Ways to organize your workspace

This week, in our ongoing series giving you a look inside other people’s GTD setups, Andy Reed sent along some photos for our GTD Times readers.

On his desk, Andy uses Inbox, Pending and Read/Review trays.

He also uses a Tickler File system for hard copy items, and OmniFocus on the Mac for action list management.

To learn more about how David Allen has his space setup, grab the free article Organizing your Workspace. If you have GTD photos you’d like to share, please send them along to us at [email protected]

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  1. Jay, I think that’s probably a normal sized file holder next to one of those lovely big 24″ iMacs.

    I must say, in my experience, extra screen real estate definitely corresponds to increased productivity. I achieve this with a flatscreen plugged into my MacBook (which sits on a little stand to raise it up to be about the same height).

  2. I share Dinah’s thinking on the use of a second display screen. I got one about a year ago, and now It’s hard to imagine not having it. (MAC makes it easy to set up).

  3. This looks similar to my setup … I even have the same brand of mounted sorter (the black mesh one). Except my sorter is labeled: “In”, “Hold” (essentially the same as pending), and “Out”. And I don’t have a physical tickler file. I also use OmniFocus; in my case it is configured with three windows stretched across two 20″ and 23″ Apple displays; these windows show: next action by context, next action by due date, and a master view of all tasks for quick editing.

  4. Michael – I am looking for this type of wall mounted mesh letter trays. Do you remember the name of the place you got your from or even the manufacturers name?


  5. One more note: Turning second screen in Portrait mode is very very useful (I use a 24″ Pivot in Portrait position); you can see much more /long pages /long task lists /long emails with less scrolling /email preview at bottom etc.

    Sometimes I turn to Landscape when need to work on 2 full pages of a A4 document /horizontal worksheet /edit a landscape photo.

  6. I once used two 18 inch screens on my PC, and it really increased my productivity in a significant way : it’s easy to work on a document while keeping an eye on email/task lists, and when preparing a slideshow for budget or planning sessions, having the spreadsheet on one side and Powerpoint on the other makes things really much easier, not only from a pure practical viewpoint, but also to keep a high level overview of what one is preparing. Highly recommended when possible.

  7. Does anyone have any recommendations on what to do with business cards that lie all over the place? A simple system?

  8. Regarding Business Cards – I use Outlook and put them all in there via a scanner application. Then I throw the little buggers away. Keeps you uncluttered and the information is all in one place.

  9. I like the idea of scanning them if it shows the handwritten notes. Sometimes seeing the physical card (or image of it) brings back the connection in my mind. For those with a physical Rolodex, there is a hole puncher specifically for business cards, and cards with clear sleeves so you can read the business cards.

  10. Using a tickler file confuses me and I haven’t been able to bring myself to commit to it. With the “tickler” project separated from the other project files, it makes me queasy that I won’t know where it is when I need it or that something will change that changes the “tickler” date and it won’t get caught.

    Wouldn’t marking on the calendar do the same thing?

  11. Hey Judith –

    caught sight of your comment in the “recent comments” column — I’m happy to throw in a response!

    I would say, yes, there is a great similarity between a tickler file and marking something on the calendar. The difference–and the value of the tickler FILE–is that with the tickler file, the exact thing you need to act on is kept at hand in the file.

    For instance: a bill that needs to be paid on a specific date. A mark on the calender can remind you that the bill needs to be paid. But if the bill itself is in the tickler file for that date, you don’t have to hunt around for it after looking at the calendar.

    Tickler items can be anything where there is a physical object associated with an action (as long as it fits in the file, that is) which is not needed elsewhere before the action is required. So for instance, if the bill in my example–let’s now say it is a detailed telephone bill–is also needed for the preparation of a report on how many minutes were spent on the phone to a particular number, yes, there’s a conflict of needs and the tickler file alone is not sufficient.

    And of course, you can create physical proxies for other actions. Continuing my example, a photocopy of the bill could be placed in the tickler file, or in the project file for the report. I’m about to create an object to live nearly-permanently in my “November” folder: it will be a slip of paper with this written on it: “Shop for holiday gifts, don’t be late again!” Every year when November rolls around, I’ll have a reminder that I must get on the ball for my shopping!

    Perhaps that’s an approach for your concern about a date that shifts: a proxy for the object is in the tickler, while the original lives somewhere else. Another response to your concern is to point out that if you know that what you are looking for is in the tickler file, there are only 43 folders (at most) to look through to find it.

    Much like D.A. says about the weekly review of Next Action lists, the tickler file works best (only?!) if you stay current with it. You have to trust that anything you put in the file will be presented to you at exactly the right moment–for instance, because you check the tickler file every morning for the current day. You have to put things in the proper place in the tickler, and trust your system to bring those things to your attention when they’re needed–and no later.

    I hope that helps!

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