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my odd paper system

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  • my odd paper system

    I have a paper based system that has been working very well for me for the last 6 months, so I thought I would share.

    I use 3x5 index cards. On the plain side of the card, I write the name of the project. ("Plan class party"). On the back, I list next actions. I always list at least one, more if I have the actions in my head. For example, I might list "1. Call: Mary for class list." My cards are divided by context, so I would just drop this card behind the "calls" index divider. When I'm done with the call, I list the another next action if I don't already have one. For example, if the next action is "errand: buy juice boxes.", I would just drop this in the errand section. This way, the next action is both connected to its project and sorted by context. I also have a section for projects that don't have a next action ("needs next action"). For example, if I obtain the class list and am not immediately sure what I need to do next, I would drop the card in this section and deal with it later.

    In addition, cards are color coded-- white is for child related projects, yellow is for work/business, etc. I can glance at my cards and get some sense of where I am spending my time. Also, I put a small post it flag on projects that are truly time sensitive or urgent. I limit the number of flags so I can't panic and start marking everything as urgent.

    I carry all of this around in a make-up case, since file boxes are bulky and tend to open easily. The make-up case looks pretty good, is soft, and has a durable zipper. I think an alternative for a man might be a camera case. I also have a section with a calendar (printed from the DIY planner) and addresses. I filter out address cards and keep the ones I use very rarely in a index card box along with extra cards, etc. The case has enough room for a pen and small calculator. It's an odd looking planner, but it works for me. Pulling out the cards and arranging by color gives me the big picture. I have a very short outline of the major areas of my life--each week I compare my active projects to this list and try to address areas I've been ignoring.

    Hope this helps! I shared this with a friend who found it useful, so maybe others will, also. I'd love to hear comments and suggestions.

  • #2
    neat - sounds a little like Hipster PDA + Kanban?

    Cool system! How do you handle next actions that aren't part of a project? I imagine they're simply blank on the "project" side.

    Here a few links you might find interesting:

    The Anxiety of Getting Things Done

    A modified GTD system

    Thinking and Paper


    • #3
      Everything is a project....

      Thanks for your reply...those links were interesting.

      In response to your question, I try to make every little task into a project by grouping tasks together on cards. (Anthony Robbins' RPM system addresses this a bit). For example, I called a neighbor to arrange a playdate for my son. Instead of just calling it a discrete task ("call Kathy re playdate"), I gave it a bit more thought and realized that I was really trying to make sure my son kept up with his school friends over the summer. So the project became "make sure V. sees school friends over the summer."

      One other issue that came up recently is what to do with projects that have multiple next actions (such as a "waiting for" and an "errand"). I addressed this by making multiple project cards and "linking" them by putting the same color paper clips on them. So, now all my project cards relating to my next book are scattered around but I can easily put them together if needed.

      Hope this is useful to someone. Figuring out how to implement GTD has really helped me-- I always thought it was useful in theory but could never find a way to roll with it.


      • #4
        This is intriguing...

        I had posted earlier about using "project pages" instead of a project list. Seems cool to be able to look at the stack from one side and see a bunch of projects, then look from the other side and see a bunch of next actions. I might give this a try. I love my Palm for managing my next actions and such, but when it comes to the projects themselves I tend to want to be able to spread them out where I can see everything. With software I always feel like I'm looking in through a keyhole.


        • #5
          I agree- projects and tasks need to stay together

          GTD does not work for me if the projects and tasks are not connected. I need to see the whole picture somehow. This really helps with creative thinking. If I see a task called "call Ed," it doesn't trigger any creative thought and it actually gives me a stressful, scattered feeling. If I see a task called "call ed" and flip the card to see the project ("market book"), then, in the back of my mind, I start working on how else I can accomplish this task. It is this casual thinking (as opposed to the sit down with my planner and brainstorm process) that often yields the best results for me.

          Obviously, everyone is different. However, I think that the people who are attracted to this type of system tend to have similar gifts (creativity, the desire to do a lot, high standards) and faults (hard time implementing dreams, tracking the mundane stuff). A system that operates at a low level (the task) and the higher level (the project) keeps the "dreamer" personality engaged but still manages to accomplish the little things that turn into real accomplishments.

          My two cents!


          • #6
            Depending on the project...

            I will usually phrase my actions so that they imply the project, especially if it is a project that I won't spin very often. I would put "Call Ed about marketing book" as opposed to just "Call Ed."

            I'm with you, though... I would like to see a tighter linkage between my project list and next actions. I have not decided yet how best to approach this.


            • #7
              I had a hard time coming up with a system that connects task and project. The other reason I wanted a strong connection -- other than just wanting the security of knowing it all fits-- is that I wanted to make sure that each project has a task associated with it. I really like the feel of index cards but my problem was the portability factor. I don't like binder clips and the ring binder I've found for index cards are cheap and bulky.

              I wonder how people who keep projects lists know that a project has a task associated with it?


              • #8
                I seem to track it okay...

                Originally posted by vglattn
                I wonder how people who keep projects lists know that a project has a task associated with it?
                I currently have 99 projects on my list, and I seem to be able to track whether or not each has a next action or not. Whenever I complete one action I try to take a moment to put the next one in, usually just recycling the Outlook record and changing the category for the new context if required.

                For the stuff that does fall between the cracks, that's where the weekly review comes in. By the time the review is done, every project does have a next action. I'm not sure, but I think that GTD sort of implies that the linkage between project lists and action lists should be loose so that you can address things by context, regardless of project association. That way things can move forward when the opportunity arises, as opposed to when you are actively working on a certain project. At least that's the way it's been working for me. I just love sitting down to my weekly review and seeing a project on my list that is either done or has moved significantly, even though I never consciously "worked" on it.
                Last edited by Vramin; 07-13-2006, 10:24 AM.


                • #9
                  Originally posted by vglattn
                  I wonder how people who keep projects lists know that a project has a task associated with it?
                  That's what the weekly review is for, to cross-reference Projects with Next Actions lists to ensure each Project has an NA.

                  Of course, whether we all do the weekly review regularly is another issue entirely....


                  • #10
                    Thanks for posting your system Vglattn. I've gone back and forth between different index card implementations and I was interested in your method.

                    There's a very old Davidco forum discussion that presents a system very similar to yours (though without the color coding):

                    I initially tried the method of one project per card, organized by context and next actions. I liked how the system automatically prompted me to think of a next action for each project. My main problem, however, was the limitation of one next action per project. I tried creating new cards for projects with multiple next actions, but since I wasn't using color coding, I found the system got a little messy. I imagine color coding would help with this. I also love your idea of writing the project on the back.

                    The method I eventually settled on was one next action per card, with the project listed on the side of the card. When I complete a task I date it and put the card in my inbox. Then during my processing I'm prompted to think of the next action connected with the project. Not quite as elegant as your system, but it works for me. I also am able to have next actions that aren't part of a project, such as responding to some random email I received. For me, I'd prefer not to have to make this part of a project ("stay on top of email" or "keep in touch with friends"). But that's just me.

                    I do like the idea of having projects listed on the back, however. That way one would have an immediate overview of all projects. I might have to reconsider...


                    • #11
                      wouldn't it be difficult to see next actions by context? for example i'm on the phone and i'd like to see all the calls that i could do... wouldn't that be difficult since NAs are attached to projects?


                      • #12
                        wouldn't it be difficult to see next actions by context? for example i'm on the phone and i'd like to see all the calls that i could do... wouldn't that be difficult since NAs are attached to projects?
                        This is a late reply but I found it an interesting system. The answer to this question is in the first post:

                        My cards are divided by context, so I would just drop this card behind the "calls" index divider.
                        So as I understand it, this is the essential part:
                        -every NA is one one card
                        -one one side of the card is the NA
                        -on the other side the project it belongs to (if any)
                        -the cards are sorted by project (and all NA's facing the same side ofcourse)

                        This might also be useful for the "NA-project link" discussion (if this system is not already discussed there).