Preface: This post is part of the MWA3P email project that I had started in June. Our project hui (hui is Hawaiian for group or team) is working on Part 2 of David Allen’s Getting Things Done, and this discussion is a focus on Chapter 4 Getting Started: Setting Up the Time, Space, and Tools.
I wholeheartedly agree with GTD author David Allen when he explains that you should set up an office at home and at your workplace. I fell into doing this when I got my very first laptop and started to find I did more office-type work at home in my off hours than I did at work: In the hospitality industry you are normally out ‘on the floor’ versus in your office. Eight or ten hours go by and you haven’t even looked at your inbox much less process anything in it.
I kept my home office set up when my job changed and I entered the ‘executive suite’ because by then I had seamlessly integrated so much of my personal stuff into electronic files on my laptop (yeah, a big no-no, but I did it anyway ” working at home was supposedly a no-no too). I was traveling an awful lot at the time, and coincidentally tackling a major revamping of my personal finances, and those electronic files really helped with online bill-paying, phone calls to account managers, and other money matters while I was on the road.
At home the mere presence of an office was terrific for our household organization: All those random junk drawers with binder clips, rubber bands, plastic tape dispensers and other office paraphernalia throughout the house were cleaned up because they got consolidated in the efficiency of my home office for the whole family. Personal record keeping and document retrieval got so much easier. For instance, instead of collecting shoe boxes of photos needing to go into albums, they were filed, organizing everything so much better for when I actually sat down and did the albums.
Allen cautions, “Don’t share space.” (page 90). I agree with him when it comes to having a personal work space in the home office. However as a mom who is the unofficial ‘household organizer,’ central shared filing which everyone understands and respects saves you an awful lot of work. Let’s be honest: you can get away with a certain amount of dictatorship at home when you’re the parent.
Designing work space for function
However I admit that I ended up with these two work spaces versus designing them. In reading GTD I’ve now begun to design them to work better, a la one of my very favorite Covey concepts: Begin with the End in Mind.
One of my reading habits is that I usually speed-read a book first, and then go back to more slowly studying it. Allen’s book is one in which jumping ahead can really help you. In the conclusion of GTD, Allen says this:
“To consistently stay on course, you’ll have to do some things that may not be habits yet: 1. keep everything out of your head; 2. decide actions and outcomes when things first emerge on your radar, instead of later; and 3. regularly review and update the complete inventory of open loops of your life and work.”
The numbering in the quote is mine: These three behaviors have become the criteria for me when I look at my work spaces and decide how I need to make them most functional. For instance I need much more working space when it comes time for my weekly reviews.
If you have not yet finished your reading of GTD, I highly recommend you skip to the Conclusion of the book and read what Allen shares there as his “final tips for moving forward.”
The concept of hard boundaries
David Allen talks about hard boundaries in reference to the ‘hard landscape’ of your calendar. It is also a great concept to apply to your work spaces. This is so simple and yet so helpful! Be brutally honest with yourself when it comes to the hard boundaries you should respect between reference, supplies, decorations, tools or the items you need for project support.
This was a significant aha! moment for me in reading GTD when it came to new so-called ‘desk organizers’ that I had purchased along the years because of their decorative qualities in my office versus their productivity functionality. Now I’ve gone to the other extreme, in that my office tools can look pretty ugly as long as they work well.
Is there a 3rd workspace for you?
If you travel as much as I do, you’ll likely find you also need a third work space: a portable office.
That last sentence is how I probably would’ve started writing this section a few weeks ago. Now I appreciate how carefully Allen chose his words when he wrote it this way in his book:
“If you move around much, as a business traveler or just as a person with a mobile life-style, you’ll also want to set up an efficiently organized micro-office-in-transit.”
Today I don’t know anyone in business who doesn’t have a mobile life style IF they are effectively networking and building professional relationships as they develop their own personal brand with a free-agent, brand-called-Me Inc., make-myself-forever-marketable mentality. Now I consider ‘travel’ anytime I have to step outside of my house.
One example: the Tickler file, i.e. the 43 Folders. In my home office (now my ‘mother ship’ since I and everyone else in my ‘ohana in business is self-employed) I’ve taken Allen’s recommendations pretty completely; manila folders, labeler and all. However for my O‘ahu office #2 I purchased two Pendaflex Expanding Files (1 which is 1-31, and 1 which is Jan-Dec), finding that a) there was much less in them, and b) I never needed to carry the files separately.
When I thought of how I’d use the 43 Folders when traveling, I only purchased another Pendaflex Expanding File that is numbered 1-31, and it became my all-purpose 43 31 Folders Ticker file in actual use, with the numbers corresponding to the day of my travel. It normally sits in my hotel room and I pull out the day’s work I need. If I do need it, it’s easy to carry with me. Everything in it eventually gets processed out when I return to my other two office work spaces.
During my travel, (and again, that might mean the Pendaflex sits shotgun to me in my car) information pertinent to a particular day gets filed in that day until I get home to process it — such as expense receipts and business cards I’m handed at different speaking engagements. In other words, it then turns into a portable inbox. It really speeds up the processing of stuff when I return to my home office versus before where I dumped everything into my inbox — now the whole pendaflex goes into my inbox for my next weekly review.
Share your tips
If you have some ideas to share, please do add them here for us today. Let’s see if we can collect some cool, time-tested tricks on the ultimate office work spaces. How have the coaching of both David Allen and Stephen Covey influenced your office organization and functionality so you are most productive?