Index Your Reference SystemSome days ago I wrote about my GTD Journey so far. I guess I forgot to mention one Blinding Flash of the Obvious (as David Allen puts it). In the evolution of (the core of) my GTD system/tools, I feel like I have finally realized what it’s all about – as David says himself, you only need a good list manager that is fast, fun and easy to use. This list manager could be low tech, mid tech or high tech, that doesn’t really matter.

Currently I am using a high tech list manager, but I would feel equally comfortable with just plain pen and paper. And boy, have I been making lists lately! The power of making lists (other than your next action or projects list) has finally hit home for me.

Index Your Reference System

There is one particular list I made that I would like to share with you. I am still in the process of building my A-Z reference system. This is a never-ending process of course, but I have gotten to the point where at least all of my current stuff is neatly organized. Basically, my reference system consists of two large plastic baskets which contain over 100 separate tabbed folders each (see the crappy picture at the beginning of this post). All neatly labeled with my Brother labeler, of course :) .

Retrieving current information or storing new information has become very effective with this reference system. If my reference system was all I ever got out of GTD then I would be happy already! In the beginning I made the decision to create just one alphabetically sorted reference system, which contains personal information, clients, project support material, etc. That is, I decided against creating separate reference systems for each of these categories.

My reference system currently holds more than 200 folders which could easily be increased rapidly if I would ever start to process and organize all of my “old stuff”. Finding a specific piece of information can become a little bit annoying with so many files. Did I file that under P for “Project X” or under X for “Project X”? Determining if I have already created a specific folder for a specific topic can be even more annoying. I found myself flipping through all 200+ folders on more than one occasion!


List manager to the rescue! The solution is simple and obvious as are most brilliant ideas :) . I just created a huge list of all the labels on all of the folders in my entire reference system, i.e. an index to my reference system! Quick tip: I didn’t want to bother my wife so I just read all labels to myself and recorded them on my PDA – then played them back and entered them directly into my list manager. Then I spent about 5 minutes to assign all 200+ folders to about 5 discrete categories on the list, e.g. Personal, Client, Project, etc.

The benefit of it all? This small investment in time will surely pay off for me (it already has). If I am wondering under what exact phrase/word I filed a specific piece of information, I use my list manager to quickly search the index of my reference system. If I am wondering if I already created a folder for a specific topic or not, I do the same. If I want to know if all of my clients have their own folder in my reference system, I use the filter option in my list manager to show clients only. No more flipping through hundreds of folders for me! :)