Posted by: Simon | July 17, 2008

GTD Hybrid System – 30 Day Trial – Complete

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For those of you who haven’t been following my trial of a GTD Hybrid System – that is, one using paper combined with electronic tools – you may want to check out my original post on the subject first. To read some of my observations as the trial unfolded please check out my first update, my second update and my third update.

Let me say upfront that this has been an interesting exercise for a person like me who loves electronic gadgets and is around technology all day. However, I have had just as much fun writing in my Moleskine Cahier and I’m very pleased with this choice. I looked at bulkier notebooks initially and they didn’t feel right. This was slim, light and yet not so tiny that I felt like I was writing on a postage stamp. Using a good pen made a difference too.

The page divisions by context worked quite well – at this early stage I haven’t used too many pages for each one and so haven’t come close to running out. The small Post-It tabs have not bent or frayed. My most recent weekly review flowed really nicely using my Moleskine, my BlackBerry to access my calendar and a coffee in a noisy cafe. The last point is not trivial. My hybrid system is very portable and allows me to leave my workspace more quickly, easily than my all electronic one did. And by changing locations, even to a noisy cafe, I was able to really focus, uninterrupted. It was a great feeling when I walked back into work an hour later.

I had thought I would miss the ability in Outlook to drag an email and automatically create a task out of it (which is a great feature). Instead I have found that I’m really focusing on what the next action is from the email and what I write down to accurately, succinctly define it. I didn’t pay that much attention previously. I am definitely reviewing my next action lists more frequently than I was and as a consequence getting more done. Next actions that have been hanging around a while stand out and I have been having lots of conversations with myself to work out if I’m still committed to them or if they should be moved to Someday/Maybe….or even deleted!

So, overall this trial has been a great success for me. I was feeling no attraction to my electronic lists and therefore not feeling good about what wasn’t getting done. Now I feel reinvigorated. I feel like and I am getting more done. I think it has been important to allow enough time to really evaluate a different way of working properly. It does feel like a habit now to use my Moleskine for next actions and I am going to continue my GTD system this way for the foreseeable future. At some point I am sure my circumstances will change and I’ll need to re-evaluate my setup again.

Now if I could just work out a reason why I need an iPhone……

Got any thoughts or ideas of your own on the shift to paper?

Please use the comments area to discuss.


  1. I never whet total electronic. I need to pull out a calendar where I can at least see a week at a glance before I commit to something else. When I use the phone, I tend to overlook things because they are easy to miss on that tiny screen.

    I like notebooks. I just have a thing for all kinds of journals and notebooks. My problem is having too many just because they’re cute. I need to organize what I will put in which notebook so I can use all of them without losing my stuff. It’s just that some go better with certain outfits! What’s a girl to do?

  2. Definitely horses for courses Laurie. I know what you mean about the attractiveness of the notebook. Probably the reason I went for a Moleskine, I didn’t want just any old thing – it needed to look and feel good to use……

  3. I think I like my one with the beach on it the best….but then there is the Mickey Mouse one too. URGH I’ll just carry all of them. I’ll need a back pack! :O)

  4. I am really glad I stumbled onto this blog. I have been using GTD for a year now and like you realize that my Outlook lists are just not getting any attention. I love Moleskins and that is what I use to use before GTD for ideas, lists, meeting notes etc. I am going to try your idea.

    A question: do you use tiered folders on your desktop to hold support material for different actions? If not, what do you do with that stuff?

    Thanks again for documenting your research, it really helped me see your process.

  5. @Kai: Glad you found it useful.

    I have an Inbox, Action Support, Waiting For and Read/Review folder or tray at Work, at Home an in my Portfolio which I carry around (that’s what was in the photo). In the Portfolio I also have a ‘To Work’ and a ‘To Home’ folder for moving stuff to and from those locations.

  6. I like the simplicity of your system, nice hard edges as DA would say. I have couple of questions just so I am clear;

    #1 – Are you hand writing a Waiting For entry in your cahier for email follow ups?

    #2 – Are you using some kind of Project Support folder for Project related materials and just using your cahier to track your Project List?

    #3 – If you have random thoughts about a project where do you record them, cahier or project support material? These are things that may turn into Next Actions at some point later in the project, just not right now, but you dont want to lose the thought.

    Thanks again for sharing your system.

  7. @Rolf: Answers follow -

    #1 – Yes. All Waiting Fors go in my Cahier whether they be a call back, an email response or something else. I make one exception, on limited occasions. If I respond to an email with a simple, easy to answer question and I know it will get answered that day before I shut down my email I will move it to my @Waiting For folder in Outlook. It’s the “has this been done?” type question. Once I get an answer I delete or file the email.

    #2 – I just use the Cahier to track my list of Projects. Project Support materials are almost always in a mind map, in a SharePoint team site or online in or Google Docs somewhere.

    #3 – I usually record random project related thoughts using one of the tools above. It’s likely I’d capture the thoughts initially on a piece of 3″x5″ paper (I keep a stack on my desk at work and at home). I make sure the only things I put in the Cahier are NAs or Projects. A friend was trying to capture in his small Moleskine and run his NA lists – he said it was too confusing. He’d started writing down NAs that weren’t really NAs.

    Mine’s far from a perfect system but I hope this all helps and good luck :)

  8. Cheers Simon

    I have looked at a couple of other sites where people are running hybrid “electro-paper” versions of GTD and in addition to the Project List in their cahiers they also have a project running sheet in their cahiers to capture thoughts / unactioned NA’s etc.

    My project support materials are keep in separate manilla folders or in a named project email folder within Lotus Notes. Then during my Weekly Review I simply draw my NA’s from either source. Seems to work better for me.

    Like you I rely on my other capture tools to ‘Collect’ random project thoughts and potential NA’s then ‘Process’ them through my In Box.

    Thanks again.

  9. I enjoyed reading this and the comments. I was looking for an program to handle several dozen vaguely-scheduled repeating tasks (as much procrastination as thinking I’d find something), and found this blog instead.

    It’s reassuring to see I’m not the only person with nifty electronics who likes paper!

    After much trial and discomfort, I now use my Palm only for long-term notes that I’d otherwise have to recopy every time I filled a book, like phone numbers or the size of the furnace filter (for when they go on sale) or present ideas. The rest is good old, kinesthetic, quiet, always-on, paper, just like I before my year on the Palm.

    The first time I used paper to book an appointment, my heart-rate dropped — says something about the level of trust! It’s so nice to scribble down something (I take shorthand, so scribble is right!) quickly without having to look at what you’re doing. Or make diagrams without switching programs. Or go through old notes in order.

    I use an “everything” book for notes on the run. Some pages get torn out and put in folders, others, whose projects don’t merit a folder, just stay in. I also use it for my long-term todo lists — each action (or project in need of a NA) gets a circle in the margin, which gets checked off as it’s done, and contexts are written at the top of the page. I tear off a corner when the page is done. Sometimes I dedicate an entire page to one context.

    Daily planning and notes at my desk use a lot of paper, so I use recycled paper on a clipboard. They don’t get scattered, but don’t take up book-room either.

  10. That’s great Cricket, I’m now convinced that we have to do some of our own experimenting to see what works best for us ourselves.

    You know I was using the Notes part of Outlook for the things you describe keeping in your Palm. I could view them on my BlackBerry when not in the office. But I have now switched all these to Google Notebook. The advantage is I can access them to view, edit and delete from any browser and still on my BlackBerry. Much more flexible.

  11. I found your blog really interesting, as I’ve been considering a move to paper for much of the same reasons, i.e. I’m starting to feel less attracted to my electronic lists. Additionally, I consider myself a high-tech person, work for a technology company, and I love electronic gadgets. So, it sounds like our situations may be similar.

    Are you still using paper (I noted your blog post was made in July)? Any advice or insight you’d offer to a fellow gadget “junkie” considering the switch to a paper based system? Thanks in advance.


  12. Hi Jeff – Still using the system just as I described it in my posts. Still like writing on the paper. The only thing I’m doing slightly differently is occasionally I get tired of looking at one lone NA on a page of otherwise completed ones and so I transfer it to the bottom of the list and cross out the completed page. Some satisfaction in doing that and it provides an opportunity to really consider the next action in the process. I say give it a good try yourself and see what you think. In a weird way I feel quite liberated not relying on technology so much.



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