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GTD basics

You need three lists.

“Inbox”, “Goals”, “Actions”.

On the inbox list, write things that you worry about, that you want to have done, that are rattling around in your head, stressing you out, or that other people tell you to do.

Then, for every item on that inbox list, decide if you can and do anything about this thing. This is very important. The whole reason the inbox exists in GTD is so we can be more intentional in what we take on and what we nope out off. There are things that we just can’t change.

If you can’t do it, just scratch it out from the inbox list and move on.

If you can do something, write the end goal on the goals list. When is it done? Let’s say you need to change the broken lightbulb in the bathroom. “Have a working bathroom light” is the goal so write that.

Also, on the “actions” list, write the very next thing that needs to happen. You don’t need to plan the whole thing out, just the next thing. Even so, this can be the most difficult part.

Do you need a new bulb, and you have the money, and you know where to buy lightbulbs? For example, I knowa larger grocery store that stocks them so I would put “Buy lightbulb next time I shop for groceries” on the list. Or, if you need to borrow a stepladder, it might be “Email Alice and ask her if I can borrow her stepladder”. Or, if your sister is great at fixing lightbulbs and you already have the extra bulb, it might be “Ask Carol to change the bulb when she comes to visit, the 26th”

Then scratch that out from the inbox list and move on to the next thing.

If you find this step to be difficult, you can take that as a sign that GTD is right for you. The type of person that can have a “TODO list” that just says vague stuff like “lightbulb, taxes, carwash, makeup, casserole” and then easily do those things, GTD is overkill for them. If, instead, you’re the type of person for whom it’s agony to have to sit down and be like “But what do I do about this?” then GTD was made for you.

It is going to get way faster and easier the more you do this, the more you practice it. And, it’s a sign that you really needed to do it; that lightbulb wouldn’t’ve gotten changed until you actually decided what the next step was. Sitting down with these lists wasn’t a waste of time for you, it was an invaluable decision-making tool, without which you would’ve been stuck on those goals for way longer.

Now, how fine-grained you need to break things down is different from person to person. Break things down in a way that works for you. For example, let’s say you wanna write an app: if you write apps all the time you can get by with just “write such-and-such app”; if you are writing your first app you are going to need to break it down in much more detail. Same goes for everything, even if it’s stuff that other people think are just normal or automatic, like washing the dishes. Break it down to a level of steps that work for you, and remember, you only need to figure out the next step, not the whole thing.

Now, you should have an inbox list that’s all crossed out, a goals list you can refer to, and a list of actions you can work from. If you have a sprawling chaotic mind, this is also where GTD shines, because you now have a bookmark of everything in your life. You know that whatever you’re working on is fine to work on, without you forgetting something or losing your place in your other projects. If other stuff floats into your mind, quickly write it down on the inbox list and get back to work.

The three main takeaways from this lesson is:

This might be enough for many people. Time to get to work♥

For more tools, see the GTD overview:

But, don’t get overwhelmed as you’re first starting out. It’s better to just get going.♥