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GTD Refresh, Part 4: Getting Sorted

GTD Refresh, Part 4: Getting Sorted

File Folder

    Last week, I talked about finally getting my projects in order. Of course, that’s not a one-time thing, but I’m not quite ready to talk about the process of bringing new projects into my lists just yet, whether “on-the-fly” or as part of my weekly review.

    But getting a grip on my projects, both big (there’s a book proposal I want to write) and small (I need to find a decent dentist) is a two-step process. The first is what I described last week: identifying all my active projects and getting some next actions assigned to each of them. The other part of the process is setting myself up to actually do them.

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    In some cases, of course, I can just figure out what needs doing and go ahead and do it. But for the bigger projects, I need materials, and that means files.

    Maintaining files is a weak area for me, not because I, like any other full-blooded productivity geek, don’t have a healthy lustful appreciation of file folders and my standard-issue GTD label-maker, but because it’s the least interesting and fussiest part of doing anything. But I’m 1800 miles from home – if I am going to get anything done in this 5-week sojourn, I don’t have any room to forget anything crucial, or for being disorganized.

    I can’t think of anything less interesting than talking about putting paper in folders (except maybe actually putting paper in folders) and I’ve posted about filing before, so I won’t get into the mechanics of it all here, except to say that every project gets a folder (or sometimes a hard-bound notebook, if it will be unfolding over a long period of time) and every folder is neatly labeled. While a project is active, I’m careful to keep every scrap of paper related to it – I would rather have a little extra cleaning to do at a project’s close than find myself without something I didn’t know would be important down the line.

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    What I do want to talk about here is that perennial chestnut of personal productivity literature: paper vs. technology.

    Now, I’m a big old geek, no getting around that. I’m the kind of guy whose as likely to have his nose stuck in his Blackberry as not, who fantasizes about new home network configurations (I’ve got two old PCs under my kitchen table waiting to be repurposed…), and who travels with not one but two laptops. I love well-designed software that does a job beautifully, and love the searchability and security of keeping important information in electronic form, preferable backed up in multiple places.

    That said, I am as far from paperless as possible. My productivity system, indeed my office as a whole, is “paper-full”. For all the arguments against it – and believe me, the environmental impact alone pains me, though I try to use recycled paper whenever I can get it – I find paper is important. No paper, no productivity.

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    For one thing, I’m a writer. And while I am pretty comfortable letting words flow from my fingers through the keyboard to the screen, I can’t edit that way. I’m just not comfortable enough with the screen to read for any length of time at it, and especially not to do the kind of finicky re-thinking involved with a revision for publication.

    But that’s just for writing. My preference for paper goes way beyond just editing and revising. And here is where, I hope, it gets interesting for GTD’ers everywhere.

    There’s something very physical about GTD, or perhaps about working in general. Something about writing things down with pen or pencil on actual paper, about holding things in your hands, that acts as a trigger for action. Email, Evernote notes, tasks on online Todo lists – I find it all too easy to scroll through them, to glance at them and think “yes, that’s something that has to be done” and not actually do it.

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    But paper, something I hold in my hands, something I  physically manipulate… It’s as if physically interacting with my work in a material way triggers that animal part of me that feels the sun moving across the sky and knows that work must be done, and if not now, it will be too late.

    So while I use all manner of virtual technological tools to get things done, in the end most things funnel to a paper file – a nice, heavy file folder stuffed with papers. I buy decorative file folders for two reasons: a) they tend to be made of sturdier stock than plain folders, thus holding up to use better, and b) they are easily differentiated one from the other, making my work just that little bit easier to get to.

    When I’m ready to go to work, the folder comes out, the contents get scanned, and somehow, almost as if by magic, I get down to working. And things get done.

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    Last Updated on March 13, 2019

    How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

    How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

    Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

    You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

    Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

    1. Work on the small tasks.

    When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

    Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

    2. Take a break from your work desk.

    Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

    Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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    3. Upgrade yourself

    Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

    The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

    4. Talk to a friend.

    Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

    Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

    5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

    If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

    Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

    Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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    6. Paint a vision to work towards.

    If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

    Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

    Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

    7. Read a book (or blog).

    The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

    Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

    Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

    8. Have a quick nap.

    If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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    9. Remember why you are doing this.

    Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

    What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

    10. Find some competition.

    Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

    Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

    11. Go exercise.

    Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

    Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

    As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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    Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

    12. Take a good break.

    Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

    Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

    Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

    Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

    More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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