Spring CleaningA couple of days ago I had to own up to the fact that I have been neglecting my weekly reviews recently. In fact, to be honest, I have noticed that some things have started slipping in my GTD system lately. My two desks are not as uncluttered as I would like them to be. The habit of creating stacks of miscellaneous papers and files rears its ugly head. My trays are filling up with “pending” stuff. At least I have been very strict in emptying my in-tray and tickler every single day. But worst of all, my lists of next actions, projects and someday/maybes are overflowing and quickly becoming incoherent.

In other words, time for a thorough spring cleaning of my GTD system!

My desks
I have two desks in my office at home. My primary desk is a sturdy metal desk that holds (or should hold) nothing more than my laptop, a desk lamp, a notepad and a pen. I strongly believe in keeping everything that I’m not currently working on out of my sight. My secondary desk holds my trays, diary, tickler and reference system.

During a typical working day these desks tend to clutter up with reference files, miscellaneous paperwork, office supplies and so on. That’s fine as long as you clean it up again after a working day. Yes, you’ve guessed it, that’s exactly what I haven’t been doing lately. Consequences: an out-of-sync reference system, undefined stacks of paper and a messy office.

Nothing a good spring cleaning can’t fix though! This was actually the easy part. Moving miscellaneous papers into reference files. Moving reference files back into my reference system. Basically putting everything back in its proper place.

My trays
Like I said, my in-tray is emptied frequently, but my other trays started filling up with “pending” stuff, or stuff “to be read”, or even stuff that “needed doing”. There is no place for these kinds of tray in a proper GTD system!

I created new reference files for these papers and put the appropriate projects and next actions on my lists. If you keep doing this consistently, there is no need to use any tray except the in-tray.

My lists
OK, with all the “physical” cleaning done (the easy part), it was time to extend my bout of spring cleaning to the “virtual” cleaning part: the heart of my GTD system also known as The Lists. They definitely deserve some thorough restructuring and rewriting after skipping several weekly reviews.

It is important to realize that you can quickly lose your trust in your GTD system if you do not capture everything into your GTD system, or if you do not review your GTD system frequently. I am very good at capturing stuff. I am also very good at becoming sloppy about how I translate my captured stuff into projects, someday/maybes and next actions. I trust my GTD system to contain everything that it should, but I distrust my GTD system to guide me to the right next action for the proper project.

Yesterday I took a thorough look at my projects list and noticed that it contained a lot of items that have been on there for months without ever being worked on. I deleted a few projects and moved quite a lot to my someday/maybe list. I now have a list of 60 real projects that I can work on now, that I want to work on now and that I need to work on now.

Then I took a good look at my next actions list. A lot of them were not properly phrased like a doable action. Some of them have been occupying my next actions list for who knows how long. It was time to delete next actions that lost their meaning, move next actions that are actually projects to my projects list and move vague items to my someday/maybe list. After that I rewrote every single action into a proper actionable item and made sure they were linked to the correct project (if any).

But the most important step in my spring cleaning process was to make sure that every single project on my projects list has at least one next action on my next actions list. Otherwise, how can you ever make sure projects move forward if there is no next action for them on your list!

The importance of the weekly review became painfully obvious to me after realizing that skipping some of them lately severely diminished my trust in my GTD system. However, since I am very strict about capturing all the “stuff” in my personal and professional life, and also about emptying my in-tray daily, I was able to get my GTD system back to the way it should be by dedicating a single day to a thorough spring cleaning of it!