Getting Things Done - GTD

How to Deal with Your Stuff: Non-actionable Items

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
tags Stress-Free Work & Life Clarify Work-flow Decision Making
"For the first twenty-five years of my life, I wanted freedom. For the next twenty-five years, I wanted order. For the next twenty-five years, I realized that order is freedom." ~ Winston Churchill

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How to Deal with Your Stuff: Non-actionable Items

Gaining Control Through Clarifying:
1. Gaining Control Through Clarifying
2. How to Deal with Your Stuff
3. How to Deal with Your Stuff: Actionable Items
4. How to Deal with Your Stuff: Non-actionable Items

In the Clarifying stage, the moment in which you process each of the items you have in your inboxes, you will realize that many of the things you have captured, things that have somehow caught your attention, do not need any kind of action or commitment on your part, except for the very fact of deciding how you are going to organize them.

Clarifying an element that doesn’t require action is much simpler than clarifying an actionable element. In this case you only have to decide to which of the following three categories it belongs.

1. Of no interest whatsoever

Some of the things you have captured are things you no longer need, or didn’t even need when you captured them. This category includes everything that you consider doesn’t have a place in your world: junk e-mail, offers you receive that you don’t need, ideas that, after thinking about them cold, don’t make as much sense anymore, etc.

What do you do with all this stuff? You delete them, you throw them in the trash, either physical or digital.

You shouldn’t feel bad about it. That you have to eliminate a lot of things from your system at this point is a good sign. If you establish the habit of capturing correctly, that is, if you capture everything that comes into your head without thinking and without making any judgments, a good number of captured things will go into the trash.

There are many people who have a hard time deciding whether something should be eliminated or not, and unconsciously avoid making this decision. If you are one of these people, creating a solid clarification process is essential for you to gain control. Otherwise, your “to do” list will tend to constantly expand, while your psychological refusal to deal with it will grow.

It’s true that eliminating things is not so simple and that sometimes it generates uncomfortable moments, especially when they are things that touch issues to which we are still sensitive, such as a project that has failed, a relationship that has ended, etc.

“Is there any reason to keep this in my system?” There is no wrong answer to this question. If, for whatever reason, you want to keep an item, you should. Removing something that your psyche still wants to retain will possibly generate another type of distraction. In these cases, the problem is where to place these things. Well, actually it’s not such a problem, it’s solved in the next section ;)

In any case, try not to avoid this confrontation. Learning to say no to certain things opens spaces for other more important things and often leads to a more meaningful life.

2. I’ll save it for later

There are times when not deciding is also a good decision. If you are unsure yet whether an item is actionable or not, it’s okay to keep it somewhere in your system so that you can make this decision at another time.

Surely there are many things you would like to do, but now is not the time. Take a trip for which you haven’t saved enough money. Attend a congress on a date you don’t know if you will be able to attend. Develop some improvements in a product if a certain technology expands and stabilizes. Learn to play the guitar.

In the GTD methodology, these types of items are kept in a list called Someday/Maybe. In this list there are no actions or projects, only things you have not yet committed to.

This category is one of the most powerful features of GTD. Usually, people have ideas that they think they must carry out immediately or else they will forget. Whether they get around to executing them or not, it goes wrong. In both cases, stress and anxiety are generated.

Having a place to park possible projects to pursue, from which you can later choose which of them are more suitable for that moment according to the available means, is a productive resource of great value.

Another important advantage of this list is that it helps to ease the burden on those people who tend to commit to more things than they can really handle (almost everyone). Without it, these people’s to-do lists would be unmanageable.

The existence of this category helps to responsibly manage the number of projects one is capable of carrying out. After all, it’s a list that we will review and update periodically, in a more conscious way, so that we can make more responsible decisions about what to do and what not to do.

This is another demonstration that GTD works very well as a whole, but it can fail by the weakest link. If you don’t “review” your system regularly (review or reflect is the fourth stage of the GTD workflow), you won’t be confident enough to use the “someday/maybe” list to its full potential and you will fill your “next actions” list with an infinite number of tasks; this list will be so long and overwhelming that you will end up ignoring it.

3. It’s reference information

Other things that we usually capture and don’t need action are those that have, or may have in the future, an intrinsic value as information. This category can contain a wide variety of material, from matters that interest you on a personal level to information you need to develop your professional projects, and in a variety of formats: a business card with a phone number, a link to a web page, an e-mail, a specification file, a brochure, etc.

From a usability point of view, it’s convenient to distinguish between reference information that you will need to consult often (for example, because it’s related to a project you are developing), and information that you will need to consult very sporadically.

Whatever you need to consult on a regular basis should always be at hand. If it isn’t information that you can store digitally in the cloud, you will need a physical filing system in the place where you work or in the place where you develop your personal projects.

As always, it’s important to clearly define what each thing is and what its real meaning is. As a result of that clarification, some things should go to the trash instead of the archive. Keep in mind that a huge and disorganized file system becomes a useless system.

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Francisco Sáez
@franciscojsaez

Francisco is the founder and CEO of FacileThings. He is also a Software Engineer who is passionate about personal productivity and the GTD philosophy as a means to a better life.

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