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How I managed to eschew the 43 folders

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  • How I managed to eschew the 43 folders

    I hope that I will not be judged as a heretic, but the only thing that I never liked about the GTD system is the use of 43 folders.

    I find that there's too much paper shuffling involved with the 43 folders system. For anyone interested, this is what I do:

    Prerequisites: a) Microsoft Excel or another spreadsheet program.
    b) Knowledge of (i) the Autofilter feature for sorting your lists and (ii) the Custom Views feature, in order to make the Autofiltering function truly automated.
    c) Generally, some proficiency with Excel is useful.

    I use a spreadsheet to enter all my Next Actions. One Next Action is entered per row. The spreadsheet has the following columns:

    A. A straight serial number for each row.

    B. Date of entry of the Next Action.

    C. The Project number related to the Next Action (that is, each Project is identified with a serial number) and this number appears in every Next Action for the Project.

    D. The Project description (or title).

    E. The Next Action. This is entered in this column either in the case where the Next Action is related to a Project or is a "standalone" (single) Next Action.

    F. A column headed "Context". One may enter the usual contexts (@Phone, @Home, @Work, @Anywhere, etc.etc.)

    G. A column Headed "Waiting For". Here I enter the person's name or initials from whom I expect the Next Action.

    H. A column to enter Calendar dates for Next Actions with a fixed date.

    I. A column to mark the date done of the particular Next Action.

    Given the above data, I can easily create Custom Views to show me pending Next Actions by context, Wating For Next Actions, Calendar dates etc. etc.

    Now, on to the 43 folders substitution:

    I store temporarily all my Next Action documents in three physical piles (categories) sorted by number as follows:

    1. A category for Projects listed by Project number - see column C above. I have about 30 Projects outstanding.

    2. A category for Next Actions that are not connected with any Project. Here, the serial numbering of column A above is used. Currently I have about 20 non-Project related Next Actions (concerning work).

    My Next Actions and Project-related Next Actions are not bulky and I therefore keep them in plastic folders. I use post-it notes to write the appropriate serial number on each plastic folder.

    3. I also keep a third pile of documents (category) for my Someday/Maybe type of documents.


    On top of each pile (category) of documents I keep a single sheet of paper containing an index of Projects and an index of Next Actions. These indices are printed directly from my spreadsheet. Thus, if I want to retrieve any document, I only need to perform "Find" in my spreadsheet to see the relative Project number or Next Action serial entry. Alternatively, I can look it up in the above mentioned printed indices.

    With this method there is no need to physically move any document forward each day. Sorting the spreadsheet by the Calendar column enables me to see what, say, today's Next Actions are, if they concern a Project or not, and where the supporting documentation may be found in one of the two piles of plastic folders.

    I hope that I described the concept sufficiently clearly. If not, please ask me and I'll try and explain it better.

  • #2
    Well, it's nice that you've found a system that you like. Some people like using their computer and think that it makes their life easier. Others, like myself, think it's great when we don't have to use a computer to do something. I've actually taken all of my "ticklers" for contacting customers from the computer program which I had them in and put physical reminders in my 43 folders. I love being able to walk into my office, open up a drawer, pull out a file, and know exactly who I need to follow-up with today. That is much simpler than turning on the computer, waiting for it to que up, opening the program I need to use, waiting some more for it to get to where I can actually open the program, and then having to look through what I need to do today. Then, if I want to work somewhere other than at my computer, I have to print out my list of who I need to contact - one more thing to do and wait for.

    I mean, I love the computer for surfing the web and participating in communities like this, but unless I absolutely cannot do something without using a computer (like send email), I am happy to leave the computer on my desk to think for as long as it wants all by itself. I'm a fast typist, I know all the shortcuts - perhaps that is why I think computers are way too slow because I'm always three steps ahead.

    So if your computer system works great for you, fabulous! I am sure someone else will read this and have an ah-ha moment and be so glad you posted. But all I have to say is that in my world, 43 folders is the absolute BEST THING about GTD. Really.

    Comment


    • #3
      How do you handle you birthday card to Aunt Sally that needs to go in the mail on Dec. 16 to reach her on her birthday? I throw it in the 16 folder and forget about it. On the morning of the 16th, I open the folder and throw the card into "Out." Nothing gets written or entered on a list. If I understand you correctly, you would put the card in a pile, make an entry on the list, and on the appropriate day use the notation on the list as a trigger to pull the card out of the pile. Is that correct?

      I think I know what you are trying to eliminate--shuffling through papers that really don't have to be handled that day and they get shuffled from day to day. Here is how I handle this sort of thing using the 43 folders.

      Here is the one valid criticism I hear of tickler files: "What do I do when I need an item before the date is automatically pops up?" In other words, you want to see this document again in a couple of weeks, so you toss it in a tickler for about that far into the future. Then somebody comes along and asks you for the document, and you haven't the foggiest idea of which file it is in because the date is arbitrary.

      Here is something I have not seen in print anywhere that I have been using for several months and has been successful. It blend the concept of the traditional 1-31 tickler file with the A-Z system outlined in To Do, Doing, Done, and eliminates the need for a separate "project support" filing system.

      My tickler files have a dual label. They are labeled 1A, 2B, ...26Z, then 27, 28...31. In addition, they are hanging files. That way, I can put other manilla file filders inside them.

      When I am holding a document (or folder) that is *date specific*, I look at the numbered part of the tab (the tickets for the concert on the 13th, the driving directions for the trip I am taking on the 29th, or the birthday card that needs to go in the mail on the 24th). Those last three examples would go in files 13M, 29, and 24X). Should someone ask me for the those driving directions, it wouldn't be hard to locate them. I know they are filed for the date of the trip.

      For documents (or file folders) where the *date is arbitrary*, I think in terms of the subject of that document and look at the lettered par of the tab. The "Supply List" goes in 19S. On the 19th of the month, it pops up and becomes my cue to see if I need to duplicate more. If I do, I am holding the master copy in my hands. If sometime before the 19th I see that I need more copies and want to put my hands on it, it's a no-brainer to look in 19S because "Supply List" starts with "S."

      Hope this helps.
      Frank

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Frank Buck
        How do you handle you birthday card to Aunt Sally that needs to go in the mail on Dec. 16 to reach her on her birthday? I throw it in the 16 folder and forget about it. On the morning of the 16th, I open the folder and throw the card into "Out." Nothing gets written or entered on a list. If I understand you correctly, you would put the card in a pile, make an entry on the list, and on the appropriate day use the notation on the list as a trigger to pull the card out of the pile. Is that correct?
        Yes, that's what I would do if I had an Aunt Sally.

        Basically, I only use my spreadsheet for viewing Next Actions, Agendas, Waiting For, as a Diary etc. As I implied in my first posting, my method is geared for people who like to use Excel.

        Comment


        • #5
          What paper shuffling?

          Sounds like a fine system, DoingIt, judging "fine" by the only criteria that matters: it works for you!

          However, I'm not how it replaces the 43 folders, especially for one of the folders' primary purposes: Deciding not to decide yet. Could be we have different understandings of how to use the 43 folders.

          I keep my project and Next Action and Project lists electronically, and I keep my project and next action support materials as you do, in plastic folders.

          My 43 folders are separate from my next action lists and support material. They are for physical items which I know I don't care about until some future date. A tournament entry form I want to see on the 15th? Stick it in the "15" folder and forget about it. When the 15th rolls around, that piece of paper comes back into my world. A lot less "paper shuffling" than putting it in a pile and finding it again later.

          I'm not even sure what you mean by "no need to physically move any document forward each day," since that doesn't sound like anything I do with my 43 folders. Could you elaborate on that?

          -T.
          Last edited by Tetsujin; 12-08-2005, 05:37 PM.

          Comment


          • #6
            If you where putting stuff in 43 Folders that did not belong there, like all the stuff you plan to do tomorrow @work and @home, and when you where not able to do it all you had to move the undone items forward, then you did not understand 43 Folders and we understand why you did not like that system.

            If you have a list of 100 @work items, and a list of 100 @home items, and one concert ticket for Dec 17, how many items would you have in 43 Folders?

            I would have one.

            Comment


            • #7
              What to do when you need something before it pops up?

              Frank...

              Instead of Tickling the actual document, why not tickle a N/A note for the document and file the actual document away as reference?

              This way, the origninal will be in a place that you cannot lose it (your wonderfully alphabetized filing system), and your action reminder still gets to you when you need it to.

              JC
              Last edited by bassdrone42; 12-09-2005, 06:59 AM. Reason: incomplete

              Comment


              • #8
                There are time-sensitive actions that should be done sometime over the course of several days, but not necessarily on a specific day. These actions do not reach the day-specific criterion for putting on a GTD calendar (i.e., absolutely, positively, have to be done that day). In GTD, it is not clear which data structure should hold these time-sensitive but not day-specific actions. So some people use the tickler file for them, and hence might move them forward if they do not get done the first day they were tickled.

                So there are 3 categories of time specificity for actions:
                1) Time-specific: must be done at a certain time on a certain day
                2) Day-specific: must be done on a certain day
                3) Time-sensitive: should be done over a range of dates, and/or by a certain day

                #1 and #2 go in the GTD calendar.
                Since the tickler is a second form of calendar, and therefore knows about dates, type 3 stuff could go into it.

                Comment


                • #9
                  In my case, nothing that requires ongoing action goes into my tickler file. My tickler gets the following items:

                  * Physical artifacts associated with a particular date, that can be ignored until that date. Theatre tickets, plane tickets, destination information for a trip, birthday cards, etc.

                  *Deferred Inbox items. Things that I can't or won't make a decision about yet. Brochures for a vacation I might take in June, or a conference I might attend in February. Notes related to future projects (filed on the start date of the project). Reminders to schedule dentist appointments, vet visits, client followup calls.

                  And that's about it. In particular, active projects and Next Actions NEVER go in my tickler. They go in a separate Pending file. This is an extension of the rule that nothing should ever go back into your Inbox. Once you've processed it, it's got a new home (project info, reference, trash) and should go there. I view my tickler as an Inbox, and treat it accordingly.

                  Katherine

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Thank you for all these interesting comments.

                    When I wrote about physically moving documents every day, I was referring to DA's description of the tickler file, where he suggests that you empty the day's tickler file in your in tray (page 174 of GTD).

                    I would like to ask, how do you file documents in the tickler file, if they refer to, say, a date three months later? Do you initially file them in the month's tickler file and when that month becomes current, you put them in their proper day's folder?

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by DoingIt
                      I would like to ask, how do you file documents in the tickler file, if they refer to, say, a date three months later? Do you initially file them in the month's tickler file and when that month becomes current, you put them in their proper day's folder?
                      Yep. Or throw them away, as they've often become moot by then.

                      As I said in my other post, I view the tickler as essentially a date-filtered inbox, and empty each day's tickler into my main inbox. This takes about five seconds, though, and most days have only a few (less than 5) items, so I'm not sure I understand why you see it as a painful amount of paper shuffling.

                      Katherine

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by kewms
                        As I said in my other post, I view the tickler as essentially a date-filtered inbox, and empty each day's tickler into my main
                        .

                        This is where we use a different approach. I use my spreadsheet as a Calendar as well as a Next Actions, Wating For etc. medium. All the relevant (calendar-type) information is in the spreadsheet.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by DoingIt
                          This is where we use a different approach. I use my spreadsheet as a Calendar as well as a Next Actions, Wating For etc. medium. All the relevant (calendar-type) information is in the spreadsheet.
                          Just curious... what do you do with physical artifacts like tickets? Managing them is the most useful function of a tickler file for me.

                          Katherine

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            As regards physical things, my answer is theoretical rather than actual, because I haven't been using the GTD methodology for a long time.

                            What I would do is to make an entry in my spreadsheet about the event for which I hold a ticket, say, as a Calendar entry with an appropriate Context in the relevant columns. As described earlier, this spreadsheet entry would have a NA serial number. Then I would keep the ticket in a folder numbered according to the NA serial number.

                            Finding the right folder to retrieve the ticket would be via the NA serial number.

                            In this fashion I wouldn't need to refer to the folder until the appropriate date in the Calendar would become a current date for which NAs would be carried out.
                            Last edited by DoingIt; 12-10-2005, 12:52 AM.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              This all fascinates me because I've never really seen the value of a tickler file (or an equivalent spreadsheet system), even though in many other ways I do think I "get" GTD and its underlying ideas.

                              Obviously, everyone should do what works for them - but I'd be really intrigued if anyone thinks I'm missing out on something big by using the following, tickler-free, system:

                              Like most GTDers I guess, I have project support material files, a file for support material for NAs that don't relate to projects, and a Someday/Maybe support materials file.

                              Things which *will* become NAs in the future (eg. send birthday card to Aunt Sally) get a note in the diary; physical items connected with it (such as the card itself) go in the relevant support material file. (Usually, it's the one for NAs unrelated to projects.)

                              Things which *might* become NAs in the future -- ie, deciding not to decide on whether to go to some upcoming theatre event, for example -- go in the Someday/Maybe support materials file, which gets reviewed at every Weekly Review. Then it might become a new NA or project.

                              I suppose you could argue that this system isn't perfect insofar as my "support material for non-project-related NAs" file actually includes materials for things that I can't literally do immediately -- the true definition of an NA. But these items don't clutter up my NA *list*, just the support file, so the NA list remains "pure"...

                              Just another take on the matter.

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