Getting Things Done

Your mind is made for having ideas, not for remembering every little thing you need to do. In fact, your mind’s system for reminding you of unfinished tasks is to interrupt your stream of thinking with “YOU NEED TO CALL GRAMMIE!” and it’s usually not at a time or location when you can actually call her. So you tell yourself, I need to remember to do that. And later you have a niggling feeling that there’s something you’re forgetting… You scan your brain to try to remember. “Call Grammie” doesn’t pop up, but drop off dry-cleaning, order bridal shower invitations, and pay mortgage do. I’m not sure how I stumbled across David Allen and “Getting Things Done” (GTD for short), but it has drastically improved my anxiety. The basic idea is that you need to create and utilize a system for keeping track of open projects and next actions that is not your memory. For me, this means when I have a thought like, “a choose-your-own-adventure opera,” I log it on my Music Project Idea List. I do the same for actionable tasks, like “review and sign car insurance policy.” The next time my brain anxiously reminds me about the document, I can tell myself, I already wrote it down and I have a system I trust. I will complete the task when I am in the right context, in this case, at my computer with internet access. (This is putting the cart before the horse, but it’s worth noting that after clarifying, Mr. Allen recommends organizing next actions by their context. For instance, I have a context list for errands, internet, computer, phone, and house. I list the tasks where I complete them.)


STEP ONE: Capture GTD starts with (what I call) a Brain Dump- everything in your head needs to be put onto paper. Mr. Allen recommends using separate pieces of paper or notecards to log individual thoughts, but I don’t like to be wasteful. So, in my notebook, I write “Brain Dump” at the top of the page and on the subsequent line, I draw a circle (so I can later indicate if the task has been addressed, migrated, or remains uncompleted) and then write whatever is in my head and taking my attention: Brain Dump

  • new hiking boots

  • draft #motivationmonday post

  • review and sign car insurance policy renewal

  • pay mortgage

  • drop off dry cleaning

  • confirm bridal shower location

  • call Grammie

When I am feeling particularly overwhelmed, I do a variation of the Brain Dump, which I call an Anxiety List. I list all the things that are making me feel anxious with the knowledge that I will continue to feel anxious about those things until I adequately address them. After I log them, I get started on one and slowly work my way through. I remind myself that you get to the top of the mountain by putting one foot in front of the other. STEP TWO: Clarify Now that you’ve logged all the thoughts that have your attention, it’s time to process and clarify them. That does not mean that you need to do everything on your list right now. As Mr. Allen says, “Clarifying […] doesn’t mean actually doing all those things. It just means identifying each item and deciding what it is and where it goes.” Step-by-step, clarifying looks like this: Step 1: Start with the top item and ask, “What is it?” new hiking boots Step 2: Ask “is it actionable?” Step 3: If the answer is “no,” ask “what do I do with it?” Trash it Store as reference material Incubate it (then add it to the Someday/Maybe list) Step 4: If the answer to “is it actionable” is “yes,” ask, “What’s the next action?” Do it now if it will take 2 minutes or less Delegate it to someone else (then put it in your Waiting For list) Defer to do later (then put it on your Next Actions list or if you need to take action by a specific date, add it to your calendar) Step 5: If there are more steps to do on this than the first one, what’s the project title and what tasks are associated with the project? In the case of new hiking boots, I would add two items to my next actions list: - research waterproof hiking boots with ankle support and find local retailer - visit local retailer to try on researched boots (bring hiking socks) As you start to process your Brain Dump, you will notice some similarities in theme. David Allen calls these Areas of Focus. Here are some of the areas of focus I identified in my life: OOPS, singing, career, finances, house, body/health, personal development, relationships, mental health, errands. I have abbreviations for these categories and in my next actions list, after drawing a circle, I log the abbreviated category before listing the action. That way, if I’m looking for the "log receipts in my budget" task, I can scan down the category column looking for an F (finances). I also have additional lists to keep track of things that are not next actions such as: waiting for, someday/maybe, incubating, thoughts, music project ideas, to read, to watch. STEP THREE: Organize.

You need to create a system that you regularly engage with so that logged thoughts are revisited and action taken if/when action is needed. Next week, I’ll finish up the final two steps by detailing my paper based system using a bullet journal and the process for my Sunday weekly review.

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