To preface, the idea is you have a central location for all the shit you have to do so you can stop worrying about it at 2 am. You build a system your brain trusts to capture data, and then you can focus on getting shit done rather than “am I remembering everything?” I highly recommend actually reading David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” as this is a system I hacked together because it works for me. My system is definitely not GTD regulation stuff.

First, pick your “bucket.” For me, it’s a notebook where I write down EVERYTHING. Initially, I just wrote down ALL my to dos, including “someday” stuff. This was based on my goals – Very Long Term, Long Term, and Short Term (which get reassessed regularly). Now that I’ve done the initial “gathering,” I do a nightly brain dump. I review it the next morning for high priority tasks then create a To Do list.*

Next, you’ll have to deal with things like bills, magazines, papers from your kids’ school, etc, etc, etc. For that, we have a central location in the hallway where it all gets dumped. I go through it daily and deal with it immediately. But initially, I had to sort through it. Don’t forget your online records, too, like e-mails, saved files, etc.

So, once you’ve gathered all your thoughts AND all your stuff, it’s time to sort through it all. THIS is the part that’s time-consuming. So, my system was: archive/file; toss; take action. If it’s something that requires action and I could do that action immediately, I did so. Otherwise, it got put with the brain dump notebook. With the digital stuff, I did basically the same thing.

Once I went through all that, then I went through the notebook and assigned priorities and estimated time for tasks. I used high, low, and someday for the priorities. The time estimation leads directly to the next part of my system…which we’ll discuss Wednesday. HA! But the goal here is that anything that comes into your mind or inbox gets dealt with immediately. Either by taking the action needed, tossing it, or archiving it. If it’s not possible to take action immediately, it gets captured in your “bucket” so it doesn’t get lost, and so you don’t have to worry about it.

*I know it seems like an extra step, but for me, having that central “bucket” means I don’t wake up at 1 am SURE I’ve forgotten to do something. I also don’t spend the day worrying I’m working on the wrong shit.