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There is a plethora of information online about various implementations of David Allen‘s GTD
system, but precious few examples in the field of education. Even
fewer than that address the unique aspects of the day-to-day life of
the school-based administrator. Here is my first pass at sharing my
system with the community-at-large.
One thing I am asked about quite frequently is the notebook(s) and/or
index cards that I carry with me pretty much everywhere on campus. As
a techno-geek, many people are really surprised to find that I use
paper as my primary method of capturing ideas, thoughts, and meeting
notes. I even use a hybrid calendaring system which I’ll mention more
I have read David Allen’s excellent book on productivity several times
and have tried to incorporate his ideas into my productivity methods.
There is no shortage of discussion on the Web about David Allen’s
methods, and at first I was a little hesitant to even venture into the
religion that is GTD. Eventually, I realized that despite what some
would argue, it is not an all or nothing proposition, especially in the
field of education.
First, the hardware. I was first aware of my bizarre attraction to
office supply stores as a middle school student when I was constantly
needing a better "Trapper Keeper" or some other notebook that would certainly
help me improve my grades. The thing is, even until recently I spent
way too much time trying to build the "perfect" system, and far too
little time actually doing the stuff my lists.
In a podcast last July, productivity guru Merlin Mann of 43Folders
asks, "Are you enjoying your coffee or just obsessing about the cup you
put it in?" A few months after listening to that podcast, I decided it
was time to firm up my trusted system and spend more time doing the work.
My system at this point consists of:
- Levenger Circa Junior leather notebook with 5 divider tabs -
This houses primarily "personal" stuff. Records of phone calls I’ve
made to the bank, to the phone company, to the Toyota dealership, etc.
The tabs are divided thusly: My non-school-related action lists,
running notes, bigger projects (list of chick flicks my wife would like
to own on DVD, list of potential blog posts, etc.), reference (my
school phone tree, bank account numbers, insurance policy numbers,
critical contacts I might need if my phone crashes), and blank paper.
This comes back and forth with me every day and is always on my desk at
- Levenger Circa Letter-Sized Notebook with 5 divider tabs – My
"work life" lives in this one. In order, the 5 tabs separate sections
for: calendar and to-do, this week’s notes (classroom observation to
discuss with a teacher, agendas for department meetings), older notes
(stuff I may need this week — for example notes from an observation
that I need to use to write up an evaluation, working mind map for a
particular project that I won’t need this week but for which I may have
a brainstorm), reference (another copy of the phone tree, school
accountability report, list of teachers I am responsible for
evaluating, list of student teachers and their cooperating educator),
and blank paper. This comes home every day in case I need to reference
it in the evening.
- Microsoft Outlook 2003 - This keeps my "master" calendar and my "@Work" tasks.
- T-Mobile Dash -
Other than the fact that it’s not an iPhone, I think I may have finally
found my perfect convergence device. Small, light, easy to use. It
syncs over-the-air via ActiveSync with my District’s Exchange server
which allows me to have my calendar in my pocket all the time.
- Various and Sundry 3×5 Cards – I tried a Hipster PDA
for a while, but didn’t care for it. Too much printing and cutting.
3×5 cards (especially when used in "portrait" mode), however, are the
perfect tool for taking notes when you get a call from a parent or when
you have to deal with the student vs. student conflicts that arise from
time to time. The main reason I use them is because when I leave
school for the day, the cards stay put. One of my main concerns when I
was tweaking my system is that I didn’t want to be hauling around
confidential student information (names, phone numbers, etc.) all the
time. The cards strike a nice balance. I can keep "working" cards on
my desk as a visual reminder until the issue is resolved, and then they
are archived in a 3×5 "recipe box" with 12 monthly divider tabs. At
the end of the school year, I throw a rubber band around them and
archive them with the rest of our paper records for the year.
- Pilot G-2 and Pilot G-2 Mini Pens – Simply the best pens you can buy. I find it is always easier to write and brainstorm if you like what you’re writing with.
Still to add/incorporate/tweak:
- I think I’d like to try a fountain pen. I’ve read good
things about the Pilot Knight. At $35 it’s a great price for a
fountain pen. Thing is, at $35 it’s still a pen.
- I would like to purchase the leather cover for my letter-sized notebook, but at $94 that’s a bit steep.
My Circa system was inspired by Alan Nelson and his Seat 1A blog post
about his Circa system. In particular, I liked the way he created
printed versions of his Outlook calendar. I don’t have a color printer
that can print two-sided so I have to do a bit more work than Alan, but
my weekly routine includes printing the following from Outlook:
- My task list by category (I only keep work tasks in Outlook so it’s less than a page)
- Two-page-per-week calendars for the rest of the current month (task list on the left side, notes area on the right)
- Two-page-per-month calendars for the next 4 or 5 months
The best tool I’ve found to assemble this is the free version of a product called PDF Redirect
that creates a virtual printer and allows me to generate 3 PDF files
for the items above and virtually "merge" them into a single document
for printing. Since I don’t have a color printer that can do two-sided
documents, I have to print the odd pages first, then re-insert and
print the even pages (in reverse order – you’ll understand when you try
it). The key is that the first page of a two-page calendar has to be
on the left side when you
open the calendar. This requires either a blank page (what a waste of
space!) as the first page, or some other single-page document (such as
my tasks list).
Circa paper can be expensive so I use a couple of PDF templates that were shared by "Stew," a fellow member of the 43Folders Forum. I print them onto Office Depot brand color laser paper. I use some that is slightly weightier (24 lbs) and slightly whiter (115 brightness) than typical office copy paper so it stands up better to being punched, inserted, removed, and abused.
I’m not going to wax on any longer by bestowing the virtues of
Levenger’s Circa system, but if you keep paper notes or think you might
like to start, it’s truly the best investment I’ve made in my own
productivity. The ability to move and re-arrange pages within and
between notebooks is amazing. And the covers that fold over make it
far superior to standard ring binders. With some discs and a punch, I
can make a notebook for pretty much anything in a few minutes. They
have a new "Starter Kit" available for between $8 and $12 depending on the size. Doug Johnston of DIYPlanner.com (sort of an "open-source" community for paper planner users) has started a series of reviews of the Circa system for your reading pleasure.
Here is a camera phone shot of my Circas on my desk at work so you can get the basic idea:
For a brief overview of David Allen’s GTD methodology, take a look at Merlin Mann’s outstanding blog post, "Getting Started with GTD."