As we develop this 31 Days to GTD for Homemakers series, we will learn how to renegotiate what we are going to do on the fly, creating a reliable intuition about what is “right” at that moment, in the current circumstance. David Allen’s book Getting Things Done is a blending of proactive uber-planning with reactive spontaneity: the perfect productivity approach for a mother.
Previous Post: Maintaining Project Lists
Some things we have to or want to do still don’t really fit into the “project” or “next action” categories. Roles and responsibilities that are bigger than projects and that don’t really have hard-edged outcomes, deliverables, or end points also need a place in the system. Roles and responsibilities might generate projects and tasks, but the “goals” associated with them tend to be idealistic rather than concrete and achievable. “Lose five pounds by New Years” is a project. “Maintain fitness and weight” is an ongoing, fuzzy goal. Its fuzziness doesn’t make it less important to work at, though, and often the fuzzy goals are the most important. Much of the life of a homemaker is made of such responsibilities, ones that are not going to ever be complete and finished: laundry, dishes, cleaning, maintaining our health, disciplining & loving the kids, and so forth.
For commitments and goals that don’t fit Allen’s strict definition of projects, which are things that can be completed (like putting on an event or sewing a skirt), Allen recommends checklists that are frequently reviewed.
Allen wants you to start off with “a complete inventory of everything you hold important and are committed to on each of [the six levels of work]” : career [homeschooling? side projects?], service, family, relationships, community, health & energy, financial, and creative. The idea is that for each, you list areas of responsibility or goals that you want to work toward (not projects, but purpose-oriented goals that guide but are never actually finished).
This list, with six main points and 3-6 subpoints under each, should be kept “in your personal system, as reminders to you, as needed, to keep the ship on course, on an even keel.” Let’s commit to keeping this list realistic, however, and not a list of our ideal super-mom image. It’s a list that will evolve over time with different seasons of life. It’d be a good idea to go over a draft of such a list with your husband and maybe also a good friend for a reality check. This list is to serve as a reminder and a guide of where you want to be headed in different areas of your life, of ways you can be proactive, purposeful, intentional, rather than reactive.
Checklists are also the lists you keep to remind yourself either of steps to a procedure that is not yet habit or of areas of responsibility that you want to keep in front of your face. Allen reminds us to not add unnecessary complexity at this point:
The degree to which any of us needs to maintain checklists and external controls is directly related to our unfamiliarity with the area of responsibility. If you’ve been doing what you’re doing for a long time, and there’s no pressure on you to change in that area, you probably need minimal external personal organization to stay on cruise control.
If “you know when things must happen, and how to make them happen, and your system is fine,” then stick with it and don’t mess with what’s working. However, if that is not the case, then checklists are a stabilizing backbone to help you get there. Make as list of the process or routine you wish were habitual, what you would like to be “cruise control,” and then work from that list until it is. Morning routine lists, school routine lists, kitchen cleaning list, menu plans, all are crutches to help us not have to rethink those processes every single day.
Even packing lists and shopping lists fit the “checklist” categorization. So are freezer or supply inventories. They aren’t really a task in themselves, they are a reminder, so you can keep such thoughts pinned down and useful rather than jumbled and vague.
This is where you will keep some of your most creative thinking, Allen claims. This is where you can keep an idea without it becoming a pressure or stressor. It’s a place to let ideas incubate or to hold ideas until their time comes. They don’t need to nag you, because you have acknowledged them and you have said, “Not now. But I will consider it again in the future.”
Maybe you want to keep a list of activities you’d like to consider when all your children can get their own shoes on, get into the car, and buckle themselves up without anything more than a “Go!” from you. Maybe you want to keep a list of people you want to have over, but can’t right now because of short-term circumstances. Maybe you want to keep a list of books you’d like to read or movies you’d like to see or places you’d like to go. This is a no-pressure place to keep them and let your imagination run free. There is no obligation that you ever will do anything on this list, but at one point you had the thought, captured it, and now you can wait and see if the time ever becomes right for that idea.
However, remember that the point is to write it down and let it go. It can be easy for the someday/maybe list (or Pinterest boards) to become a list of how we wish life looked, a list of grievances and discontents all lined out for constant review. Guard your heart and keep a list of future potentialities, not a list of current discontents.
Triggers & Ticklers: Reminders You Can Trust
Often there are “someday” tasks or ideas that are not “maybes,” but actually need to happen by a certain date. Instead of incubation, they need to pop back to attention at some future point. How can we arrange that?
There are two ways: the analog & the digital. Both, I am afraid, are only going to work if you use them.
- Analog: Use a system of folders to hold paper reminders of future tasks and event information. Here is an article on how one mom set this up.
- Digital: You can use Evernote for a tickler file system, or Remember the Milk. I use RTM, inputting a task or reminder with a date, knowing it will then pop up onto my list at the time I specified.
However, that means committing to using whichever set up you choose. It’s only going to work if you work it.
GTD® and Getting Things Done® are registered trademarks of the David Allen Company.
Next Post: Lists Relating to Other People