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An Apology for the Status Quo

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  • An Apology for the Status Quo

    kewms has had a significant impact on my GTD system. So when she announced yesterday that she was migrating from digital to paper, I realized that I needed to give serious consideration to her arguments.

    One day later, I am convinced that digital is best for me. I have chosen to start a new thread, rather than respond to kewms’s thread, because she was looking for support for her decision. This is not meant as a polemic or a taking of sides. It is my attempt to grapple with the serious issues raised by kewms and answer them to my own satisfaction.

    First, we all can agree (I hope) that GTD is application neutral. So there is no GTD requirement to be on paper or on computer. GTD on parchment is GTD and GTD on electrons is GTD.

    After that, a lot is personal preference. I am the one who is going to be using the system, so I am the one who needs to like using the system. And my most pressing reason for sticking with digital GTD is that I like typing much more than I like to write by hand. I am a lefty and I always received poor grades in penmanship (handwriting) when I was in elementary school. For more than 25 years I have been able to type much faster than I can write. I’d rather type.

    I do keep a 2-page-per-day planner on my desk at all times at work and I do write in it by hand. Throughout the day I jot phone numbers, NAs, and other notes. Sometimes I do the NAs directly from my paper planner. Sometimes I transfer the NAs to my digital system. And sometimes I move the NAs forward to the next day. So I do use paper. But it is not my trusted system. Almost everything of value gets moved out of my paper planner to my digital system.

    When I first read the GTD book, I thought David was nuts to tell me to use a labeler for my file folders. Subsequently, I realized the value of his suggestion. My handwritten folders looked sloppy and I would have to strain to read them. It took just seconds to whip out my battery-powered Dymo labeler. My nicely-lettered files were a pleasure to look at and they were easier to use.

    I have the same feelings about handwriting my NA and project lists. I like to see them printed out. My handwritten scrawl just is not very attractive.

    Aside from aesthetics, the second major reason I prefer to do GTD electronically is searchability. I got my first computer at home in 1986 when I returned to school. My immediate reaction was, “Wow, now I can search for words and phrases instantly, without having to scan through hundreds of sheets of paper.” There is nothing more frustrating for me than flipping again and again through the same pile of paper trying to find some word that I know is there but I cannot find. Of course, if I spell a word incorrectly on the computer, my search will not go well. But it seems to happen a lot more often that I have to search for something five times before I find it on paper than I have to search five times for a word I misspelled on the computer.

    The third reason I prefer doing GTD electronically is the obvious one: the computer lets me look at my GTD data lots of different ways. I can filter on the person who is associated with the list item, I can filter on the context, I can filter on the date range, and I can filter name of the item itself. kewms makes some very useful comments about thinking of projects as contexts in many instances. The beauty of having the data in digital format is that I can arrange it lots of different ways, depending on my needs in any given circumstance. The downside of digital data is that I have to enter data. I can’t filter on person, project name, date or context, if I don’t enter the data. But this data needs to be entered whether one is doing GTD digitally or on paper. Given that I need to enter the data no matter what, I’d rather enter the data into an application that lets me manipulate the data with ease.

    Now some might argue that electronic systems make data entry too easy. And there is some truth to that claim: I am much more likely to create a new project with a couple of NAs in a system that is easy to use. And electronics is easier for me to use than paper. So it’s very easy for my system to get clogged up with items that, as kewms says, stay there undone for years.

    If I increase the overhead of my system, I might add fewer items because of the effort it takes to create an item in my system is too great. My lists might then become smaller and more manageable.

    I find this argument (which I must make clear is not kewms's argument) runs completely counter to the most fundamental precepts of GTD as I understand them. The constitutive principle of GTD is to free up psychic RAM by creating representations in the external world of thoughts in your head about things you want to do. GTD does not say, “Write stuff down when it’s convenient.” It does not say, “Write stuff down, unless the overhead’s too high.” It says, “Write everything down, unless you can do it now in less than two minutes.”

    So the fact that electronic systems make it easy for me to write stuff down is a good thing. If my system is clogged with too much stuff, that is because my life is clogged with too much stuff. I can then decide to unclog my life by moving stuff in my system to someday/maybe.

    I have written in the past on this forum that the popularity of GTD must be due in no small part to the proliferation of the PDA. I used to believe that there was just too much overhead involved in maintaining multiple lists on paper. I now realize that I was wrong and GTD can be done—and be done well—on paper. But I’d still rather do it digitally.

    I thank kewms for challenging me to examine carefully how I choose to do GTD. I hope she continues to keep us informed of how her paper migration progresses.
    Last edited by moises; 09-11-2006, 02:21 PM.

  • #2
    Vive la difference! The best GTD system is the one that works for you.

    I do feel like I need to comment on one of your points, concerning the overhead of maintaining a system.

    If I increase the overhead of my system, I might add fewer items because of the effort it takes to create an item in my system is too great. My lists might then become smaller and more manageable.
    But your system would no longer be trustworthy. I'm making the switch to paper for precisely this reason: for me, an electronic system incurs more overhead. That overhead was making me reluctant to enter things, and therefore eroding my trust in the system. So it seems we're shooting for the same goals, but taking different routes to get there.

    You're certainly right about the searchability of electronic data. That was one of the reasons why I went electronic in the first place, and is one of the reasons why I keep as much data in electronic form as I can. My problem is, again, the overhead of capturing the data in electronic form in the first place.

    For example, in the middle of writing this post, my phone rang. It was a prospective client wanting to discuss a large potential project, probably about 3 months worth of work, spread over about 6 calendar months. I was able to jot down notes on the conversation (journal, to right of keyboard) and create an NA (Circa book, to left of keyboard) to work out my quote in far less time than I could have captured the same information electronically. And now that notes exists on paper, long experience has shown that I'll vacuum my cats before I get around to re-entering them electronically.

    To each their own, huh?

    Best of luck with your system,

    Katherine

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    • #3
      I've learned much from reading both Kewms and Moises, and will be monitoring these discussions with keen interest.

      There are many who use only paper, and that probably included all of us 20+ years ago. The only folks I can think of who can come close to operating exclusively digitally are the tablet PC folks. For the rest of us, it's a mix of digital and paper. Getting the mix right--it seems to me--is not trivial and likely specific to the individual and/or situation.

      Comment


      • #4
        I've found both Katherine's and moises's posts fascinating, and they've really made me think about my system as well.

        Like (I suspect) many people, I use a combination of paper and digital tools for my system. I do most of my capture either directly into my computer or onto a small-sized Rollabind notebook (which I bought from Staples, but can't find on staples.com) which rides in my purse with me. Next Actions end up (via the computer, usually) in my Treo 700p. I was using NoteStudio, which I think is an excellent product, but I've gone back to using Agendus because I found that I was duplicating too much information between the Treo's in-built apps and NoteStudio to make my system work. I do a little more fiddling than is strictly necessary to make the "contacts as projects" method of organizing work with Agendus's contact history feature, but there are times when an "instant review" is necessary, and they're often enough to make the overhead worth it.

        I think this discussion really underscores just why David made the Getting Things Done methodology tool-agnostic. The choice of tools is so very intimately personal that a system which is tool-dependent is, in my view, inherently untrustworthy to at least some of the people who will use it.

        -- Tammy

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        • #5
          Hybrid-System

          Like Kewms, I have a journal to my left on my desk. All notes, constructive thinking goes in to it. Its the one notebook for everything approach that I learned from Jason Womack. The next move is to review and take bits out of my unprocessed thinking and define that in to next actions which go in to Palm Desktop. I have gotten very fast at processing from the notebook and dont feel like its a drag on my overall system. Then.. the Palm goes with me and actions go from there. I tried to do the all paper based, but it just wasnt as fast as I needed. I need to be able to shoot from the hip or else my brain thinks its too much work... the Moleskine/Palm combo really helps me in this process.

          Love the convo...

          -Erik

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          • #6
            Things Change too

            Originally posted by wordsofwonder
            ...I think this discussion really underscores just why David made the Getting Things Done methodology tool-agnostic. The choice of tools is so very intimately personal that a system which is tool-dependent is, in my view, inherently untrustworthy to at least some of the people who will use it.

            -- Tammy
            I agree completely, and I would like to add another dimension to the discussion, which is that the physical tools used for GTD may have to change as the person's life changes. In my own case, I recently changed from much-loved purely paper-based system to a system with lists printed once per week and updated by hand until the next week. The lists kept are exactly the same; only the tools have changed. The difficulty with the purely paper-based system was simply that it required a lot of handwriting, which I found it too painful for my long-abused right hand and wrist.

            While in my case, the problem was literally internal, the problem could also be external. The "perfect" system could become unusable when, for example, an employer changes software or when electronics are banned on airplanes, or when a baby is born in the household.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Tornado
              While in my case, the problem was literally internal, the problem could also be external. The "perfect" system could become unusable when, for example, an employer changes software or when electronics are banned on airplanes, or when a baby is born in the household.
              I've found that my system has needed to evolve due to more subtle changes than that. My recent switch was driven by a change, not even in the basic kind of work I'm doing, but in my client mix. My last significant system change, my adoption of GTD, was driven by a single large project that completely overwhelmed my previous approach.

              Several people have talked about the need to avoid tweaking your system unnecessarily, so that "system maintenance" becomes just another form of procrastination. I agree, but it's also important to recognize when things truly aren't working, and address the problem before it gets out of hand.

              Katherine

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              • #8
                Katherine,

                I am certainly reluctant to change my system too often to avoid the problem of "endless tweaking", but if the system is not working in any major way, you are completely correct that something needs to be changed. While I was referring largely to a physical change in tools used for the system, I'd change my lists, calendar, or whatever was necessary if I found that my system was not working.

                David

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                • #9
                  I thought that katherine's decision to use individual projects as contexts was more significant, and radical from a gtd point of view, than the paper vs. digital decision.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by BlueSkies
                    I thought that katherine's decision to use individual projects as contexts was more significant, and radical from a gtd point of view, than the paper vs. digital decision.
                    My contexts are real simple: work, home, errand. Most of the hours I am using my system are at work; so context drops out and I am using projects to group my NAs. For once in my life I wanted to see what it was like to be a conservative, and now you tell me I'm a radical after all.

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                    • #11
                      I've enjoyed reading this post and have my own tale to tell on this subject. While I won't bore you with the all the details. I used a FC paper system for years. In 1998, I heard abut a thing called a Palm Pilot. I was using a Zaurus organizer at the time, so saw no need to change. But with a major job change, I decided to also change my system. I dumped my binder, used a Palm for a few years without GTD, got frustrated with it, and went back to paper. That's didn't help me either because the issue was not the tools I was using , but the system. I ready David;'s book once, applied a few of the ideas, bought a Pocket PC, fell off the GTD wagon, re-read the book, jumped back on, and have not looked back.

                      I now use Entourage as my trusted system, with an iPAQ 2795 for my portable digital capture tool. I also have a Notetaker wallet I carry with me just in case. I keep a 2-page per day Daytimer on my desk to capture stuff I wish to record as I talk on the phone, participate in meetings, etc. I deal with those items when I do my daily mini review. All goes into the Entourage and is synced with my PDA.

                      I've been back and forth on trying to find ONE system, but now realize that a combination of paper and digital works best for me.

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