Collect Habit


So I am just hopping to my next entry in this series (need to catch up the last two weeks, don’t I?)

First of all, I realized, that I did not post any overview of tasks, and I guess that could come quite handy to follow me. Then this post will cover the main topic, collecting. I want to present the collecting habit to you, by describing it a bit out of the GTD perspective and present you what ZTD makes out of it. After that I will present you my solutions for the third task, which will include the description of how I implemented what, and why that way. This will include a presentation of my tools, and how I am intending to use them.

The Tasks

So here are the tasks for the first month. I won’t get tired stressing the point, that those are not by me, and if you are by chance understand German, you should also have a look at the Forum I’ve got these from The German GTD-Forum
So let’s see the tasks:

  1. Who are you and what do you expect from Zen to Done? (was more for the forum, but I consider the second part as especially important – think of it as your vision and therefore the goal that motivates you to get through this process).
  2. Keep a project diary to keep track of your experience. Write in it every night (I think, this one is also quite important, as it reminds you every day to DO it)
  3. Identify your existing Inboxes and reduce them to the minimum needed. (concerning the “Collect Habit”)
  4. Visualize the Zen To Done workflow for the “Process Habit” in whatever way suits you best (Mind map, Process-Diagram, etc.)

The Collect Habit

Actually Leo Babauta does not add much to the original by David Allen, so first look at the Allen-Way of collecting:

One of the foundations of Getting Things Done is to get your mind free. Allen introduces the word “open loop”, and defines it as everything that is wandering through our minds. All kind of thoughts like “Oh, I still need to do X”, “Don’t forget about the meeting next week”, “I always wanted to do Y” are open loops. They are in our head and keep wandering in there. Every now and then they get into our mind again – hopefully as well when we need them – but most of the time also when you totally don’t need it.

And according to David Allen this is bad, because it uses our brain capacities and occupies them from important tasks – it therefore slows down our productivity.

To encounter this, you need to write them down. But don’t write it down anywhere, because then it will still stay in your head. Be honest with yourself. How many PostIts do you have, on your computers, your desks, at work, next to your telephone? How many small papers fly around with some important notice of yours? And how often do you really realize them and realize them when you need them? How often did you still forget something?

You can try to fool yourself, but your mind won’t stop to keep those open loops in your head, as it does not trust your system.

So our main intention with Getting Things Done is to build up a system that we trust. This is a really important factor.

How to build up this trust worth system? Well the first thing is to collect everything in one big bucket. And by everything, Allen really means everything. Start with all your mail you get – in there. When it comes to new tasks – get them in there. All your thoughts, ideas, projects, every simple information that draws our attention to it – in there!

So what is this bucket? Well, David Allen leaves that up to you. It could be a physical inbox, a mailbox, a software to collect minds, thoughts, an excel sheet, Outlook, a tape recorder, a notebook, a PDA – you choose.

Minimize the number of “Buckets”

And this is the point, where Zen To Done comes into action. Babauta stresses the importance of having as less inboxes as possible. Because as our world is not ideal we will have many buckets, where Information comes together. These will typically be:
One at home, one at work, the physical mailbox, desks where people (e.g. family members) leave information for you, your telephone, your mobile phone, face-to-face communication with customers, friends, family, work buddies – all of these are kind of buckets, as information comes together.

Or to put it in my words, every channel from which you get information from is a potential inbox/bucket, as the information my pile up there.

So how to get rid of them, so you can minimize the number of inboxes/buckets? Well, many people speak of getting rid of buckets/inboxes you don’t need, which is of course true if you like have redundant inboxes on every desk in your flat. But most of the time the actual “getting rid” isn’t true. It’s rather a channeling all the information channels I spoke of above into one new channel. Let me give you an example:

At home you have an inbox at your desk in your working room. Then you have a Telephone in the living room with (of course 😉 ) some papers and a pen to take notes. This is – if you leave the information there – another inbox. One of the kind that I’d call information channel (by which I mean rather the telephone than the pile of notices). Of course you also have a mailbox in front of your entrance door, and your girl-/boyfriend likes to put information on the eating table for you (girlfriend is the information channel). Now instead of getting rid of your girl/boyfriend, your mailbox and the telephone, you’d rather channel all those information sources into your inbox at your desk. That means: teaching your partner to put the information in the inbox, and teaching yourself to do the same.

And there it is: One single bucket with all the information channeled to it.

This will work for a lot of other stuff, too. Got more than one mail account? Well why don’t channel everything by using a mail user agent like Outlook, Thunderbird, Mail, mutt, …?

And that applies in the same way to what ever other information channels that you have.

Keep it simple

Now another important thing that Babauta stresses is the philosophy: keep it as simple as possible. That means, why don’t use pen and paper instead of fancy tools? Many people nowadays have fancy PDA, digital organisers, mobile phones with all kind of fancy software on them.
But be honest to your self: Do you REALLY like to write down information, operating your 2×4 inches mobile phone with a virtual keyboard and a plastic pen? Do you feel comfortable with that? If not then you will tend to try avoiding using it, whenever possible.
Technique is fine and good, as long as it is simple to use and simplifies life, rather then make it more complicated.

This is why Babauta recommends a small notebook to us, or some paper cards, or whatever we feel comfortable using.

Use it, always!

And the last important thing is to really use it! This means to carry it with you, wherever you are. Regardless where you are, something might cross your mind. So even in the toilet you might need it – don’t try keeping it in mind for later, as it could happen that just in that moment something else happens and then it is forgotten, and the brain starts distrusting the system!

My identified inboxes (channels) and how I reduced them

Well in the beginning I wasn’t even having anything where I collected information that came in. I usually just listened to it, as it came up, or read it, or just put it somewhere. So basically my whole flat was an inbox. Same applies to my work. So what sources of information did I have?

  • My mailbox
  • Telephone
  • Mobile phone
  • My brain (I hardly wrote down anything – not even shopping lists)
  • E-Mail accounts – five in number – two of them where handled with mutt
  • Bookmakrs – whenever something seemed interesting for me, it was bookmarked
  • Internet (Boards, Websites, Chats, etc.)
  • My lectures
  • People I talk to

That is pretty much it. Pretty unsorted, pretty unprocessed. Pretty messed up!

Now how do I want to change this system to something like 5 inboxes? Well at first, I have some problems, which cannot be handled with easily. First: I don’t have a desk at work, and even not a fixed working place yet. As apprentice who is also studying meanwhile I use to go through different departments and get a place where ever there is something free – all temporary of course. Then, I even have to travel a lot, so ideal I would need mobile inboxes. And third, some of my mailboxes are not accessible through mail user agents, so I cannot channel them into one inbox.

But still I found some kind of solution for that.

So these will be my future inboxes:

A box, my macbook, a big and a small moleskine notebook and of course pens

A box, my macbook, a big and a small moleskine notebook and of course pens

1. Inbox for my desk
A simple, but stylish box, big enough to hold a pile of magazines. And even foldable, so you could take it with you while travelling. I got it from Ikea, it is called KOTTEBO, and you can get it for 10€. In it, I will collect all my paper stuff, that is my daily mail, prospects, cards (for notes on talks with people, notes, thoughts I had at my desk, etc.) Here’s another picture of it in action
2. Digital Inbox
I still need a reasonable system to archive my digital media, but I already trimmed all my firefoxes, safaris, my mail programs and all other p2p Software to use the same directory. This is done under all of my computers, regardless of the OS.
3. E-Mail Box
After long thoughts I decided to give my MacBook all the life managing tasks (so I migrated my ThinkingRock as well aslLists, etc. to it). So now the emails are fetched and organised by OS X’ “Mail” Software. All accounts are fetched by this one (I reduced them to three, so the fourth one will be dropped) and the mails are shown in one single inbox (though it they are in subdirectories of that inbox, showing to which account they where sent). When I process my inbox (I’ll come to that later) I’ll then move them to archive folders. While doing so they are also deleted from the mail servers. Besides I have Outlook on my working Laptop (so quite honestly these are two inboxes) – and it is organised the same way.
My pen and paper team

My pen and paper dream team

5. Superbook
5, because this is the fifth inbox (no it was not a stupid counting mistake 😉 ). This one is the Superbook. So what is the superbook, and what makes it so super? Actually it is an idea for collecting, organising, prioritising and planing your work information and days. It is meant to combine notes-taking with organising and planing – all in one place. So you write down your tasks, your meeting results, your dates, telephone notes, etc. in this book, mark them at the side with symbols, mark every new day, and start it with an agenda for the day (out of the tasks on the previous side, etc.)
I of course, won’t use it in that way, as task-management is part of GTD/ZTD, and will be taken care of with my BigRocks, MITs, my context lists, etc.
But I will use this book in the exact same way. I will have a margin for symbols (like Meeting protocol, task, reference information, etc.) and collect everything throughout each working day. But further more I will also use it at home, for notes while working on my desk, or while telephoning. Then after each day, I will put it into my inbox at my desk, and process everything in it with all the other stuff. When done, I could also think of writing down my BigRocks and MITs for the next day.
I will use my big Moleskine for that. I also has the ideal bag on the backside of it, to collect any papers, etc.
6. Notebook
I am also in the possession of a small Moleskine notebook, which fits perfectly into any pocket. This is the one that I will be always carrying around, so that I can make notes nearly everywhere. Here’s a picture of it in action

7. Boomarks
Last but not least, bookmarks. I tend to bookmark everything that somehow is interesting. Whether I need it or not. Sometimes I even just bookmark websites, that I want to read later on, because they might be interesting (but I haven’t even had a look jet). Yeah, so also bookmarks are an information source that need to be collected in an inbox to be processed later.
In the GTD-Forum they came up with an interesting approach that I would like to test:

  1. Bookmarks are open loops. Therefore they need to be treated as such.
  2. All bookmarks are collected in a bucket – this bucket in this case is one bookmark directory (labeled inbox)
  3. As any other bucket/inbox, this directory is processed. While processing something, you take one bookmark after another and apply the workflow of the “Process Habit” (we’ll come to that later, but in short): either delete it, or do something with it, or – if it just contains information that will be useful for you, put it into your reference system.
  4. And that’s it

As such reference system for Bookmarks del.icio.us is recommended. It sound’s interesting, so I guess I’ll have a look at it, on the next days.

So that is it for today. My next step will be to run around the flat, collect all papers and notes that might still fly around, collect them in my inbox, prepare my superbook. And then there’s time for the next habit – the “Process” habit.

So see you then 😉

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