Time Management and Smartphone. Self-Organization Using GTD and Google Calendar

1. Self-Organization, GTD and Time Management  Why?

This article covers the system of self-organization based on GTD (Getting Things Done) methodology and online calendar (Google Calendar etc.)

Google Calendar layout after implementation of the self-organization system presented:

Self-organization is a process where some form of overall order or coordination arises out of the local interactions between the components of an initially disordered system.

The ultimate goal of self-organization (covered in this article) is achieving awareness and harmony in all areas of life – work, recreation, hobbies, relationships, etc.
Productivity and work time conlrol are considered here just as natural consequences of self-organization and not considered as ultimate goals (by itself).

This formulated goal of self-organization is very broad, therefore it needs to be formulated more narrowly:
To release our mind from storing and searching things that need our attention.
And, even more narrowly, separating into two phases:
1. Collect items that need attention  on paper and smartphone
2. Organize items that need attention  for easy review and implementation

The overall goal of both phases is not just to achieve a certain state. The goal is to establish and continuously maintain these processes in our everyday life.

The first phase is independent of the second one, and has its own value (although less than total value of the both phases combined). Therefore, these two phases can be implemented sequentially, one after another – according to the goals specified.
This article is composed in a way that allows to implement the first phase absolutely independently of the second one. And then, according to the results of the first phase, make your own informed decision whether to continue with the second phase or not.

GTD (Getting Things Done) is a time-management method described by David Allen in a book of the same title. It is based on the principle of moving everything out of your mind to an external system. According to GTD, workflow is divided into five stages – collect, process, organize, plan, do (capture, clarify, organize, reflect, and engage – in new editions of his book).

In the first phase, we will implement only three stages minimally required to launch the system of self-organization – collect, process and do. By doing so, we will implement basics of GTD – continuous collection of incoming items in a temporary storage (a basket) and regular processing of these collected items (cleaning the basket).
In the second phase, we will also add two other phases – organize and plan.

This article represents the implementation of key elements of GTD methodology based on paper notes, smartphone and online calendar (such as Google Calendar, MS Outlook, iCal etc.). The implementation does not require to install any additional software. Further, the implementation using Google Calendar is considered – https://www.google.com/calendar

A smartphone is needed because collection phase of GTD must be carried out continuously – within and outside of the workplace, even during leisure time.
A normal cell phone (not a smartphone) is not very suitable for this because of input speed limitations and complexity of integration with other elements of the self-organization system.
On the other hand, it is not quite effective to replace smartphone by similar tablet with larger screen (more than 6") – because a tablet, unlike a smartphone, is generally not intended to be continuously carried by.

It is also assumed that the workplace is equipped with a computer (desktop or notebook). However, when using a smartphone, a desktop computer is not mandatory. The principal differences between a desktop computer and a smartphone regarding online calendar are only speed and convenience for input/output and availability outside of the workplace.

If a smartphone not available, it should be replaced by a paper notepad. In this case, you should get a small paper notepad, pencil or pen, and carry them with you (it is desirable to choose the size to fit into your pocket).

When using a paper notepad to collect outside the workplace, the collecting will not match p. 2.2 procedure, it will match p. 2.1 procedure (like at the workplace). Before processing, we will only need to pull out all filled sheets from notepad and process them together with the stack of paper sheets collected at the workplace.

All other elements of the system (except reminders about things to be done outside of the workplace) are working on a smartphone the same way as on a computer, but slower.

2. Collecting items that need attention (Collect, Capture)

2.1. Collecting at the workplace

Setting collecting at the workplace:
The term "workplace" means the desktop and surrounding area.
Take a stack of small paper sheets or paper notepad (3.5”x3.5” a similar size) and two baskets (holders) for these paper sheets.
One of these baskets will be used for blank sheets (not needed when using a paper notepad), and the second one will be used as an inbox for collected sheets with notes.

Maintaining collecting at the workplace:
While being at the workplace, write down everything that catches your attention and may be needed later – ideas, issues, agreements, actions, etc. Write it down on those paper sheets – one item per sheet, and put into the stack of collected sheets.
New contacts, dated actions (day-specific or time-specific), undated actions (next actions and postponed actions) – if captured while being at the workplace – also first write them on paper sheets (although outside the workplace these items will be collected quite differently, as it will be shown below).

A feature of the collection procedure described here is that you write down everything you may need later – one item per sheet, on uniform small paper notes – such notes are easier to process and organize.

Some of self-organization and time management systems ignore paper notes, it is wrong.
Actually, complete refusal from using paper not is not needed and not possible – because paper notes provide much higher input speed for disordered short texts than a computer or a smartphone.

Differences compared with GTD:
No need to collect everything at once throughout the entire workplace.
A long but simple process instead of a short but complex one.

2.2. Collecting outside the workplace

Setting collecting outside the workplace:
Here and below, the self-organization system is described based on Google Calendar, but as mentioned earlier, you can use any other online calendar – for example, pre-installed on your smartphone or adapted in your company – it must only have features listed below.

While using a smartphone, it is better to use Google Calendar mobile app than the mobile website – the app is more convenient and can work even without internet connection. Google Calendar app is preinstalled on Android smartphones. For other operating systems, it can be installed additionally. Next, create Google Calendar shortcut on the smartphone's main screen and sign up for Google account (if you do not have one): https://accounts.google.com/signup

If the mobile internet connection is not Wi-Fi, you maybe will need to initialize data synchronization for Google Calendar app on your smartphone.
To do so and update the app by data data entered via Google Calendar desktop website on your computer, you should open Android settings, choose "Accounts & sync" and click "Sync All".

On the 1st day of the current month create a calendar event (event-header) "- Inbox" (without quotation marks), not time-specific
Similarly, create similar event-headers on 2nd, 3rd and 4th days of current month:
2nd: "- Next Actions"
3rd: "- Postponed Actions 7..90"
4th: "- Reference"

"Event-headers" are designated as follows: it has no specified time, and its title begins with a hyphen, "-".
Actually, it is not a real event, its meaning is just to designate that below (in the day's calendar) the certain time frame (0.00-10.00) is reserved for "event-notes" instead of normal events.

"Event-notes" are those below an "event-header" in 0.00-10.00 time frame. It is also not a real event, its meaning is to keep some information and remind about it.

It is desirable to create "event-notes" within one-hour time frames. In the case of a large number of "event-notes" in one day, they can overlap each other by setting the same time frames for them, or they can be created in shorter half-an-hour time frames
This approach allows to accommodate up to 30-40 "event-notes" per day and show them all at once on a smartphone screen (although possibly with truncated titles) – much more than any type of text list.

Maintaining collecting outside the workplace:
Save everything that attracted your attention outside the workplace and may be needed later using your smartphone:

  • If this is a contact – save it directly into the address book.
  • If this is a date-specific or time-specific action – open this date in the calendar and save it into an event and also specify the time (if it is time-specific).
  • If this is a next action – what you are going to do during the next 7 days – open the 2nd day of the month ("- Next Actions") and save it into an event-note.
  • If this is a postponed action – what you are not going to do within the next 7 days, but going to do within the next 3 months – open the 3rd day of the month ("- Postponed Actions 7..90") and save it into an event-note.
  • If this is something else, or it is hard choose – open the 1st day of the month ("- Inbox") and save it into in an event-note.

To quickly navigate across different dates in Google Calendar mobile app use "Month 31" menu item – so all days of the month are displayed at once (as buttons) and you can choose any day in one click.

Difference compared with GTD:
Some elements of GTD process stage which do not slow down collect stage are performed simultaneously with collect stage while outside the workplace.
Saving events in calendar's "- Inbox" (1st day of the month) requires the same time and attention as for any other day of the month. Therefore, processing (category selection) is combined with collecting. "Classic" GTD refers processing just as the separate stage following collecting.

3. Processing collected items (Process, Clarify)

Processing is the stage of GTD workflow when collected items are moved from the temporary storage ("basket" or "inbox") and categorized into different categories of self-organization system.
If possible, you should perform processing on the workplace using desktop computer (or notebook) and Google Calendar desktop interface.
Processing should be performed at least once a week. If possible, once in 2-3 days.
Open the 4th day of the month ("- Reference"), and create event-note "- Self-Organization" in 0.00-1.00 time frame.

3.1. Processing collected paper notes

For each collected paper sheet in the inbox basket do the following:

  • If this is a contact – rewrite it into smartphone address book.
  • If this is a dated or next or postponed action – save it into Google Calendar event or event-note.
  • If this is something else – rewrite this item on a separate line in "Description" field for "- Self-Organization" event-note. Some corrections can be applied to the text while rewriting it.
  • If this is a repetition of already existing content of "- Self-organization" event-note – you can rewrite this item according to the preceding procedure, or make a new formulation on the basis of these two formulations, or simply ignore.

After that, throw this processed sheet away and continue, move to the next sheet in the inbox basket.

3.2. Processing notes and events in calendar

For each event-note on the 1st day of the current month ("- Inbox"):

  • If this is a contact – similarly, rewrite it into smartphone address book.
  • If this is dated or next or postponed action – replace its date, respectively, by real date or the 2nd day or the 3rd day of the current month.
  • If this is something else – copy & paste “Title” field (and maybe “Description” field) from the processed event-note into "Description" field of "- Self-Organization", and delete the processed event-note.

For each event-note on the 2nd day of current month ("- Next Actions"):
If the action is done – just delete the event-note.
If it is not done and you plan to never do it – also delete the event-note.
If it is not done and you plan to leave it as a next action – do nothing.
If it is not done and you plan to make this action postponed – change its date to the 3rd day of the current month ("- Postponed Actions 7..90")
If it is not done and you do not plan to do it within next 3 months – copy & paste “Title” field from the processed event-note into "Description" field of "- Self-Organization", and delete the processed event-note.

For each event-note on the 3rd day of the current month ("- Postponed Actions 7..90") perform processing similarly to the 2nd day.

During processing according to pp. 3.1 and 3.2, you will likely discover new stuff to be stored or focused on, for example, ideas about new activities, notes about completed ones, achieved results for future review – you should collect such items according to p. 2.1 and then process them according to p. 3.1.

After finishing processing you should look through "Description" field of "- Self-organization" to find and remove duplicates. For each of them, delete a duplicate formulation or combine both formulations into a single one.
Strings in "Description" field could also be reordered during processing to group processed data by topics or by data types.

3.3. Moving data that does not require fast access from the calendar into an external storage

The size limit of event' "Description" field in Google Calendar is nearly eight thousand characters (about four pages). But inconvenience caused by its excessive size arises even at nearly three thousand characters in it.

Therefore, after a while, the contents of "Description" field for "- Self-organization" would need to be moved into a larger storage, by one of the following ways:

  • Break "- Self-organization" into several event-notes, and use their "Description" fields of each of them.
  • Write it down on paper.
  • Copy & paste into an e-mail draft on mail server (Gmail or other).
  • Copy & paste into a local file (on a computer or a smartphone or into a file synchronized across computer and smartphone).
  • Copy & paste into a file in cloud storage.

Hereinafter, Google Docs are considered as the option or cloud storage. The advantages of this option are:

  • Relatively simple to realize.
  • No need to install any additional apps.
  • Accessibility and editability on both a smartphone and a computer.
  • Ability to create an active hyperlink from a Google Calendar' event to a Google Docs document.

A disadvantage of this option is inoperability without special mobile apps while being offline (however desktop Chrome allows editablity of Google Docs documents offline, so these documents are stored on a computer and synchronized with Google Docs cloud storage on Google Drive when connected).

Create a new Google Docs document: https://docs.google.com/document/create (a new blank document is created for each click, so do not click repeatedly). In the new blank document window click the "New Document" link and enter its title: "Self-organization" (without quotes).

Open the previously created calendar event-note "- Self-organization" and insert URL of Google Docs document just created tn "Where" field of the event-note. By doing so, active link to "Self-organization" Google Docs document is created it the event-note in Google Calendar mobile app.
It is inconvenient to post this link in "Description" field because that field is already in use.

The link created is not active in Google Calendar desktop interface, so it is necessary to create it separately to use it while working on the computer.
Press the "Gear" button in upper right corner of the Google Calendar window and select "Labs" from pop-up menu.
On the next page (Labs), find "Attach Google Docs" extension, select "Enable" and press "Save".

Open the event-note "- Self-organization" again, now it contains "Add attachment" link below "Description" field. Click this link and select "Self-organization" Google Docs document. After this, the active link to it will be accessible thru Google Calendar desktop interface while working on the computer.

After attaching "Self-organization" Google Docs document, the processing on p. 3.1 and 3.2 should be performed by directly saving stuff into "Self-organization" Google Docs document instead of "Description" field of "- Self-organization" event-note. After doing so, this "Description" field can then be used to store information requiring quick access outside the workplace – for example – shopping lists, transport timetables, etc.

4. Implementation of Actions (Do, Engage)

4.1 Choosing the actions to be implemented using GTD

The GTD method assumes that decisions on next actions are taken by intuition, using "Next Actions" lists, on the basis of the following criteria:

  • Context (locations, tools, persons etc.)
  • Time frame available
  • Current vital energy level
  • Actions priority

In our case, the primarily "Next Actions" list is "- Next Actions" calendar category (the 2nd day of the current month).
Furthermore, as a secondary "Next Actions" lists, you should also review "- Inbox" calendar category (the 1st day of current month) and the basket for collected paper notes on the workplace because it may contain reminders of urgent actions that yet have not been processed and have not been included in relevant categories of the self-organization system.

You should also review calendar's current date (today) to catch all today's dated actions.

Thus, choosing the next action to implement is based on the consistent review of the following categories of the self-organization system:

  • "- Next actions" (2nd day of the current month)
  • "- Inbox" (1st day of the current month)
  • Current day in Google Calendar
  • Basket for collected paper notes

David Allen also classifies all activities in GTD methodology into three types:

  • Doing predefined work
  • Doing work as it shows up
  • Defining your work

He also emphasizes in his book that people tend to be too addicted to the second type of activities, tend to implement new tasks as soon as they arise and overlook the other two types of activities. That harms people, and leads to anxiety and inefficiency.

This problem is especially actual while working on the computer. Therefore, there is a need for a complementary system intended just to keep you focused on the action you choose and switch your focus to another action (timely and consciously). Implementation of this system will be presented in the next section.

4.2 Focusing attention while working on the computer using the Pomodoro Technique

Web resources (sites, apps etc.) are often organized in such a way so as to distract user attention to keep them engaged on the web resource as long as possible. It can also happen by itself, without the Internet, while working offline because of unclear work goals and procedures. It leads to procrastination, ongoing distraction from really important and necessary things to insignificant things, trifles and entertainment (infotainment).

The problem is that we are forced to distract our focus while working on the computer from our goals and even from our self-organizing system itself.
Therefore, some complementary system is also needed on the workplace to consciously focus and timely switch your attention.

The most popular of these systems is Pomodoro Technique proposed by Francesco Cirillo. According to the technique, the work process is divided into 25-minute time frames for work interspersed with 5-minute time frames for rest.

The implementation of Pomodoro Technique using paper notes and a clock (a separate device or OS-built-in):

  • Take a sheet from the stack of clean sheets (p. 2.1) and write down the action you plan to do within the next 25 minutes. It is desirable (but not required) to formulate the goal of the action in this note.
  • Below this inscription, write down the time which is 25 minutes ahead of the current time.
  • Put the note on a clearly visible area of the workplace. It is better to attach it to the monitor.
  • Do the action specified till the time written during the 25-minute time frame.
  • When the time has come, stop working on the computer for 5 minute. If possible, leave the workplace during this 5-minute time frame.

So, do a 5-minute break from computer.
During the break, in addition to rest, do the following:

  • If the action is done, draw a line on the sheet and put the sheet into the stack of collected sheets (p. 2.2).
  • If the action is not yet done and will be continued in the next time frame – write down next time, 25 minutes ahead of the current time below on the sheet and return the sheet back on the clearly visible area to continue focus on it.
  • If the action is not yet done and will not be continued in the next time frame – draw the line on the sheet, write down what exactly has been achieved regarding the action and put the sheet into the stack of collected sheets.

Later, these notes can be processed together with other paper notes (according to p. 3.1), and its content goes into "- Self-organization" event-note for future review.

After completing four 25-minute time frames of work with 5-minute breaks between them, take a longer break, at least 15-30 minutes.

The Pomodoro Technique is not oriented on immediate implementation of urgent tasks as soon as they arrive, for example, a constant flow of interruptions – visitors, urgent instructions, phone calls, etc. f interruptions are too frequent, the applicability of this technique is limited.

It is important to emphasize that many publications about the technique strongly recommend using a separate device as th timer, preferably a mechanical one, despite the large number of timer apps available on smartphone and desktop. Mechanical timers cost around $3-5 and are usually sold in stores with cutlery and kitchenware departments.

Mechanical and electronic timers (IKEA):

Mechanical timers (Tescoma). The name "Pomodoro Technique" is derived from such a timer in the shape of a tomato:

When using a timer instead of writing down time frames on paper notes, just set the timer on the time frame desired (25 minutes). It is more convenient and does not allow to accidentally miss the end of the time frame.

4.3. Implementation of the first phase of the self-organization system (Collect + Process + Do)

Adaptation to the first phase of the self-organization system would take about 2-4 weeks. Perfrom ongoing collection of items that need attention, choose actions to perform according to GTD methodology (context, time available, energy available, priority) and apply Pomodoro Technique to focus while working on the computer.

Regularly, at least once a week, preferably once in 2-3 days, fill "- Self-organization" with new items collected on these days. At first time, fill "Description" field of the event-note. After that, attach Google Docs document "Self-organization" and move the content of "Description" field to this document. Also review its contens for new actions (dated, next, postponed) and then add them as event-notes in Google Calendar.

At a new month begins, you should replace the old month by the new month for each date of event-headers and event-notes for 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th day of the month.

Implementation of the first phase is completed. Organizing references is not covered yet, it is the task of the second phase.
In the first phase, you just need to ongoingly collect items that need your attention, process them timely, set reminders about actions and perform actions using reminders.

5. Organizing reminders and references by categories (Organize)

As a result of ongoing implementation of collection and processing, during 2-4 weeks, you will have "- Self-organization" event-note and attached "Self-organization" Google Docs document with notes about things that need your attention. Tthe process of putting those things together into that document will also be adapted.
However, this document is inconvenient to retrieve information for search and review. This problem can be mitigated through grouping items of the same type into separate paragraphs, but even doing so, the problem is still remains.

In the second phase, we will classify and organize this collected information from "Self-organization" Google Docs document into some structure that allows to search and review it convienently.

5.1. Organizing information about the self-organization system

Create a Google Docs document named "Processed" (without quotes) and attach it to the "- Self-organization" event-note. Later, we will use it to consolidate the results of processing according to pp. 3.1 and 3.2.

The point of creating the separate “Processed” document in the second phase is to distribute across several attached documents the information that does not fit in a Google Calendar event-note description. In the first phase it all goes into one and the same Google Docs "Self-organization" document, but in the second phase this document will be used only for information about the system of self-organization itself – ideas, notes, etc. In the second phase, "Processed" document will be used only as a buffer to process collected items.

Create event-notes named "Checklists" and "Read / Review", both on the 4th day of the current month ("- Reference") in the same or adjacent time frame with "- Self-organization" event-note.

In the description field of the "Checklists" event-note, write the list of rules and habits you plan to comply with (daily routine, workouts, healthy habits, etc.) and the list of regular (recurring) actions you plan to do ongoingly. You can also add checklists with self-organization system items to be reviewed at different levels – daily, weekly, monthly, etc.
Different lists in the event-note description can be visually separated by highlighting titles in all CAPITAL letters (because there is no text formatting in fields of a Google Calendar event).

In the description field of the "Read/Review" event-note, write the list of everything you would like to read, listen or watch in future – books, music, movies etc. Although its subjects could vary greatly, it is inconvenient to store all them separately in different categories. It is also more convenient to consider obtaining information in any form as a part of the self-organizations system, as a separate category, similar to inbox category. Allen emphasizes importance of this category in his book. He notes that he always takes with him a folder with stuff for reading and reviewing along with its inbox folder.

The following describes the usage of the "Read/Review" event-note as well as "Shopping", "Schedules", "Meetings" event-notes to consolidate actions of the same type. This allows, to some extent, facilitate the categories of next and postponed actions to save calendar from overloading with individual event-notes with actions of the same type.

5.2. Organizing information that needs to be accessed quickly outside the workplace

Information requiring quick access (in 15-30 seconds) outside the workplace may include things like theses and questions for meetings, shopping lists, transport timetables and businesses adresses and opening hours.

Create event-notes "- Quick Access", "Shoppings", "Schedules", "Meetings" – all on the 4th of the month ("- Reference"), in the next time frame with "- Self-organization" event-note.

In the description field of "Shoppings", write the list of everything that you need to buy (except large purchases) – so you do not need separate calendar items for them.

In the description field of "Schedules", write the timetables for transport you use, adresses and opening hours of the locations you are going to visi – so you do not need separate calendar items for them also.

In the description field of "Meetings", write topics, talking points and questions for upcoming meetings, both formal and informal ones.

In the description field of the event-note "- Quick Access" itself write other information requiring quick access outside the workplace.

5.3. Possible methods of storing reference outside the calendar. Pros and cons

The advantages of keeping notes in calendar events:

  • Availability outside the workplace.
  • Availability without internet connection with subsequent synchronization.
  • Relatively quick access on a smartphone (in a few clicks, compact and distinguishable elements, several event-notes can fit in one line).
  • All categories of the self-organization system are placed together (no need to switch between apps).
  • Easy to move from one category to another (by changing only the date and time of the event via its drop-down menu, no need to drag and drop on a smartphone).

As already mentioned in p. 3.3., saving notes in the calendar is not reasonable when its size is too large. Notes could be kept outside the calendar using the following options:

  • E-mail drafts in online mailbox – it also has some size restrictions associated with the convenience of its viewing and editing, but much less severe as compare to calendar. It also allows to attach and auto-sync other files across smartphone and computer without any additional software.
  • Local files on computer and smartphone – auto-sync across devices is also possible using software like BitTorrent Sync.
  • Cloud files (files on server) – Google Docs, Dropbox and similar services.
  • Handwriting on paper – very severe restrictions size and ability to access outside the workplace, but fastest input for simple texts and graphics.

Gmail emails are often used themselves as reminders, however it is not necessary for using Google Calendar and Gmail together – by creating corresponding calendar reminders for emails to be processed using Google Tasks service – https://mail.google.com/tasks/ – and then process these reminders similarly to other events in the calendar.

Further, as in p. 3.3, we will consider the option of keeping notes in cloud storage using Google Docs service.

5.4. Organizing actions and reference by areas of focus

Areas of focus (areas of responsibility) and projects differ from each other in terms of their goals. For an area of focus, you usually need not only to achieve some desired state of affairs, but also to maintain it for a long time. An area of focus is a broader concept than a project, so hereinafter reference and actions will be classified by areas of focus. Any direction of work where you need to maintain some state of affairs or some key indicators for a long time, can be considered as an area of focus.
For a project, you can formulate the goal and, in any moment, evaluate whether it is achieved or not. For an area of focus, you can only evaluate the conformity between the real state of affairs in this area and the desired one.

Create event-notes on the 4th day of current month to store reference on major areas of focus similar to the previously created "- Self-organization" event-note, each in its own separate time frame from 0.00 to 10.00, for example:

  • "- Job"
  • "- Rest"
  • "- Hobby"
  • "- Relationships" and others

Any of these major areas can also be divided into its component areas, by creating a corresponding event-note in the same time frame with the major area, for example:
"- Work": "Consulting", "Marketing" and other areas of responsibility at work.
"- Rest": "House," "Auto", "Health" and others areas of responsibility outside of work.
Unlike major areas of focus, which marked by a hyphen beginning the title, component areas do not have it, so they will be grouped after the major area event-note in the same time frame.

If necessary, you can create and attach additional reference document on the area of responsibility in "Description" field of the event-note or in an attached Google Docs document.

Look through the created Google document "Processed" line by line and move that lines into the event-note for areas of focus (in the description field or in theline by line and attached document) as shown in p. 3.3.

It is possible to store it either entirely in the description either only in the attached file or split (more important elements in the description and less important ones in the attached file).

Further, with more content being processed, it can be split across sections – by writing their titles in capital letters – for example:

  • "Goals" or "Checklist" (Checklist)
  • "Ideas" or "Maybe / someday"
  • "Notes" or actually "Reference", and others

5.5. Organizing information and commitments by contacts

GTD methodology employs separate "Waiting For" category to track commitments of other people and reminders about them.

Difference compared with GTD:
"Waiting For" category is used not only for other people obligations to myself but, in the same time, for own obligations to other people and for keeping their contact information.

Commitments and contact information can be stored using the following options:

  • In the description to the event-note about the contact
    Allows to store directly in the calendar. It provides convenience of reviewing.
  • In the description to the contact in the address book
    Provides convenient reviewing immediately (before or after) while contacting (calling) the contact. Contacts with notes should be grouped in a separate group in the address book to review all them together.

Next, the first option would be considered – event-note in the calendar.

Look through the "- Self-organization" category and through the address book. If you found and want to keep some information or commitment regarding some person – do the following:

Create event-note (if not created before) and put the person's name in its title, in the same or next time frames with "- Relationships" event-note – so such items would be visually grouped together in the calendar.

In the description of this event-note, write the gist of mutual commitments with this person or information related to the person to be saved. If the description size is too large its content should be moved to the attached file, similar to p. 3.3.

6. Identifying and organizing projects and their components (Projects)

If it turned out that an action includes several steps (action steps), each of which requires special attention, the action should be referred to as a project and its steps should be transformed into separate elements of self-organization system. Will do it this way:

  • Open the category containing the action we want to be converted into a project: "- Next actions" or "- Postponed Actions 7..90" (i.e. the 2nd or the 3rd day of the month).
  • Add a hyphen, "-", beginning the title of the action’s event-note. Thus, it designates projects, consisting of several interconnected individual action steps. Here, the action, performed by the same means in the same place is considered as the action step.
  • Create event-notes with the action steps of the project in the same time frame with the event-note for the project.

Project support information for the project can be saved into the description of the project’s event-note or moved to the attached file, similar to p. 3.3, or moved into some external storage.

Upon project completion, the project support information can be stored into the "- Reference" category (the 4th day of the month) – into the event-note for the corresponding area of focus.

Difference compared with GTD:
The approach presented does not require having a separate list of projects and does not require having absolutely all projects be identified. Simple projects with obvious action steps are stored together with the other actions and there is a procedure that allows to seamlessly convert an one-step action into a multi-step project.
Complicated long-time projects with non-obvious results are considered as areas of focus and stored together with reference.

7. Reviewing of the self-organization system (Plan)

7.1. Goals of the review and corresponding elements of self-organization system

During the review phase, recurrent review of self-organization system is perfomed, with the following goals:

  • Find previously unaccounted items that require your attention
  • Understand the overall state of affairs in different areas of focus

To implement this, some procedures need to be formulated for reviewing on different levels and these procedures should be performed periodically – dayly, weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly, etc. It is desirable to formulate these programs in separate checklists.The "Checklists" event-note in self-organizing systemhas been created in p. 5.1 specifically to store such lists.

Finding items that require your attention (ideas, thoughts, commitments) is realized by compiling the list of all your data storages and by checking that list with some frequency during reviews (dayly, weekly, monthly, and so on).

Understanding the overall state of affairs in different areas of focus is realized by keeping lists of results achieved (actions performed) – these lists can be classified by date (more suitable for daily replenishment) and by areas of focus (more suitable to review on higher levels, over longer time frames).

Create Google Docs spreasheet "Data Storages" to store lists of all your data sources and your data storages (both temporary and permanent ones) that you use regularly.

Attach the spreasheet to the event-note "- Self-organization" the same way as for a Google Docs document.  Also create Google Docs documents "Results by Date" and "Results by Area of Focus" and attach them to this event-note also.

Further, these files will be used to record the results achieved. Add notes about results achieved into inbox (notes on paper or "- Inbox" category in the calendar), then in the "Results by Date", then periodically combine them in the "Results by Area of Focus".

7.2. Weekly Review

Weekly review is a key element of the GTD methodology. If possible, it could be performed more frequently, maybe 2-3 times a week. It would be good to combine review with processing so that they follow one another.
When performing processing on pp. 3.1 and 3.2, collect the processed items in the attached file "Processed". Then distribute the processed items between categories:
• If this is a note about an action performed – save it into "Results by date".
• If this is an information that needs to be accessed quickly outside the workplace – save into the corresponding category of "- Quick Access".
• If this is an information or commitment regarding a contact – save into the description field of event-note on the contact.
• If this is an information or commitment regarding a project – save into the description field of event-note on the project, or create an event-note as action steps for this project.
• If this is something else – save into the description field of event-note for the most corresponding area of focus, or into some external storage.

7.3. Completion of implementation of the self-organization system, implementing its second phase (Organize + Plan)

Daily (or more often) perform the daily review to select the next actions to do:
Look through categories "- Next actions", "- Inbox", inbox for paper notes, as well as the contents of "- Self-organization" and "- Quick access" event-notes. While doing this, evaluate the relevance of actions listed there and your own compliance with the rules listed there in accordance with p. 4 (the first phase of self-organization).

Once a week (or more often) perform the weekly review:
Ongoingly perform all the activities listed in p. 4.3, supplementing them by organizing of reference materials, identfing projects and performing the daily review in accordance with pp. 5-7.

About once every 1-3 months perform the review at higher level:
Add the items accumulated inside the "Results by day" file into the "Results by areas of focus" file.
Overview all categories of self-organization system – Calendar, attached Google Docs files, the address book. In addition, you can overview your external storage system (in whole or in part).
Find the previously unaccounted items that need your attention, add notes about them in inbox categories and then process them and distribute into corresponding categories of the self-organization system.

© Oleg Sergeykin, PhD

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