Not getting things done? Try WSD

I want to welcome guest author Tim Chase and his “family friendly” version of WSD. His system is just as simple, just as much fun, but with a less-adult vocabulary.

Thanks to my local public library, I’ve joined the ranks of folks who have read David Allen’s Getting Things Done. However I became bogged down in the implementation details. Then I stumbled across this article on and in a lightbulb moment I recognized it as a similar technique I’ve watched my father use for years.

Failed by GTD

Overwhelmed by GTD’s buzzwords (contexts, ubiquitous capture, tickler files, 43-folders, buckets, etc), the simplicity of WSD is appealing:

  • Find something to write on.
  • Find something to write with.
  • Finally, and most importantly, WRITE STUFF DOWN.

GTD also seems to promote beautiful yet expensive implements — PDA/smart-phones, Moleskine® notebooks, space-pens. WSD has no such pretensions. While you can use your PDA/smart-phone, your Moleskine or your space-pen, you can certainly employ a wide varity of writing surfaces and implements.

Writing Surfaces

Write on whatever is handy — 3×5 cards (Hipster PDA-ized or otherwise), Post-It® note pads, cheap spiral-bound pocket notepads, envelopes, margins of newspapers or magazines, or even paper-towels, napkins, tissues or toilet-paper in desperation. You can carry them with you at all times or just as needed. I prefer to only carry paper when I know I may not have something on which I can write. A box of old business cards and a small whiteboard in the kitchen for grocery lists; page-a-day calendar sheets in the study for to-do lists; a small tablet by the bedside and in the car; Post-It pads at work. For other places, I simply take a little pocket-sized notepad (a four-pack at the local dollar-store).

Things on which you should not write your important brain-droppings: receipts, bills you have to pay, cheques, paper currency, contracts, library books, the Dead Sea Scrolls, or the Magna Carta. Unless you copy them off ASAP to something less transient (and in the case of library books, the Dead Sea Scrolls, or important constitutional documents, I suggest removing your writing from them first).

Writing Implements

Writing implements also abound — while you can use your space-pen, that $180 gold-encrusted beast engraved with your name and business, or your favorite Hello Kitty® glittery gel pen with the glow-in-the-dark purple ink, I lean toward the cheap and abundant options. You’re not illuminating monastic manuscripts, you’re getting an idea out of your head and onto paper. Out and about, I usually carry a Papermate® medium-point point pen because they write well and come in 12-packs for under $2 (USD). Occasionally, I augment with a #2 automatic-pencil, also obtained in multi-packs under $2 (USD). I’ve found that the long narrow “tool pockets” in carpenter jeans/shorts hold my writing implements so they don’t jab my thighs like a regular front pocket can. And they make for a snazzy quick-draw holster effect when you whip out a pen on demand.

Depending on your location, you may find you don’t need to carry a writing implement. We keep stashes of implements around the house — in the nightstands, in the desk, in the catch-all drawer, in the bill drawer, in the cars, etc. If you’re the type who steals pens from coworkers and banks, cut that out. Or, at least give them back. At conferences, many companies hand out business-branded pens for free. In addition to the craft-boxes, parents likely find crayons under foot, in couch cushions, up noses, and on the floor under little Johnny’s wall-art. For those who do their best thinking in the shower, you can find shower/tub crayons to scrawl on the shower wall.


Get something to write on. Get something to write with. Write stuff down.