Process and Organize



When I get home from work, I always go to my mailbox, take a few letters off of the top of my pile, open them, and put them back in the mailbox for later.

Said no one ever.

It’s interesting to me though that is exactly what people do with email. This is insanity.

In order for you to have sanity in your life, you need a system that tells you, “What of my life have I put in my system to act on later, and what do I need to do so I can take action on them at the appropriate time?”

This is the process and organize phase of Getting Things Done.

Here’s how I do it: I go to each of the collection places I set up in the Collect Phase (physical inboxes, evernote, and email accounts), and follow this workflow:

  1. Is this actionable? Is there anything I need to do with this at any conceivable point ever? If not I should delete it or store it for reference, but my experience with this item is GONE FOREVER. I will never see this again and it will not invade my life ever again.
  2. Can I do it in two minutes or less? If I can then I do it. There’s no sense of creating a to-do list item for “Reply “Yes” to email, “Are you coming tonight?” That would be silly. So keep it simple and get stuff out of the way that will just overload your system.
  3. What actions need to be taken for this to be done? It’s not enough to say “Pool care” in your list. You have to have your list contain actions, not just stuff. The action might be “Call the pool care company to schedule a filter cleaning.” Or it might even be “Search for a pool care company to help me with filter cleaning.” It’s not stuff, it’s actions.
  4. Add the actions into Checkvist. I add whatever comes to my mind to finish what the item in my inbox represents into Checkvist. At first I recommend just having a “To Do” list in Checkvist and make it complicated later. You are dumping everything into that program because that is going to be your one-stop-shop for getting things done.
  5. Archive the item. It doesn’t stay in the inbox. Archive it. Move it to a folder. Whatever. But you will never see this again unless you need to. In this system there is a clear distinction between what is processed and what needs to be processed.

Some more notes about this system:

I process my items from the top down, with few exceptions. This is important because in this workflow, you aren’t doing anything; you’re just processing your items. If you think, “I don’t want to get to this because it will take too long to do.” Well in that case, add the item to your list! I have an @Actions folder for these situations, so I know I can go to the email and write in a long response.

My email inbox has zero items in it at some point every day. You think I’m crazy, I know. Believe me, once you do this workflow, you won’t ever go back. I’ve been told by people higher up than me that the email gets unbearable and that my workflow is impossible. I’d like to think that it isn’t. I’ve already started forwarding emails to people on my team with short responses: “Yours” or “Let me know if I need to do anything”. Most threads I’m copied on aren’t important. So I think that this should apply to everyone, and you have to know what it is you need to get done in your life to have sanity in any way.

The key to processing is translating “Stuff” into Actions. I can tell when someone really knows GTD by the items on their to-do list. “Set up blog” becomes “Buy domain” and “Set up a WordPress Theme on blog” and about fifty other things. How much faster do I burn through the fifty specific, actionable things, than my “Set up blog”? Honestly, for me “Set up Blog” goes nowhere, because “watch episode of Biggest Loser” is much more actionable.

Do you think inbox zero will work in your situation? If not, why not?

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