Tools for Thought

Thinking beyond productivity

Distribute Your Productivity System

by Andre · 1 Comment

Distribution StationProductivity is more than a productivity system. No matter how much you externalize your thinking, your mind still has to take responsibility for managing that thinking. Calendars and list managers are simply storage media for relieving the overhead of remembering what you have to do, making it easier to make strategic choices about which action to take next.

Avoid a single point of failure

In a recent post on the official GTD forum of the David Allen Company, a member lost “everything” when she lost her planner.

After months & months of intense researching & shopping for a planner; spending tons of money on planners, binders & pages, that are now in the drawer, I had finally found the planner that worked best & was everything that I wanted & needed… & now its gone!
All of my notes, both personal & business related appointments, goals, mind maps, ToDos and Projects,…. gone.

At the risk of Monday morning quarterbacking, the main problem I see isn’t the loss of her planner (tragic though it is), but in centralizing every aspect of her personal information management.

About six weeks ago, I lost my Filofax, which I was still using as my main task manager before going back to a digital organizer. I found it three days later, but initially, within minutes of realizing it was lost, I assumed I would never see it again. 45 minutes later, I was back in business with a reconstructed system, possible because:

  • As soon as I realized what happened, pulled out my notetaker wallet (as seen in my post, Eight Capture Tools for Maintaining a Clear Head), sat down and spent the next 10 minutes doing an extensive mind sweep, collecting everything that now had my heightened attention. While this certainly didn’t capture task or appointment I had lost, it mitigated my anxiousness about missing something critical
  • Immediately afterward, I hopped on over to OfficeMax and grabbed the cheapest day planner I could find (I wasn’t about to spend another $60 on a Filofax), and repopulated my lists and appointments to the best of my memory
  • I opened my Palm Desktop and looked for any information that might still be relevant, especially in the Project list, Someday/Maybe list, memos, and far-off calendar entries. Fortunately, I had switched to a paper system only a couple of months before, so even though the action lists were completely out of date, the other items mentioned had a slower turnover
  • My general reference and tickler files, naturally, were unaffected by the loss of my original planner. I only carry action support material with me on an as-needed basis, so things like written project plans and hand-drawn mind maps were nowhere to be lost

Getting everything out of your head doesn’t mean putting everything into one place. My Filofax only held four things: action lists (including Projects and Someday/Maybe), calendar items, non-archival memos and non-archival checklists. “Non-archival” refers to information meant for short-term use. Anything I wanted to keep I either file if it was on paper, or enter into a Palm memo if it was electronic.

A more agile system

Up until the 1950s, scientists and engineers exhausted billions of brain cells trying to figure out how to design a rocket that would fly to the moon. Then they caught on to the idea of using different modules: one component for getting off the earth, one for orbiting, and one for landing on the moon. Simply your task management by switching from a just-in-case mindset of hoarding information to a just-in-time mindset of filtering for relevance.

In most cases, it’s not necessary to carry around an entire task management system. If you’re away from home and work, for instance, all you really need is a single sheet of paper that holds your @Errands and @Anywhere lists (some people combine these into one list), using the opposite side for capturing new information. The “Hipster PDA” approach — a deck of index cards of next actions, held together with a binder clip — is another popular solution. Losing any of these is annoying, but not catastrophic.

(Photo credit: itchys)

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Tags: GTD · Productivity


  • JohnNo Gravatar // Oct 6, 2008 at 10:59 am

    Avoiding a single point of failure is a common practice in tech, but this is the first time I’ve seen it applied to the analog practice of keeping a dayplanner. Good point to consider. Likewise, I keep my stream of thought distributed between a notepad, post its, journal, and ultimately, an online task management system. The cool thing about having it online is that the data is available wherever you are at.