2015-10-29 17:13:30

The Circle – a simple ToDo System to Get more Things Done

I love to use To Do applications and GTD programs on my mac. At least try them out. ThingsiGTDOmniFocus and many more. All have their pros and cons. Most people try a few and then stick to one. Others use one but keep looking for better solutions. And then still some people cannot be helped — they try everything but get nothing done. Maybe they are looking for the application which will do the job for them. 

I have to admit that I am not one of those who get everything done and not always on time. Ok, say I am lazy, but my excuse is that, even if I get many things done there are so many more things I would like to do too and those tend to pile up in time. Then there is always the question of priority.

At my work and in my other life I have a huge workload – I tend to believe so myself at least. I design things; I take care of all the 30+ macs and their users, the mail server, file server, files and countless other things. I often take care of the traffic management at work, distributing the design work and making sure it’s done before deadline. It means at least 20 to 30 calls a day with all it’s messages. Besides that my interests span typography, design, art and many other things. I also have a wife and a family, but no pets. No time for pets, sorry.

Lately a few of my co-workers have noticed my habit of writing down every project and action into notebooks and using a system of circles to deal with my countless to do actions. That’s right, I always keep such notebooks handy and a nice pen — not any pen. I carry the notebooks (mostly Moleskins) with me where ever I go, sketch, write, scribble and almost every item gets a circle in the notebook. I am not always at my computer but I can always carry the notebook with me. And it replaces all those stickies that tend to get lost anyway.

I really had not thought about this as noteworthy. The system developed through the years from a simple check boxes to something which might be called a system. Maybe I should give it a name and try to make money out of it? hmm… I don’t know. How about calling it Circle?

Anyway, because a few who have asked have tried this little system too and liked it. I want to give you a chance to try it out for yourself. I am not going planning to build a business empire around this with books, videos and seminars, like the GTD system. Not yet.

Before I let you in on it: Keep in mind when you have to do something; if it needs more than one action to finish it, it’s aproject made of single actions. Get the actions done one by one and you finish the project. Think of it as a loaf of bread: It is better to eat one slice at the time until the whole bread is finished. Swallowing the whole bread in one bite might choke you.

Let’s get started. Write down the projects name, like: Product Brochure for My Brand Inc. Put a circle in front of the name. Then, indenting lines a bit, draw a circle. After the circle, you write down the actions you need to do before the project is finished. One line at least for each action. You might want or need to add a few actions or a phone number later on, so leave a little space between projects.

Ok, this was about the bones and now it’s the meat. The Circle.

We now have projects with its actions, all with circles in front. And we surely have individual actions that are not part of any project, like Pay this bill and so on. Put everything in, every action you need to execute at home or work. Don’t try to remember everything — except one thing: The notebook remembers.

As things progress I add few things to the circles. Here a list that explains in words and the pictures should be helpful guides too.

  • Circle : Project or an action
  • Stroke, a diagonal line across the circle : Work has started
  • Filled lower part of the circle : Work is half done (or waiting for some other step)
  • Filled circle : Work on the project or action is finished or off my hand (delegated)
  • Cross over the circle, second stroke : Cancelled

This makes up the basic Circle system and is a great starter. I also use a few extras for emphasis In addition to this you could also use:

  • Numbers to note in which order I need to execute
  • Exclamation mark in front of the circle for an important action
  • Arrow or > after any circle tells that a project or an action has been delegated or moved to my GTD application. Don’t forget to fill the circle at the same time. And also write down who is continuing the work if that is important. It usually is.
  • Dot in the middle of the circle is a subtle attention mark.

Note that cancel can occur at any of the steps except the fully filled circle.

So, this is the Circle system. It’s simple and it does not cost you anything and you don’t need to read a book about it. I (and you, when you have adopted the system) gain several things: A really reliable and fast working visual overview of the status of every project. I see instantly if a page has circles that are not fully filled. In a while you will notice that you try to get all the circles filled up so you don’t have to look back on older pages. You will be aware that you are actually getting more done. The circles are the proof.


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