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Ground Zero

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  • Ground Zero

    -Insert long story here and go on to- My life is somewhere between completely empty and overwhelming full. Empty because I currently have no job and very few responsibilities of any kind, overwhelmingly full because I want to start a business and there are many projects in my life I want to begin.
    Iíve thrashed through the business concept and couldnít understand while intellectually I knew all sorts of things about how to do what I want to do trying to actually do it has left me frustrated and feeling very disappointed in myself because it just doesnít happen. After reading through Getting Things done I realized I simply do not have the organizational skills associated with as David Allen puts it ďknowledge work.Ē Iíve held grunt work jobs which were no brainers and Iíve held jobs where massive amounts of info were coming at me constantly and literally hundreds of deadlines had to be met each day. But Iíve never had to accomplish any tasks, other than for personal enjoyment, which did not have artificially imposed deadlines or which took weeks let alone months and that didnít involve someone staring at me desperately waiting for me to finish or where things wouldnít go to hell in a handbasket if it wasnít finished immediately. This starting of a business is a strange massive undertaking involving half a dozen projects

    Reading this book was easy, actually comprehending at least a little bit has taken me days for the tiniest bit of light to wiggle through to my brain. I began the collection process figuring it would take days more so with emptying the majority of things out of my head than with the few bits of Stuff on paper. I now need to process these hundreds and hundreds of things and where Iím starting from is-
    No general reference files
    No Ďlifeí files of tidy bills, financials, warranty cards, all those things adults are Suppose to have organized.
    Nothing. Basically. Iím at ground zero.

    My head is horribly muddled because of this. Whatís funny though is that Iím somewhere between exhausted and depressed at the sheer quantity and what it means about my past and near future in trying to get it under control and supreme relaxation at finally having everything in my life that will require effort out of my head and in one place where I can point and say Itís in there, I know it is because I didnít leave a pebble unkicked let alone a stone unturned.

    Trying to put my questions in some sensible orderÖ.

    Do I just shove those things aside and implement a GTD plan for creating a GTD plan? As I type it I know that sounds ridiculous but should I whip out my new handy dandy manila folders and create some projects for doing this like Thoroughly Organized Personal Records, Home & Future Thriving Business and then subprojects for those? Because right now I have no where and no idea about what to do with any of the stuff after I process it, I mean even a paid bill has no home right now. Or Do I process everything with the laid out Ė what is it, is it actionable, no? trash, someday/maybe/reference yes? Do it, delegate it, defer it. And simply put everything into bins labeled that, ďsomeday/maybeĒ ďreferenceĒ ďdelegatedĒ ďDeferredĒ and then put the whole bins back into the ďinboxĒ and reprocess it to some extent in a new filing/organizational system? It sounds labour intensive but right now I donít even know what I need, and I donít think Iíll know what I need til I go through everything that first time.

    Another problem I have is right now I honestly donít have any reference material that I know of, acquiring the reference material is a project in itself.Do I just write whatever piece of reference material it is that Iím missing on a sheet of paper and treat it as a placeholder for that piece of reference material? Or do I write it on a sheet of paper and put it in with actionable materials til it materializes and I can THEN put it into the reference section?

    Or am I just thinking too much and should I just DO something? Iím afraid at this point though that I flat out donít have the knowledge and understanding of how to do this by jumping in blindly as thatís what Iíve tried to do for the last few months and have gained absolutely nothing by it except some unpleasant knowledge about myself.

    I appreciate the time anyone takes to respond to this

  • #2
    Start small. Of the huge mass of stuff that you have to deal with, what is the most important to get under control?

    For a lot of people, the answer would be bills. If they don't get paid, people turn your lights off, take your car, kick you out of your apartment and other nasty things. So start with the bills. Paid bills are reference material. I create a hanging folder for each year, with a manila folder for each account. Some people like accordian files, some people like check files. Pick whatever you like.

    Unpaid bills are action items. You can pay them now, in which case you write the check and throw the receipt into the appropriate reference file. Or you can defer them until later, in which case you might want to use a tickler file (described in the GTD book) or something similar to keep them safe and remind you to pay them. (Most of us can't delegate bill paying, so I'm skipping that option.) Any questions associated with the bills, like verifying charges, can either be done immediately or become Next Actions.

    There. Done with bills. That didn't hurt too much, did it? Now pick the next most important thing and tackle that. The idea is to build up your GTD system in the most important areas first, while at the same time actually Getting Things Done rather than drowning in a mass of paper.

    Once you get through the known critical stuff and are working through the stack in general, you could either do it by topic (personal records, household projects, business plans, etc.), by urgency (TODAY!, this week, this month), or a combination of both. In your place, I would probably follow your idea of creating bins for someday, reference, deferred, etc. and then going through each bin separately. (And yes, going through the bins counts as a project.) For answers to the "where does all this stuff go?" question, you might try a book called "Organizing from the inside out," by Julia Morgenstern. Her approach is based on figuring out how your brain works and building a system that works for you rather than having One True Filing System.

    For reference material, anything that you need and don't have becomes an action item. Anything that you don't have and don't need can either be safely ignored or thrown into a someday/maybe list. "When I win the lottery I'll spend a thousand dollars on books..." The reference file is only for things that actually exist. You don't want placeholders because you should only need to look in the reference file when you're chasing a specific bit of information.

    Hope this helps.

    Good luck!



    • #3
      Something else that might help AND will greatly leverage your use of time is to bring a professional organizer on board maybe--what?--once a week or so until you feel you are up to speed.

      Said organizer should be familiar with GTD, of course! But many of us are.

      To find an organizer, go to and follow the directions. (This assumes, of course, that you're in the U.S. Procedures differ for other countries.)

      Enjoy Getting Things Done/Organized!



      • #4
        back and registered this time rather than a nameless guest.
        Katherine- thank you for your post that let me see that itís possible to break things down into smaller pieces and that everything doesnít need to be and canít be done instantly.
        After rereading it a few times and reviewing what I did tonight and what I want this is what I came up with. And oh yeah, am I ever glad I did put ďactionable reference materialĒ into the actionable stack. Am I ever glad I did after reading your reply and thinking about it more, something to keep in mind for the days to come.

        CKH- Iíd love to hire a personal organizer but moneyís a nasty issue for me right now. I am existing, I am ok, I WILL make my business work and I will do everything I can to avoid the nasty trap of not properly funding a business from the beginning but I have far more time than money right now so I get to learn this strange new organizing skill on my own. Actually, I get to learn with the help of written materials, patient people and some trial and error.

        I donít have hard deadlines for anything in my life right now except to get my teeth cleaned next week. Pretty weird life.
        I processed, in the loosest sense of the word, tonight. Everything went into a reference stack, someday/maybe/ or actionable stack. Each item got flagged with a little post it note with what area of my life it pertained to. Actionable items got the area flagging and an action, though some of the actions are pretty weak- ďlabel file folder xyz and place withinĒ oh the beginnings of this are not pretty but at least I got an idea of whatís there and an inkling of where to next.

        I flagged with the area of my life it pertains to home, personal, or business because right now I have no sense of balance or priority. My intuition just isnít existent at this point. If I donít create artificial boundaries I donít see myself implementing the system very well and acting on all areas of my life. It is frustrating to think that eventually Iíll probably want to combine all 3 areas but I figure better something thatís kludgy but works rather than something that looks beautiful but I screw up. If anyone has any good opposing view points on this Iíd be willing and happy to hear them though because like Iíve said, Iím at a loss.

        So Now Iím at 3 stacks, maybe/someday, reference & actionable. I think I need to go and reprocess those into the 3 main areas of my life- home, personal, business with the reference, someday/maybe and actionable categories and then oh joy of joys, I can start processing all over again out of those 9 stacks.

        I have the sinking suspicion that as Iím doing that Iím going to end up with a whole lot more ďplaceholdersĒ of actions I need to take, including acquiring/creating reference material, in each of those categories, but at least when Iím done and start all over with processing my inbox itíll have a place to goÖ

        Iím also planning to do everything on paper at this point because the physical nature of it is far more of a goad than a little file hiding on my computer or palm. I know that stacks of paper shouldnít act as the reminders butÖ I donít see any other way of this working for me right now, and again I hate the idea of changing over to an electronic system at some point but the it works versus I donít see it working for me thing is making paper seem the better option for now.


        • #5
          Erin- I understand your frustration. I share some of them

          Just 2 things that ive noticed:

          1. GTD is just a system to get things done. its not a cure all for everything in life and for the deeper things meditation and other more involved methods would help.

          2. what worked for me is just to do some simple actions. like katherine said bills. collect bills and write all the actions down and just DO them. the momentum and self confidence by GTD will spill over into other fields

          Good Luck !


          • #6
            delphil- I know it's not a cure all but it's hard to do anything when you don't even know what you want to do let alone the steps to take to do it.
            It's an ugly headspace to be in.
            I woke up and knew what I needed to do today and know what I can.
            Went for a walk, came home, knew there was no reason I couldn't take the time for yoga. My mind is happier. My body is happier.

            again, I appreciate the time everyone's taken to help me with this. Somewhere in my head there was a voice saying no one else has ever made such a mess of time, paper, and projects how can this possibly get straightened out, it can't get straightened out. Now the voice is down to just asking What next in straightening this out. thank you everyone.


            • #7
              i found the book The pathfinder very helpful. wonder if you will like it


              • #8
                Erin, I sent you a personal message earlier this morning. Please let me know whether it arrived.



                • #9
                  Hi Erin.

                  So Now Iím at 3 stacks, maybe/someday, reference & actionable. I think I need to go and reprocess those into the 3 main areas of my life- home, personal, business with the reference, someday/maybe and actionable categories and then oh joy of joys, I can start processing all over again out of those 9 stacks.
                  You're in luck, GTD is NOT about sorting 9 stacks into another 9 stacks to just sort them into another 9 stacks!

                  Reference means you know for sure that you do NOT have to take any action. So don't take any action about it. Eventually you will file the reference stuff...someday.

                  Someday/maybe means you are pretty sure you do NOT have to take any action NOW. Take a quick look through that pile. If you might have to take action in the next two weeks, move the item to your Inbox. Set aside the rest of the Someday/maybe pile. You will get back to it someday... maybe. (If you're worried you'll forget to file the reference stuff... then add "File reference stuff" to your Someday/maybe list.)

                  Now you have only one pile you have to deal with. You have an Inbox and you want to get it down to zero.

                  Home, personal, business does NOT matter! The questions that DO matter are...

                  What would this look like if it was 100% handled?

                  If that's all I had to do, what would be my very next physical action?

                  Can I handle this right now in under two minutes? If so, do it! After an hour you'll have completed 30 items!

                  Can I delegate this?

                  Can I put this off until later? (If so - into the Tickler - or on the Calendar if it has to happen at a particular time.)

                  Do I need something else to happen before I can do this? If so, it's a Project. Make a Project list and add this item.

                  Now you have a Next Action to put into your Next Actions list.

                  Do I need to be in a particular Context - running errands, or online for example? If so put it on the NA list for that Context.

                  David Allen has a great comment about big-picture planning. He says the view from 50,000' is great but if you don't have any confidence you can get off the runway, then don't worry about the 50,000' view. Get your day to day life under control, then your mind will be free to explore the higher elevations.

                  I suggest - Print out the list of questions - keep it in front of you - make a schedule to process your In-box two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening... or whatever works for you.