Fix Leaks In Your GTD SystemAre you feeling overwhelmed by your next actions list?
Are you feeling intimidated by the number of projects on your project list?
Are you still feeling “stuff” nagging at you in the back of your mind?
Or are you experiencing all of these things at once?

Odds are that you have minor or major leaks in your GTD system!

Perhaps the leaks are small and your productivity boat will still make it to the other side of the lake if you row fast enough.
Perhaps the leaks are big and your productivity boat will sink before you even reach the middle of the lake.
Either way, these leaks are hindering your daily progress, they make you feel stressed, not in control and certainly not productive.

Now, where do these leaks in your GTD system come from, how do you find them, and better yet how do you fix them (and keep them from coming back)?
Read on to find out!

How To: Fix Leaks In Your GTD System

>> OK, so how do I know if I have leaks in my GTD system? <<

The symptoms of having leaks will be the feeling of stress, out of control, not really productive and a fuzzy mind. Other – more physical – symptoms include stacks of “stuff” starting to reappear on your desk, catching yourself forgetting about important appointments and tasks, overflowing e-mail inbox, and so on.

The cause of the leaks in your GTD system can be determined by taking a critical look – possibly together with another GTDer – at your GTD system. More specifically, take a long, hard, unforgiving look at the core of GTD: the five-stage method for managing workflow. Ask yourself the following questions:

Finding leaks in Stage 1: Collecting
* Do you have a Ubiquitous Capture Tool (UCT)? (see also this recent post about various UCTs)
* Do you use it consistently in any kind of situation?
* Are you doing frequent (daily, weekly) mind sweeps and mind dumps?
* Do you ever leave “the runway” to soar to greater heights and purge your mind at these levels?
* Do you have only one central, physical in-basket at home (and/or at the office)?
* Does all of your “stuff” find its way to this in-basket at least once a day?
* Is your mind really completely clear of “stuff” nagging at you (that you should be doing)?

Finding leaks in Stage 2: Processing
* Do you get your e-mail inbox to empty frequently (daily, weekly)?
* Do you get your physical in-basket(s) to empty frequently (daily, weekly)?
* Is your e-mail inbox and your physical in-basket empty right now?
* Do you make a clear decision about what to do with each and every item in your in-basket?
* Do you make good use of the two-minute rule?
* Is most of your “stuff” handled just once (instead of being put back into your in-basket or tickler)?

Finding leaks in Stage 3: Organizing
* Do you write down the results of project brainstorming etc.?
* Is your reference system easily accessible and easy to use?
* Is your desk completely clear (no piles of “stuff”)?
* Does your calendar only contain things that need to be done on a specific date/time?
* Did you get rid of that pile of documents “to be archived”?
* Do you always extract actions, projects, someday/maybes and waiting fors from your notes?
* Is your label writer and a stack of fresh folders within an arm’s reach?
* Do you have a system for filing digital “stuff” consistently?
* Does your next actions list contain just that (no projects or vague, undefined stuff)?

Finding leaks in Stage 4: Reviewing
* Are you reviewing your entire system frequently (at least weekly)?
* Do you have a checklist for all the things you need to include in your weekly review?
* Do you use this checklist every week?
* Do you look at your lists as often as you feel necessary?
* Do you ever move items from your someday/maybe list to your projects list?
* Do you ever decide NOT to do something?
* Is your GTD system up to date right now?

Finding leaks in Stage 5: Doing
* Are your next actions phrased in active tense, starting with an action verb?
* Did you think about and write down the successful outcome of each project?
* Does every project have at least one next action on your next actions list?
* Do you consistently apply the criteria for making a choice about which next action to do next? (see also this post about making a decision and this post about determining your priority).
* Are you working in a distraction-free environment? (see also this post about working better without distraction).
* Do your next actions represent “doable” chunks of work of, say, 20 minutes at most?
* Does your system allow easy switching between context view, project view, “waiting for” view, and so on?

What’s your score?
Needless to say, the number of questions answered with “yes” must be as high as possible to have little or no leaks in your GTD system. Remember these five stages form a chain that is only as strong as its weakest link.

>> Yes, I found some leaks in my GTD system. How do I fix them? <<

Fixing the leaks in your GTD system is as easy as getting more (all!) of the questions above answered with a resounding “yes” instead of a “no” or “sometimes”. At the same time, it’s also as hard as that!

Getting more “yes” answers means you will have to start (re)applying – perhaps in a stricter fashion – some of the core GTD principles. Basically, it’s like installing the good habit of GTD itself — it takes a lot of practice and relentless self-discipline.

First, you need to realize what needs to be altered in your current habits (hence the list of questions to find your leaks). Second, just finding these leaks may be enough for some of us to know how to fix them. It is all radical common sense after all! For others, I suggest monitoring your GTD system for the next couple of weeks with the list of questions for each of the five stages at hand. Persist in getting a higher percentage of “yes” answers. Aim for 100%.

Soon you will find that really doing the things that I suggest with my list of questions will fill in the blanks, plug the leaks and fix the holes in your GTD system, one piece at a time.

So, the real solution in fixing the leaks in your GTD system is to continually ask yourself critical questions like the ones I listed above and making sure they are all answered with a strong “yes”! I’ve given you a set of tools and pointers to pinpoint the minor and major leaks in your GTD system… after locating them, it’s up to you to fix these leaks, because nobody else will!

Continually remind yourself why you are doing this. You are fixing the leaks in your GTD system, because you want to have a trusted system that keeps track of all of your “stuff”. You want to create a safe place for all of the reminders of things you have to do.

Eventually you will reach the point where you feel no stress, you feel in control but relaxed at the same time and you feel highly productive!