GTD Sorting Pass 1

GTD Sorting Pass 1

Filed! It’s the second day (or rather, half-day) of trying out GTD. I went through the big pile of “stuff” from yesterday and converted it into actual reference material! Some of this stuff I’d been carrying around for years, never quite sure how to save it so I could find it again. The GTD suggestion of creating general file system, simply alphabetized, was a revelation. In hindsight, it seems quite obvious.

The experience was not unlike surfing the web all day, except I was surfing my own stuff. Tagging and bookmarking proceeded from that. Cool!

Random thoughts follow.

Environmental Influences

I’ve been thinking about visible role models a lot recently, and how being around people who “know the ropes” is a critical part of learning. In school, it’s like we “learn about” instead of “learn from”, at least in the introductory levels. What would it have been like to have been apprenticed to a master secretary? What secret skills would I have learned? It would be interesting to spend a day with a secretary at a large company and see what he or she does to keep things organized.

While I’m fairly new to paper filesystems, I’ve worked with digital filesystems plenty, tracking assets for various video games to make sure we knew what they were, and how they were used. As a result of this experience, my computer filesystem is fairly structured into project folders. There is, however, no “general filing” on my computer, and I’m thinking I will want to duplicate the physical folder names on my computer to help with consistency.


Allen is entirely right about the simple alphabetical filing system. In the past, I might have gotten caught up in creating some kind of taxonomy of subjects, and nothing ever would have gotten done. The experience of tagging things ad-hoc may have prepared me for this, as I didn’t obsess too much over how things were named. This is a personal filing system, so I will be able to keep track of what is where. The system may not win any prizes for elegance, but it works. It’s such an odd feeling to know where everything is.

The process of labeling folders and content for filing also provided a tangible sense of accomplishment. As the pile got smaller, the number of organized folders grew larger. It just wouldn’t have been the same if I hadn’t started with the pile; seeing the pile get “processed” into organized bliss is much cooler than just watching organized bliss appear, which is what would have happened if I’d just wandered around and took piles from various parts of the room.

Weird Storage

There were some items that were awkwardly shaped or didn’t really belong in the file cabinet, like my stash of greeting cards, sticker sheets, postage, appliance manuals, road maps of Massachusetts, and so on. I’ve wanted to use inter-office memo envelopes for a project filing system for a long time. I’d also seen them on various cop dramas, where they’re used for holding the personal items of convicts or evidence from a crime scene.

StorageEnvelopeContents I took a bunch of envelopes and ticked in the flap so it would be easy to drop things into them. The envelopes are generally stiff enough to stand up like you see them here. The envelopes are labeled with super-sticky Post-It pads, which will eventually get replaced with actual laminated labels.

I may also use these envelopes for project archiving, as the little string makes it pretty easy to “seal” them without adhesives.


I still have a lot of in-box processing to do in the morning, which will be the beginning of the real GTD sorting process. Right now, I’m just happy that my piles of stuff have been transformed into piles of useful reference. Rock!


  1. Bradleyscott 16 years ago

    Again, congrats on your entrance to the GTD world.  I bought Allen’s book several months ago (and even got lazy and bought the CDs) and yet it was reading you actually “doing” the GTD method that got me thinking… the least I can do is break out the discs and listen to them in the car.  Next step, get the book out and actually commit to reading it.

    I am, however, wanting to know more about your personal computer filing system.  You stated you already had a good organized computer (something I definitely do not have going for me right now).

    Again, keep it up, the more I read of your successes with GTD the more I realize I can and should do this.


  2. Dave Seah 16 years ago

    Bradley: Yeah! Give it a go! See what happens! I put off reading it for months. It’s a little gem of organizational wisdom. From your comment on the previous post, I thought you were an old veteran of the system :-)

    Computer filing system is pretty simple:

    a _local_projects folder, with each project assigned a job code whether it is personal or not. For example, my website is `0015 DSDM Website.

    For non-project stuff, I maintain a Dave’s Brain folder.

    Both folders exist on my fastest production machine, and is shared across the network. I use Windows Server 2000 and Active Directory to manage accounts and share. The Projects folder on my production machine is mirrored to the server through a utility called SynchronEx. The reason I’m running Windows Server in the first place was to become familiar with it…I used to use Linux and Samba, but after I subscribed to the Microsoft Action Pack I had a license of Advanced Server, so why not?

    I have a second machine, a laptop, which is my main email/communication machine. It’s also my portable production machine, though it’s getting a little underpowered for the latest Adobe Suite. When I need to grab a project, I will pull it from the production machine.

    All software, fonts, mp3s, and other resources are on the server in their own shares. Software Installers are all available across the network, and serial #s are stored also there in a password-protected Excel file. Admittedly this could be cleaned up a bit, but it’s pretty up-to-date.

    The server itself is backed up to an external firewire drive that sits off to the side, off most of the time until it’s time to do a backup.

    Source code for working projects is stored on a different server running a stripped-down Linux. It runs Subversion for source control, though at this time it’s difficult to back up.

    Eventually I need to rebuild both servers, as they’re getting a bit long in the tooth (the windows server is my old production machine from 1998, a dual pentium 350. The linux box is a 120MHz Pentium or something like that with 64MB of RAM).

  3. peninah 16 years ago

    Awesome! Way back in uhm (November?) I yanked material to form the reference file and never did anything with it (I piled). Yesterday I went through a large pile of magazines and added to my reference pile. I hope you have inspired me to actually create the file. :) I’ve been falling off the productivity track so maybe watching someone implement it for the first time will help get me back.. best of luck.

  4. Bradleyscott 16 years ago

    Old veteran… old veteran in the fact that I read enough of the book to get the gist of it, I started to do it, and I fell into the traps that I described (plus I hadn’t fully read the book.. I was reading as I was doing).  This time around I am going to re-load, and retry it.  T

    Thanks for the computer organization tips.  I realized I do some of those already, but I think I have made mine way too complicated.

    For instance, I have one projects folder that holds “In_Progress” which has folders with the respective clients name on it.  Then I have “Archived_Projects”  Projects which I have completed and filed away… I then have an “Applications” folder that holds all my most used CMS applications, etc.  There is also the “Educational” Folder where I keep projects I am doing just as a learning tool.  I also keep a “misc.” folder that has things such as stock photos, icons, and some of my templates I have made but haven’t used on any project yet.  I then have an ideas folder and a to-do folder.

    Unfortunately I only truly use the In-Progress and every now and then the Archive and Educational folders.

  5. Jamie 16 years ago

    Dave, can I ask where you bought your index files?

  6. Dave Seah 16 years ago

    Hey Jamie, I haven’t bought any index files. At least, I don’t think I have…files for index cards? Everything I’ve purchased so far has been from Walmart (file folders) or Staples (everything else). OH, if you’re talking about the alphabetized index dividers, those are from Staples…they’re the heavy duty thick ones (couldn’t find plastic, though) and were kind of pricey at 15 bucks.