GTD in Practice: Getting “In” to Empty

As I read chapters five through seven in our Senior Seminar Class’ book, Getting Things Done, by David Allen, I thought to myself: “All this nonsense about capturing, clarifying, and getting the inbox to empty sounds like a fantastic idea…for a businessman working in an office.” I did not think what I was reading would be of use to me now, a quarter of the way through my senior year of undergraduate study. Well, I was wrong.

I nearing the end of reading chapter six, I realized that I had boxes, tins, baskets, totes, and shelves full of “stuff” all over my apartment that were overflowing with disorganization. I have always tried to be an organized person, and I thought I was doing a fine job. I have always had a place for everything, and, as long as everything was in its place (whether that be neatly put away on shelves or piled in a stack on my table or desk), I could relax.

Many times, I tried to go through all my papers and separate important documents from rubbish, but I always ended up putting stacks of mismatched items back where I found them.

When I read about Allen’s advice not to be afraid to put a single item in a file folder and file it away, well, to say it flipped on a light switch would be a huge understatement… it felt more like someone had turned on every single Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree from the past 15 years, inside my head.

What a thought! Imagine it: filing every item away into a place where I could find it in a moment’s notice without having to wonder, “Is it in this stack or that stack? Did I put it in this tin or that tote?” etc.

Since we had a fall break this weekend, I decided to go ahead and try Allen’s method (at least, some of it).

So, I went Staples and bought two file storage totes and 200 plain file folders (and also a label maker because, well, I’m a bit of school supplies addict).

img_2509

The first step in my process was to “capture” all the loose ends and “open loops” I had stashed in containers and carted around with me for my entire life. I found “stuff”: on the bookshelf under the fish tank, in tins on the bookshelves in my room, in manila folders, in a file box, and in a large tote (see images below).

Then it was time to empty the contents into my temporary “inbox” (essentially, the only free space I could find on the floor at the time that was large enough to accommodate the volume of “stuff”). The stack was a bit overwhelming:

However, I woke up the next morning and sat down and spent approximately 12 hours going through each and every item, one at a time, doing my best not to get distracted by anything further down the stack. Luckily, I had inadvertently stacked everything from newest on the bottom to oldest on the top, so I could sure to make it through every item in the most efficient manner possible. I started printing labels and making single-item folders left and right. After three hours, my inbox looked like this:img_2517

After about eight hours, I had this:

Another two hours later:img_2513

And, finally, after the 12 hours were up, I had this:

I had two initial thoughts as soon as I finished:

  1. “Good Lord, it took me 12 straight hours to empty a three foot stack?!”
  2. “Oh, right, Allen said this would happen. Decisions of any magnitude require and expend energy.”

Overall, I am so relieved now that I have completed this project (for now, anyway). I know exactly where all my important documents are, and I know that I can access them within a matter of seconds if I need to. I am not as worried about moving 700 miles away to graduate school now, because I do not have to worry about organizing or finding any of my important (or even unimportant) documents.

Even if you do not have the time to dedicate an entire day to emptying your inbox, or if your inbox is too full to empty in one day, at least start. Clarify 10 or 15 items a day if that is all you can manage. Just START SOMEWHERE. I promise, you will sleep better once you get all your “stuff” under control.

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