The Six Dollar Setup

NOTE: This article is about creating an inexpensive organizer once you have already mastered the basics of GTD. If you are new to GTD, we highly recommend the GTD System as the fastest, most inexpensive way to get started on the road to stress-free success:

Having a trusted reminder system is a critical success factor for GTD.   Given GTD is really an approach that is tool agnostic, nearly any tool will work as long as you have the right ingredients.

I laughed when I read a blog recently where someone tried swiping at GTD saying that “GTD is for techies only.”  David Allen’s roots in working this methodology, as well as my own, come from the paper planner world.  You can’t get much more low-tech than that.  In fact, some of the most elegant and accessible lists I’ve seen are paper ones.  Sure, there’s the rewrite factor of paper, but electronic list managers have the “over-featured” trap to watch out for. There are pros and cons to both.  I say, go with what works best for you.

Some of the most technically savvy people I know manage their lists on paper to shift their consciousness away from all of their electronic input.  It’s a fantastic pattern interrupt to switch over to a paper list when you stand in front of a fire hose of email and the Internet all day long. There’s also almost a zero learning curve with a paper system.  And, if you’re building it yourself from blank paper, you have a ton of flexibility on what it looks like.

So for any of you looking for a hard copy GTD system, with ingredients you can likely find around in your house or office, here’s what to do:

1.  Go to your graveyard of old 3-ring binders (every company has one!) and find one you like.
2.  Find some divider tabs (if you can’t find some, Post-it notes or flags will work to delineate each section.)
3.  Grab a stack of blank paper from your copier or supply closet and hole punch it into the binder.
4.  Download this free article on Setting up a Paper Organizer from the GTD store and assemble the sections.
5.  Populate the lists with your complete inventory.

If you can’t find all those supplies at hand, even buying them from your local stationary supply store would only run about $6.  Could you spend more than $6?  Sure.  You could really trick it out with a leather binder and high-quality paper.  If you’re choosing one of the many web-based electronic systems out there, you’ll want to make it accessible from anywhere–especially when you’re offline.  This kind of paper system would work well if you’re doing a hybrid of digital and paper.  For example, electronic lists could be your home-base, but you print key lists to a binder for easy access and portability.

Next time you walk into a meeting, notice how many people have a paper lists or printed calendar with them. It’s more common than you think. If it’s your style to do things on paper, do yourself a favor and create a great hard copy system.

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  1. I would consider myself a “techie” – I’m a web developer by trade.

    I’ve tinkered with many a technical solution for GTD from PDAs and Smartphones through to software and websites – I even started to build my own!

    But, I still keep coming back to paper. I find it’s quicker, simpler and I’m much more likely to use it.

  2. Just what I was looking for after reading the book Getting Things Done. Thanks for keeping it simple.

  3. I recently got an expensive gift – A pen. Iwas contemplating switching to paper based organizing when I read your post. Using pen and paper is fun especially after staring at my laptop for nine hours a stretch. Nice post. You caught the predicament most of us are in.


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