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Personal & work systems-together or separate?

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  • Personal & work systems-together or separate?

    I have been trying to implement GTD for about a year, but my personal circumstances have changed several times. With each change, I have gotten a bit lost on how to organize myself. First I was a stay-at-home mom with a part-time job that I worked from home. I found it pretty easy to implement the system at that time. Then I started a full-time job where I had a computer at work for work stuff, and my home computer for personal stuff. I was trying to maintain 2 systems that didn't seem to fit together very well, so I was constantly frustrated. I eventually tried to merge my systems together through my work computer and Outlook (since I also had access to web outlook from home). Now that I have left that job, I am needing to start over.

    I am starting a new job soon where I believe I will have a laptop. I will be doing quite a bit of local travel (visiting clients around town), so I will not be sitting in an office all day. I will also be given a work PDA, but plan to keep my personal cell for personal and family use.

    So my question is:
    Do I use one organizing system or two (personal and professional)?
    Electronic or paper? Or a little of both?

    Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

  • #2
    First off, I believe there's no single right implementation that works for everybody. So, you'll have to try things out and see what works for you.

    I'd like to get a little more information about your situation before I suggest anything; recommendations based on minimal information are usually of little value.

    I'm a little confused about your previous situation. You mention "maintaining 2 systems," but that "they didn't fit together very well." The second phrase suggested that you tried to merge the two together. Did you try to keep the two separate? If so, how did that work?

    The question of electronic vs. paper is eternal, and isn't dependent on the tools you have. If you're a paper person, you could be surrounded with all sorts of electronic devices, and will still work best on paper. Which works better for you now?


    • #3
      more info

      Hi Brent,

      Thanks for your willingness to help out.

      At my old job I started out with trying to keep 2 systems:
      work appointments and next actions on my work computer in outlook, and personal appointments and next actions on my home computer. That didn't work since I started having conflicts between the two. I eventually tried to keep everything on Outlook through work, but that didn't work very well.

      If I am honest, I am more a paper person. I used a Franklin Covey paper planner for years with pretty decent success before I found GTD. I have been trying to convert myself to electronic because it SEEMS like it may be more efficient, or may be required for certain tasks in my job.

      In my new job I will have a laptop and PDA (I think). I realize that GTD recommends that each person figure out the system that works best for them. Unfortunately, I have gotten so frustrated trying to figure that out. In anticipation of my new job, I am trying to make the best decision for now so that I can get myself organized to start off on the right foot. As time progresses, I can obviously make changes as needed. Any ideas on the best place to start?


      • #4
        Originally posted by yogachic View Post
        a laptop and PDA
        This seems not well thought out.


        • #5
          Here's a recommendation

          Hi there. I have a few comments and a recommendation to consider--of course I can't say it will be perfect for you but it may well do what you want it to.

          I could imagine how having a personal and a work system separate (or even a hybrid) would be very difficult. If you had worked in the same factory for 20 years with the same exact schedule and never traveled for work, then you might be all set. For most of us, the borderline between the two would constantly be getting breached--I mean, basically you are designing an entire new system and have to do all the R&D yourself.

          I would, therefore, very highly recommend a single system. So, to help you figure out which:

          Are you required to use Outlook or something like it for work? If it is required, it is required just for meetings, or is it for all sorts of stuff (i.e. could you have a note to "check outlook" in a paper system and keep up with it)

          What specific areas in your systems here didn't work compared to your Covey planner? What were its failings?

          Remember, all you have to do is maintain 7 types of things and they are all lists or files:
          1) a list of Next Actions
          2) a list of Projects
          3) the support material for those Projects (files)
          4) a Calendar
          5) a list of stuff you're Waiting for
          6) Reference files
          7) a Someday/Maybe list

          You could buy a 50 cent notebook, tape a 1 dollar calendar's pages into it, get two cardboard boxes to serve as filing cabinets (one Reference, one Project support), then use the back half of the notebook for capture and scratch paper and the first half for your lists, and put in place a more functional system than 99% of the people you'll be working with.

          The difficulty you have is that you don't know exactly what your new job will provide for you. In fact, you may want to just have a stopgap version in place just to get you through the transition--when you are start work you can find out how required you'll be to use the laptop or PDA for planning.

          You can do this. It's only 7 things to maintain. I recommend you pick a system and think it through, and suggest paper low-tech because it's cheap and simple and will do the job for you.

          Best of luck! Hope this helps,


          • #6
            I would also recommend paper, especially at first. It's simple, it's cheap, and it completely avoids compatibility issues among your many electronic gadgets. It also gets you up and running quickly, with little or no learning curve. That's important: any functional system is better than no system at all.

            As you get comfortable in your new job, you may find that you need some electronic components -- your calendar, for instance. That's fine. Once your system is stable, you can revise it without bringing organizational trauma down on your head.

            (I'm in the process of rethinking my system myself. I'll post about it at some point, but for now the short version is that it's much easier to switch tools if the data contained in the tools is under control.)

            Good luck,



            • #7

              Thanks to those of you who have given feedback. Sometimes it just takes someone else's input to bring a little clarity .


              • #8
                If you're not up for a paper solution, or if you type faster than you write (like me) and hate recopying lists, you might try MyLifeOrganized.

                It's free for (I think) 30 days and the GTD template that's included is set up to deal with both work and home life so that you can view one or the other or both. I use MLO to manage my work life, a very busy home life (my husband is recovering from two operations for cancer, so lots of appointments and chores), and a PhD.

                It may not work for you (these things are really personal!) but I find the management of recurring home tasks much easier with it.


                • #9
                  I always found the fact your personal tasks and your work get dealt with with one system is a huge win with GTD, Covey or similar systems. But here I found an IMHO valid argument for the separation of personal and business.

                  It is an article I got via the free newsletter Early to Rise. I think this is also related to a problem two prolific authors blogged about lately.

                  Here's the article:

                  "ID Syndrome" - How to Quiet Your Needy Inner Voice

                  By Bob Cox

                  I need to e-mail my sister this video of dogs and cats playing. It is so cute, she will love it.

                  I need to check my favorite sports team website to see who has been traded and all the recent rumors surrounding our star pitcher.

                  I need to call Bill to set up our golf game for next week.

                  I need to add to my blog so my readers will be updated on my latest insights into Obama's campaign.

                  I need to go online and pick out a gift for Aunt Sarah's birthday.

                  I really need to think about where I'm going for lunch and what I'm going to eat.

                  Do any of the above sound familiar? Of course they do!

                  I call this "ID Syndrome" - the disease of Internal Distraction. And unless you learn how to defeat this affliction, you won't get anywhere at work or in life.

                  We all have personal thoughts like these while we are working. But there's a big difference between how high achievers deal with them and how people who never do better than the status quo deal with them. You see, high achievers recognize that these thoughts are WANTS - not NEEDS - that should be dealt with outside of the working day.

                  Here's a little example of just how problematic internal distractions can become...

                  Let's say you are working on a research project for your boss. While searching for the latest sales statistics, you come across an interesting quote that you "need" to send to your brother. And when e-mailing him the quote, you feel the "need" to tell him all about your barbecue last weekend. Once you send the e-mail, you get back to the research project. But, suddenly, the task that you've scheduled an hour for has turned into an hour and 15 minutes.

                  When this happens, it leaves you with one of two options for the rest of the tasks you've scheduled for the day.

                  Option A: You could reduce the time you've allocated for the next thing on your to-do list. (Which is all too easy to do if that task is not one of your favorites.)

                  Option B: You could stay an extra 15 minutes at the end of the day to complete your scheduled tasks.

                  These options might not sound too bad, but neither is desirable. Option A steals time from a task you have committed to and set aside time for. Option B reduces time with your family and friends - time that is important to maintain balance in your life. Plus, allowing 15 minutes to disrupt your day is one thing, but imagine what would happen if you went 15 minutes over on every task.

                  Internal distractions may seem innocuous. But they can completely derail your schedule and put you off track.

                  Fortunately, it's pretty simple to eliminate them and be more productive during every working hour.

                  What you have to do is regulate your internal distractions by training your subconscious mind to honor your commitments and stay on schedule.

                  Here's how:

                  1. Set aside time in your schedule that DOES NOT intrude upon the time you've allocated for specific work and goal-oriented tasks.

                  Use that time to do such things as searching for a new book to read, catching up on sports scores, or setting up a coffee date with your best friend. Consider using part of your lunch hour or a few minutes in the evening to take care of these personal tasks.

                  2. Train your subconscious mind that you have set aside specific times for your personal tasks - time that's separate from work.

                  This is key! Don't allow your personal activities to distract you from your other responsibilities.

                  3. When working on your personal tasks, do not let other work or goal-oriented tasks intrude.

                  Make sure you spend the time you've set aside for personal tasks ONLY on those tasks. In other words, compartmentalize your time. Set aside a specific time for each task and honor the time assigned.

                  When you're tackling a personal task that you've scheduled, don't let your mind wander. And when you're doing a work task or working toward one of your long-term goals, direct your subconscious mind to stay in the moment. Say to yourself, "Stop. I am not dealing with that now. I have scheduled X time to take care of it. Right now, I need to concentrate on the task at hand."

                  External distractions - a broken water pipe, a sick child, a construction site setting up outside your office - are often outside of your control. Internal distractions are of your own making and, therefore, within your control. Begin to use the techniques outlined above and you will see the difference.

                  Staying on schedule can feel restrictive, especially if you're not used to doing it. But it is the best way to stay productive and complete all the tasks on your to-do list.

                  You will find that when you use your time more productively, you'll have more focus, and you'll limit your level of anxiety.


                  • #10
                    This is a great discussion!

                    You mention that the main conflict you had centered on the calendar. What if you kept the calendar common between home and work, but kept the rest of your systems separate? Perhaps you could use an online calendar that you can access from both home and work?

                    You may have to use your Outlook work calendar as well, but I've found that maintaining two calendars (Outlook and an online calendar, for example) takes minimal extra time. It may be worth it for you.

                    I like paper, too, and since you say you like paper as well, I think it'd be a good fit for you. Electronic has other advantages, but if you like paper more, its advantages (and there are many) can outweigh those of electronic devices.


                    • #11
                      Sometimes you have to keep separate systems.

                      I would love to keep one single system that contains all of my personal and professional commitments, but despite much brainstorming and concept testing I've concluded that it's just not possible for me.

                      I use Outlook both at home and at the office, but I cannot synchronize my personal PDA to my Outlook account at work. I can access my Outlook account from any company issued or walkup computer within my office, but not from my home computer. There's simply no way for me to seamlessly synch the data between computers and my mobile device.

                      I have been able to successfully maintain two separate systems despite the overhead of having to do two separate (but smaller) weekly reviews. If you can avoid doing this, I would recommend doing so, but it is possible to make it work.

                      Originally posted by TesTeq View Post
                      If you are an employee you shouldn't implement your GTD system using your company's hardware/software because it will be immediately destroyed when they fire you.
                      Very good point. For this reason I only put information into my Outlook system at work that is solely related to my job and requires company resources to work on them. For example, at work, my @Computer list represents things that I can only do on a company workstation. My @Calls list only contains phone calls that I need to make that are related to my job and use a company phone. That way, if my job dies, my system at work can die peacefully with it and the rest of my personal system is intact.

                      If I think of something at work that belongs in my personal reminder system, I do not enter it into my work system. I will e-mail it to myself at home, record it in my personal Palm Notepad, or make a voice memo in my personal MP3 player. Later, when I'm processing my inboxes at home, I'll add these reminders into my system.

                      One thing I've been doing more recently is exporting a week's worth of data from my work calendar to a CSV file during my weekly review and e-mailing it to myself at home. I then import the data into Outlook at home and synch it up to my Palm. It works pretty well.


                      • #12
                        Whether to have one or two systems is always a hotly debated topic here on the forum. As others have already said it depends on a range of factors - your current situation, your budget, your personal style, tools available etc. However my observation is that people sometimes use these factors upfront to constrain their thinking to a point where they believe there are no or few options for their GTD system.

                        I want to offer an alternate view here that it has taken me a while to see. Forget all the constraints initially. Begin with the end in mind and simply think about why you're implementing GTD - what's the problem you're trying to fix or the outcome you desire? What's the purpose? Pre-GTD my problem was that I was reasonably in control within my work life but my personal life was a mess. The two were in conflict and there were few links between them. So I was looking to GTD to help me unite my worlds. The outcome I was seeking was a balanced life where all the commitments I made were being honoured. Once I had that vision it became crystal clear that I needed one GTD system to achieve my aim. I then, and only then, started to consider the constraints that I faced as I designed the system. Purpose versus design. I can switch today from an all electronic system to a mix of paper and electronic (as I am currently trialling) without a problem because my purpose is clear. I can always design a system to meet my needs. I then need to create the habit of using that system, which takes time. Now that's a whole other post......


                        • #13
                          I use my paper planner (simple half-sized, 3-ring binder notebook) for everything: personal, related to salaried work, and related to my independent/freelance work. Items related to salaried work are written in black ink; everything else is in purple (outside of salaried work, I have no need to separate "personal" and "professional"; I believe in a more fluid way of living and besides, I am the product/business - literally - for much of what I do). I use this convention for all aspects of my system: calendar, next action lists, reference notes, etc.

                          At the company for which I work, we are required to keep our Outlook calendars updated, so I make sure that I note meetings and other work-related appointments there in addition to noting them on my paper calendar. I have also set up personal Outlook folders in which to process and/or archive work-related e-mail, and I keep my company contacts in Outlook. Everything else related to my job - NA lists, notes, deadlines, project ideas, project notes, meeting checklists, etc. - are incorporated into my notebook. I also have a couple of reference sheets (i.e., staff phone list) in the notebook.

                          I like both Outlook and Access, and have created various e-checklists, NA lists, reminder systems, customized reference list, and other fancy applications for both programs for use at work. In general, however, I set these up just for fun and to keep my tech skills sharp. The paper system is what I actually use.