden fear. For instance many crazy makers are afraid to loose their 'creativity' once they got 'organized' or some such. Or fear of facing challenging decisions that are buried in the piles. (C'm on, who's not afraid of the 50k stuff?)

    Originally posted by Jamie Elis View Post
    She is afraid that I will lose track of the current stuff that she needs to get done. This is mixed in with the top layers.
    What about processing the top layers first and getting the system up and running? Then make each bottom layer a processing-project? Processing should become easier once the trust in the ability to master work is grown due to a well working trusted system?


    • #3
      why not try it her way?

      maybe this could make the difference between succes and failure...

      if she is willing to make the start, then be glad and use the momentum! Maybe she will be to afraid if you push to much towards your way of working.

      Just start with it, and, who knows... after you've done one pile, you might just slip into your way of working. You'll maybe start with filing each item, but after 20 items she might say "you know what, thsi goes in the same drawer as that, let's not stand up and do it, but let's put those together in an intermediate box"... and then you're doing your idea!

      Just don't let the discussion on how you will do it get in the way of doing it.

      And yes, maybe your time is limited, but isn't it better to help her build a system she trusts, even if it's not all done, than one she feels she has no control over once you'll be gone?

      My advise: take some distance, say "okay" and just start working on it together.



      • #4
        Originally posted by Jamie Elis View Post
        I would really like to hear how others would begin.
        I'd get a bunch of cardboard file boxes or book boxes and some file folders and some removable scotch tape and a pen. Then I'd start sorting the papers into categories

        General reference
        Relates to current work that has to be done
        Can't decide

        As you find categories that seem like the go together then make a file folder and label it with the pen on removable scotch tape over the label section. The reason for the tape is so you can change the titles when you get done to more accurately reflect how she will look for stuff but it gives you a place to file as you go and no fear of wasting labeler tape making labels that prove inaccurate or not used later.

        So there are likely to be file folders in the Relates to current work box that are labeled 2010 taxes, Proposal for X, etc.

        The goal is to remove all the current project materials and jobs into one location or box or boxes. Then you can focus on the GTD method for those and leave the rest to be projects to process later.

        I totally understand the fear of losing current critical stuff so that's why I'd suggest finding a way to capture those out w/o doing a full GTD processing just to get and make some space to work then going back and doing them in detail using the GTD methods.


        • #5
          This can be dangerous ground you're walking into, Jamie. I'll talk about how I would approach it. Others here have posted some good advice on a tactical level; I'll be taking more of the strategic view.

          A) There's a reason for this, right? The first thing I would do is sit down with her in some neutral area, almost certainly not the office, with a big whiteboard or easel paper pad and talk about why we're doing this. This is actually two (very different) questions: "Why are you doing this?" and "Why am I doing this?" I'm only guessing here, but I would suspect her first stab at this would be something like "I'm doing this because my office is driving me crazy and my business is suffering, so I need to seriously clean it up and organize it." The big danger is that, yeah great, you work like dogs for three days and get the office clean, but in six months you'll be back where you started.

          My own reasons might be something more like "I want to help you succeed in your business and in your life. I want to show you the tools you can use to accomplish your goals. We'll use these tools to clean and organize your office, sure, but more importantly you'll have a system in place so that it'll always be well-organized and supportive of your goals." The last thing you want to do is to get into a "your job is to clean up my mess" role, which can be easy to fall into and hard to climb out of.

          So, yeah, I'd talk to her about this in a pretty free-form fashion, in no rush; it'll almost certainly take longer than you expect. I'd guess a couple hours. Let her talk about what she wants, be sure to talk about what you want. This is the time to iron out any differences in expectations. A slightly-formal list of "I agree to..." items for each person can be helpful. In any case, take good notes and put them somewhere you can both easily refer to them.

          B) What's the worst that could happen? What's the best? This is the time to put on your creativity hats and let your imaginations loose. If nothing changed, what would life look like in five years? Push as hard as you can into the deep dark fears. Lost clients? Bankruptcy? Homelessness? Just how intolerable could things become?

          After that bummer, consider how good things could be in five years, if you make some changes. See yourself in that tactical cockpit of an office, with everything you might need instantly at hand. Walk through an entire client story, from initial phone call to completing the work to getting paid. Do your best to see the ideal future state. It's good to capture all this too, in lists or mindmaps or whatever.

          C) So how do we get from here to there? That ideal future sounds great -- what can we do to make it happen? Let's think about all the things we could do. Note especially that at this moment these are just things we *could* do -- there's no commitment to anything here yet. We *could* move a bunch of files into banker's boxes for archival -- but maybe there's some good reason why we shouldn't do that. We *could* digitize everything -- maybe in some areas that'd be a good idea. You could start renting some office space downtown and work there.

          The idea here is to generate good ideas by generating lots of ideas, including lots of bad ones. I've found it helpful to sometimes try intentionally thinking up the worst ideas I possibly can -- shred everything! -- just to help the process along.

          D) We'll need a plan. With this big pile of ideas, it's time to bring them into some sort of order and structure. What are the good ideas? What are the terrible ideas? What ideas naturally relate to others, and how?

          Chronological ordering will, I think in this particular case, be fairly significant. It's the classic sort of problem -- I need to file all these papers on my desk into the file cabinets but I can't get into the file cabinets because of all these papers on my desk. Getting everything out of the office so that you can get everything into the office is probably the way this one is going to go. So figure out what has to happen in what order -- maybe you need to clear out some space in a different part of the house, or something. After that's complete, then what? And then what after that? Put the steps together until you've got a pretty good idea how to get from where you are to where you want to be.

          E) What do I do right now? Time to put that plan into action. What are the next actions that you can take immediately? No "but before I do that, I need to..." actions allowed. Of course, these Next Actions will need some place not in the system-under-construction to live, but by now you've probably got some sort of ad-hoc control center where you've been working.

          The clever folks out there have probably noticed that this looks pretty familiar. Yep, it's nothing more or less than the good old Natural Planning Model:

          1. Defining purpose and principles
          2. Outcome visioning
          3. Brainstorming
          4. Organizing
          5. Identifying next actions

          This is one of those projects that has lots of ways to go wrong, but also great potential to go very right. I wish you the best of luck.



          • #6
            update on desperate person and gtd

            After having several conversations that were enlightened by the thoughtful replies above,and I appreciate the care in the writing as well, this is what my friend wants me to do. First, it should be known that the work has been delayed by a medical set back and my temporary lack of availability, but now we are making plans to go on. She wans to take charge of anything current and wants me to scan any item that is reference, either for an SDMB, or archive, or general reference. She will mark on the item how it is to be classified and and the "tags" for it. She wants me to research and select and set up the scanner. Her system is windows and she is not running outlook. I am starting to research scanners. We have a lot of volume of regular sized papers, photos, clippings, receipts. So far I like what I have seen of "Neat Desk". But the folks I know who are suing scanners either have big commercial ones at work or just scan photos. Any thoughts based on recent models? I think we will be making the lists of projects and next actions in either word or Excel. I hope for minimal typing because I seem to have developed pain in my wrist and shoulder that gets horrific with typing, and in hopes of minimizing, have gotten a different keyboard and mouse.


            • #7
              Originally posted by Jamie Elis View Post
              SAny thoughts based on recent models?
              Fujitsu ScanSnap, I have a mac but they make them for windows machines too. I have the S510M I think the S510 is the Windows version but maybe someone else can help with the exact model numbers
              Last edited by Oogiem; 02-25-2011, 07:24 AM. Reason: Spelling errors


              • #8

                I will look into it. Seems like I need to look at how to get the info in but equally important, how she and I can organize it and get it out.

                Funny how a small favor escalates into a major learning adventure!


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Jamie Elis View Post
                  I am starting to research scanners. We have a lot of volume of regular sized papers, photos, clippings, receipts. So far I like what I have seen of "Neat Desk".
                  I ordered one and it arrived this week. I'll be testing it out this weekend.