ZTD 4 – June: System

May was the month of Plan.


I have been finding a lot of value in keeping track of my weekly goals at work.

My first action was to get a new A5 notebook only for my weekly plan – nothing else. As part of my weekly review on a Friday, I put three goals onto a fresh page. At the same time, I review the three goals from the previous week. The first week I did this, everything got done, and I was really happy. But that was an extraordinary week. In a typical week, things get cancelled or delayed, either by changing priorities, suppliers or other people not being on their game, or me not being on my game. Whatever the reason, I add a brief explanation for why the goal got delayed and what, if anything, I did to remedy the situation.

Even in a month it has been quite revealing. I used to think that my work wasn’t delayed much by waiting for suppliers to deliver materials, but it appears to happen more often than I would have predicted. Twice this month I’ve had put work on hold while I waited for deliveries. Over a month I estimate that work was delayed for four days. That adds up over a year! To remedy the situation, I am going to plan more of my work in advance to ensure that I am not delayed by things not being in the right place at the right time.

This week I also thought it would be good to look through my goals during a “mid-week” review, to ensure that I’m on track, to make sure that the goals are still realistic, and make sure that any rearguard is being brought up. So I’ve put a little 5 minute check into my calendar on a Wednesday, just after lunch.


Looking forward to June we have a system set up. Now this is pure GTD, but ZTD specifies that it should be a simple, trusted system. Personally, I would add another essential characteristic: fast. The process of adding things to your system must be extremely slick or you won’t bother.

The choice / dilemma here is what to use as a system. There are many different software options out there but all you really need are lists. Something as simple as a word processing program / app and a file hierarchy is sufficient.

At work, I mainly use notebooks as I quite like being able to flick forward and back, and I like the physical action of crossing things out once they’re done. Being the 21st century, of course I have email (at work in Outlook, at home with gmail) and I keep my inbox at zero. I use the calendar for reminders, and I have a physical diary as well for other reminders.

This works reasonably well: I actually keep one notebook for my desk and another for the lab. In my notebook I keep 4 categories: I have a projects list, an errands list, a waiting for list, and a next actions list. This is as simple and as complex as I need it to be.

At home I have a series of notebooks, each for a different thing. I have an entire notebook dedicated to blog ideas for example. I have another for next actions. I have one just for someday maybe items which I don’t want in the same notebook as my next actions. In fact, this was one of the major optimisations for my system.

So having re-read the chapter, how do I plan to improve on this system? I think it probably needs tightening up. At work I have a laptop with a virtually dead battery so I can’t take it to meetings, so to be able to take my system with me, I need to use a notebook. I have been promised a new laptop, but I still require notebooks to be able to get into the lab, etcetera. In addition, IT won’t let you install outside software, so I’m limited to using Outlook. I would like to go to a full analogue or digital system, but I think I am always going to need a bit of both.

At home, I have recently bought a chromebook which I am absolutely love. One of the things that I have found is most important about my system is that it has to be fast! The reason I have a pad as an inbox is that it is as quick as I can think. Usually I use it to jot down thoughts as they appear because otherwise they distract me too quickly. One word, get it off my mind.

So with a very quick laptop, that boots in seconds, I am reconsidering the whole analogue system which I have been building for a while, if I can find a decent piece of software to do it. I’ll fill you in at the end of the month on how it goes.

Things I have enjoyed this month:

MIT has free courses!

Netflix documentary: In defense of food. I am a big fan of everything Michael Pollan does, including his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma and his other Netflix series Cooked.



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