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Completely stuck on visualizing the GTD Next Actions

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  • Completely stuck on visualizing the GTD Next Actions

    Hi,

    GTD Newb here.

    I'm totally stuck on how to keep the Next Actions list coordinated with the projects. 95% of what I'm doing is project-related. Do I have a next Actions list in each project folder which I then process alongside a general "next actions" list (or are there multiple lists)? I read the book over and over again, I think I have it and then I cannot get concrete with my actual workflow. It's driving me mad.

    I travel a lot too and I cannot figure out how everyone drags around all their project folders. It also really puts a pinch on the next actions "media" I can use. I find it totally clumsy to try and be on the computer all the time to put in my next actions (in the GTD Outlook Add-in from NetCentrics for example)-- it's really clunky to try and add a next action which is not an email via that add-in. Am I missing something stupid simple there?

    Back to the Next Actions list... I see all the debates over moleskin vs. ring binder vs. clipboard. I really like the moleskin approach only because of its portability (I'm using cheaper Composition notebooks until I can things down) but I have a hell of a time keeping all the lists straight due to the pages filling up and then needing to add pages in places were I cannot add pages (Comp notebooks are the small bound). I'm also going a little bit crazy trying to get it straight on where to record next actions (see my first paragraph).

    I think I'm overthinking all this but I just need to get jump started somehow *how* to get the system rolling.

    Thanks for suggestions.

  • #2
    A few questions about your situation:

    (1) What is your travel schedule? Is it predictable? How long are you away from your desk, or your home, or your office?
    (2) At work, are there many interruptions, or are you able to work for long lengths of time on your projects?
    (3) How do you get your work done? Can you focus for long lengths of time, or short? Do your projects involve one context or many?
    (4) What are your capture and processing tools? How is your system set up?
    (5) How big are your project files? What's typically in them?

    Thanks,
    Dan

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Dan Owen View Post
      A few questions about your situation:

      1) What is your travel schedule? Is it predictable? How long are you away from your desk, or your home, or your office?
      In the last few weeks, very little but when it happens, usually 4 or 5 days then back for weekend, then out 4 or 5 days for 3 to 4 weeks and then there is a rest period. Economy has made it sporadic.
      Originally posted by Dan Owen View Post
      (2) At work, are there many interruptions, or are you able to work for long lengths of time on your projects?
      Lots of interruptions. Emergency calls from customers and stakeholders usually.

      Originally posted by Dan Owen View Post
      (3) How do you get your work done? Can you focus for long lengths of time, or short? Do your projects involve one context or many?
      Generally short bursts of 20 to 30 minutes when a scheduled call has cancelled or ended early.
      Context: This is where I'm having trouble. I really have two contexts: @computer and @notes. I take copious notes by hand because I tend to draw diagrams and relate words together graphically... tried mindmapping but it's just too slow when you're having a conversation with a customer.

      Originally posted by Dan Owen View Post
      (4) What are your capture and processing tools? How is your system set up?
      Capture is either word on computer or notepad (the Composition book I mentioned but I think I need to separate notes from the Comp book because I can fill the comp book in about 4 weeks and then my context lists are screwed up because I have to xfer (haven't gotten that far, just anticipating)

      Originally posted by Dan Owen View Post
      (5) How big are your project files? What's typically in them?
      Project files span four locations: 20% - paper notes, 10% hard drive files (attachements from emails, documents from network file servers which I've saved), ~70% emails and <1% links to Portal document shares where some of the project documents may be shared with other project stakeholders. I have tried filing all the stuff via the Outlook add-in for the last two categories and I was anticipating scanning everything from notes but I find that I simply don't have the time to do all the processing that way. I have to save what i can in the format I can.

      I have 30 - 50 projects (customers, internal projects and personal projects going at any one time). Just 10 of the folders would be too much to carry for the projects. How do mobile people handle that?


      Thanks very much

      Comment


      • #4
        I'd like to know a little bit more about what you're capturing and how you're processing it.

        Presumably, the notes you're taking in meetings and phone calls and so forth contain two different kinds of information: specific next tasks on the one hand, and information pertaining to projects on the other. I'm guessing you use the information to create and perform tasks to move the projects toward completion. Are these assumptions correct?

        How are your composition books organized? By project? By context? Random lists of everything that you then process into lists that live elsewhere in the composition books? Are these bound composition books, or looseleaf binders? What is the relationship between the Word capture documents you create and the notes you take in the composition books? Do they contain the same kind of information, but simply suit different kinds of interactions with clients -- comp book when you meet in person, Word docs when you're on the phone? How do you decide which capture method to use?

        Do you have a system for processing these notes? A schedule for extracting tasks and putting them on task lists, or a procedure for gathering "support material" for projects and putting them somewhere? How and when do the contents of these comp books and Word documents get processed?

        In the 30 minute blocks of time that you have free, how do you decide what to do? How does your decision-making process integrate with your system for capturing and processing?

        * * *

        A few things leap out at me in your answers so far:

        "4 to 5 days [of travel away from home] for 3 to 4 weeks then back for the weekend."

        "Lots of interruptions. Emergency calls from customers"

        "Generally short bursts of 20 to 30 minutes when a scheduled call has cancelled or ended early."

        "tried mindmapping but it's just too slow "

        "I find that I simply don't have the time to do all the processing that way. I have to save what i can in the format I can. "

        "I have 30 - 50 projects (customers, internal projects and personal projects going at any one time). "

        This sounds like a very, very challenging work environment, so your system, above all, can't get in the way. It has to facilitate your working very efficiently while handling frequent interruptions, dealing with emergencies, and moving forward on 30-50 projects simultaneously. (Tell me something I don't know, right?)

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Dan Owen View Post
          I'd like to know a little bit more about what you're capturing and how you're processing it.

          Presumably, the notes you're taking in meetings and phone calls and so forth contain two different kinds of information: specific next tasks on the one hand, and information pertaining to projects on the other. I'm guessing you use the information to create and perform tasks to move the projects toward completion. Are these assumptions correct?
          Yes. most of these have been added to a straight, long list of todos. Other times, I get so behind processing the notes, that things simply remain undone or fall of the list due to time expiration. Not many but enought to indicate, "I've got a (growing) problem here".

          Originally posted by Dan Owen View Post
          How are your composition books organized? By project? By context? Random lists of everything that you then process into lists that live elsewhere in the composition books? Are these bound composition books, or looseleaf binders?
          bound composition books-- the $1.99 Wally World kind-- 9.75" x 7.5in wide ruled, 100 sheet black tape bound books. Not the most professional looking (and thus my interest in the moleskin books).

          >>by project? by context?<<

          This is exactly the struggle I'm having. What are my "contexts"?

          Unless I'm in a meeting, I'm generally at a computer (my boss has a strict "lids down" policy during meetings and I try to encourage that in the group I manage too... it's just too tempting for people to jump on email and space off.. even directly in front of customers)-- so that means I'm on paper in about 50% of meetings; the rest (phone/web conferecne) meetings in Word (or OneNote-- that's another nut I'm trying to crack here-- is how OneNote could potentially help and not just be another toy). I'm really still trying to figure out "what's best". Sometimes I get so frustrated in the middle of a Word or OneNote document (customer is describing their computer system architecture or I need to draw arrows and lines between words to help relate stuff) that I just go back to paper in the middle of a note-taking session. It's not a training thing... I think I must just be a paper person due to speed, lack of patience (or lack of ability to keep train of thought in a meeting and scribe things on computer).

          Then, on top of that, you may get a steady stream of emails with random bits of information-- other people following up; other people adding action items; other questions over the days following-- how do you merge that all together into a comprehensible action item list which orders, sequences and captures *everything*?

          Originally posted by Dan Owen View Post
          What is the relationship between the Word capture documents you create and the notes you take in the composition books? Do they contain the same kind of information, but simply suit different kinds of interactions with clients -- comp book when you meet in person, Word docs when you're on the phone? How do you decide which capture method to use?
          ** same kind of information, but simply suit different kinds of interactions with clients **

          you got it. Decision is often times simply the convenience factor. It takes 2 seconds to "boot up" the note pad when you sit down for a conversation with someone, 2 minutes (if you're lucky) to get all set with a computer-- exaggerating but invariably something happens if you're really pressed to put something down electronically; paper seems to never fail.


          Originally posted by Dan Owen View Post
          Do you have a system for processing these notes? A schedule for extracting tasks and putting them on task lists, or a procedure for gathering "support material" for projects and putting them somewhere? How and when do the contents of these comp books and Word documents get processed?
          No. this is what I meant by trying to crack the code on the "Next Steps" comments throughout the GTD book-- I just wish I could see some pictures of what the book is describing and in one end to end setting-- the book tries to peel back the layers of the onion and I'm just like, "give the process, the whole process and nothing but the process in one straight shot so I can jump start this thing". My issue is that I write all kinds of stuff down, tons of it, then I sift through for action items and sometimes, in order to maintain enough informatoin on the action item to not forget it, I end up copying large sections of the notes into the action item itself so I have context when I review later. I have great short term memory but my long term memory of conversations last week or last month with customers is horrible. That's what caught my eye about GTD is that the whole promise is to get things off your mind and keep you on top of stuff by capturing and then organizing. On top of that, I'm drowning in email (upwards of 200 relevant emails per day (volume is more like 300 but only 2/3ds of those are to "me" directly-- the rest are internal corporate spam or informational only from other people).

          Originally posted by Dan Owen View Post
          In the 30 minute blocks of time that you have free, how do you decide what to do? How does your decision-making process integrate with your system for capturing and processing?
          Urgency. to use the Covey terminology I'm constantly fighting the "Important but not Urgent" and the "Urgent but not Important". they're heavily pitted against the Urgent and Important buckets. In my world, everybody else's emergency is my emergency.

          * * *

          A few things leap out at me in your answers so far:

          "4 to 5 days [of travel away from home] for 3 to 4 weeks then back for the weekend."

          "Lots of interruptions. Emergency calls from customers"

          "Generally short bursts of 20 to 30 minutes when a scheduled call has cancelled or ended early."

          "tried mindmapping but it's just too slow "

          "I find that I simply don't have the time to do all the processing that way. I have to save what i can in the format I can. "

          "I have 30 - 50 projects (customers, internal projects and personal projects going at any one time). "

          Originally posted by Dan Owen View Post
          This sounds like a very, very challenging work environment, so your system, above all, can't get in the way. It has to facilitate your working very efficiently while handling frequent interruptions, dealing with emergencies, and moving forward on 30-50 projects simultaneously. (Tell me something I don't know, right?)
          Everyone's got their cross to bear. I manage a team of 7 consultants spread across the country with several additional dotted line (project resources) reporting in internationally. I guess I don't think it's too out of control when I know that there are people who have much larger teams than mine. Really need to crack into the management of next steps across these projects and then general nexts steps (meeting agendas, personal todos, special assignments from manager etc).

          Comment


          • #6
            If you are really a paper person, i wouldn't try and force a computer system. That might sound a bit mad considering you have a lot in emails, but you can always reference them on paper(date, from whom, etc)

            There are a lot of people who use a moleskine for the system, but the problem as you said is the inflexibility in the pages. You said you fill them up very quickly anyway. You could use one as capture tool and have a paper planner for your lists etc. There is a free article about how one would look in the shop. free articles

            Maybe the workflow diagrams would also be useful for you. I personally like the advanced diagram, as that shows some basic principles as well as the basic workflow. All the articles are worth reading really, if just for rekindling motivation.

            Comment


            • #7
              When I set up my system or want to upgrade it I ask myself a question from the David's book: "What I want to be reminded of and when?". Only you can decide what to do and when, nobody else can do (except your boss though). So ask yourself that question and then put the reminder into that particular place or place in time where you want to be reminded about it. When see it, do it.

              Comment


              • #8
                The system is very simple: capture, process, organize, review, and do. Implementation in the environment you're working in, and under the constraints you're working under, is going to be very challenging, but that's going to be true of any system you try to implement.

                I have one more question for you: is there another outcome that you're responsible for creating besides dealing with the emergency calls of clients and the phone/e-mail traffic with consultants? Is that the Project work that you do, or is there another outcome? I guess I'm asking what deliverables you're responsible for.

                Hang in there. GTD can work for you. Thanks for patiently answering my questions in such detail. In the next post I promise I'll give specific ideas for solving the problems you're dealing with.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Dan Owen View Post

                  I have one more question for you: is there another outcome that you're responsible for creating besides dealing with the emergency calls of clients and the phone/e-mail traffic with consultants? Is that the Project work that you do, or is there another outcome? I guess I'm asking what deliverables you're responsible for.

                  Hang in there. GTD can work for you. Thanks for patiently answering my questions in such detail. In the next post I promise I'll give specific ideas for solving the problems you're dealing with.
                  Hi Dan,

                  thanks for the deep dive here.

                  Responsibilities are two-fold:

                  1. Deal with the emergencies as that is sort of my team's "Priority 1" activity. We can pass those off in short order but, as manager, a lot of my job is heading off or redirecting emergencies to appropriate resources in the organization and our group is sort of last resort, "smoke jumpers" who are sent in if there is an emergency or need of someone to head off an emergency.

                  2. Formal projects are run based on field experience (from emergencies and other less urgent work). Typical Proj. Mgmt stuff applied here. Just that I must keep track of all these projects. As I indicated at the beginning of my post, it's this area that I'm most interested in getting a handle on first (95% of my challenge as I see it). i can deal with the emergency calls etc. I don't say that thinking I can get by with applying GTD to one part and not the other-- just that I have to address the project-related stuff ASAP.

                  I guess I'm surprised that you continue to mention that my situation seems "very challenging"-- seems like more and more of us are wearing multiple hats in our daily work these days.

                  Thanks again for your assistance.
                  Last edited by gandalfrat; 05-10-2009, 07:03 AM. Reason: revisions

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Linada View Post

                    Maybe the workflow diagrams would also be useful for you. I personally like the advanced diagram, as that shows some basic principles as well as the basic workflow. All the articles are worth reading really, if just for rekindling motivation.
                    Hi Linada,

                    Several sessions of "staring at" the advanced diagram were what prompted the question.

                    I'm trying to visualize how I'll setup my system to collect next actions from all activities (work projects (majority) and otherwise without duplicating a lot of effort-- having project next steps handy "by project" while at the same time having those next steps in context of the overall "next steps" list). The Outlook add-in (the NetCentric one) does this when you look at Tasks but then is very klutzy (IMHO) when it comes to adding tasks (next actions) which are not based on an email but based on notes.

                    One thing yours and Pav's comments helped me think about his that every meeting with all my project managers and customers needs to have a summary "Next Steps" at the top of the notes so I can quickly get those transferred to the computer and thus into a consolidated Next Actions list. I've been leaving those buried in the body of the notes with an NA flag in the left column but after 6 or 7 pages of notes, it's easy to get lost in all of those... they have to be summarized in one location -- I may try going directly to a list but I want my project leads and even customers to provide some of this effort (also priority is an issue too).

                    BTW-- when I said "picture" I meant actual pictures of how people manage their "stuff" -- what folders do they use, what do their notebooks look like. A little bit of this has scrolled across the GTD email list but most of the time people are showing pix of their shiny, empty desks and not "how they got there".

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      I am afraid i can't help much with concrete examples. I use OmniFocus, which makes it quite easy to see actions both by context and by project, but it's mac only unfortunately and i am not up to speed on windows programs for GTD.

                      I don't think there is a time saving way around duplicating the work for next actions on paper, i.e. you'll need to have separate list if you want to be able to quickly scan next actions by project as well as context. We could doubtlessly come up with an elaborate system of resorting paperslips, but that would only create more work, not less.
                      You do need to write out your next actions at some point. The whole objective is to get them out of the project support material, so you no longer have to hunt for the action when it comes to doing.

                      I hope someone with paper/windows experience can add something more concrete to help

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        From what youíve described here, it sounds like youíre dealing with two big obstacles: youíre getting interrupted (by your job, in the process of doing your job) so frequently that you canít focus on report writing; and the information youíre collecting during meetings is locked in composition books and Word docs and youíre having trouble accessing it in order to write reports. It sounds like youíre doing well with dealing with the emergency calls that are a central part of your job. Is that right?

                        Iíd suggest you focus on two areas: (1) collect in a form that makes it easier to process, organize and review (remember that the system has five parts: collect, process, organize, review, and do); (2) create protected, dedicated, uninterrupted, focused time to process, organize, and review.

                        Collection: handwritten note taking seems to work best for you because its fast, but the fact that the composition book keeps information bound together seems to slow down processing, organizing, and reviewing. Free the pages by switching to legal pads, and organize your note taking by separating next actions from project resources. Given the speed that information comes at you in meetings, you might have to wait to do this separation until after the meeting.

                        Processing: When you have a meeting with a client or one of your consultants, you have got to take time Ė protected, dedicated, focused, uninterrupted time Ė to process your notes into lists. Your pad or composition book is nothing but a bucket. The bucket has to be emptied. You need to extract from your notes the next actions, waiting for items, and project resources, and get them into a form that you can use and a place where you can review them. This is a skill you have to develop through practice. You have to be very disciplined about this: after each meeting, take five minutes to process your notes into those three categories, then move on. Shutting the door, closing Outlook, and sending calls to voicemail for five or ten minutes after every meeting is a skill you must practice. Part of that practice may involve finding ways of dealing with the consequences of being unavailable to others for ten minutes, especially since youíve trained them to expect you to be available at all times. One of the realities of being accessible as part of your job is that you enable people to interrupt your workflow. Thatís fine, but itís better to enable them to interrupt you on terms that suit your ability to help them.

                        Organizing: There are three basic categories: next actions, waiting for, and project resources. In processing your notes and e-mails, move items into one of these three categories and put those lists and folders aside for review before turning your attention to whatever task requires your attention next. If youíve pre-sorted pages on the pad by these categories, then just tear them off and drop them into the appropriate folder.

                        Reviewing: GTD fails if you donít review your commitments as frequently as necessary to keep your mind clear and focused. It sounds like you have no time to review any of the notes youíre taking, or else youíre reviewing at the same time youíre doing. This is the biggest change you need to make in your work flow. You have got to create protected time, without interruptions, to review what youíve collected. Given what your work day sounds like, this time may have to be early in the morning before the phone starts ringing, or it may be at the end of the day after the close of business (if such a thing exists for you). But you must make time, every day, to process, organize, and review what youíve collected. The review has to happen whether youíre on the road or in the office.

                        Following the review, you get to make decisions about what youíre going to do in the time you have. For you, one decision involves answering this question: ďout of the notes I took today, what information needs to go into the report I need to write?Ē Placing that information into a paper folder or a digital folder will make the process of writing that report Ė whenever you get to it Ė easier. You accumulate a lot of information very quickly Ė 300 e-mails a day, pages and pages of handwritten notes and Word docs during every meeting Ė so frequent processing is key. Dropping specific items youíll need to write the report into a dedicated bucket will simplify and speed the report-writing process.

                        Portability: I have the same need, since I work in multiple locations. I experimented with methods for carrying paper around with me, until I finally realized that it was impossible, and Iíve gone completely digital. That means that I scan everything. Itís the only way to be sure you have everything with you wherever you are, whenever you need it. Scanning is part of my processing, and I make time for it daily (usually at the end of each day). My hierarchy of digital files in Windows File Explorer matches the hierarchy of my Outlook e-mail files matches the hierarchy of my paper files exactly so that I donít have to think about it. If I have time, I tag the hell out of everything, but my first and most important way of accessing this stuff is through a simple but thorough file hierarchy. I access these files using Explorer, because it enables me to see all the file types in one place: Excel spreadsheets, Word docs, and .pdf files. But you could use Evernote for the same purpose. Because itís often easier for me to think on paper, I travel with a portable printer and print things out at the drop of a hat. Sometimes you have to print everything, spread it out on the bed in the hotel room, and do what theyíre paying you to do. And because I hate paper, Iíll go down to the front desk and run all of it through their shredder when Iím done.

                        Assigning tasks to Next Action lists versus Project lists: I think this was the question that you started off with. The idea behind working from a context list is to facilitate doing your work. A question for you: right now, how are you deciding what to do at any given moment? It sounds like a great deal of your time is already spoken for by meetings and dealing with emergencies that come at you via e-mail and phone calls. Opening an e-mail or answering the phone or processing meeting notes therefore involves making a decision: must this task be done now or later? You have discretion only over the tasks that can be done later (report writing is clearly one of these, and an important one). So your next action list has to be quickly scannable when you have time. Because your work is so project-focused, Iíd recommend organizing your next action list by project first and context second within that list. The frequent processing that you need to start doing after each meeting must involve transferring next actions onto your Next Action list, by context as those contexts make sense for how you work, and then keeping that list open in front of you to help you decide what to do when youíre not jumping in to a fire. You can develop the skill of creating a consolidated next action list while youíre taking notes in meetings, but itís a change from how youíre working now. It involves keeping this list with you at all times, entering tasks onto it as you take notes and listen to your clients and consultants, and revising, updating, and re-writing that list at frequent intervals so that itís always clean, updated, and readable. On paper, in Word: whatever is fastest and easiest to edit. (Paper is tough to edit, as you know.)

                        Iíll say something about contexts. I used to believe that my work was completely Project-oriented and that organizing tasks by context wasnít helpful. I was wrong about this. Itís true that there are times (less often than I thought) when I am completely immersed in a project and context is irrelevant: I must do what is necessary to move the Project forward, regardless of context. But there are other times when working by context enables me to move many different projects forward a step or two and lay the groundwork for a focused attack on a Project at a later time (such as report writing). Augusto Pinaud (google search Virtual GTD Study Group and @context podcast) advocates a very creative use of contexts to unlock productivity, and after initial skepticism Iíve become a believer. In your case, useful contexts might be something like @Scanner or @5 Minutes of Silence at My Desk. Contexts are focusing tools. Your work environment robs you of your focus. Contexts may help you to reclaim them. The way I discovered the value of contexts was by diligently writing all of my next actions down on one consolidated Next Action list and then attempting to organize them in useful ways that worked to move me toward the outcomes Iíd defined.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Dan,

                          Thanks for your lengthy response. i had to print it! LOL.

                          What scanner do you use? I don't want to make this an equipment discussion but I am curious what is portable enough to carry around and both print and scan?

                          When you mention tagging docs-- has OCR come far enough along that you're actually scanning notes and stuff and able to tag those somehow to your GTD application (not sure if you use some form of GTD software?).

                          Also, I was thinking about Dragon Naturally Speaking or something like it to get notes to digital (dictating-- I would have to do as I have no secretary it but it would beat typing and maybe even scanning?)

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Going back to the original question of trying to visualize the Next Actions lists:

                            Sitting right next to me is a yellow clipboard. On the top is a page labeled "Next Actions @Work." I've written a bunch of Next Actions on it, in pencil. Each Action relates to some particular Project. The vast majority don't need to be explicitly tied to a Project, because I know just by the Action which Project it applies to.

                            At home, in my office, sits another clipboard. On top is a page labeled "Next Actions @Home." Below it is a page labeled "Projects," which lists all my Projects.

                            A few examples of NAs at home:

                            Code:
                            Pull out dust rag
                            Check email for hotel registration dates for GenCon
                            Look at blog login code to block comments from anonymous posters
                            Measure fence out back for number of new 6-foot sections to buy
                            Brainstorm Michael's backstory
                            Examples of the Projects for each of those NAs:

                            Code:
                            Dust house
                            Verify hotel registration dates for all conventions this year
                            Fix blog login code to block comments from anonymous posters
                            Build new fence out back
                            Rewrite YA novel from Michael's point of view
                            Does that help?

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Scanner: I have two different multi-function Brother printers that I scan from (I work between two different offices that are 3 1/2 hours apart, plus daily work in the field). I'm going to be getting a Fujitsu SnapScan for my primary office. Because I'm back at one office or another at the end of each day, I don't have a portable scanner, but if I did I would look hard at the NeatReceipt scanner (which I noticed the other day they're now selling at Staples).

                              If you're already thinking of how you're going to scan while you're travelling, I would say that you're a step ahead of yourself. Start scanning at your office and let that experience dictate the refinements that will improve your system. Even if you're out of the office for 5 days at a time, which sounds like the max for you, you can go that long without scanning. (Tim Ferris, among others, will take photos of docs with his cell phone in order to digitize them. You can also upload cell phone photos of docs into Evernote, and have the benefit of the OCR function.)

                              I think that, given your level of comfort with paper, learning to work with your notes digitally is going to be a big and initially frustrating adjustment. It was a difficult adjustment for me, and it wasn't until I couldn't do my job because I didn't have the papers I needed with me that I disciplined myself to practice working digitally. That in itself was a new habit for me.

                              OCR: I'm finding in general -- with Windows Desktop Search, Gmail search, Outlook search -- that searches pull up too much material and sifting through it is time-consuming. I say this because I'm not sure turning on the OCR function on my scanner will be to my advantage. However, I've started experimenting with Evernote to see how OCR works for me. In the meantime, I maintain an extremely efficient filing system which is duplicated exactly among my Outlook, digital, and paper files in my office. I take time to file this stuff, even while I'm experimenting with searching and using tags, until I feel I can completely trust the search function.

                              Are you worried that if you scan your notes that you won't be able find the information digitally? Remember that, worst case, you'll open up a .pdf file and have to page through it exactly as you already do on paper.

                              I don't use GTD software. At the moment, my lists are all on Excel spreadsheets. I'm experimenting with keeping them on Outlook as task lists. For me, it's all about speed of capture, processing, and organizing. I work daily with Excel and am very comfortable with it, so when I started with GTD two years ago it was the natural way to maintain lists.

                              Dictation: I'm not familiar with Dragon. It strikes me that, for you, accessing the information in your notes is the key requirement, not your method of capture. Whether you get it into your system by handwriting and then scanning your handwritten notes, or as Word docs, or by speaking them and transcribing the voice file, you still have to review the information, extract the action items, waiting for items, and project support information, then get it into a form that it is easily accessible for executing -- whether you're performing a task or sitting down to write a report. (Getting feedback on Dragon might be another useful thread to start here, though.)

                              One thing that might be useful to think about is a way of writing these reports that is less onerous than it may be now, and more compatible with the start-and-stop interruptibility of your day. I get the impression that the way you're compiling these reports is the way we used to write term papers: physically gather around you all of the books, notes, and primary sources you accumulated during the semester, sort through them, extract the info you need, outline the paper, then write. That method works well in an environment where you have the luxury of lots of uninterrupted time, but may not be well suited for someone who has to jump out of a plane into a raging forest fire every half hour.

                              You're not travelling much now, so I would concentrate on practicing the highest value new habit: five minutes of processing onto lists after EVERY meeting throughout your day. No scanning, no dictating, just processing. See how that works. Observe the points of failure, watch where the system breaks down and lets you down. Refine and adjust

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