My GTD implementation and work area tour

Time to finish up my opening series of GTD posts with a description of my workflow — and a tour of my work area to boot!

Work area 2.1

I have an Ikea Jerker desk, obtained frugally from Craigslist. The two swinging shelves are mounted on the outer left side of the desk and hold shared office supply items (Steve’s desk is to the left of my desk).

My desk and work area

Going clockwise from left:

  • Process the cat. My inbox is a cheap rolling file cart configured to be a printer stand instead. (The bottom shelf holds various flavors of printer paper, manila folders, and clear plastic binder sleeves.) Sometimes the cat ends up in my inbox, and I have to process her by petting her.
  • My trusty Circa/Rolla planner is pretty much always right there on my desk — unless I take it out with me.
  • My bulletin board mostly holds pictures that make me smile, but is a nice place for pinning up coupons. I tend to forget about coupons that are stuck away in a file folder.
  • A Levenger Circa punch is conveniently reachable on the top shelf of my desk. Other things on my top shelf: Various issues of Photoshop and Layers magazines, DOM Scripting, cell phone manual, retired Moleskine, reference binders, sketchbook, envelopes and notecards, and four-shelf paper trays with lined paper, scratch paper, empty clear plastic document sleeves, and postal scale, external hard drive (tucked just out of sight next to paper trays), and scanner (stored vertically).
  • My laptop (Dell Inspiron 6000) on the Laptop Elevator.
  • The Ikea Jerker desk comes with CD racks that can hang onto the desk (currently empty, acting as headset hangers) and a larger file rack. Plastic document sleeves hold project files. My file rack currently holds various plastic document sleeves that hold current project support files. I usually have a sleeve for each paid project for the project proposal, schedule, notes from phone conversations, CDs, and any other physical materials that the client has provided. These sleeves are awesome for carrying around with me. Also, because I’m a visual person, I’ll sometimes line up the ones I’m working on neatly on my desk so I can remember what I’m trying to get done.
  • Fezzik is our biggest stuffed monkey, and offered to pose for the picture. (He has also been useful in the past as a CPR practice dummy.)

My work area part 2

The above photo is pretty basic, and shows how the filing cabinet is conveniently right behind me, so I can quickly spin around and file something or pick something up from the printer. My in-laws gave me the sea otter calendar for Christmas.

GTD Workflow 1.0 and daily routines

On typical mornings, I’ll wake up, make Steve’s lunch and send him off, and then start my morning routine, which generally happens in two stages. The stage that happens first depends on how light it is outside.

  • If the alarm went off at 4 am:
    • Read email and blogs
    • Write blog entry
    • [Then continue with 6 am plan…]
  • If the alarm went off at 6 am:
    • Exercise (currently running 15-30 minutes every other day depending on how my knee feels)
    • Empty dishwasher
    • Eat breakfast
    • Take vitamin
    • Check what I’m making for dinner, pull out things to defrost if necessary
    • Shower
    • Brush teeth
    • Get dressed
    • Devotional time
    • [Then do first two points of 4 am plan…]

Now I’m ready to start my workday.

I open the filing cabinet and pull out the tickler folder for the day, dump anything inside onto my inbox, and put the folder to the back of the line. The inbox may already have mail or other various items from the previous day. I also set up a tickler tab in Remember the Milk for digital-related stuff, so I check that, too. (I revised my daily planner sheet to include a “tickler” bubble so I remember to do both of the above.)

Processing physical stuff usually goes pretty quickly — most things can get filed into my filing cabinet or otherwise dealt with, and finance-related things all go into the next Wednesday or Saturday tickler folder. Wednesdays and Saturdays are when I process budget-related things.

A “brief” intermission to talk about project management…

Let me break away from my routines to talk about how I manage my projects. At this point, I have four things for keeping track of projects:

The Project Detail Form acts as my “brainstorming holder” where I can brainstorm ideas in the grid area and brainstorm possible next actions in the action area. In the diagram below, you can see the various possible-next-actions listed on the left. I usually create a Compact Project Task Card for each project as well, noting the project number on the title bar of the task card. Then I write down the next few tasks that I know I need to do. I usually will mark the project detail form item(s) with a dot so that I know those are the things I’m working on next.

My GTD workflow using project forms

Now that I’m also using Remember the Milk, I’ll enter the very next action I need to take into RTM (in this case, “Make favor prototype”).

At this point, I have “make favor prototype” in three places — the Project Detail form, the task card, and RTM. This does seem like overkill; for now, though, they serve different purposes and are working for me.

  • The Project Detail form, again, is where I’m initially “brainstorming” everything. I will usually check this page during the weekly review and check things off if necessary. While I’ll sometimes refer to this page to determine my next action, sometimes I come up with next actions that aren’t on this page. It’s more of a capture tool than a true to-do list.
  • The Compact Project Task Card, while originally designed to be a limited to-do list and visual prioritizing tool, currently acts more as a visual prioritizing tool and not so much as a to-do list. Again, I may or may not check things off on the card as I do them (I used to, but now I use RTM for that), although I generally will during the weekly review. During my weekly review, I’ll pull out ALL my compact project task cards and sort through them to determine their priority. Having the next and next-next actions on the card is useful to remind me what kinds of things I need to get done, which is why I’ve continued to jot the next couple actions down on the card. Some projects will be put on-hold for the week, and go into a different section of my planner. The projects that are active get layered into my organizer so that I can easily look at them during the week and keep my priorities straight.
  • Remember the Milk is my real to-do list. It holds only my next actions for each project and tracks my waiting-for items as well.

Some of my projects are small, and don’t require their own Project Detail Form. In this case, I’ll pull out a Compact Project Task Card and use that to brainstorm the to-do’s. I use a lettering system to mark the small projects and a numbering system to mark the bigger projects. In the diagram below, “Baby Shower” (#5) has its own Project Detail Form, but “Post recipes and photos” (C) only warrants a Compact Project Task Card.
My GTD workflow using project forms

The Project List also is part of the weekly review. If I haven’t done so, I’ll check off completed projects. I have three different project lists — personal projects (yellow), freelance projects (pink), and PixelMill projects (blue). They are color coded and match the colors I use for the Compact Project Task Cards.

One aspect of my system that is still in process is the use of my daily planner sheet.

Before, I would write out all the things I wanted to get done and then plan them into my day, with hour or two-hour blocks for each major task. GTD, however, says that this isn’t ideal because our lives are too unpredictable — “things come up.” I think the GTD mindset (as I interpreted it from reading the book) is about being open to necessary interruptions while still being able to “get things done” by looking at your next actions list and fitting those in as you have the time and energy.

I think necessary interruptions occur frequently for me, but after a few days of leaving this part of my daily page blank and trying to work only from RTM next-action lists, I’m finding that I need the daily focus of writing down at least what I would like to accomplish that day. So, I’m going back to writing down three or four of the bigger tasks (after checking RTM) as well as any scheduled meetings/events onto my daily planner sheet. Some days I use the timeboxing schedule, others I don’t. But overall I’m trying to be a little more flexible and cull out some of the easy next-actions in RTM as I have a few minutes here and there.

This intermission got really long and complicated. Here is a summary:

  • Project List form – Used to provide overall project tracking — what Allen would call “open loops.”
  • Project Detail form – Used for brainstorming specific bigger projects as a capture tool.
  • Compact Project Task card – Used for week-level planning and prioritizing.
  • Daily Planner Sheet – Used for day-level planning.
  • Remember the Milk – Used to track only “next actions”.

Back to my daily routine…

Okay — so after checking my tickler folder/tab and processing my physical inbox, I go back to RTM and scan my tasks. Sometimes I have tasks that have a due-date on them, or I’ve prioritized them so that they show up at the top of the list. I pick out 3-5 tasks that I hope to accomplish today and write them onto my daily planner sheet.

Then I get started!

As I cross things off on my daily planner sheet, I also check them off in Remember the Milk. Anytime I check something off in RTM, I immediately create a new task for the next action (if necessary, referencing my Project Detail Form or Project Task Card) — or, if I’m waiting for someone, immediately enter another task into my “waiting for” list.

When I finish a task and have 10 or 15 minutes before a scheduled event, I’ll usually try to get something else done from my RTM next-action list that is small and easy… make a phone call, do some quick research, clean something in the house, etc. Otherwise I’ll move on to my next major task.

At the end of the workday, I rejoice over my completed tasks, shrug at the incomplete tasks, and finish filling out my bubbles. I make sure I don’t have any early-morning meetings. Then I practice harp and go make dinner.

My evening routine (which is not quite “habit” yet):

  • Do dishes and “shine sink” (a la Flylady)
  • Pick up around the house for 5 or 10 minutes
  • Put ice packs and bottled water in the freezer for Steve’s lunch
  • Pick out what to wear the next day


I think that was maybe two or three posts in one, but thanks for reading this far.

Update: Oops! I completely forgot to mention that I use Outlook for managing email. I have lots of subfolders set up for my various projects, and funnel my personal email into one inbox and work email into two others. I’ve been able to keep all inboxes processed and empty so far. ๐Ÿ™‚

Also … apparently I’ve been added to the Killer GTD Meme list (thanks, Jeroen!). I didn’t know it was going on, so my post doesn’t really follow the rules… and of course I should make the disclaimer that I’m only a week into GTD!

30 thoughts on “My GTD implementation and work area tour

  1. Corrie, I took the liberty of adding a link to your blog post to the list of contributions to my GTD meme (about “My Killer GTD Setup”). Even though you were not officially tagged by another blogger (yet), your post was discovered by one of the other participants, Jeroen Sangers. We both thought your article fits right into my GTD meme.
    In fact, I hadn’t heard about your blog before and I noticed you have other posts about GTD. I will definitely be back to read more.
    Keep up the good work!


  2. Hi gtdfrk – I just saw the link — thanks! I then had to add the disclaimer to the bottom of the post. ๐Ÿ™‚ Your site looks like a great resource as well so I’ve added it to my reader.

  3. Wow. Good luck! I have now been inspired to clean up my desk and start processing through my backlog. ๐Ÿ™‚ 5 minutes at a time is better than 0 right? ๐Ÿ˜€

  4. Great information here! I like your set up..particularly the daily routine. As someone who’s schedule changes every couple of months, I often find myself writing out something similar to what you have to help ingrain the habit and the new routines. However, yours looks much cooler!


  5. Hak – thanks for visiting and commenting! My schedule often revolves around my husband’s job, so I’m learning to be a bit more flexible (while still trying to hit all my “routine” things that I want to hit) as well.

  6. Whew! That was a whirlwind of compact organization, and absolute inspiration. I have to figure out my daily routine and get it down on paper. You have discovered great forms, put things together uniquely. Thanks

  7. Hi Lynn — I took a quick glimpse at your own journey into implementing GTD, and sounds like it is going great! Thanks for reading all the way through; I’m glad you found it encouraging!

  8. What a lovely set up. You have a gift for this kind of thing. I have been reading organizational books for years and years and am still struggling to find what works for me. You seem to have a very comprehensive and beautiful system. Thanks for the details.

  9. Hi Dal – Thanks for commenting! I hope you’ll find something that works for you — and have fun exploring the possibilities! I’ve found that’s it fun to keep tweaking the process; there is never going to be a “perfect” system that will work for me all the time for the rest of my life.

  10. I love your forms. I am just getting started with GTD and was thinking of reusing an old Franklin-Covey planner, but after reading about your system and few others, I am definitely getting a new Circa.

  11. Corrie,

    I’ve always been a fan of yours since first I saw one of your forms linked on Lifehacker. I’m finally at the stage in my life where the cost of not being organized is far, and painfully, outweighing the initial cost of getting organized. And, I have the discipline and drive to implement a rigorous and radically new system.

    In the past, I’d read your posts and think, “Wow! This is great!” but not do anything about it. I always thought to myself, “I’ll be sure to implement some of these…starting next week.” or “I’m too busy putting out fires right now. When things calm down I’ll rethink my system.”

    As I’m sure you know, that’s a great way to make sure something never gets done =).

    Now, I’m actually starting to implement some of the things you talk about and seeing the incredible gains in my productivity.

    And so, I just wanted to say, thank you. You’re an inspiration! =D.


  12. What a wonderful post!. I’m decided to start my own GTD System. I want to make a personal Day planner like the one that you are showing here. How did you make it? I’m thinking of doing it with Photoshop but maybe there is another way more simple.

    Thanks for your help!

    1. Hi, Alexis! I use Illustrator to make my forms. Photoshop would work fine if that’s what you’re used to, but Illustrator has nice ways to “duplicate” objects so that you only have to edit them once to change the copies — very useful when you have lots of rows of bubbles!

  13. Thanx – thanx – thanx.
    I’ve been trying thousands and thousands versions of managing my time and of getting things done with gtd… I’ve never read such short but detailled and understable “instruction”.
    I’ll try next week when I’m starting my new job..

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