In my last post I talked about organizing my office and touched a little on working with people. No great secrets there. In this post I am focusing on the GTD tasks I have put in to place that have helped me. Secondly, I want to identify a couple of behavior changes that have made a difference.

As I completed the office reorganization and structured files I spent the requisite time to “put things away.” But since this was a reorganization it involved more than just putting things away. It allowed me to focus on where to put things. For example I have a drawer titled “personnel” for those types of issues. A second drawer is titles “classes” and another “publication” and another “projects”. The classes drawer is a history of my classes along with the paperwork I really do need to keep. I can go into those files quickly and identify what I need. I do have to walk over to those file, but I don’t use them much. The projects file is to the right and slightly behind my desk. I merely spin around and open the drawer. Everything is organized A to Z. I’m still working on how to label individual files, but I’m getting better about that. The personnel file is a little inconvenient to get to. it is again to my right and in front of me, but is partially blocked by my computer desk. That was done deliberately since I don’t get into them often and don’t want to make it easy for others. So far this arrangement seems to be working well.

On top of my lower lateral files I have several notebooks. They contain notes from (1) academic meetings and (2) current courses I’m teaching. between the two lateral file cabinets is my HP 4600 color printer. It is as close to me as it can get. Underneath it on a printer stand I purchased almost 20 years ago (and fits perfectly These are just a arm’s reach away. To the right is my telephone and it is the most inconvenient location I think I could find, but it was also about the only place I had left. I don’t spend much time on the telephone, but when I do I take notes. I keep a 4“ x 6” spiral notebook by the telephone that I record all of my call on so I can follow-up on them.

On my computer desk I have a dual screen (20 inch and 17 inch) with e-mail on the right hand screen and my work on the left larger screen. To the right of the monitors I have a magazine file that contains the campus telephone book, undergraduate and graduate catalogs, and the current schedule of classes. These are essential items that I use all of the time. To the left of my desk is an office chair (padded) that a visitor can sit in and visit with me. I use this when we have “work” to do that involves creating or signing forms, scheduling classes, reviewing class work or theses, or resolving an immediate problem. Probably 70 percent of my visitors sit in that chair.

Organizing my work

The above section continued to discuss my office set-up I still need to figure make sure that I record what needs to be done. My focus is on next actions (see Mark Taw, 43 Folders, DIY Planner). I focus my energies on writing everything down that needs to be done and then determining what is the “next action”. I use Omni Outliner Pro with the KGTD shell. Omni is currently creating Omni Focus which will replace KGTD. I look forward to it. I make sure that I enter data into my KGTD file daily and sometimes right as the task is being identified. Since I can create next actions on the fly by simply indenting on the task. The advantage of inputting directly into KGTD is that I don’t have to come back and enter it on Friday afternoon when I’m anxious to leave the office.

When I take the time to write things down I also take time to think about them. Later I can reflect even more. It is the mere act of writing it down that causes me to give it more thought. If the task has a suspense date on it I decide what date I must begin working on it or what date it is due from someone else and create a task in iCal. I have just started using zoodo and have great hopes for it. I really don’t like Apple’s “to do” interface.

I previously shared that I’m a list person and don’t do things off the cuff really well. I can sit and stare at my desk for hours, but put a to-do list in front of me and I can literally fly. My to-do list gets accomplished two to three times a week. I print out a copy of my KGTD list and then focus on the next tasks, telephone calls (from my list by the phone), look my in-box of hot items that have popped up, and look at my current to-do list with all of the additional notes I’ve added. It takes maybe 20 minutes to create a new to-do list. I print it on a Franklin-Covey half sheet of technical design. This has a date, but is jsut single lines and I have set up my Pages template to print perfectly on the page. Hot items have a yellow background. Other items have a white background. If I want to highlight something I use another color, but I have learned that more than 2 colors makes the page too confusing. I also set
major heading. These can change from list to list but normally focus on project. I include a telephone list also and have a telephone icon to remind me. I don’t really like telephones so I have to focus my time. Once I’m on the phone I’m ready to spend as much time as necessary to clean up all my calls. It’s just tough getting my index finger to punch the button the first time each day. This process has worked for 2 years quite effectively for me.

The most important change for me this year is to start and end each day with a focus session. I only need 10 minutes in the morning (or less if I’m pressed for time) to review the previous evenings focus session and get ready for the day. The evening focus session usually begins around 4 pm (the office closes at 4:30 pm) and I work until I have enough off my desk that I can come in the next day without feeling overwhelmed. On average it takes about 45 to 60 minutes. If I have a night class (once a week) then I will spend 75 to 90 minutes. This has almost alleviated all of my midnight to 5 am projects and taken considerable stress off of me.

Finally, this whole process is allowing me to focus more of my energies on people. Getting up from my desk and walking over to the couch allows me to let people know they are important. More importantly, it gets me away from my desk where I am easily distracted. If I stay at my desk I swing my cursor up to the corner to turn on the screen saver and take my eyes off of it and take my existing work, organize it and put it to the right side of my desk.

Does it work? Well so far so good. Of course I’m in Cyprus writing this so maybe it won’t in the long run, but I have told my wife I can see the difference in my effectiveness, in my attitude, and in my productivity.

In part 3 I will discuss some of the processes of creating priorities for involvement.

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One of the issues that constantly frustrates me is the amount of work that appears in my office, via email, memos, voice mails, telephone calls, notes and tasks from meetings, needs of other people, or work that I generate. It seems at times as if I have too many masters and I feel the slave to all of them. At the end of the spring term I told my Dean that I had spent the last two years knee-jerking responses for the campus administration and it was at the expense of what I was paid to do (I realize that may be a perspective of only one person). While I appreciated the administration’s need to deal with some difficult issues, I was beginning to see the work we had spent years building beginning to slip. We were so busy responding to external requests and demands for information that we weren’t taking care of our primary business. I resolved at that point to make significant changes in my commitment levels and work habits. I have toyed with David Allen’s “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” for a couple of years now. I have read various blogs including 43 folders, hawk wings, and kinkless along with many others. I probably have 50 plus articles I have copied and organized over that period. Some are good, most all are instructive, and many are repetitive. They all get down to personal commitment. I was ready and anxious for a change.

My personal perspective is that I’m pretty well organized, but I do know that I work best from a to-do list and not off-the cuff. I keep note-cards in a special holder so I can write quick notes and to-dos. I keep a moderate in-box and I try to use the 2-minute rule effectively. However as the semester wears on I usually fall behind on my commitment to staying well organized. I have always used the excuse, “I’m too busy, I haven’t got time.” I knew that excuse would no longer work.

So during the course of the summer I spent time evaluating my commitments and realized I really did have too many masters. I was spreading myself too thin and trying to do to many things for too many people. As result of my evaluation I began to do several things and the first and most important was to get organized. I had purchased new furniture for my office to replace the 25-year old couch and chairs (I visit with a lot of prospective students and parents and need a comfortable place to meet) with newer and larger furniture. The two chairs and couch took up 30 percent more space than the old ones did. By early August I knew I had to bite the bullet. It wasn’t just that I needed more space for the furniture, but I needed more organization. I started by setting a goal of consolidating 11 file drawers into 4 drawers. That involved throwing away 30 years of combined materials I have toted around from job to job. I ended up with 3.5 partially full drawers. I removed the old vertical files cabinets and replaced them with two 2-drawer and one 4-drawer lateral file cabinets which fit across the back of my office and under my window. Next I needed to attack the books. I had 5 book cases crammed with books, plus another 4 at home. This was painful, as an academic I love my books – even if I haven’t opened them up in 20 years. I eliminated one floor to ceiling bookcase and over 100 books. Once I got started throwing away the books was not uncomfortable at all. My faculty were happy with the new finds I provided them and what was left went to the library book sale.

I had an old wooden executive desk pushed up against the back of the office (looking out the window at the trash cans of the student union). It was no more than a large open filing space with drawers that contained little of value. I gave it to the associate dean and kept only my computer desk. I had two small rolling file holders and one of them I retained for my “right now” projects the second is still empty and may go home (but where would I put it?). And I took one of my now empty file drawers and turned that into my “projects” file. In addition, by removing the desk and the vertical file cabinets for lateral file cabinets the files were now just a turn around away from my desk, rather than a walk across the room.

All this gave me about 30 percent more space and I used that to open up the visiting space. I purposely focused on minimizing and increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of the workspace to create a people-space. On a good day I probably have 20-30 interruptions by faculty, students, and staff. On a bad day it might be double that. I need an area where I can encourage people to sit and visit. If I don’t have time to sit and visit I stand up and don’t offer a seat, or there is a chair next to my desk where they can sit, but it’s not as comfortable as the couch. When we need to get something done the wint-o-greens come out and we sit on the new furniture. I find these very productive moments. Between the couch and my workspace (the filing cabinets, server, and storage space) I have a portable divider (screen) that works great for creating space and hiding what I consider clutter.

As a side note, in an academic culture where the closed door seems to becoming more and more common mine rarely gets closed. If a faculty member comes in and closes it I usually open it right back up indicating unless it is a personal issue or a need-to-know issue the door can stay open. I know that violates lots of GTD principles, but one of my primary expectations is to be available and I will do that. I have learned how to focus on single tasks and set them aside when interrupted and return to them with limited rethink time.

I have the office organized, but I still need to get myself organized. That will be part 2.

By the way, I’m just beginning to try out the focused 50 and I accomplished this with 4 minutes to spare.

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