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Separate 'systems' for Personal and Work? feedback please!

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  • Separate 'systems' for Personal and Work? feedback please!

    I have been trying to incorporate GTD principles for several years. This all started for me with a great program on my PSION hand held computer called "mentor" ...thats another post). My system has evolved several times as the nature of my work and life changed. I am now at a key crossroads again and find myself in desperate need of some 3rd party suggestions. Thanks in advance for reading and responding to this thread!

    Current Situation:
    I am a technology architect and project manager responsible for multiple concurrent projects. The job has forced a move away from my Moleskine reporter system (contextual tabs) as a my central system for Next Actions and projects. This was out of perceived necessity of working in a strictly digital environment. I have been using a hybrid system of ToDoMatrix (blackberry & web based) for the last 2 years combined with Outlook, OneNote and 8x5 paper notebook for business meeting notes. I'm fairly consistent with the review process but can always improve. I'm forced to use Outlook for email/calendar and leverage OneNote connected with outlook to facilitate the processing of meeting notes and as a means of searching audio recordings of key meetings. This also serves as teh repository for my electronic reference materials. This system has evolved from an outlook task-only model to having all projects and to dos for my personal and business life in ToDoMatix. This gives me the portability I need as a consultant, father, husband, builder, technologist, directory...etc.. I'll ad that I have tried many of the GTD software tools out there as this is what I do. I have purchased and tried the GTD outlook plug-in, web and Palm based tools. Again, currently using a Blackberry as the core of my system with the Laptop software systems as reference, and email, calendar.

    My Quandary
    Simply put I'm having technology overload. The blackberry application is amazingly robust and is perfect for GTD but all the limitations of the blackberry apply (small keys, limited screen real estate and being constantly tied to something with a battery) The volume of emails and meeting notes to process into resultant Projects and Next actions is flat out overwhelming. I continue to strive to make my system work but am reaching a level of that either leaves to :

    1)Be bound to electronic/computer based system only (this would work for my business life but not for all other contexts/roles

    2)Keep a hybrid system for my contexts outside of work. This would be a return to a paper system with electronic reference materials as needed. This would separate my system into 2 distinct hybrid systems. One for work and one for all other aspects of my life. This is how i'm currently leaning but i know that this is against all best practices for GTD. I think the appeal here is to be able to disconnect from technology when I'm not on the job. I know this has been discussed before but paper lists can be relaxing and 'focusing' but lack the ability to jump up and slap you when needed. I'm ok handling those alerts with the hybrid system. Its the process of starting separate systems that has be apprehensive. .I just can't seem to pull this split approach together though and ..something has to give.

    I guess my question to the GTD family here is: Does anyone else maintain a separate book/list/system for business separate from the system they use for other aspects of their life? Maybe there are other suggestions or ideas out there and I am eager to consider what may be a 'better' approach.

    Thank you,
    Last edited by BlueSky94; 09-05-2008, 07:28 PM.

  • #2
    I'm in a vaguely similar situation. I work part-time as a PA, and also have a small business as a professional organiser, as well as a personal life (not much of one, admittedly ).

    I do actually keep two distinct systems, to my own surprise: I would always have said "No, one system is all you need", but this just evolved spontaneously. And it makes sense, for me: the in-the-office work can only be done there, and I have no desire to be thinking about it anywhere else. My own system goes with me wherever I am.

    And yes, my office system is electronic while my own system is paper - I prefer paper, and would have used it for the office system as well, but for the nature of the work there (lots of small tasks to be done, so the lists are long and can be sorted all sorts of ways).

    My personal system consists of a Levenger Circa notebook with the calendar pages and tabbed dividers. I love it to death, because it can be tinkered with and bits can be removed or added when necessary. And as you say, it never breaks down.

    For what it's worth, I think that where you keep your reference stuff shouldn't affect where you keep your system: so just having a lot of emails relating to your projects shouldn't force you to keep your system electronically. And I agree totally about wanting to have some 'downtime' from the computer: I sometimes feel as if I'm connected by an umbilical to the wretched thing.


    • #3
      I had miserable results with trying to maintain a dual system. I was using a Moleskine for non-office task management and a Palm Desktop/Eudora system for work. I started dreading, and eventually resisting, my weekly reviews, since I knew that I was going to have to look at both systems. The number of projects and actions were the same, but it felt like twice the work.

      The biggest problem I ran into was best expressed by Dean Acheson in a recent interview. Things are either on your mind or in your system. When you're at work, the things that aren't in your system will be the ones that will preoccupy you most, even though they're the least actionable in the moment.

      People don't stop thinking about their personal lives just because they're at work, and they don't stop thinking about their professional lives just because they're at home. The key to minimizing unproductive thinking about tasks that have to be done elsewhere is to have a total system that allows you to process that thinking and review the results of it immediately.

      As far as hybrid systems, I've always preferred paper for fast and fluid capture, and electronic PIMs for more structured processing and organizing what's been captured. That way I know that everything's been processed. I don't think it matters much whether either phase is paper or digital. What's important, at least for me, is that:
      • Wherever things are captured, they ultimately get corralled into one in-basket and one inbox, and get processed into one calendar and one list manager
      • The entire array of tasks and projects are accessible whenever any one of them requires thinking or reviewing, which may or may not be at the "right" time. If I think of a personal errand at work, I want to capture and process it immediately so that it doesn't consume further attention
      • The system is focused on process rather than content. An open loop is an open loop, and consumes mental RAM regardless of whether it's personal or professional
      It's entirely possible to make a split system work, but I believe that it requires more work than an integrated system.


      • #4
        Originally posted by BlueSky94 View Post
        I guess my question to the GTD family here is: Does anyone else maintain a separate book/list/system for business separate from the system they use for other aspects of their life? Maybe there are other suggestions or ideas out there and I am eager to consider what may be a 'better' approach.

        While one system seems to be the norm (see for a recent poll) about 20% of those polled keep separate systems.

        - Don


        • #5
          Until I started freelancing, I kept separate systems. Worked flawlessly for me. I had pretty separate home and work lives.


          • #6
            Please see my post titled Sometimes you have to keep separate systems.

            Since I wrote that post I have been trying to integrate my two separate Outlook-based systems into one by exporting data in Calendar and Tasks to CSV files on my work system at the end of each day, e-mailing the files home, and importing them into my home system when I process my personal e-mail.

            This practice saves me from having to re-enter data manually and it makes the weekly review go much faster since I only have one system to review.


            • #7
              In my opinion the best solution would be a single GTD system, but with the ability to separate and then hide/show work or personal items with a click.

              Not sure if exists though.


              • #8
                In my view, you have Projects at work, and others at home. You need to write them down somewhere. You could write them down on one list, or on two lists; each writing action will take the same amount of time. Same with your Next Actions and Someday/Maybe items.

                You'll then have to review those lists. But instead of reviewing one list in all contexts, you'll review one list in the work context, and another in the home context. That shouldn't take any more time than reviewing one big list--in fact, it should take less time, since there'll be fewer items on the list.

                You'll have two weekly reviews, but they'll each be on (roughly) half of your work.

                If a project crosses the boundary between home and work, such as a home project that requires a phone call from work, you can treat your other system like a separate person. Email yourself at work, and when you get to work, treat that phone call as a work Next Action.

                This seems like a perfectly reasonable way to organize your work; I don't see a place where serious inefficiencies can creep in. But maybe that's just me.