Brandon's Notepad

September 28, 2011

Getting Things Done @Work (Part 2)

Filed under: GTD — Brandon @ 3:30 pm
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Home > My Research > Improvement > Getting Things Done > @Work (Part 2)


I began documenting my GTD implementation at work in July of 2009. In the last two years, several things have changed, so I figured it was time for an update.


The Fallout. Taking the plunge was a risk, so I talked GTD up as something that “just makes sense” (which it does, so I wasn’t lying). I admitted that I was experimenting and that I was going to do so 100% until I discovered that it “just doesn’t work after all” (which hasn’t happened yet). Many coworkers started to treat me like I had joined a religious cult or Amway. Nevertheless, I stuck with it and while no one really ever embraced it, I could tell that others were becoming more comfortable with me doing it. Win.

What Hasn’t Changed. The way my team worked as a whole did not change. We still have our group inboxes, both physical and e-mail, our standardized processing, and such. I’ve kept my clean-desk policy, though I’ve struggled to follow it from time-to-time, usually in the busy periods. I still have my tickler file, my general reference, and my gear. I’m still in “reduction” mode, leaving as few things (if any) in my e-mail inbox as possible. I love not having to worry about things that I know don’t exist anymore anyway. I still have my physical inbox, front-and-center between my monitors, and my coworkers have done a great job of respecting my preference over using my chair as “in”. I do still get “hot” items in my chair, and because these usually are truly urgent, I don’t complain too much anymore.

Outlook Tasks. I remember being so excited about using Outlook to record open loops and next steps. I could even access them from my company cell phone. This didn’t work well for several reasons, some technical and some behavioral. I may document the details at some point, but suffice it to say that I abandoned Outlook Tasks after two (maybe three) attempts.

The Book Of Record. My book of record has fallen into a serious state of disuse. This is due in part to a marked improvement in the quality of meeting agendas and followup minutes/notes within the department as a whole. Agendas are either printed or sent electronically by the person holding the meeting. Also, as my team has shifted from workflow improvement to a more operational capacity, notes are usually recorded in our ticket tracking system, not on paper. We also consolidated our project-work files into a shared directory, and now, when we meet, we often focus on how the docs should change and not on white-board sketches or strictly verbal presentations.

Contexts Revisited. The contexts I defined before were spot on; however, my job responsibilities changed a bit, so I ended up eliminating two of the four contexts. Specifically, the prep work for both the weekly planning meeting and the staff meeting shifted to someone else. That left @Desk and @Rounds. After a while, these folders became more trouble than they were worth, so I voluntarily dropped those as well, replacing them with three special context queues using letter trays.

Context Queues. As I mentioned in the post two years ago, the work my team performs is highly structured. We coordinate the changes made to our computer systems. Each change “effort” is represented by a ticket in our ticket-tracking tool and each has a folder to contain the paper byproducts of the process. These folders typically live in one of two file cabinets, depending on whether the effort is active (in deployment, testing, etc.) or closed (pass or fail). I determined that the folders on my desk at any point in time were in one of three queues: doing, waiting, or done. I found a set of three hanging-style letter trays that would easily accommodate the bulky folders. To make my coworkers (outside of my own team, of course) hesitant to take folders (which becomes a problem on occasion), I labeled them using Latin: Expedio, Exspecto, and Humo respectively. For my own edification, I thought it was appropriate to use first-person, present-tense, active-voice, indicative verbs. The first two are the etymological ancestors of “expedite” and “expect” in English, simple enough to recognize, but the third, “Humo”, is not so intuitive. This means “I bury”, which is what I do with folders for completed efforts – I bury them in the archive file cabinet.

New Challenges. Overall, I think GTD is a good fit for my personal work environment and has led to some gained efficiencies; however, I have noted a few issues.

First, a minor problem, reminders to do things would make their way into my tickler file; this is appropriate until I am out of the office unexpectedly, at which point the rest of the team now has to deal with my tickler file. One way to mitigate this was to add an electronic note to the ticket and then slip a printed copy of that into my tickler.

The second problem is much larger. My GTD implementation has developed a bit of a bad reputation. It has been called a “growth” (think: “tumor”) to our already-structured system. I suppose I did graft it into the process, so to speak. Efforts would travel through the normal work flow, but they entered some sort of “subsystem” when they hit my desk. We have discussed implementing a set of queues that would eliminate my three context queues without losing the benefits.

By policy, our e-mail is deleted after a specified retention period. Individual messages may be retained longer, but they must be tied to something to show their usefulness. I need to work on integrating some form of journaling into my inbox processing.


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