My system for getting things done (GTD): a physical board, Google Drive, Trello boards, and my notebook

Getting things done (GTD) makes an impact for me as a freelance writer, but also, as a human. Clutter hurts. It’s hard to admit that because I’m often sitting at a desk with piles to my right and left. I clear enough space to put down my coaster and caffeine of choice (Dr. Pepper Ten on ice with a splash of coconut creamer).

Psychology Today reported on how clutter affects happiness. Here’s the gist of it:

  1. Living in clutter damages the way you identify with your home (or work), which should be a retreat from the outside world. Having too much stuff in a small place sets it up as your enemy, not your friend.
  2. Hanging around in a chaotic environment leads to more snacking and cookie consuming. Can confirm this in my personal life.
  3. An essential ingredient in good mental hygiene is having a comfortable workplace.
  4. When you’re surrounded by clutter, you have a harder time interpreting the emotional expressions of those you interact with.
  5. Clutter affects your age-related memory loss in a negative way. Slogging through a messy neural network slows down your information processing.

I continue to try out new systems to streamline my life. For instance, my family uses a kanban board for household tasks. We’ve adjusted things, moved the location of the board, and other changes, since writing that post, but it gives you an idea of our system.

My system for writing work includes some tools in the cloud. Here’s a brief overview:

My Kanban Board

Hands on and visual is a must for me. That’s where I have my board, which is in the wall in my office. I bought a cork board at a thrift store, taped off three swimlanes, spray painted them with three shades of yellow, spray painted the board frame silver, and added some yarn for my columns. Simple.

How it works:

  1. Each 3×5 card represents a larger project or client I write content for.
  2. Each flash card (I bought these from Amazon), represents tasks for assignments. Examples include putting together the draft for an article, researching, interviewing, editing, and submitting.
  3. The first column are the items I need to do.
  4. The middle column are “in progress”. It’s a skinny column on purpose. Too much in progress means I’m not focusing and finishing items.
  5. The last column are all of the tasks I’ve finished. Hooray for getting things done!

In order to make a Kanban work, there is a step that is an absolute must do: using it. It’s not worth its weight on the wall if I don’t update it. Ideally, I do this every single day.

When I worked full-time as a Business Analyst, one of my job roles was that of a Scrum Master (an agile software project manager). I was in charge of getting the team together for our daily standups. These consisted of standing in front of our scrum boards and each team member having a few minutes to share with the team three things: what they did yesterday; what they’re doing today; and any impediments keeping them from doing their tasks. That’s it. They didn’t last longer than 15 minutes.

Each day, it’s my job to have my own daily standup, moving the cards I’ve finished to done, choosing the card or cards I’m working on that day, and adding any new cards for new work.

The Kanban board isn’t loaded with a ton of information. If I want to know what it means to write a rough draft for the “book story” for Utah Life, then I turn to my Google Drive.

Using Google Drive for researching and writing content

I keep most of my writing projects in Google Drive where I can access them from my desktop, laptop, or phone. I have folders for clients. Within those folders, I have sub-folders, which may be status related (Submitted, Research), or project related (graphics, SEO, Facebook ads, etc).

For one of my monthly projects, I write social media content for several small businesses. I put together the same number of Facebook posts, blogs, and emails each month. I use the same template for this, which consists of a Google Doc broken up with the following:

  1. The month and year for the content
  2. The name of the small business and what type of business they are (technology, health, etc)
  3. The description of what the client wants with their content and how much I’m getting paid for it
  4. How many Facebook posts
  5. A table with a row for each post
  6. How many blog posts
  7. A table with a row for each blog post
  8. If they have a monthly email
  9. A row for that email
  10. Reminders for questions that come up frequently (formatting emails, amounts of individual pieces for invoicing, etc)

Each month, I start this over with the rows of the tables emptied. As I come up with content throughout the month, I fill in the tables. This includes the actual content, links to interesting stories, and links to a good image for the post. For the blog posts, the table cell grows as I write until it’s filled with anywhere from 400-900 words.

This is my rough draft and brainstorming document. Then, when I “submit” the content, I do so using WordPress. After submitting, I highlight the post on my Google Doc and change it to italicized, visually telling me, that one is done and submitted.

At the end of the month, it all goes on an invoice and within a week or two, I get paid. BAM!

I then move the Google Doc to my “archive” folder and start a new one. I just finished my December doc earlier this week and have my January 2019 doc started already.

Trello Tracking

When there’s more to my work than what fits in some Google Docs, I keep track of the more granular tasks using Trello. For more detail on all of the different types of boards I’ve put together, I have an entire post dedicated to it so check it out!

Dot Journaling my daily tasks with a weekly review

I also use a dot journal although I need to improve my consistency here. With it, I keep track of daily tasks for anything that I need to do during the day, whether that’s writing or a task at home such as laundry, cleaning, dinner, or taking the garbage cans out to the curb.

I’m also adding to my routine a weekly retrospective. When I first started working as a scrum master, this meeting was dreaded by myself and the team. It was a required piece of the agile puzzle where the team reviewed what went well, what didn’t, and ways to improve.

After a couple of years, my team and I found a way to run this meeting that was fun and incredibly successful. What didn’t work was me sitting at the computer while we all stared up at the projected screen and I typed up the lists as they told me things to put on them.

“Well, I guess we finished most of our tasks so that went well.”


“We didn’t get a good description for the use cases so that didn’t go well.”


The new format used sticky notes and a white board. I drew a horizontal and a vertical line on the board, breaking up into four quadrants. I labeled each one: happy, sad, changes, and beers.

Each team member had sticky notes and sharpies. They were required to fill in at least one note for three of the categories: happy, sad, and beers.

Happy meant the things that went well.

Sad were the things that didn’t go well.

Beers referred to something specific somebody did for them that they would “buy a beer for them to say thanks”, figuratively speaking. One team member referred to his as stars instead, because he didn’t drink and that was totally fine.

After filling three areas of the board with our sticky notes, we then voted with stickers. Each team member had two stickers for happy notes and two stickers for sad notes. Once we’d all voted, we talked about those happiest and saddest things. We then took the saddest things and used those to fill in the changes section.

In the past, we’d talked about every single “sad” point and how we were going to fix them. This meant that we were trying to do too much at once. Narrowing our focus helped us to be more successful and actually achieve change.

Finally, we finished our meeting by sharing the “beers” with each other. Adding this recognition piece was awesome. At first, team members felt awkwardly doing it, but over time, it become the best part of the meeting.

I’m not working on a team like this anymore so I haven’t done retrospectives in a long time. I’m starting now to add them back in, though. The format, clearly, is very different. As you can see from my image of my dot journal above, I am writing out a few things: wins, “sad faces”, and one thing to do better over the next week (in my personal and in my writing stuff).

I feel like I still need a way to do “beers”, but I’m at a loss there. Do you have any suggestions or ideas?

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