Everyone has a list of things that they want to do. Some people keep a mental note of their list. Some get a little more organized when life gets more busy and they just do something simple like write their to-dos on a piece of paper. Everyone lives life differently and everyone likes to manage their life in different ways.

In my last post, I briefly mentioned that I really like the Things iPhone app because it follows the GTD (Getting Things Done) system. I really like the GTD system because I have always found myself writing lists of things that I wanted to do. I often feel like I’ll never get everything done that I want to. I can’t remember how I found out about GTD, but when I did, it sounded like exactly what I needed. I bought the book by David Allen and I really liked the principles and the philosophy that the book talked about.

I don’t follow the GTD system completely or exactly, but I’m just going to talk about the principles that I love that relieve a lot of stress for me.

Get all the “stuff” out of your head

If you don’t have everything that you want to get done in one spot that you know you check regularly, then you’re probably feeling stressed out. That is because you have to remember so much. Once you can get everything into a system that you can trust and that you know you’ll check when you need to, then you can relax.

In order to do this, you need an “inbox.” This is the place that you put all of your thoughts and everything that you need to remember. The inbox is not organized in any way. It is just a spot that everything goes into so that you can get it out of your head quickly. Then, you regularly go through the inbox to organize the stuff that you put in it. This is really helpful because if you have to organize it right when you think about it, you risk not having the time or not feeling like organizing it. Then, you’ll probably just keep it in your mind until later. It will add stress until you either forget it or have the time to decide what to do with it. For example, I wanted to get my dad a present for his birthday. I know that in order to do this, there are several small steps. But right now I don’t have time or the desire to think about it more. So, I just drop it in my inbox.

The next action

The inbox is the only place that any item can be described vaguely. In my example, getting my dad a present is very vague. If I am just describing it as a present, obviously I need to spend some time brainstorming what I am going to get him. Once I have decided, there will probably be more steps before I have his present ready. If it is expensive, I may want to ask other family members to pitch in with me. If it is something that I’m making for him, I will need to purchase the parts, and spend time putting them together. All of these are “next actions.”

Next actions are clearly defined tasks that pared down to the individual tasks that need to be completed. When something moves out of the inbox, it needs to be defined by next actions. This way, when I have time to do something, I’m not discouraged because I don’t know exactly what to get my dad. I’m also not discouraged because getting my dad something may be a task that I can’t get done quickly. All that I need to do in order to get something done is the next action. I can do small next actions almost anytime.

Organize your next actions into projects

It is clear that there may be many next actions involved with getting my dad a gift. It is nice to have all of these organized into a project. Then, the only next action that is pertinent to me right now is the first one in each project.

Things you’ll do someday or on a specific date

There are two other main categories that you may place your next actions. I know that someday, I’ll finish painting my model airplanes that I’ve had downstairs. I don’t want to forget to do it, but I’m not planning on doing it anytime in the near future. I’m too involved with my yard project. So, I’ll just place that item in a someday pile. I check this pile regularly (maybe once a week) just to make sure that I don’t forget about it and to decide if I want to move it out.

There are also some things that I need to do on a specific date. An example of this is the task of actually delivering my dad’s birthday gift. I need to remember to do that, but I don’t need to think about it now. So, these items are scheduled. You can either put it on a calendar that you check, or if you have the Things iPhone app like me, you can schedule it and it gets placed on my today list when the day comes.

This is also a good place to schedule things that you just want to think about later. You can schedule tasks like, “Decide what to do for Dad’s gift.” Then, you don’t lose track of the to-do item and you can decide later.

Other thoughts

The system that you implement needs to be easy to do and something that you can do anywhere so that you can easily get everything out of your head in order to prevent stress. The main drawback to Things is that I can only enter things in on my phone or on my Mac. When I manage lots of stuff at once, I like doing it on my Mac. I’ve gotten good at typing on my iPhone, but I would really like to enter items and manage everything from my computer at work as well. I used a Moleskine notebook for a while and I really enjoyed it, but I didn’t carrying it and a pen with me everywhere.

This is the system that I’ve found that works best for me. What do you do?