Where did it all start?

After reading through many insightful posts, approaches and challenges to “getting things done”, it made me think where it all might have started for some? I thought it might be an interesting topic ( admittedly not necessarily Mac focused!)

As a kick off, I can remember a movie (maybe from the 50s?) where a father was raising his kids and in one scene he times how long it takes to do up his buttons (top to bottom, then bottom to top). He decided after his test which way it should be… and that was that! Must have made an impression on the 6 year old who can remember it vividly (though not the name of the movie! :joy:)

So I wondered if there has been a trigger for others and, if not too personal, to share.

On the subject of personal, though, I’m willing to share that, as the black sheep of the family, I’ve been trying to “prove myself” for almost 60 years and I think my obsession with productivity is the product of that. Always trying to be better, sometimes to my benefit, sometimes not.

Anyway, I felt it was a safe place to share this so chime in (or not). Mods feel free to delete if inappropriate.



Love the topic and the tone you’re bringing to it, @Bill_Aus. Your memory reminded me of when I was a kid and one of my chores was to do the laundry. I remember pretending it was a race like the “physical challenges” on the kid game show Double Dare and trying to sort, load, and fold the laundry as fast as possible.


Hey @beck I’ll have to watch that. We never had that kind of stuff as kids growing up in small (then) country town in Western Australia. But I do set times for tasks even today and then try and beat the time set - efficiently of course! :wink:

The movie may have been “Cheaper by the Dozen” from a book by Lilian and Frank Gilbreth. They were efficiency experts in the early 1900’s. There home was a test bed using their children to practice efficiency techniques.


Thanks @Ellis, that did ring a bell but I hadn’t sought to verify (that or “Father Makes Twelve”?)

That’s the right movie. Good call!

Both Frank and Lillian Gilbreth we’re “efficiency experts” who helped pioneer what became industrial engineering.

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Son of an engineer and a librarian, here. I’m sure I’m influenced by many books, especially biographies. I was definitely influenced by the book, Cheaper by the Dozen. I read it several times as a kid.

I’ve always been a designer and organizer (apparently designed my first game at four and made my parents play it.)

I certainly found computers arresting as soon as I was aware of them. My parents made me learn touch typing first, and I have poor left-handed penmanship, so I was interested in digital writing and information retrieval from a young age.

A keen interest in the medieval period and mindset saved me from the Whig approach to productivity in early adulthood. :wink:

Fun to think about and read others’ responses–thanks!


Good topic and it does made me think where my productivity stem from.

I think it has to do on how we were brought up by my parents. Although, not exclusive to my family, its part of our everyday life to help out with household chores when you wake up—from fixing your bed, cleaning your room and the house, help out with the yard and assist with prepping breakfast before you leave for school.

I’ve observed that this is common for Asian household. So we are used to ticking a set amount work before we can proceed on our day. If you are a big family, then the chores are divided into smaller task.

When I got into college and inundated with various projects in design school, I learn how to create a checklist. I found out that ticking the list or crossing out items felt empowering. This lead me to find digital solution like GTD apps when I started working.


Junior high school. Can’t remember if it was 7th or 8th grade. Science class, which was called Physical Science, I think. This is before a lot of you were born.

For most of my two years in that class with that teacher, we were taught normally, like any other class I had. Subjects were covered in increments of like two or three weeks, I guess, beginning with a lecture and some reading, probably a quiz, do an experiment, and finish with a test on the whole unit.

I was a C student in that class — probably a low C — and my lasting impression of those classes is deep, deep boredom. I hated school generally. (In fourth grade, because I spent so much time staring out the window, they sent me to the school district psychologist to look at ink blots so that he could tell my parents that I dreaded school. I remember telling my mom she could have just asked me and I would have told her that.) Still, even as a school hater, I thought physical science was beyond the worst, the boringest of borings, and I couldn’t wait for it to end every day.

But for some brief segment of time — probably not a whole semester, more like a quarter — we did it differently. The teacher would hand us all a four- or five-page handout called an IIP, which probably meant something like individualized instruction packet. It was essentially a syllabus for the entire instruction plan for one topic as described above. But we did it at our own pace, mostly on our own.

We’d do a reading, probably watch a filmstrip or something, more reading, probably a quiz, do some kind of hands-on experiment, maybe write an essay, have a one-on-one discussion with the teacher for 15 or 20 minutes, study for a test, take the test, and then grab the next IIP and start over again with a new topic.

I was a completely different student. I flew through those units, my grades were off the charts (for me), and I genuinely enjoyed the learning and the doing. It was without doubt the most engaging, successful span of time I spent in school, probably until I got to college.

Having the whole unit defined and packaged in a way that allowed me to see the finish line before I even started — and being able to move through the material at my own pace — was electrifying. I’ll never forget it.

Not until I saw this thread and gave it some thought did I think to link that experience with my passion for a GTD system. I’d have to give it more thought to draw some specific parallels. But I’m convinced that was the first hint that I’d end up where I did, productivity-wise.

Epilogue: Today one of my primary job responsibilities is to edit medical research manuscripts and prepare them for submission to academic journals.


I was diagnosed with Dyslexia in College (about the age of 18) but not a dyslexia of spelling words or getting numbers in the right order, a dyslexia of essentially scatterbrained thinking.

I’ve rarely thought about things in a linear manner, often jumping off here and there before realising I’m wildly off topic. E.g. if I’m writing a document, I’ll be in the middle of a paragraph and jump somewhere else to start something else before I forgot. It took me many years to create the discipline to make a note about the other thing and finish what I was in the middle of.

GTD struck a chord with me at a time when my work life was getting very busy. Up until then I made long to do lists and checked things off as I completed them, but often I was on more than two side of A4 (think legal pad) and a little overwhelmed.

I realise now that because of my ad hoc brain, if there isn’t already a system in place, I need to create one so I know that things are handled.


I got frustrated with not being able to remember or get things done, so I got super into time management methods, todo apps with notifications, sharpie on palm, etc. when I was a teenager in 2011.

I started noticing I’d go through a cycle, where I’d be frustrated with my lack of progress personally, so I’d set ultimatums and todo lists, only to get bored of it and lapse within a week. Then in about 2 weeks I’d start the cycle over again.

Fast forward to the beginning of 2022, when I discovered I have ADHD, which explained things a bit. Still obsessed with productivity methods and apps, but I approach it from a healthier perspective.


Loving this thread.

Reading more of your stories, I’m reminded of how my mom (a banker) was big into Day-Timer and they sold a student version and she got that for me when I was in high school and I used it like my life depended on it. I had it for a long time after, but I don’t anymore. They don’t sell a student-specific version anymore, but I found this picture on eBay. Mine was forest green.

My dad was a firefighter and he would work 24 shifts and be off for a day or two in between. He was often at home when I got home from school and he instilled in me a practice of doing my homework immediately when I got home before I played or did anything else. He also would check my homework, which thinking back on it is a sweet memory (him sitting in his lazy boy recliner looking over my penmanship, spelling, grammar, and math).

He also designed a built-in desk in my bedroom. Here’s a photo of me using a radio shack “computer” that used cassette tapes and plugged into the TV.


Late to the party :sigh:

Cheaper by the Dozen based on the real life of Frank Gilbreth.They had 12 kids so needed to be efficient. I love that book.

Sorry to be so late to the discussion but I’ve spent (wasted?) all day Naming the Lambs. It was on my to do list and I did GSD (Get Sheep Done). Maybe not a high priority task to most but it does matter, at least to me.


I thought of you when I mentioned I was the black sheep of the family! :joy:

I’ve seen the film, now maybe I should get the book!

Thanks for sharing @tonycraine. I am quite interested in learning (my profession is HR & Learning & Development) and our current school system does baffle me at times as there must be so many examples of this type of epiphany and yet we continue on in a system that appears broken and teachers working like crazy within that system. But to see a student “light up, switch on” (to extend the electrifying metaphor) must be just the best thing for both the student and the teacher (not to mention the parents!)

I’m loving these stories. Can relate to them in so many ways.

My favourite diary @beck was a Quo Vadis Tri-Note week to an opening. Can’t remember the actual year (pre-Internet) but I count it as my most effective, productive year. I felt like I was on top of everything.



@Bill_Aus - What a fun idea for a thread!! I love reading all responses.

My journey started in college. I worked for a major grocery chain in Colorado called King Soopers (a Kroger chain) and all the management carried around Day Timer’s everywhere. You never saw anybody from department clerks up to the store manager (and beyond) without one of these little (and then big!) looseleaf notebooks with them.

I eventually got one, and I started to rely on it and figure out how to be more organized. It might have worked too well. A college girlfriend during my freshman year was angry with me, when she discovered that she was listed in my contacts section–like everyone else–by her last name, then first name.

It wasn’t really until the summer between my junior and senior year in college that my journey really launched, though. I had a Congressional internship the summer of 1995. When I arrived in D.C., it was great but I soon discovered that I was perpetually behind everyone else. I felt very outclassed. I went to the bookstore and bought four books.

  1. Molloy’s Dress for Success
  1. Mackay’s Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive
  1. The Congressional Quarterly directory of Congress, which I dutifully studied daily to memorize all the faces of everybody in the halls of the House, Senate, Capitol, and White House
  1. And most importantly, for me, Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

I pored over all of these books and, honestly, they were instrumental in changing the course of my life. All of them are still within eyesight on my bookshelf next to my desk. Seven Habits was groundbreaking for me. Later on when I discovered GTD, the two approaches to managing one’s life meshed nicely.

That was such a great summer and it was really a turning point in my life for a variety of reasons. Productivity and personal management were probably chief among them because being organized the way I became clicked for me, helped reduce a lot of (not all!) stress, and opened a lot of opportunities.


I got through college just using a paper calendar and paper notebooks. I just kept track of my assignments in the notebook for each class. Nothing really fancy or organized. My interest in getting organized was really driven by tech when I bought my first Palm Pilot. I can’t remember exactly when that was, looking at the list of Palm devices I believe it was a Palm V, so around 1999. I loved having a “computer” in my pocket and learned how to use all the functions one of which was a Task app (was it called To Do? Can’t remember). That’s when I first started keeping track of tasks and calendar items separately.

I first read the GTD book in 2003 in the weeks before starting a new job. I remember thinking consciously that I wanted to make a great impression in the new job and one way to do that is to be more organized. So I somehow stumbled upon the GTD book and followed it very closely at first. It was a mix of paper and a Palm. I actually created the 43 folders for the tickler file in my filing cabinet. It was kind of fun moving the papers around each day in the morning.

So it has been a process of refinement for 23 years now. One thing that people always comment on at work is that I’m very organized. I like to think that is one reason for my success.


This was interesting to read. This will be my first post here.
I am disabled. It affects my body, neurological system and brain (memory and focus). It takes me MUCH longer to do things healthy people can do. Once I stared using all these “tools”, I am now retaining a lot of information and getting things done faster. Hopefully I can share this with other people who struggle.


Welcome to the forum @Blessed