Wednesday, January 21, 2009

GTD Tickler File

What Is A Tickler File?

Welcome to Day 6 of the GTD Thirty Day Challenge where today we are going to talk about how to set up a GTD tickler file, or specifically, how I set up my tickler file.

From what I can tell, David Allen is a big believer in the 43 folders tickler file. If you haven't seen a David Allen gtd tickler file before, it is 12 folders for each month and 31 folders for each day. A tickler folder set up for each day. Right now it's January so I'd have my 31 folders behind January. As each day passes, I'd move the previous date behind February. Since today is the 21st for me. Folders for days 1-20 would now be behind the February tab.

Now, how do you use it?

Today, I had a bill I learned I had to pay on February 3. I don't want to forget it, so I would put it behind my February 3 tab. When that day rolls around, I check my tickler file and it prompts me to pay the bill.

Personally, I am not a big fan of the tickler file for three reasons. The first reason is that it's really hard to remember to check. You'll hear people ask "how can I remember to check my tickler file?" The second reason is that it is not very portable. It's a bulky way to remember things as a they come up. The third reason is each month that you move the tabs, you have to figure out what day items in that month go into and file them a second time.

The tickler file is essential to yours and my GTD set up, however, because you have to remember future items. If you have a lot of physical items then the tickler file is the way to go.

In my case, I don't have tons of physical items and so here is my solution to the above problems with a tickler file and how to implement GTD with it.

How I Set Up My Email Tickler File

First, I put a plastic folder in my briefcase called "Waiting For" that holds all of the stuff I might need to remember to check on a future date.

Next, I created a folder in my email account called "Yahoo Reminders". You'll see this folder if you look at the image of my email folder structure in How To Set Up Your GTD Email. I then set up a filter for all Yahoo Reminders to go into this specific folder and not in my inbox for processing.

Finally, I use my Yahoo! calendar, to enter any item I need to remember and make it an "all day event" with an email reminder scheduled to be sent to me 2 days prior to when I need to do it. As a back up, I also have it text to me as well.

So, let's take the above scenario again. I got a bill today that I need to remember on the 3rd of February.

I go to my Yahoo! calendar and enter an all day event "Pay important bill" with a reminder scheduled for two days prior. I then take the bill and put it in my "Waiting For" folder in my briefcase.

When February 1st rolls around, I get an email from Yahoo that tells me I have to pay the bill on the third. This email goes directly into my Yahoo! reminder folder. I also get a text message as a back up. I do both text and email because it's a good backup for when I don't have access to my Yahoo! Reminders folder from my Blackberry, I've got a text as well sitting right there. Each day, I review my reminders folder or my Blackberry for ticklered items.

This system works fantastic for me. It's extremely portable, it reminds me automatically and I don't have to rethink the items in my tickler when I move the tabs. If you are not using email reminders to help you remember stuff, you have no idea how this can effect your productivity. Even if you use 43 folders, I recommend email reminders 100% to be a part of your GTD system.

That is my version of how to set up a tickler file for maximum effectiveness.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

How To Use A GTD Ubiquitous Capture Tool

What I Use For My GTD Ubiquitous Capture Tool

Today's GTD challenge is about how to use a ubiquitous capture tool. Specifically a capture tool is used get things out of your head so you don't have to count on remembering them later. You can use a capture tool to keep notes in meetings, jot a quick note to remember something later or to brainstorm how to get a project done.

When looking at what kind of ubiquitous capture tool to use, I was looking for ease of use and portability. These are the items I chose.

Spiral Index Cards When setting up my capture tool, I scoured the office supply store looking for different types of potential options and after some trial and error settled on a set of spiral bound index cards that are perforated. Because they are perforated, I can write a note on them and tear them off and throw them in my inbox. Because they are spiral bound, they are always in one place. I keep one in my briefcase and one in my car.

Legal Pad For meetings and brainstorming I use a 8.5" by 11" yellow legal pad. These pages also perforated for easy tear off and tossing in my inbox. I keep the legal pad in my briefcase but don't use it as much as the index cards.

Voice Mail Box While I am driving, I will leave a quick message for myself to pick up later. For awhile, I opted for a digital voice recorder, but this was just one more thing that I needed to carry around and chose to eliminate. I also don't need to buy batteries for my voice mail and I cannot lose my voice mail box either so my messages are secure.

Blackberry I use my Blackberry Curve to text notes to myself for later processing. I do this when I don't want to carry my index cards. I also use Next Action software for the Blackberry and have put an inbox list there too for later processing.

How I Use The Capture Tool

The goal of the capture tool is help you get everything out of your head. As things come to me that I need to remember, I put it into either my index cards, legal pad, voice mail box or I text myself a message.

The best use of my index cards is to always have them handy when I empty my voice mail messages. Later, when I get to the office to complete my processing, I tear the index cards out, throw them in my inbox and put my unused index cards back in their spot and move on. I also use them when I am on the phone to take notes. I also use my index cards to take a quick note here or there that I need to remember. I typically write more than one item per card, although you could limit it to one per card. I make the habit of drawing a big line between items and crossing off items once they are processed. I make it a standard practice not to write on the back of the card for fear of overlooking a note.

Since I've gone to this format, I have seen a significant improvement in my ability to remember everything as I used to try and keep it in my head or write it on a napkin or a scrap piece of paper. Try and make it a practice to listen to your voice mail once, write down the notes immediately and then delete them right away. I use to use my voice mail as a reminder system, keeping messages saved as a reminder. If you have ever called someone only to hear that their voice mail is full, you know you've most likely run into someone who uses it that way.

I used to have that habit. It's an easy one to break and once you start downloading your voice mail once, it's great to hear "you have no messages at this time" when you check it. It's OK during the day to grab a message and leave it there, but make it a practice once or twice a day, get it to empty. You should treat your text messages the same way, get them to zero as well once or twice a day.

I tend not to use my legal pad as often. I mainly use it for brainstorming or for note taking. The important thing is to get your thoughts on paper. It's quick it's easy and very effective. But-tear those notes off and get them into your inbox.

When it comes to using my voice mail or sending myself a text, I do that when I don't feel like carrying my index cards around. It makes me more portable. I have an unlimited text plan and a "qwerty" style keyboard on my phone. It's quick and it's easy.

The great thing about the Blackberry is that it's really just a small computer and it's an excellent list maker, either in it's text and email features or by using a list software application like Next Action. I'd use it for everything except I can't download voice mail messages or take notes on the phone while I am using it. Those items go on the index cards. If I am not on the phone, I use the lists in my phone.

I've heard David Allen say that the most significant area that we can improve on is in ubiquitous capture to record the notes and thoughts somewhere we we will not forget them and that is absolutely true. Resolving to do it is an important skill to perfect in your GTD system.

So, that's how to use a ubiquitous capture tool or at least how I use it. Good luck with getting it all out of your head.

GTD Thirty Day Challenge Overview

Getting Things Done GTD Thirty Day Challenge

Here is the outline for the challenge. With this outline, you'll have a roadmap of the challenge and where it is headed. Over time, I'll complete the challenge. Be patient as this is just a hobby for me.

Intro: Welcome to the GTD Thirty Day Challenge

1. How to set up your inboxes
2. How to use a capture tool
3. How to set up your email
4. How to set up your trash
5. How to set up your calendar
6. How to set up a tickler file
7. How to set up your next action lists
8. How to set up your someday/maybe
9. How to set up you’re A-Z reference files
10. How to set your projects
11. How to set your project files
12. How to set up your waiting for
13. How to set up your next actions
14. How to get everything collected
15. How to handle your backlog
16. How to process your inbox to zero
17. How to use the two minute rule
18. How to get in to empty (the Holy Grail of GTD)
19. How to use a checklist
20. How to get it all out of your head
21. How to process your context lists
22. How to handle falling off the bandwagon
23. How to complete your weekly review
24. How to put it all together
25. Should I use paper or digital?
26. The higher altitudes
27. Keeping it all organized
28. What to do each day
29. Common GTD mistakes
30. How to become a black belt at GTD

Conclusion to the Thirty Day Challenge

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Making It All Work Review

I recently received an email about my thoughts on David Allen's new book, so here's my Making It All Work Review blog post.

Here's the email I received:

"I have set up an online task list using remember the and it seems to be pretty effective. I use it with my ipod touch which allows me to work offline as well.

Thanks again for your posts, I was wondering if you have read Allen's new book and if you had any comments on it?"


First off, thanks for the tip and the email Aaron. I did pick up Allen's book the day it came out and have read the book. I am big fan of his work and was eager for the new book to come out, got me a diet coke, sat down and read it immediately.

The first comment I have on the book is kind of picky, but I prefer the look and feel of the Penquin publishing paperback, so it just doesn't feel as good with a different publisher in hard back. On to more important

I think the purpose of his new book was to move beyond the current projects and runway actions that Getting Things Done focused on to the higher levels of areas of responsibility, one- to two-year goals, three to five year visions and your life's purpose. For the most part, the book addresses these levels.

One of the issues facing David Allen in this book is how do you top Getting Things Done. So for me, the expectations were high for this book and I'd have to say that it was less than I expected. It's kind of like when you go to a movie that everybody loves and builds up and when you finally see it, you're a little let down because you expected so much more.

I know that when I read Ready for Anything, I had a similar feeling. Although later after I had my system up and running I re-read it and got more value out of it the second time.

Getting Things Done, on the other hand, I've read over and over and over again. It's the greatest book every written on the subject. I've bought several copies and given them as gifts. I don't see myself getting the same utility out of the new book but I do plan on re-reading it again soon.

Personally, I think there still alot to be explored with GTD and for me, that's perfecting it. Because there is so much choice in how we do things, I think that is where the opportunity for improvement can be made. Choice by it's very nature causes inaction in my opinion. In addition, I still think that when we start everyday we have to rethink our actions again and again and that is always on our mind.

In my vision of perfection, I picture the head football coach on the sideline of a professional NFL game with his big laminated chart that tells him exactly what he needs to do in any given game situation. What play do I run on third down and 2? Do I go for it on 4th down on the 35 yd line or kick a field goal? These are the kinds of questions that come up in games each and every week.

Football coaches spend hours and hours pre-planning every game-time decision that needs to be made so they don't have to think during the game. Collectively, all coaches use the experience of all other coaches to determine the best decision before the game is even played. During the game, when faced with a situation, they look at their chart that tells them what to do. By streamlining their options, deciding ahead of time what they should do, they make fewer mistakes and perform at a high level.

As GTD'ers, that's the kind of thing I think we need to pursue. I've been spending my time breaking down everything I do into actionable steps that I've pre-thought ahead of time. Now, when I sit at my email, I've got a checklist that tells me each step I need to take and what order to take them. The benefit of doing this is that I don't have to think when I check my email. I just go throught the steps. Also, I know what the beginning and the end of checking email looks like. I also know when I am finished. Next, I can note my start time and my finish time and work to improve my time and efficiency. By repeating this with each component of my work and life, I can get all that overhead off of my mind as is intended and not be wondering what done looks like.

For me, that's the kind of book I am looking for and what I am focusing on here. If you are a David Allen fan though, you'll still like the book. So, that's my Making It All Work Review and if you do want to pick it up do so using my link up there at the top.

Monday, January 5, 2009

How To Set Up Your Calendar

Welcome back to day five of my Getting Things Done GTD Challenge Day 4: How To Set Up Your Calendar. When I was first getting started, the very next thing that I worked on after I learned how to set up my GTD email was learning how to setup my calendar.

Surprisingly, I never used a calendar prior to GTD. I really can't believe that I ever managed. While for the most part, I remembered most of the things that I had to do, there was the occasional slip up that did cause me problems, maybe I'd forget to pay a bill or worse, forget a business meeting. As I've gotten older and my business has gotten larger, I've now to the point where I have so much more than I can even begin to remember and my calendar is packed nearly everyday and it is extremely useful.

For setting up your calendar, there are two basic options. You can choose either a paper calendar or an online calendar. I'd consider Outlook more of a digital calendar because it's usually not connected to the internet unless you are on an exchange server. Personally, I suggest that you use an online calendar over paper for four reasons. Remember if you want paper printable calendar, you can still get one.

My four reasons are:

1. Recurring events
2. Reminders
3. Backup
4. The ability to sync to a blackberry or pda

Recurring Events

The first reason is that there are so many things that you need to remember from birthdays and anniversaries to bill payments and more that recur each and every month or from year to year. If you use an online calendar, you only have to remember to put it into your calendar once and then it's their every time it's supposed to be. I watched my wife copying over her paper calendar the other day because it was the end of the year when I wrote this and I thought, wow, there's a step I don't have to take. It's one less thing you've got to remember to do.


The second things about an electronic calendar is that you can set up your calendar online with a service like Yahoo! or Gmail and get a free calendar which will remind you of everything on your calendar via email or text message. I'll talk more about this when I talk about how to set up your tickler file. But for me, I can't tell you how valuable having a reminder system setup through your calendar can be. And to top it off, it's a free calendar too. You can't beat that.

Take today for example. I had a credit card bill that was due today. And, you know how the credit card companies do, if you don't pay your bill on or before that due date, everyone penalizes you even if you miss it by a minute. Two days ago, my calendar emailed me a reminder that it was due today and also text a message to my phone.


By keeping my calendar online, my calendar is backed up constantly. Because I sync my phone with Yahoo! calendar, if something happens to Yahoo! it's in my phone. And, if something happens to my phone, it's on Yahoo!. With a paper calendar, if you lose it, it's gone and you have to recreate it. Not so with an online calendar.

Synching with a Blackberry

I have a Blackberry which I can sync my calendar to. Now I have my calendar with me in my phone in a much more portable system. When I first started setting up my calendar, I would sync it with Outlook 2003 and print out my calendar onto paper. Nothing works as good as pen and paper, and it was great to have handy. I'd three-hole punch it and put it in a binder. If you are a paper person, this is the way to go because you can have the best of both worlds - paper and electronic. I eventually did away with the paper calendar once I trusted my system and it eliminated printing out my calendar every week and sticking it in a binder. The other reason was that I have so many events on a day that it really overwhelms a paper calendar.

How To Set Up Your Calendar

When I look at my calendar today, I think wow, it's packed with information. But it wasn't always that way. I started where you might and that is with a blank calendar. When you look at the blank calendar, you really don't see the power your calendar has until you have completed it fully.

To set up your calendar, go into the options and setup your preferences. If you use an online calendar, the most important thing you can do is configure your reminders. I personally like Yahoo! email reminder system because you can set two reminders. You can have it email you or text you (I do both). I also choose a standard two day reminder policy unless it requires something special that is my default setup. I also set my calendar to start on Monday's and also to email me a daily calendar each day that I can review. After that, I'd:

1. Enter your upcoming appointments, staff meetings and anything time specific on your radar. If you have kids in school, put those events in your calendar. Same with sports events, spouse commitments etc. Don't forget your GTD weekly review
2. Enter all birthday's, anniversaries and holiday's and make them recur each year. As a side tip, I put the year next to those so I know when someone was born or how many anniversaries they have had.
3. Start putting bill due dates in your calendar and make them recur each month.
4. Put day specific reminders in your calendar, or anything you need to remember on a certain day or anything else you need to reminded of or want to do on certain days.

A Day In My Calendar

I spent the day getting my inboxes to zero after the holiday here and here are some specific examples of how I used my calendar today.

The first thing I did was review my calendar. Someone had a birthday today so I called and let them know I remembered their birthday. I had a bill payment due today, so I made sure I had the funds to cover it.

As I was processing my email, I had a notice for several accounts that my statement was ready. I logged into those accounts, checked my statement, noted the date and amount due and updated the recurring event for that bill with the amount due and adjusted the due date as well for that date only. Some credit cards are sneaky, always moving the date around and this helps me keep from getting burned by that. In many cases, I schedule the payment at this time and then also put in the confirmation number of my payment right on the entry in my calendar. Next month, I already have the account in my calendar and I just adjust the amount and date when I get my statement. I then get a reminder that it is due a few days ahead of time and if I see a confirmation number I know that I've already paid it.

Next, I made a hotel reservation and put the confirmation number on the dates of my stay.

I needed to get something done for someone by a certain day. I didn't want to leave the email in my action folder, so I put the information on my calendar "Call so and so" on that day and moved my email over to my Waiting For folder.

I made an appointment that I had written down and put in my 'inbox'. I put that appointment and the time it was in the online calendar. I also listed the participants in the entry. The email was then filed in Waiting For. As is customary, I'll get an email a few days before the meeting.

Those are just some examples of how I used my online calendar today. Next to getting your email under control, getting your calendar in shape is the next best thing you can do to get a better GTD system running. I suggest you start small, enter the easy stuff like birthdays, anniversaries, holidays so you can start seeing stuff in your calendar. Next, as you get your bills, start putting those in as recurring events. Put the contact number in with the bill so you have the information at hand to contact them if you'd need to. Each month, go through this process with each item that comes through your inbox and ask:

"Is there anything that I need to remember here each month?"

You'll be amazed at the information that should go on your online calendar just like I was. Good luck setting up your calendar. If I can help in any way, let me know. It's best to put your questions in the commments and I can answer them right on the site.

Here's a video I did on GTD calendar setup: