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Organizing:the most challenging phase in workflow?

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  • Organizing:the most challenging phase in workflow?

    Of all the workflow processes I have found implementing (before that understanding) the Organizing phase of workflow the most challenging. I went back to GTD recently and found that in terms of no. of pages also the chapter on organizing has the most pages (about 43). (And the next highest is the Chapter 2: Getting Control of Your Life: The Five Stages of Mastering Workflow-30 pages).

    Not that number of pages is the only indication of the complexity of the task. But going through the chapter I have wondered the tremendous amount of benefits we would reap if we could implement the exhaustive suggestions in its totality. Like keeping the edges of each categories "pristinely distinct" from one another, implications of keeping calendar as "sacred territory", next actions list, categories of next actions, email management, project lists, project support material, organizing nonactionable data, tickler 3D calendar, etc.

    Has anyone implemented and integrated the Organizing phase completely? What are the important lessons they would like to share?

    I am devoting this weekend to this phase. More on it after my attempt.


  • #2
    I don't have the book in front of me, but I think organizing includes both project planning and the physical aspects of maintaining reference and working materials. For me, it's the physical aspects that are most challenging in implementing GTD.

    I read the book about a month ago, and have still not managed to fully implement the system. Of course that's partly because I didn't try to do it all in two days. (does anyone really do that without a coach?!) I need a more leisurely process to become comfortable with it, and, honestly, I just can't deal with it for hours at a time.

    Only recently did I finally get a beautiful old steelcase four-drawer filing cabinet. While some files (tickler, A-Z, projects) are coming along just fine, it's going to be an on-going project to fully organize all my old reference material. I had a half-dozen file-boxes of partially organized academic material. Now it's all in the file cabinet, even if it isn't all organized yet.

    I've realized two things though: 1) it's a HUGE relief to have it all visually out of the way in the bottom two drawers. 2) I don't have to finish dealing with it in order to move on with GTD. In fact, given other much more important projects, I just want to do prune/organize it within a year (before I move again).

    Anyway, if you're counting pages that concern organizing, I think you should also include the first chapter of part two, or whichever one talks about setting up your office to start. I suppose filing is technically part of processing, but you can't do it without some prior and ongoing organization.

    Maybe there are two separate questions here, which phase is the most difficult to implement, and which is the most difficult for on-going work-flow.


    • #3

      The first chapter of Part 2 is also all about setting up the infrastructure required for implementation of GTD. I agree with you. It is an integral part of Organizing. That's another 19 pages (+43) making it a whopping 62 pages. Anyway the purpose of page counting is that even DA has given this task an exhaustive (and required) treatment in the book.



      • #4
        I'm about 3 weeks into GTD, and as "student" pointed out, I found it necessary to do some triage with respect to my old stuff. For me, it has been very comfortable to implement GTD for new projects as they come up, but the 20+ piles of "HUH" stacks already existing on & around my desk are another matter. They're sitting there saying "Do something about me" while I'm dealing with the task of doing what I'm here for each day.

        David made a suggestion about this on the CD. He said to wrap some crime scene tape around those old "HUH" stacks and then tackle them as you can. While I haven't literally put the tape around them, I have done so mentally. They're absolutely off-limits with respect to putting anything new on them. And when I find myself with some time, I take one of the stacks & literally or figuratively put it in my InBox to be dispatched one at a time. So far this is working fine for me.


        • #5
          spectecGTD, your post inspired me to write about a technique I've been using to whittle down a huge task (changing my filing system over to a simpler format). I suspect that this would work for your "Huh?" stacks too, though it sounds like you don't have any problems with motivation so far.

          Every morning, before I go to work, I spend five minutes working on my filing project. (And yes, I do set a timer.) That's enough for me to get a couple of folders done. Five minutes isn't a lot, but it's something, and working for only five minutes makes it practically impossible for me to put it off. I can do anything for five minutes no matter how unpleasant, and no matter how little time I have, I can always squeeze in an extra five minutes for this somewhere. Once I get my five minutes done, even if the whole day goes wrong and I'm stymied at every turn, I can still think, "Well, at least I made a little progress on the files."

          So, each morning, try grabbing a couple of pieces of paper off of one of your piles and drop them into your Inbox and process them. Don't grab out more than you can handle in five minutes, and don't puzzle yourself with calculations of how long it will take you to finish your five-foot-high stack of papers if you only do a few pages a day. Just keep starting; let the finishing take care of itself.

          Best of luck. Keep us posted on your progress.


          • #6
            Originally posted by spring
            Every morning, before I go to work, I spend five minutes working on my filing project. (And yes, I do set a timer.) That's enough for me to get a couple of folders done. Five minutes isn't a lot, but it's something, and working for only five minutes makes it practically impossible for me to put it off.
            This reminds me of something I read once. Couldn't find the link in google, sorry.

            It was about a couple that regularly (daily if I remember correctly) set a timer for 15 minutes and spend that time cleaning the house. Just 15 minutes. Concentrating on one area and methodically going through the house. Not really water-and-soap-cleaning, but putting back books in the bookshelve, sorting through the amorphous blob of stuff in the garage, etc. 15 minuts might mean four square meters or a stack of paper that is one centimeter lower.

            They got through their entire house in one year and decided to keep the habit, only now with 5 minutes, as everyting was much more in order.

            So, the 5 minutes every day idea sounds workable to me. Weigh it against digging in for two or three days. What is best for you?



            • #7
              spring: Thanks for the suggestion - that makes a lot of sense. Some of these stacks need an intense, concentrated going over, but others do lend themselves nicely to your approach. I'll give you updates on how this progresses.


              • #8
                I've essentially done the "crime scene tape" thing with my entire home office. (Biohazard tape would probably be appropriate too. )

                Currently I'm using my kitchen table as my makeshift workspace until I've gotten the worst of that room taken care of. (Thank god for laptop computers!!!)

                If I didn't do that I'd be spending too much time fixing yesterday's mess, to prevent new ones from popping up. I DON'T need to fall behind on important work again.


                • #9
                  I love the "crime scene tape" idea, and the "a little each day" approach to removing the evidence. I keep turning up more corpses for this region, but at least now have hard boundaries between the remains of previous crimes and new stuff going in.

                  Organizing is definitely the most difficult area of GTD for me, but also the one with the most noticable payoff: I'm not swimming in paper anymore!

                  AA--any report from your weekend of re-evaluating your organizing efforts?


                  • #10
                    The 15 minutes idea for cleaning (or doing anything really) can be found at (don't be put off by the somewhat goofy graphics). Many parallels to GTD, with respect to routines.


                    • #11

                      My organizing has reached a mature phase. The organizing by context is one of the most powerful ideas (not an original one-I know) and I think I have started benefitting from it. Everything has to be organized by context and if some work does not fit in any context it means I need to take a relook at the task till it finally fits into a context. And then whenever I am reviewing and I see that the task has not been done even though the context is there I re-examine the task and ask myself is it the appropriate place to hold the task. Sometimes it turns out to be a project, sometimes a different context, but the task does get done.



                      • #12

                        I was rereading the book this morning and noticed that the 5 steps in GTD, although in logical sequence, are not really sequential in practice.

                        DA suggests focusing solely on collecting before moving to the next stage, but when you come to process all that stuff you have to have some buckets already there to catch it. You can't process effectively with already having an organized system for things to flow into.

                        So, I think you are really onto something about how central organiztion is.