Getting Organized

Why Have Organization When Anarchy Will Do?

Multiple stacks of paper cover the desktop, the filing cabinet, and the floor. Yellow post-it notes adorn the monitor, the phone, the bookshelf, and just about everything else.  The “IN” box is overflowing. Unopened mail is strewn about.  The seat of the chair has become the Priority In-box.

This is what my work area looked like just a few months ago. Are you in the same boat?  You could just declare it to be a National Disaster Area or actually do something about it.

Most people would have thought that I was well-organized with my Outlook software, my netbook computer, and my Droid smart phone.  I had read and tried to follow Steven Covey’s ideas set forth in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I even used software designed to implement the principles.

The problem was that the software just didn’t work seamlessly enough. I seemed to be floundering. I needed to find a better way.

Getting Things Done

I purchased a book by David Allen called Getting Things Done – Stress-Free Productivity. You can get it at your bookstore or from Amazon:

This started me on the right track to becoming more organized, getting control of my environment, and gaining some peace of mind.

This was not an easy journey. It was not a quick fix solution. It took a couple of “painful” weeks to put everything in order.  After that, you must keep going so that your new way becomes habit.

The key to this system is organizing all your “stuff” (a technical term) into a number of lists that are managed by a system that you can have confidence in and rely upon.  The system can be paper-based, computer-based, or some combination of the two. It’s up to you.

In my case, using computer technology was the best fit.  I was already using Microsoft Outlook to manage my e-mail and calendar. While tasks could be kept in Outlook, there was a problem synchronizing it with my Droid.  The best software solution in my case was the web-based “Remember the Milk” product which synchronizes with the Droid and Google.  Working with this software will be the topic of my next article.

GTD in Action

A basic concept of Getting Things Done (GTD) is that all new material is placed in one of several “In-boxes.”  At a minimum you will have one for e-mail, one for paper, and another for day-to-day issues such as phone messages and tasks to perform.  The goal is to empty all of the boxes regularly.  A rule of thumb is if it takes 2 minutes or less to handle something, do it immediately.  Otherwise, place it in an appropriate list to be reviewed and handled later. 

Large or complicated issues become a list of their own that includes the steps required to complete them.  The key concept here is to elevate one or more of the steps to a Next Action item.  As you complete each step, another is elevated to Next Action. In this way, you systematically make progress until you complete the project.

Once you have confidence in your task management system, your mind can be freed from carrying around and worrying about all of the issues on your plate.  With this new freedom you can actually start to relax and be free to pursue other interests.

For more information on GTD, you can visit the David Allen Company web site at:



It has been a few months since I started on the GTD journey.  It is indeed a journey and not a destination.  I continue to evaluate and improve my goal of getting more organized and removing stress from my life.  I recommend that you give this a try and see what happens.  The next article will cover how Remember the Milk works for me.

Disclaimer: I do not receive any compensation from products mentioned in this article.

About Dick Buchanan

I started working with computers some 25 years ago when my wife, Carol, and I purchased our first PC which was a Kaypro IV CP/M machine. This lead to studying computer science at Seattle Pacific University and becoming a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE). During this time I have worked for The Boeing Company, IBM Global Services, and Microsoft. I currently own and operate a local computing services company called Byte Savvy located in Kalispell, MT
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