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  • GTD, being a diplomat, and Libya

    It would not be an exaggeration to say that GTD changed my life. I have been using the system for almost 3 years now. I am a military attache who works at US embassies. It took a good deal of experimenting to determine how to best utilize the system.

    Because of the nature of my job it quickly became apparent that it would have to be a paper based system. I do my work on three different computer networks: an unclassified network, a Secret network, and a Top Secret network. By design they cannot communicate with each other. I can't load software onto them. I can't forward emails from one to the other. And on the Secret and TS networks I can't access any of the popular web applications that many here use. I also can't bring electronic devices such as PDAs into my work space.

    I use this planner, which I love. I make my own very simple pages for it and I do everything in pencil. when I finish an action I erase it. Every action and project is listed in it with little symbols annotating on which computer system the supporting emails are located or in which folder physical supporting documents will be located. So despite having three work computers and my own personal computer, I can track EVERYTHING on my plate using this planner. Obviously I don't keep the actual documents in the planner since, well, I don't want to go to jail.

    A few months ago I really put GTD to the test. I was stationed at the US embassy in Libya. When the violence erupted there my world was turned upside down. I became the guy responsible for evacuating the Americans from the country. Three of them were my own family, including my 1-year-old son. Watching tracer rounds fly over your roof as your baby is asleep in the crib is not a pleasant experience.

    On top of that I also had to keep Washington abreast of what was going on on the ground and in preparation for evacuating the embassy everything had to be destroyed. I was receiving about 50 emails an hour from various agencies requesting information.

    GTD was a life saver; in retrospect, maybe even literally. Throughout the crisis I knew at any given moment that what needed to be getting done was getting done and what wasn't being done could wait. There are so many moving parts to an evacuation and yet I was able to keep track of them using the system. My mind was free of tracking every little detail and was able to focus on actual problem solving.

    It really has been the perfect system for me. It gets me through my typical everyday routine and it got me through planning a nation wide evacuation.

    Thank you David Allen.

  • #2
    Inspiring! Good to hear that you and your family got out okay. David Allen says that GTD scales but I think you probably pushed it to the limits of stress and time.

    Comment


    • #3
      The weird thing was after the evacuation going through the planner and erasing all those next actions, appointments, projects and so forth that were now moot. Change car's oil? Had to leave it behind. Erase. Have lunch with representative from Libyan Army? Now we are bombing them. Erase. Delete excess files off of computer? Had to take a sledgehammer to it. Erase.

      I probably knocked out about 2/3 of my actions and projects by evacuating. Though I don't recommend that as a means of reducing your workload.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Brewer_Bob View Post
        GTD was a life saver; in retrospect, maybe even literally. Throughout the crisis I knew at any given moment that what needed to be getting done was getting done and what wasn't being done could wait.
        What an inspiring message!

        So glad you got out safely.

        The quote above really summed it up for me. GTD is about handling the crisis appropriately.

        Thanks!

        Comment


        • #5
          wow

          That is so impressive--your creation and mastery of a higher level system to manage all your responsibilities.

          I am curious about how you could hand carry such a seemingly large planner? I be afraid of leaving it somewhere, especially if carting a kid around, too.

          I am also wondering about all that erasing. Why bother? Nothing is erased completely and sometimes in writing, one makes telegraphic indentations in the next page(s).

          Comment


          • #6
            Wow, that's so great that it was helpful in such a demanding situation, and it inspires me to keep perfecting my own system.

            It also highlights the benefits of a paper planner system, and I'd be interested in hearing more about your system. Do you write new actions over the erased one? Do you need to use good quality paper to cope with all the erasing? What type of symbols do you use?

            thanks a lot for sharing your amazing story!

            Comment


            • #7
              Great description of paper GTD system.

              Originally posted by Brewer_Bob View Post
              A few months ago I really put GTD to the test. I was stationed at the US embassy in Libya. When the violence erupted there my world was turned upside down. I became the guy responsible for evacuating the Americans from the country. Three of them were my own family, including my 1-year-old son. Watching tracer rounds fly over your roof as your baby is asleep in the crib is not a pleasant experience.
              Great description of paper GTD system used to integrate and manage information in unconnected computer systems.

              I'm glad that you were safely evacuated from Libya with you family and there is no danger that US bombs will do you harm.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Jamie Elis View Post
                That is so impressive--your creation and mastery of a higher level system to manage all your responsibilities.

                I am curious about how you could hand carry such a seemingly large planner? I be afraid of leaving it somewhere, especially if carting a kid around, too.

                I am also wondering about all that erasing. Why bother? Nothing is erased completely and sometimes in writing, one makes telegraphic indentations in the next page(s).
                The planner itself measures about 10.5 in X 8 in. It is very comfortable to carry. But if I am running around with the kids and have a bunch to do I tend to throw it in a backpack. I have never come close to forgetting it anywhere. It is like another appendage. And if I am doing something like just going to the grocery store I don’t take the whole planner with me. I just grab the grocery list out of it. I do periodically take pictures of the pages just in case I were to lose it.

                As for the erasing? Well it isn’t for security reasons. I NEVER write classified or sensitive information in my planner. Any of that would be in the supporting documents which is always stored safely within the embassy. I erase so I can keep several things on one piece of paper without having to reprint the whole thing after completing one action. Erasing instead of lining out allows me to conserve space as well.

                I’ll go ahead and outline my system.

                I maintain all my physical supporting documents for projects and actions in manila folders in file drawers. Each project has its own folder. I don’t use fancy label makers. I just cut the sticky part of a post-it off and use it as a label. When the project is done I can peel it off with no damage to the folder so it can keep being reused.

                I work on 4 different computer networks that, due to differing government classifications, cannot communicate with each other. In Outlook on each system I have @Actions, @Projects, and @Waiting folders. With so many systems I HAVE to strive for Inbox Zero, and do a pretty good job at it.

                I have a 7 ring leather Bordeaux Day Runner planner with a zipper. It takes 8x5.5 or A5 paper. I have used both, depending on which country I was stationed in. I created my own dividers, of which there are ten:

                Reference – Not what most GTDers think of as Reference. I keep that stuff in file cabinets arranged according to DoD regs. No, this is for non-contact, non-actionable info that I would like to keep on me at all times. Such as memory joggers for my online passwords, conversion charts, directions on how to get to certain places. I also keep some working beer recipes in there (I’m a home brewer).

                Finance – basically just ledgers to my various personal accounts.

                Fitness – I am in the military and am required to meet certain fitness standards. This is where I track my workout routines.

                Calendar – My calendar pages are monthly. When my planner is opened up to the calendar section I can see the whole month. It basically splits the calendar in half, with half the calendar on one page and the other half on the other. This is the only time I am jealous of people with larger planners. I basically only have a 1 in x 1 in square to work with for each day of the month. It is rare that I have more than one or two meetings in a day so it is usually sufficient. But there is no room for details regarding appointments. I have a work around. Immediately behind my calendar pages I keep a list titled “Appointments”. I’ll then list them A1, A2, A3 and so forth and write any details there as needed. Then next to the appointment time on the calendar I’ll write “A2” or the corresponding place holder so I know to flip to the back to find the details of the appointment. I also do this with my tickler. I’ll write T1, T2 or the like on any calendar day on which I want a tickler trigger and then write the details on my tickler list behind the calendar. So I only ever look at the appointment list or tickler list when my calendar tells me that I should. And by using the abbreviations it keeps me from cramming a bunch of writing into those little 1 in x 1 in squares.

                Inbox – Behind this tab I keep blank paper. Whenever I take phone calls I open up to this section. When I go to meetings and take notes I open to this section. Whenever a new action pops into my head I’ll jot it down here. Then periodically, typically once or twice a day, I’ll process these notes and empty it out.

                Actions – This is just a simple list of tasks in which it only takes one action to complete. I can fit 34 actions onto one side of a page, and I do use both sides to conserve space.

                Projects – Also, just a simple list of Projects, however unlike my Actions list, I allot two lines to each Project. The first line is the name of the Project, such as “Organize iTunes”. The second line is the N/A for that project, such as “delete unwanted songs”. As I complete a N/A under a project I erase it and write in the next N/A. I can fit 16 Projects onto one side of paper.

                *Note about Actions and Projects* - My planner is where I track ALL Actions and Projects. But how do I do that with all of those computer systems and a separate physical file for physical supporting documents? Once again, I use abbreviations. For example, if next to a N/A in my Projects list I see the abbreviation “P3” I know that there are emails referencing it in my @Projects folder on my SECRET classified email. If I see “P1” then I know that Project has a physical folder with actual paper documents in my file drawer. And often times there will be more than one abbreviation as there may be supporting documents across multiple systems. Whenever I check my email inbox I have my planner right there with me. If it is something I can knock out quickly I do it. If it will take some time I move it to the @Actions or @Projects folder and annotate it in my planner. That way the planner is the only thing I have to look at to remind me. I also know many people here like to maintain separate N/A lists for home, work, online, offline, traveling, or whatever. That is too cumbersome for me. I maintain it all on one list BUT in the left hand margin of the list, next to the item, I draw little icons. “^” for home, “-“ for work, a black dot for things that could be done from either place. I am then able to scan down my list quickly and spot the things that are best suitable for where I am at that moment.

                Waiting – Of course where I list things on which I am waiting.

                Contacts – Phone numbers, emails, addresses ect.

                Lists – This is where I put all the lists that don’t fall under the other tabs. Some of the lists I have are: Long Term, Someday Maybe, Order Online, Buy at Grocery Store, Buy at Office Supply Store, Discuss with Boss. So when I go grocery shopping I don’t take my whole planner; I just grab the grocery list out of it.

                I also use indexes. The first page of the Reference section is an index of everything in that section. The first page of my Lists section is an index of all the lists with the corresponding page number. This way I can find what I am looking for immediately. Once again, it is all paper and pencil. I don’t create a whole new index every time I am done with a list. I simply erase that particular entry and fill it back in whenever a new list goes into the section. It may not be the prettiest way to do it but it is extremely efficient.

                My Daily To-Dos. At the back of my planner is a small legal pad. This is where I write my daily to-dos. Every morning after going through my emails I check my calendar for any tickler triggers and appointments, go through my Actions list and N/A items on my Projects list. See what is pending under Waiting. Then based on my schedule for the day, my priorities that day, and my energy level, I jot down what I wish to get done that day on the legal pad in my planner. At the end of the day I tear it out and start with a new sheet the next day.

                By doing things this way I am able to track EVERYTHING with my planner without it being overstuffed. It may not work for everyone but for my needs it is perfect.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Amazing!

                  Wow Bob,
                  Thank you so much for this. I am so inspired by your story, as are many here at the David Allen company.

                  Good for you for taking initiative to do your job with such focus and precision. So glad GTD could be a part of that!

                  Best to you and your family.

                  Kari

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    thank you for sharing

                    I can only imagine that when you retire from the military you will build a consulting firm that manages people and time in a most efficient way!


                    I would love to be able to use the monthly page with an appointment list behind it (rather than a weekly or daily page).

                    But, I think that only works, as you said for your situation, if one truly has very few appointments. I have variable start times at different locations, and I might have 4 or 5 appointments in a day and I have to work some of them around other peoples schedules which have a bit of variation, such as meeting with people when they are free after another event which could end anytime between 3 and 5 pm.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Bad news and good news about GTD...

                      Bob,

                      I can do nothing but echo great thanks for your willingness to share your experiences with all of us, on so many different levels.

                      And, as I've come to realize, hearing from folks like you who have had GTD emerge as such a key amidst the most awesome of challenging situations, the bad and good news about GTD is that its value really only emerges in its fullness under the most intense pressures for us.

                      It's like martial arts training - when four people attack you in a dark alley, it's too late to train. You need to have grooved in the systemic responses to your universe, allowing maximum clarity, control, and focus to begin with, plus the trust in your system to regain all of that when the dust settles.

                      Thanks for the obvious good work you've done and you're doing...I'm thrilled to know that our work has in some way contributed.

                      Best,

                      David

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Yeah, this is cool stuff

                        "It's like martial arts training - when four people attack you in a dark alley, it's too late to train."

                        Great point

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Thanks for such a detailed explanation. I'm just getting started, and was hung up on the question of whether to do things electronically or on paper. Since I work online, much of my project support info will be electronic, and it'd be simpler to do most project work that way, yet there will always be paperwork: bills, brochures, magazines, etc. Plus, I think having my Next Actions and other important lists on paper will make them seem more real to me, and I like the idea of being able to work on them away from my keyboard.

                          Your explanation of how you manage your separate computer networks from one central planner, using symbols and letters to indicate where to find things, really helped me see how I can incorporate both into a single system.

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