Getting Things Done (Or At Least, Attempting To Do So!)

If ever there was a good time to get organized, this is it. I've already got two little ones, and only about 3 1/2 months until the third one arrives, a home to care for, mouths to feed, a business to run, a garden to tend, a church to take part in, people to know and love, and a God to serve… I feel like I've got a lot on my plate, and life just shows no signs of slowing down. 🙂

6a 00e 54f 14494b 883401156f 2dbdad 970c 150wi Yesterday, I began the process of completely revamping my system of organization, and honestly, it just felt so amazingly good! I'm using the book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
by David Allen, which my husband read first and recommended to me.

At first, I wasn't completely sold on the idea, as the book is very business oriented, and not geared towards homemakers. However, the more that I read and got into it, I could see how practical and useful it would actually be for my situation as well.

He recommends setting aside a chunk of time to work on it, preferably a couple of days if at all possible. I decided to arrange a babysitting switch with a friend, so that I could have a full day, and next week she will get the same. I had from about 9:15 am until nearly 7pm yesterday (my husband took the kids out for dinner when he picked them up). I started out my day with a Staples run, choosing a file box, some in/out boxes for my desk, post-it notes, paperclips, and then later that evening, a digital labeler, to complete my list of the tools that he recommends for the job.

Then I got to work…


**I should have taken a picture earlier- this is after I'd already sorted through much of the "stuff"! The table was absolutely covered at first!

My first job was to go through the entire house, grabbing any sort of papers, items, photos, notes, business cards, receipts, anything at all that belonged in my "in-box". Basically, anything that was in one of my many piles (I confess- I'm a stacker because otherwise it's out of sight, out of mind), in drawers, in baskets, on the fridge, in my purse or wherever that was an unfinished or necessary reference item. There was some reason that it was still around and not in the trash, presumably, so I needed to collect it all and sort through it.


As I weeded through all of these random papers and other items, I began to make two piles. The one on the right was junk. Things that were no longer relevant, old, useless, or that could be discarded once I made a simple note of what they were or an action that needed to be done. The left pile is of important items that would ultimately be filed.


Sorting through everything was the first part of my "brain dump". This consisted of taking a stack of paper and a pen, and as I sorted through each and every item on that table, I made note of whatever it was that was important. Some examples of these were writing a letter to our new sponsor child, or returning a book to my midwife, or filing away the manual and extra strap for Abbie's new carseat, or saving a business card for a place that I might use for my husband's birthday present.

The second part of the "brain dump" was to also write every single loose end or to-do that came to mind during this process. As I would note the book for my midwife, I would remember another book that I needed to return to someone else. As I sorted through the mail that belonged to previous tenants, I remembered that we need to make sure we were registered for the upcoming provincial election. Dealing with some restaurant gift certificates we won reminded me that I had hoped to secure babysitting for an evening to use those certificates to take my husband out on a date.

He also includes in the book a long list of "triggers", which are both business and personal duties (calls to make, people to visit) areas of work (office, desk, garage, backyard), things to remember or do (upcoming birthdays or anniversaries, events you'd like to attend), etc. The idea is that as you slowly read through the list, more and more things will come to your mind, which you can then write down and forget about.

The idea is that once you have completed all of this, your mind will not be struggling to remember all of those little things that usually stay in the back of our minds, making it easy to forget them or remember them last minute, or to not properly prioritize, or to use our time unwisely. By creating a trusted system (his words, not mine) where you can record all of this information, you will free yourself up to be much more focused and efficient, and less stressed, knowing that you won't forget all of the things that are important.


"Brain dump" complete, I settled into establishing my new file system. Keep in mind, this is not like our regular family filing system. We already have several boxes in my husband's office, which store important papers regarding insurance, taxes, warranties, medical expenses, birth certificates, etc.

This, however, is my very own box. (Oh, that makes me so happy!) It holds things like gardening records, my lists of needed children's clothing, encouraging handouts from women's caregroup, pregnancy 'stuff", parenting/child training resources, business cards of companies I like, as well as business files for Keeper of the Home (though this will likely need it's own box ultimately).


Here's a little glimpse inside…

Last on my list for that day (because I'm not finished yet- it' s a big job!) was to take my "brain dump" (4 double sided pages, absolutely covered in notes) and begin to process all of those "in" items.


You can see my small pages, where I am sorting the "in" items into several categories: Next Actions, Waiting For…, Projects (items with more than one action necessary to complete them), Someday/Maybe (things I'd love to get around to, and don't want to forget about), as well as some lists I added in myself, To Buy and Pregnancy List (things to be done before baby). I also added dates and appointments to my calendar as necessary.

This part is not finished yet, but when it is, I will take these papers and transfer all of their information to a program on my computer called OmniFocus (a Mac only program- have I ever mentioned how much I love my Mac?). It uses the principles of Getting Things Done
, and allows you to process the contents of your "in-box" in a way that is very usable. Once I get everything in there, I can start to use it to determine my actions and goals for each day, manage projects I am working on, as well as add new items that get put in my "inbox" (which I will be setting up on my desk shortly- no more piles for me!!!).

I'd love to give you all an update once I get everything fully processed and begin to function within this new system! I'm really hopeful that it will help to keep me not only more organized, but also my house less cluttered with all of the things I am afraid to put out of my immediate sight.

Once this is really in place, I will move forward with one of the items on my "Next Actions" page, which is to create a new schedule/routine for the kids and I, as well as for household cleaning, until baby comes (because I know that everything will change after that!).

Has anyone else tried using the Getting Things Done system? If not, what others systems of organization have you implemented, and how have they worked for you?

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  1. Wow – everything looks great! Right after Christmas, I went through all my roaming papers and organized them. It felt so good to put it behind me!!! I have never heard of that book, but it sounds interesting! I’ll have to look for it!

  2. Thanks for this post! I was just lamenting to my husband a few weeks ago about how my mind gets so bogged down with mental to-do lists. I am also a “pile” person. I try really hard to keep up with the papers as they come, but I always have a “me” pile left that I don’t know what to do with. I never thought of making my own file box. I am definitely going to do that – I just added it to my mental list 🙂

  3. That book sounds interesting. I could use another file box. I have a big mess of recipes for one thing. Thanks for the inspiration.

  4. Wow, this was great. I am not familiar with the book but it sounds like it is working for you. I have the book “Organizing from the Inside Out” by Julie Morgenstern. I like her ideas, theories, etc. My opinion is that any of these books can be useful but the key is keeping up with any given system after you have implemented it. My problem is not keeping up, so you have inspired me to get that book out again. Thanks!

  5. I have been working through (well, before the baby came, slowly but surely, and I will continue on at a later date) working through the book (my library has it) “organized from the inside out” as well. I meant to get my filing system put in place before the baby came, but I didn’t get it fully completed (although almost) so I hope to finish that when my husband has some time off. Anyways I have read lots of books on organization and I have found Julie’s book to be the best one yet, and applicable as a homemaker and for my husband as well, but mostly for my whole household. Its great. The only downside of all these books is that they usually recommend buying something, or many things, to make it better or easier to organize, and I am unable to do that very much, if at all. Buying files alone was about $16 for the pack. I know its easier in theory to organize when I have all the “stuff” that is new etc. but I also have to realize that my husband has made a budget that I need to work with. I’ve talked to him about it but we can’t buy anything else that is not part of our budget for this type of thing right now.

    I’ll have to check out that book sometime when I have some more time to do so…maybe in a year or so, LOL. Its true that its totally the papers that is the biggest issue with organization though. I’ve set aside a time once a week to go through my pile (I only keep one) and file/recycle etc so it doesn’t build up.

    I wanted to add (sorry so long) that I recently have had to change my routines and also my way of cleaning due to the new baby, so I have set aside my cleaning “schedule” for now and its a lot less stress, but I get more done since I am not trying to catch up all the time and feeling guilty. I have a big list of all the chores for the week and try to cross them off one by one. If they don’t all get done that week the next week I start with the ones that didn’t get done first. Its not ideal but it works for this stage for me. I never know when we will have an “off” day and even babywearing can’t help me with some cleaning chores.

  6. It’s so funny you wrote a post about this book! My husband just ordered it a couple weeks ago and is almost done with it. He loves it so much he’s been telling everyone about it. He even told his boss he needs to read it! Ha! Glad to see you like it!

  7. Our assistant pastor just recommended that book! I am going to run out and see if I can find it at the library!

  8. Thanks so much for walking through the brain dump system- that is exactly what I need-want.
    Now I need to figure out who wants to watch my kids 🙂

  9. I’ve read and re-read GTD and I try to put it into action at work and at home. It is really good to get all those things off your mind. I went and put some things on my list for school when I read your post.

  10. I am a fellow-“piler” and have several systems that I could use, and I just don’t. As a previous poster mentioned, there are so many fabulous ideas out there – the key is sticking with it (and I’m terrible at that :).

    So thanks for the encouragement and reminder that this is something I need to put my hand to and be diligent in!

  11. I bought this book a couple years ago when we had just moved. At the time, we were living temporarily in a small apartment, and most of our stuff was in storage. So the principles in Getting Things Done were more like theory for us then. I read part of the book, loved it, but set it aside and… forgot about it.

    We’ve been in our house for a while now, and it’s obvious to me that I need to organize more than I have done already. Thanks to your post, I’ve picked up the book and am finishing it. I’m SO ready to put some of these ideas into practice! Thanks for writing about this and giving me just the reminder I need! I have to say, also, that I was kind of concerned that the book wouldn’t apply so much to a household… but where possible– it will be great to use these organizational principles. Thanks for helping get me going again!

  12. I have been trying to promote productivity in the home with my meme, the Blitz on Thursdays. I like this book. I am attempting the bring the corporate principles into the real world of homemaking.

  13. I’m considering getting OmniFocus to help me organize my tasks, and yours is the only post I’ve seen mentioning it in regards to homemaking. I was wondering if you still used the program and if you would recommend it for that purpose.

    It has many similarities to a program I used to use called Life Balance (that could have been a killer rock star program, but the developers absolutely refused to add any functionality that their users asked for, so it always ended up being something that was almost there but made me feel like I was banging my head against the wall over the missing functionality).

  14. Stephanie, this is hilarious – I’m a longtime reader of yours, and I was just did a Google Images search for “stuff on table” and was brought to this post’s image of your table. (I needed a visual to go with my son’s chore reminder to clear off the table.) So here I am, and so glad I was brought here, you’ve got some great practical inspiration in this post! Thanks! 😀

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