This series, 31 Days to GTD for Homemakers, is all about putting into place effective routines and processes so that the routine administratiive details of life do not cause undo stress and we, as mothers in the heart of our homes, can peacefully and intentionally make good choices about what to do without feeling like we have a million details pulling us in a million directions at once.
Previous Post: Organize Tasks & Projects
To maintain the integrity of your lists, you need to keep hard edges on them, David Allen maintains in Getting Things Done. This is particularly true of your calendar.
If you put tasks that you want to do on your calendar, but that you don’t need to do, your calendar isn’t giving you your hard lines of the day and you will be constantly reevaluating what you see on your calendar, when you should be glancing at it without having to mentally sort what you see.
It is your Next Actions list that you reevaluate as you look it over for what to do next, without redoing it every day into a new list.
So do not use your calendar as a place holder for tasks to do.
The way I look at it, the calendar should be sacred territory. If you write something there, it must get done that day or not at all. The only rewriting should be for changed appointments.
You don’t want to go numb to calendar items by putting all you hope to do that day on your calendar. Keep the calendar for appointments. Even after implementing GTD, I have made attempts to use my calendar for parts of our school or housekeeping scheduling (that is, our plan but definitely not hard lines on the day), and every time I end up losing real appointments in the long list of plans for the day. It makes it impossible to look at a glance and see the shape of the day.
So, here’s what I now keep on my calendar (I use Google calendar):
- Scheduled appointments & events (purple)
- School calendar (orange: just an “all day” event saying what term & week it is)
- Menu plan (turquoise: meals are definitely hard lines in our days)
- Birthdays & anniversaries & holidays (green: set to recur yearly)
Another way you could use your calendar is to write down things that happen afterwards as a journal or record. You could keep track of when you did exercise (rather than when you plan to) or when you did plant the the peas or tomatoes or when the baby’s tooth came through. The great thing about using Google Calendar for things like that is that it’s all searchable!
However you decide to set up your calendar, though, you’ll want to ensure it is portable and accessible. A wall calendar will not help you make an appointment at the doctor’s office or check your availability for dinner at church. Keep a calendar, keep it up to date, and keep it with you.
Next-Actions To-Do List
Trying to keep a task list on the calendar, which introduces the problem of what to do when you don’t accomplish the task, is demoralizing. Instead, the ‘Next Actions’ lists Allen advocates holds all task reminders, with no daily rewriting.
Allen is worth quoting at length at this point:
[T]he traditional time-management training […] has taught that the ‘daily to-do list’ is key. But such lists don’t work, for two reasons. First, constant new input and shifting tactical priorities reconfigure daily work so consistently that it’s virtually impossible to nail down to-do items ahead of time.
Boy, is that true at home with small children or what?!
Having a working game plan as a reference point is always useful, but it must be able to be renegotiated at any moment. This Next Actions List needs to be handy throughout your day so you can review it to assess what the next thing you should do is.
Personally, I keep 3 right now, but I tweak how I do it every six months or so.
- Remember the Milk: I keep most of my tasks that need to be done in RTM. I don’t include routines like daily or weekly cleaning, because then the list became so long (and clogged up when I didn’t check things off – or didn’t do things) that I missed “real” tasks with deadlines when they popped up. I can input tasks to show up on certain dates in the future and I can also set them to repeat, so for church events or other projects I have every year, I inputted the tasks and just set them to repeat yearly instead of re-entering that data every year. I try to keep my list at no more than 5 tasks per day, being brutal with asking “Am I really going to do that?” So things I’m not going to do (or, I deliberately procrastinate and put a new future date on it) don’t stack up and clog the list. RTM integrates with Google Calendar, so I can see my to-do list alongside my calendar, which is handy.
- Home Routines: This is the ideal app for keeping track of routine housework. You can set any schedule and plan into it; it is adaptable to any plan. And, it doesn’t build up; so, if you didn’t get to half your chores one day or just didn’t check the app, it doesn’t care, it only shows you today’s tasks. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow isn’t here yet. Every day is a clean start.
- Evernote: Sometimes I have a few projects and related tasks that don’t have to be done, but would be nice. Those I keep in Evernote. For example, right now I have a list of several projects and tasks for this last month of pregnancy. They are things that would be distracting and useful if I need a way to kill a day, but they don’t have to be done, so I don’t want them on my Daily To-Do Next Actions list.
Ideally, my housekeeping routine would be one of those “cruise control” areas of life where I didn’t need a checklist reminder of what to do when, but I don’t think that’s going to happen for me for a long time, both because of my nature and because life with small children changes so often. Maybe someday I won’t need the HomeRoutines reference with happy stars. One can always hope.
Your Next Actions list, however you want to keep it – notebook, clipboard, binder, electronic – needs to be at hand and handy at least in the places you acc
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