Getting Things Done - GTD

Start to Get Organized: The Mind Sweep

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
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Start to Get Organized: The Mind Sweep

Collecting is the first stage of any kind of organizational work flow. In order to gain control, you need to gather everything that you consider somehow incomplete. The basic principle is that you must know how your world is right now, how the map in which you move looks like, so that you can make a positive commitment to it.

There are a lot of things in your life that do not put any pressure on you. It is all those things that are under control. You turn on the computer and you see the application you need with the data you need. You turn on the heating and soon you get the room at the right temperature for you to work. You need to go somewhere, so you start the car and go there… Things are just like they ought to be.

But in the normal course of your day, there are many other things that demand part of your attention. Your internal radar is activated whenever something pops up that can somehow upset the balance of your universe. This new and strange noise you hear in the engine of your car, what can it be? A message from your bank warning about an account with insufficient funds. A new idea to increase your income that occurred to you the moment you heard some comment somewhere.

If you don’t do something constructive with all these things that steal your attention, they will continue to be there, maliciously consuming part of your consciousness.

David Allen summarizes this collecting phase in a very simple way: “If it’s on your mind, write it down or record it somehow in a concrete way. It doesn’t matter how you capture these thoughts, as long as you get them out of your head and have them all in some way easily accessible for review.”

The fact that collecting is the first stage does not mean that you should do it only once, at the beginning. It is the first stage of a work flow which cyclically and continuously repeats throughout your life. Every day there are new things that you must capture in order to decide what to do with them, if you actually need to do something at all.

However, at the first time—when you decide that enough is enough, that it’s time to start organizing your stuff—, you should perform a complete (or nearly complete) capture of everything that exists in your mind. This is called The Mind Sweep in GTD, i.e. a overall scan of everything holding your attention right now. It consists in identifying anything concerning your work or your personal life which you consider should be different, and put it all in one single place, which we can call the in-basket.

This is the “incompletion triggers” list that David Allen recommends you to review every time you need to do a mind sweep:

Professional stuff:

  • Projects started, not completed.
  • Projects that need to be started.
  • Commitments/promises to others (boss, partners, colleagues, subordinates, customers, organizations, professionals…)
  • Communications to make/get (phone calls, e-mails, letters, memos, etc.)
  • Writing to finish/submit (reports, proposals, articles, promotional materials, instructions, etc.)
  • Meetings that need to be set.
  • Decisions that have to be made. Who needs to know?
  • Significant read/review.
  • Financial stuff (budgets, forecasts, statistics, credit line, cash flow, etc.).
  • Projects formal planning (goals, targets, objectives).
  • Travel.
  • Banks.
  • Administration (legal issues, insurance, procedures, etc.)
  • Customers.
  • Marketing.
  • Promotion.
  • Sales.
  • Systems (computers, phones, office equipment).
  • Supplies.
  • Waiting for… information, delegated tasks, replies, petty cash, ordered items, decisions of others, etc.
  • Professional development (training, things to learn, skills to practice.)
  • Research.

Personal stuff:

  • Projects started, not completed.
  • Projects that need to be started.
  • Commitments/promises to others (spouse, children, family, friends.)
  • Communications to make/get with family and friends.
  • Upcoming events (birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, travel, social events, cultural events, sporting events, etc.)
  • Things to do (places to go, people to meet.)
  • Administration (bills, banks, investments, loans, taxes, insurance, legal affairs.)
  • Waiting for… orders, repair, loaned items, etc.
  • Home/household (plumbing, electricity, decoration, furniture, etc.)
  • Computers (software, hardware, connections, internet.)
  • TV, VCR.
  • Music, CDs.
  • Cameras, film.
  • Phones.
  • Sports equipment.
  • Closets/clothes.
  • Garage/storage.
  • Vehicle repair/maintenance.
  • Pets.
  • Health care.
  • Hobbies (books, music, movies.)
  • Errands (drugstore, market, bank, stationer, etc.)
  • Community (neighborhood, schools, local government).

The Mind Sweep is something you should do the first day you start implementing GTD as an organizational method. But it is also something you should do from time to time, especially after a period in which, for whatever reason, you have lost a considerable part of control over your world.

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Francisco Sáez

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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