Getting Things Done is a great productivity system for writers and for anyone who wants to become more creative and productive.
It’s effective, but it does take some time to get to grips with.
There are dozens of software packages and apps that claim to support or feature GTD functionality. Many of them do but, if you’re trying to learn GTD while working in a live environment, it’s hard to beat pen and paper.
This is why I turned a Moleskine notebook into a tool for getting things done.
- A standard, hard-covered, large, ruled 240 page Moleskine notebook like this
- A labeller (optional), I used a Brother P-Touch Labelmaker
- Small sticky multi-coloured labels like these
- A pen, the Pilot Precise V5 Stick Rolling Ball is good
Number the Moleskine Notebook
Now, number every page on the right hand side of the Moleskine notebook. There’s no need to number pages on the left. You should reach 244.
These numbers will allow you to cross-reference notes and divide your book into sections. Next, take six of the multi-coloured labels. I labelled these and placed them on the following page numbers:
- Notes (page 1)
- Next Actions (page 100)
- Waiting For (page 150)
- Calendar (page 170)
- Someday/Maybe (page 200)
- Active Projects (page 220)
You can put the rest of the labels in the sleeve at the back of the Moleskine notebook for future use. I found the Notes and Next Actions pages filled up quickly. This is where the advantage of sticky labels came into play. After one month, I moved my Notes label to page 30, after month two I moved it to page 60.
I did something similar with the Next Actions labels. I kept the other labels on their original pages as these sections did not fill up as quickly. When taking notes, date every page and draw a line down the page, one inch away from the margin on the right hand side.
This is a good place to record or identify actions in your Notes section, which you can act on or transfer to your Next Actions section as soon as it’s convenient.
It’s also a good idea to the record page numbers of other relevant entries that you may want to refer to. This saves time when you are reviewing your notes and searching for Next Actions during your weekly review.
I still used Outlook to record appointments while using this Moleskine notebook. That said, each Friday I wrote out the times of my appointments in the Calendar section of the Moleskine. I found this exercise helpful as it forced me to mentally engage with the events of the coming week. I tried keeping all my project details in the Active Project list but this proved too difficult.
Instead, I resorted to maintaining a simple list of my Active Projects that I could review at a glance. I kept the details of these projects in their relevant files on my computer or desk.
Sticky notes are a nice optional extra if you want to amend or add to an entry. You can keep a small book of these in the sleeve too.
Sometimes, I found that the page dimensions of this Moleskine felt a little restrictive. This was particularly true when I was transcribing long passages during meetings or developing a mind map.
However, this small Moleskine notebook is durable and easy to carry around. I was able to fit it in my laptop case and it lasted me about three months. When I was finished with it, I dated the cover and archived it.
For my second GTD Moleskine, I bought a larger, soft extra-large book from the Book Depository for EUR14.10. The build quality of this notebook isn’t as good as the hardcover one and there are 192 rather than 240 pages.
However, the page dimensions are large enough for mind maps and longer transcriptions. I also added a few new labels to this notebook. These were:
- A Miscellaneous section: in the end I never used this section and I removed the label.
- An Agenda section: my role at the time required me to attend a lot of meetings for which I regularly made out agendas. It made sense to have a dedicated section for Agendas.
- A Project Support section: I wrote phone numbers, notes and other miscellaneous details about my projects in this section.
You may wonder why I didn’t just use a word processor or app to do all of this?
The simple answer is, I could have. Using pen and paper while getting grips with GTD means you don’t have to learn how to use a new software package at the same time.
I found a notebook and pen handy for meetings and when someone dropped by my desk. Using a Moleskine also gave me a screen break of sorts. It’s probably a bit more work to keep up. Also, pen and paper lacks the convenience of search.
No system is perfect though.
Please let me know me know what you think of my system and how you use GTD in the comments section below.
Update: Don’t want to use a Moleskine notebook for getting things done?
I put together this short, free guide with 8 alternatives to a Moleskine notebooks for you.