I was recently at a meeting where I was going over a project with a client / friend (that seems to happen to us, how about you?) and at one point she opened up her Outlook on the projector to try and find an email from someone. Sort, scan, scroll and a few minutes later, no trace of the email (which was sent only a few days ago). As I was waiting my eyes drifted down to the lower left corner of her screen and went bug eyed. The number of emails in her inbox? Over 10 000.

It wasn’t the number that was all that strange to me (since I usually send over 15 000 emails every year), it was that they were in her inbox. It was a prescient moment given that after a few months of discussing the idea with Steve, that week I had started reading  Getting Things Done by David Allen.

Some people will joke with me about (depending if you want to be nice or not) my ability to multitask on many things at once, or my Attention Deficit Disorder. All kidding aside, while I may jump from thought to thought to thought, I have always prided myself on my ability to keep a lot of information well organized and easy to find. I rarely have an “uh-oh I completely forgot about that” moment.

In reading through the book and wrapping my head around the theories of GTD, it was clear that it wasn’t something that was foreign to me. I already had a series of systems in place that were pretty robust and that keep me on track.

  • I have a 10 inbox / 10 drafts email rule (inbox = still to be done but not a high priority / drafts = get these done as quickly as possible). I make sure to file away all emails so that by the end of the day I am never over 10 emails in either box;
  • I don’t move anything out of my inbox until I know that it has been dealt with, scheduled or has no action item;
  • Any appointment, event, birthday or anniversary is in my calendar with reminders so that I am always pinged about the items at least one day in advance;
  • I make sure to transcribe all notes from all meetings and either drop them in Basecamp or file them somewhere relevant if they are just for me;
  • I take a few hours every Sunday night to think about and organize myself for the coming week;
  • And in fact because of the GTD theory I have now gotten rid of my notebook full of lists, and moved to a fully digital task manager, OmniFocus.

But if you look at the list above, you’ll notice that everything I’m describing is digital organization. It’s all about email, calendar reminders and notes. So, you may ask, what about my non-digital efforts.

That’s where the problem is.

My desk at the office? Full of papers that I should have looked at or filed a few weeks ago. There are trinkets everywhere. There is a “junkyard” of broken equipment that needs to be either fixed, thrown out or recycled sitting behind my desk.

My home? I have a room full of boxes that need to be unpacked from my move 6 months ago. I have boxes full of documents that need to be organized. On my cell phone I have 5 messages that I haven’t listened to from over a week ago. There may also be a container with some unidentifiable foodstuff sitting in the back of my fridge.

While it’s working well and I would suggest exploring the GTD system for anyone, sounds like I have a 10 000 email problem outside of that MacBook Pro.

I guess it’s time to start to applying GTD to my real world.

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