Optimize your GTD® Workflow

When I first began using GTD®, the first behavior that produced a feeling of clarity for me was Capture. I have an average memory, but I frequently forget thoughts I had only moments ago. Perhaps this is because I often have numerous additional thoughts in quick succession and I just cannot retain all of them. It turns out that nobody can — at least not without intentionally using memory tricks (which is not something that I typically do). In fact, the maximum number of items that anyone can hold in short term memory is seven. It is, therefore, no wonder that I tend to forget something almost as quickly as I think of it. We all do.

After reading David Allen’s book Getting Things Done®: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, I learned about the capture stage of GTD®. So simple! All I needed to do was to write down every thought as soon as I had it. I was finally able to keep all of my ideas without always asking myself “What did I just think of?” It truly was a feeling of euphoria to know with confidence that I was not forgetting anything.

Capture everything. Simple.

What happened next caught me off guard.

My inbox exploded! Too many thoughts. Luckily, once I began to process all of this input, it became apparent to me that most of it was not immediately actionable. In hindsight, I suppose this is why I was able to function reasonably well despite the ephemeral nature of my memory. Fortunately, GTD® is ready for exactly this type of non-actionable data. For the bulk of my new input, after first clarifying what it was, if it didn’t immediately get trashed then it was parked on my Someday/Maybe list.

There was a time when my Someday/Maybe list grew to more than 600 items! I took capture everything to heart! That sounds crazy but in reality it is effortless to find that many ideas to add and not too difficult to manage. After all, these are mostly items that I do not need to review every day, every week, or even every month. Most only actually need to be considered 2–3 times per year.

How often do I need to remind myself that someday I might want to write a novel?

When looking for ways to optimize my weekly review in order to make the best use of my time, I had an epiphany. I don’t need to review my entire Someday/Maybe list every week. I only need to review some of it every week. This realization led to the dramatic step of deleting my Someday/Maybe list!


To be more precise, I deleted the list but not everything on it. The tasks and projects formerly known as Someday/Maybe items were distributed among three new lists:

  1. Someday
  2. Maybe
  3. Soon

Someday

Tasks and projects on my Someday list are ones that I want to do. I will do. I just won’t do them right now. These are inactive items that I am committed to doing but I don’t know when. Examples of Someday tasks/projects are Redecorate the Kitchen, Purchase a New Car, and Vacation Along the Irish Coast by Bicycle.

  1. The house is twenty years old and so are the kitchen appliances. They will soon need replacing along with the countertops and flooring. Nothing is in urgent need of repair but I know it will be necessary within the next year or two.
  2. The car is eight years old with 180,000 miles on it. Maintenance seems to be increasing in frequency and major repairs are imminent. I don’t want to forget to start thinking about replacing the car.
  3. The bicycling vacation is on my bucket list. I want to do this within the next few years but I’m just not sure when the timing will be most appropriate for my family and my work.

Maybe

Tasks and projects on my Maybe list are ones that I am not certain if I really want to do at all. I definitely will not do them anytime soon. These are items that I might eventually choose to do but I am not committed to them. Examples of Maybe tasks/projects are Write a Novel, Host a House Concert, and Learn to Speak Mongolian.

  1. The novel will be about something that I have been quietly formulating in the back of my mind for many years. I have captured some ideas about it and filed those for reference should I ever decide to begin this project.
  2. I have hosted two house concerts in the past. They were both enormously fun and I would love to repeat the experience.
  3. I am not particularly good at learning languages and Mongolian is a difficult language for a native English speaker. The desire to do this is motivated by the challenge of attempting something out of my comfort zone and the thrill of accomplishment that comes with finding success.

Then again, maybe I will never choose to activate any of these projects.

Soon

Tasks and projects on my Soon list are ones that I want to do. I will do. I will not do them right now but they will become active in the near future. These are items that are important and will have high impact toward achieving my goals. They have a greater sense of immediacy than items on the Someday list. Examples of Soon tasks/projects are Discuss Estate Planning with my Attorney, Launch New Website, and Migrate Digital Photo Archive to Web Archiving Solution.

  1. My wife and I have a little baby girl at home. It would be irresponsible of me to ignore financial matters just in case a terrible tragedy should occur. I need to feel secure that my family will not have to worry about how they are going to survive, so initiating estate planning is something that cannot be delayed for long.
  2. My business is geared up and ready to go. I need to launch my website so that I will have an online presence which is an essential part of running a business today. It is not necessary to displace the projects that are already in motion, but I cannot postpone this too far into the future.
  3. I take a lot of photographs and I don’t like to delete any of them. While it is not difficult or too expensive to purchase another 3T hard drive to store the new additions to my enormous photo collection, managing the pictures has become a huge distraction. The collection requires backup, archive (they are not the same thing!), organization, etc. I cannot devote time to this task anymore and I need to delegate this responsibility to an online service to backup, archive and organize the photos for me. After my initial time investment for the migration, I should have more time to dedicate to other more important tasks.

I understand why the Someday/Maybe list came into being. When lists were being managed on paper (and some people still swear by this approach), every additional list made the process of list management more cumbersome. Minimizing the number of lists in use was important. David Allen might not have even made a distinction between someday and maybe.

I use a digital task manager and it is no effort to add new lists, especially when doing so helps to streamline my workflow. The ultimate value of all this effort to distribute my Someday/Maybe list into three new lists is that now I review only my Soon list during my weekly review. This means I have 15–20 items to review instead of 600.

I cut 20 minutes off of my weekly review while also reducing the cognitive load necessary to complete it.

Although I continue to review my Soon list every week, my Someday list I review once every month and my Maybe list is now reviewed only once every four months. If I ever feel that sense of unease that I am forgetting something, the Someday and Maybe lists are easily available to review at any time in between the scheduled dates.

Farewell Someday/Maybe list.