GTD for Homemakers: Tips for Processing Your Brain-Dump Lists

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31 Days to GTD for Homemakers & Homeschoolers

Welcome to a month of practical, hands-on, and real-life organization and time management posts specifically for mothers at home! I’m joining up with The Nester’s “31 Days” series with 31 Days to GTD for Homemakers.

GTD is an acronym referring to David Allen’s books and system, Getting Things Done. And if anybody needs to get things done, it’s mothers managing a home. So join me for the month of October as I explore how we can streamline our processes, alleviate stress, and increase productivity.

Previous Post: Processing: Getting Your Inboxes to Empty

Processing Tips for Achieving Inbox-Zero

Here were Allen’s best hints for accomplishing much during this initial processing, emphases mine:

If you’re not going to do it (fix it, assign it a home, complete the task or project, etc.) don’t keep it.

Remember, you want as few loose ends as possible. Honestly evaluate if you are really going to paint anytime soon, to decorate the living room anytime soon, use that coupon before it expires, mend the shirt, etc., etc. Toss out as much as you can, and if you can’t bring yourself to toss it, then add it to you “maybe/someday” list. Instead of putting a big project that isn’t likely to happen soon on your “to-do” list, start a Pinterest board or a page or file of notes just to have a place to jot down ideas and inspiration, without the pressure to have to follow through anytime soon.

You don’t do a project, you do tasks related to a project.

I realized as I was working through my lists that one of my mental blocks was not recognizing that some of my tasks were actually projects. One such task was “reupholster dining room chairs,” but of course that involved measuring the cushions, selecting and purchasing fabric, cutting the fabric, unscrewing all the seat cushions, and so forth. Many of these tasks were contingent, too. I couldn’t go buy fabric until I had measured and calculated how much to buy. I couldn’t take apart the chairs until I had the fabric (and had cut it). Because I hadn’t clarified what steps were involved and what exactly I had to do first, I had unconscious resistance to the project. As you go through your list, be aware of whether you have listed a task (a single to-do item) or a project (a group of related tasks to accomplish one goal).

Never put anything back into “in.”

This is Allen’s version of “never handle anything twice.” While that sounds good, it rarely works that way in reality. That motto is great for things like junk mail, which should never make it into your inbox in the first place. However, a bill that you will pay next week will of course be handled twice — three times if you count taking to the post office. Instead, Allen’s tactic is that once you start processing, you are committed. You may not pick up a note or bulletin or invitation or whatever else finds its way to your inbox, glance over it, and give in to your mental block or habit of procrastination. You have to deal with it, so there’s no time like the present.

This is a difficult one for me. I definitely sift through my “in” piles and only deal with stuff I “feel like” dealing with, leaving the ambiguous or distasteful for some indefinite future point. Allen identifies the ambiguity as the problem point, and he will be showing how to clarify tasks and projects to diminish mental resistance.

For now, though, at this initial processing step, you simply put anything that has to be dealt with (rather than trashed or filed) in a “pending” pile. The next step will be to set up the categories and systems that make sense for your situation. Thereafter, when you process your inbox, you put things immediately into the categories where they will be “safe”; you don’t let them sit, hanging murkily over your head, in your inbox.

Remember, your inbox is not a storage container. It is not a home for anything. Its ideal state is empty.

Process one item at a time and don’t hop around.


As much as possible, focus and do not let yourself become distracted. That does not mean do not attend to your children as you do this, but don’t let your brain flit from one topic to another and don’t go make yourself a cup of tea when you hit upon a note you don’t really want to deal with. I can’t say that I followed this rule, but I was better for the admonition! One thing that will help your mind and attention stay focused is to be writing throughout the process. If you aren’t writing down what you are thinking about, then it’s probably not relevant, not productive, and most likely not useful. If it is more useful ideas and thoughts you are generating, then add them to your collection lists.

If there is some idea or thought that you do need to ruminate on, now is not the time. So defer it: add it to your list of pending stuff. Then you know you will be reminded to think about it, but you can turn your focus now to the task at hand.

If you get stuck at a list item, ask yourself if you really, truly intend to move the project forward in the near future. If not, are you sure you want to keep the project at all? If you don’t, toss it. If you think you might someday and don’t want to forget or lose the idea or inspiration, then go ahead and add it to your “pending” pile, because there will be a category for that sort of thing.

If people have heard of Getting Things Done, this is probably the aspect they will have heard of or be the thing they remember most. If, while processing, you come across something that would take two minutes or less to complete, just get it done immediately. Enter that address onto your contact sheet, call and make that appointment you’ve been meaning to get around to (I had four such!), write that email, etc.

And while you’re at it, grab your daughter and give her a hug. Give your son a thumbs-up through the window. Smooch that fat baby cheek. Those are even more legitimate actions to our role than anything on our to-do list, and they don’t take hardly any time. Just do it.

Adhere to the two-minute rule and see how much you get done in the process of clearing out your “in” stacks. Many people are amazed by how many two-minute actions are possible, often on some of their most critical current projects.

And, if you’re anything like me, this whole collecting/processing business can take a month or two — and that’s with it being my priority side-project! Of course, that meant it got about 1-2, sometimes up to 4 hours per week, mostly in 15-30 minute chunks. Don’t sweat it. You aren’t a desk-working professional, so you have to make accommodations. Let the processing be the thing that accommodates your real life.

Getting it all onto paper and into lists that make sense and are useful really is worth the effort, but not if everything falls apart around you while you do so. Believe me, I’ve tried that tactic before.

GTD® and Getting Things Done® are registered trademarks of the David Allen Company.

Next: GTD for Homemakers: The Types of Lists to Keep

  1. Jenny
    | Reply

    Love the series you are doing. Definitely learning a lot!

    I have to say this is so well thought out and structured. Thanks for laying this all out in such an easy to read format!

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