The Burger King® method* of Getting Things (Really) Done

moleskine pda supplies I spent yesterday getting coached into organization by one phenomenal couple of personal productivity experts.

It was everything I'd hoped for. And nothing I expected. (Or, shall I say, feared.)

What I feared, and you can see this coming, if you've thought it through, is that I didn't clean up enough for the cleaning lady. Or balance my checkbook properly for the bookkeeper. Or any other of a number of analogies that basically boil down to Oh, god...please don't let my complete inability to do things the Right Way reveal the Hopeless Failure of a Human Being that I truly am.

I was expecting a protracted walk-through of my lame computer file structure, my equally lame physical files, my overflowing in-basket, my scores of lists and calendars and other Helpful Toolsâ„¢ creating redundancy and general chaos. Instead, we started with a surprisingly quotidian question:

"What's a typical 'Colleen' day?"

And so I spun it out for them: the getting-up and getting tea. The booting-up-of-computer and making-of-bed. That first, fantastic blast of email & Twitter goodness: all the missives and blog comments and howdy-dos from my friends, real and virtual, that have popped up between bedtime and now, thanks to auto-mailers and insomniacs and my location on the West Coast. Eggs and coffee. And then...well, then a day that could be anything. All writing or a mix of writing and talking and design. A lot of, as I told everyone I met at SXSW, farting around on the Internet. A 2.3-mile walk around the Silver Lake reservoir at some point. Consistent inconsistency, from somewhere around 7am to somewhere around 10pm, seven days a week, 350-odd days a year.

They listened and smiled and nodded. Non-judgmentally. With genuine courtesy and curiosity.

Emboldened, I mentioned the soundtrack of "shoulds" that accompanied my tasks like a non-stop iTunes playlist. I should be doing something else. I should be doing this better. I should do this now, but let me deal with it later.

After taking in the entire sweep of me and my neuroses, we got to work. Which, as it turned out, meant getting all my stuff in front of me, where I could see it in one place. And learning a few simple ways to process new stuff so that as it came in, I could put it in a place where I could find it later.

Amazingly, there was no talk of best practices or Holy Grails or Right Ways of Doing Things. There was just me, and my process, and some gentle guidance towards self-discovery of the best way to support it.

On my own, I realized I was carrying around a paper calendar because I thought I should, because I had seen someone else's paper calendar working for him. Like gangbusters. So I had tried several times to implement this paper calendar system: to map out my day to the 10-minute pod the night or the week before, and sit down each morning and follow it word for word.

It worked, a couple of times. And it felt great, having a whole day full of getting all these things done.

It also felt like a nun standing over my shoulder, guilting me into being a good girl. Or a noose around my neck, loosely tied, perhaps, and pretty...the Hermes scarf of nooses. But a noose, still.

I do not do well, you see, with being told what to do: I do well with suggestions, and the breezier, the better. I like the feeling, illusion or not, that I'm choosing my actions moment to moment.

No doubt this tendency to suspect the walls are always closing in is why marriage felt more like a straight jacket than a security blanket. I remember distinctly proposing to my then-husband that we privately and quietly divorce, but continue to maintain the outside appearance of being married. That way, we'd catch no flak from pesky outsiders, and we would have a profound and glorious shared secret: we would be choosing to stay together every single day; we would co-create our relationship as we went along.

No wonder that scheduling thing didn't work out too well. Or the marriage, for that matter.

At some point toward the end of our day together, Jason and Jodi explained the faulty reasoning behind so many well-intentioned attempts to get organized: if I perform these this binder...sort according to this system, I will be free.

Instead, the way to look at it is more like this:

I am free.

I can employ my freedom in service of my unique goals and gifts. By getting very clear on what those goals are, whether by assiduous self-observation or third-party assessment or giving myself the space to let them bubble to the surface, or any combination. By any means that works for me.

I can also employ my freedom to unearth my natural working style. And then, again, to find the services and methods and structure to support it.

Like anything else, it takes a little more work and finesse to find your own way in the world. It's like the difference between couture and off-the-rack. Or styling things from the ground up vs. Garanimals. It takes a little work to find the unique sculpture locked in every slab of marble. But it's there. And, to paraphrase old Martha Graham in her famous confab with old Agnes de Mille, if you don't find it, you will seriously harsh on the planet's mellow.

I wish, oh, how I wish, that there was one answer in one book, and that all I had to do was find that book. Instead, the maps to your map are in the books. Look at that person's journey, and see what you can find in her struggles or his mishaps or their lightbulb moments that makes you tingly. The truth comes at us sideways, usually, and when we least expect it. Our job, I increasingly believe, is to prime ourselves for reception...and reflection...and synthesis.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with getting yourself a nice, new Moleskine notebook or a sexy MP3 recorder, if they'll make the journey sweeter. I'm down with the gadgetry.

But for me, for now, the road to enlightenment is paved with some calendars output from iCal shoved into a plain, old artist's sketchbook with a Uniball Micro shoved down the spiral.

Wave as you pass by on your way...

xxx c

*For those of you who have never subjected yourself to the media matrix, "Have It Your Wayâ„¢" is the trademarked tagline of the Burger King corporation, and a cornerstone of their operations, marketing and positioning. Because, as anyone who's ever tried to order a Filet-O-Fishâ„¢ with extra® tartar© sauce and No Cheeseâ„¢ has discovered, having it your way is not the way of certain other major quick-service establishments.

Image by walker clevelands via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

There's also a wealth of wonderful shots (for inspirational/idea-unsticking purposes) with the simple Flickr search of "moleskine" in the attribution/non-commercial/as-is section of Creative Commons licensing; one favorite is this one by Mike Rohde, which has a staggering comments section., GTD!

I confess: my passion for giving unsolicited advice is almost as great as my passion for making lists. So when Neil Kramer, a.k.a. Citizen of the Month, a.k.a. Blogebrity's newest word pimp, posted this semi-solicitous comment on a semi-recent post about the power of making lists, my hard little heart leapt for joy. (All I really want for Christmas is to be like Heather Havrilesky.)

Dear C-trix,

You seem to be a person who's found a great deal of inspiration from list-making and organizational tools. Since I look up to in these matters, I've tried to sit down and make lists of my own: things I want to do with my life, places I want to go, people I want to meet. But after writing down the numbers on the left hand side of the page, I get a severe case of jitters as I think about what I truly want, and I always end up ripping the list up. What is wrong with me?

Well, Neil, I do get a lot out of making lists. Listmaking is more than useful to me in the organizational sense, I also derive great comfort and security from my lists. They relax me! They cheer me up! They are much, much cheaper than cigarettes, alcohol, or dulling lifestyle pr0n like cable TV, Oprah magazine and weekend getaways.

That said, there is, or can be, a masturbatory quality to lists. Right now, for example, if that old saw were true and applied to listmaking, I'd be getting fur stuck in the keyboard as I type this.

That's why, along with a few other projects I'm implementing over the holiday break, I'll be baptizing myself at the church of David Allen and adopting my new faith: GTD.

Much has been written about the GTD, short for "Getting Things Done", method of organization. Don't believe me? Check Technorati*. Google that sucker. Shrines have been erected for Allen and his philosophy of stress-free management all over this geek paradise we call the interwebs. So I won't go into too much detail here, other than to say this:

GTD is not about organization for organization's sake, but clearing your mental (and I believe, spiritual) decks for bigger and better things than remembering whether you need to pick up socks at the grocery store, making it especially good for creative people who spin like tops most of the time.

Good? Wait, let me revise that: terrifying. The 25% implementation I did of GTD two years ago scared me so much with its potential for change and growth, I immediately abandoned it for fear of the potential (and attendant responsibility) I could suddenly see lay (lie? laid? christ!) with getting my shit together.

But the world turns and times don't change and eventually, I get sick of it. Besides, I finally saw the part where Allen says it's just FINE to make lists for fun if that's what floats your boat: just don't forget to do the heavy lifting first.

So I'm using my blog once again for what it does best: humiliate me into making changes. I'll stop posting after this Friday (one more treat left for good little boys and girls!) and use the time to get my house in order. Literally**. The first step in implementing GTD is what Allen calls the Collection Process, or "Getting to Empty." That means grabbing every bit of stray paper, every item on every list, every to-do/read/pay/whatever in your paper, electronic and voice corrals, putting them in one place and then sorting through, beginning to end, until you know where everything in your life is. No "I'll think about this later." Now. Do it. Delegate it. File it. Trash it.

He warns people to block out a minimum of one day, preferably two for this escapade. I'm thinking two and keeping a third day flexible, just in case. I'm not looking forward to it, and yet I am: he's described the feeling most people have at the end of the processing, and it sounds like two parts realizing the monster in the corner was just a coat on the chair and one part noticing how good your head feels when you stop banging it against the wall.

And who knows: maybe there will be extra blogging. One of the unexpected benefits most people feel (outside of relief) is a surge of creative energy. If you're not keeping a bunch of crap in the RAM, there's room for some cool stuff. God knows, I like cool stuff.

So keep a good thought. Buy the book and play along if you like. It should be an interesting journey.

If nothing else, it'll be a really dorky one.

xxx c

*21 posts in the last fifteen minutes!!!

**Well, it's an apartment, almost literally.

GTD references:

You can get the book here. You can read a good intro to GTD on Merlin Mann's website, here.

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Revolution of the High-Tech Luddites

terrie YAMO

I've been a dork all my life, but I'm still just barely a geek. I love the toys (DVR, nano, anything from Adobe); I fear the code.

My boyfriend, a.k.a. "The BF", who has about 20 extra computing years on me (but is a year younger, damn him) also likes the toys but is very, very good with the code. A genius, in fact. No, seriously, it's been quantified. He also has greater facility with the pen tool, better hair, AND a penis. If I couldn't cook, I'd kill myself.

The point is, dude knows his way around a computer. He'd better; he owns seven of them. (I think. I officially lost count on Sunday after we brought the new 17" PowerBook home from Fry's.) Yet from Day One (and I know this, because I have the emails to prove it) he described himself as a "high-tech Luddite". I chuckled to myself reading that way back when, and made a mental note to have sex with him as soon as possible because that shit is HOT.

Anyway, ten months later, I'm marveling over not only how right he was, but how right on. Code isn't the enemy; coding, like writing or painting, might even be considered useful in some circles. It's the shiny object factor of computers that'll bring you to your knees.

The way I see it is this: back when I was 10, I had a prodigious creative output. In addition to going to school full-time and maintaining close relationships with an elite but good-sized circle, I taught myself to draw, kept a diary, sent letters, wrote horrible plays I forced my cousins to act in, and not only administrated but provided news coverage for an entire doll village of 50 (in three columns...with a t-y-p-e-w-r-i-t-e-r).

How did I manage to do all of this and still have time to ruin my eyes reading under the covers?

Well, there was none of that pesky cooking to get in the way, to be sure, but there was also the now-quaint practice of doing one thing at a time. You wouldn't think of talking on the phone while you watched TV while you did your homework because: (a), you'd get your butt stomped for not taking your homework seriously; (b), you'd get your butt stomped for hogging the phone when there might be an important long distance call coming in; and (c), you'd get your butt stomped for having the TV on, period.

Compare this, if you will, to today's scenario: me, at the G5, on hold with the phone company, watching (insert crappy TV show here) playing in the upper-left hand corner of the screen, listening to (insert crappy talk radio show here) playing on the radio, updating the ER website as I back up files to the external hard drive, peeling off every now and then to stir whatever's (yes) cooking on the stove.

Maybe I will kill myself.

Or maybe I will just say "no". No, I don't need a second digital cable box hooked up to the computer. No, I can't realistically keep up with 45 feeds*. No, having 10 different email accounts (at last count) isn't making life easier; it's making things exponentially more complex, which is making me exponentially more scattered and anxious.

I've talked about paring down my offline crap; now it's time to tackle the electronic focus-fracturers. No more slave to the electronic overlords, I; from now on, it's Paul Ford's Amish Computing all the way.

My escape plan combines elements of the methodology laid out by the geek bible, Getting Things Done, by David Allen mixed with tips I've culled from my online brethren (Lifehacker, Lifehack, 43 Folders) to help me in my quest.

Call it irony if you will; I think of it as poetic justice.



*Pared down from 71 at the start of this post because of the deep, deep shame I felt upon seeing this hideously high number.

Photo of dork playing a dork in a dorky play taken by some yearbook geek from E.T.H.S. circa 1978