Helping Creative People Create

GTD Cheatsheet: Processing Your Stuff

This is the third installment in the GTD Cheatsheet series.

Ahh, here comes the rewarding part. We’ve brushed up on the learning curve associated with becoming familiar with the workflow. We’ve got all of our stuff collected. Now we’re ready to plow through our huge mound of collected stuff and get to done! This post is pretty simple, as it will just remind us of the groundrules laid out by David Allen himself.

Let me preface this post with a quick flashback of the lovely workflow diagram.

gtd processing

All we’re going to be doing is going through each item in our collection one by one, processing it with the workflow. It’s pretty simple, but there are some things you should definitely remember.

Everything is Equal

It’s easy to pick out the stuff we want to do first, get all of that done, and then start working on the less-desirable items in our collections. This is called “Emergency Scanning”. Bad idea.

You want to always start “top down” when you process.  The goal isn’t getting the most important item processed, it’s getting everything processed.  We want all of those open loops taken care of, not just the most important ones.  When you pick and choose what you want to process, it’s no longer processing.  It’s grazing.  And you’re not a cow, are you? :)

Once you establish a habit of sitting down and going through everything (and I mean everything) that’s taking over you brain’s processing power, you’ll have a tremendously freeing experience.

One at a time

GTD Cheatsheet series: Processing your stuffWhoa cowboy!  Only tackle one task at a time.  It’s easy to get into the mindset of taking on a section of your stack, but that can be very dangerous.  Let’s say you get interrupted while you’re processing.  If you have multiple things being sorted at once, you’re likely to lose your place when you start back up again.

Try putting everything in a single stack, and only working on the very top item on your list at a time. That way if you do get interrupted (remember, try to have as little of these as possible), you can just come back to that one item.

Never put things back IN

As you’re processing, you’ll realize that some things are ambiguous as to where they go right off the bat.  For example, say you have something that you’ll want to work on in a few weeks.  Place the item in a “Someday/Maybe” list, or a tickler file (tee-hee), ANYTHING but leaving it in the inbox.  Talk about a depressing concept:  The inbox that always stays full.  You’ll never lose that nagging feeling of always having some work to do.

This coincides with the concept of only dealing with one thing at a time.  By taking care of one item only, you’re ensuring that it is fully processed, and fully completed. That is what makes the GTD concept so satisfying.  The physical act of completing something.

You’ll notice that the more you work on processing your “inboxes” (or collections), you’ll become faster and faster at getting to the bottom of the pile.  Just like any learned skill, it takes practice.  You’ll get the hang of it grasshopper, it just make take a few passes at it.

Next up in the GTD Cheatsheet Series: Setting up the right buckets.

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  • As a fellow GTD-er (been doing it for a couple of months) and only scoring around 40 points on the recently released GTD Mastery 100 list, I know how tempting it is to let stuff rot in your inbox, or skip that processing step for just one time ;)

    Something else I have caught myself doing sometimes: from inbox to tickler file (a few days into the future), then on that specific day back into my inbox, hmm still not sure what to do with it, back into my tickler, etc. etc.

    One question for you though. As a true GTD-er I am very strict about writing everything relevant on my projects and/or next actions list. However, they are becoming quite large no matter how many tasks I do each day. I am using my own custom Excel GTD system and I print all the lists to a PocketMod. Soon the lists will not fit on my PocketMod anymore though! ;)

    How do you cope with that in your GTD system?

  • glen

    Well, I have 2 systems. One is for work (development projects) and the other is for home. Usually the home lists are pretty simple, so I don’t run into that problem.

    However, with my work lists, I’ve struggled with what you’re talking about for quite some time. But then I started playing with Stikkit. Oh man, it works like a dream.

    Stikkit is a web-based sticky notes, but they’re smart. What fixed the above problem for me was the fact that you can imbed lists INSIDE of a sticky note at Stikkit. And it not only tracks the note but also the list in separate places.

    Now I can add as much contextual info as I want about each list item. Problem Solved!

    This is a great discussion. The solution above only works with the web. Does anybody else have similar solutions to adding context to todo lists?

  • Sounds good! I guess I will be trying Stikkit in the near future to see if it resolves my “problems”. I am for ever torn between settling on one GTD system on the one hand, and tweaking and tuning and using new GTD tools, on the other hand :)
    But I guess that’s all part of the natural process of GTD!
    Thanks for the suggestion, Glen!

    -gtdfrk

  • KellySY

    What a pleasant surprise to see my inbox picture on a blog I read!

  • glen

    It’s a great shot Kelly!

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  • I’m loving the GTD cheatsheet info, but it seems to end where you write: “Next up in the GTD Cheatsheet Series: Setting up the right buckets.”

    Can’t locate said buckets information. Please advise. Great site, btw.

  • Cliffy

    I’m with Patrick on this one. I would sure love to see what kind of buckets are the most effective.

    As for coping with a GTD system, I’ve been using the Toodledo App on the iTouch to sync my tasks with the powerful Toodledo website and gmail calendar . I’ve played around with ‘Remember the Milk’ and ‘Things’ but found myself mostly managing menus rather than focusing on my own stuff.

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