One the most important elements of the successful GTD set-up  is having the right buckets to hand. The term bucket is used by David Allen in his GTD book. Basically this can be any well defined area for storing things. They can be physical (trays, folders, drawers, cupboards, boxes etc) or virtual (Outlook folders, Dropbox, Evernote Notebooks, Lists). The most important thing about setting up, which is what this series is about, is that you start off with a basic list of buckets, and that you let your system evolve. In this post, I will discuss what I consider to be the basic list of buckets to get you going. We can expand this at a later date.

If you haven’t seen the rest of the posts start here, or if you just missed the last one, learn about processing your inbox here.

Going back to the principle of GTD, the objective is that anything and everything in your life can go in to your system, and that you know it will be safe, or dealt with (depending on what is needed). Your collection areas are the start. Once you have these, you can get into the habit of processing these areas daily (or at intervals that make sense). However, as part of the processing, some things will have to be moved to the next, safe, area of the system – the buckets.

Here is what I recommend you start with as your buckets (next step areas in the process).

  • Next Action
  • Calendar
  • Waiting
  • Projects
  • Read
  • Someday
  • Reference

Each of these buckets must have well defined, hard edges, if you are going to trust the system. The single most important part of this is that it should be obvious when you are processing your inbox, where each thing should go. The truth is, that at the start, there may be times when you have to think about it, but spend the time thinking, and use this to further refine your definitions. It is OK to have sub-buckets (I’ll discuss that), but be careful not to over complicate the system.

Next Action

This is the heart of your GTD system. This is where everything that you need to action will go. Remember that in the processing stage you will action anything that is going to take 2 minutes or less, so this is only the stuff you still have to do. Also, bear in mind that it is only discreet activities: things that say exactly what you need to do, and once done, this action will be finished. Examples might be “pay gas bill” or “Call client about next week”.

Calendar

Any item that requires an action, and absolutely has to be done at a certain time, or on a certain day, should be put in your calendar or diary. This can be a physical one, or a virtual one (outlook etc). Remember here that you are committing time: only put things here that need to be done then. What you do with the thing that was in your in tray (letter, post-it, email) will depend on the action. For some things, I schedule them in my calendar and leave the original thing in my Actions folder, clearly marked. However some things will clearly need to be filed for reference or put in the Waiting folder. Many things will just be binned once they are in your calendar. Remember, now that they are in your calendar, they are safe and will be handled.

Waiting

A very important bucket in GTD is where you put things that you are waiting for input or action from someone else. Examples might be I’ve sent a letter to someone looking for information, I would put an item in my Waiting folder to make sure that I check that I received the information. If I send an email to someone and want to make sure I go back to check I got a reply, or it was actioned, I’ll copy it to my Waiting folder. If I’ve delegated a task to someone, I’ll put it in my Waiting to make sure I close the loop. When I first implemented GTD, I really struggled with this Bucket’s use: now, it is one of my most heavily used areas.

Projects

This is a slightly more complicated bucket in that it makes more sense to have sub-buckets for each project. As I have said, we will spend some time in a later post going in to projects in more detail. However, at this stage all you are doing is asking “is this action part of multiple tasks, or does it need to be broken in to smaller tasks?” if so, then it goes into a project folder. Let’s look at an example here. Let’s say you have a post-it in your inbox that says “remember to buy paint”. When you look at it and ask “what is the next action?” you realise two things. Firstly, you’re not sure what colour, or how much you need. Secondly, you realise that it is one of many tasks associated with painting the living room. At this stage (remember we’re implementing the system) create a ‘Paint the Living Room’ folder, and put this task in there. You will come back to further define this later.

Read

One of the things you’ll find when you implement GTD is how quick you can process your inbox  and get it to zero. You’ll realise that, when you are only quickly deciding what to do with something, doing it if it takes 2 minutes or less, and then putting it in a new bucket, you’ll have a few things that just need to be read sometime. This bucket, for me, is all the things that I am interested in, but reading them is not time sensitive. So, a letter from a client about an impending piece of work, read it now and decide what the next action is. A document I need to read and give someone notes about for a programme I am running, reading it goes into my Action bucket (maybe even my calendar). If it’s an article on Leadership, or one of the many blogs I subscribe to, I just put it in this folder, and periodically go through reading or ditching stuff.

Someday

As we discussed in the last post, things will come up, or ideas will come to you, that are things you might want to look at, but just not now. This is what the Someday bucket is for. As an example, I had the idea earlier in the year, that I wanted to start doing Videos for my website, or for a YouTube channel. I stuck it in my Someday bucket. It stayed there till about three weeks ago, when I decided to bring it out and create a project for it. Since then I have completed 5 fairly major steps towards having videos for the website and a YouTube channel. How it came out, will be discussed in the post about the review process.

Reference

This bucket is vital. It is where anything you decide you want to keep for reference purposes will go. How you do this is just as important. It can be anything from a large filing cabinet, to a totally virtual filing system, where everything is scanned and saved in the Cloud. The main thing is that filing should not be a chore. The ideal is that when you process you inbox, if something needs filed, and filing it will take less than 2 minutes, you file it then. Otherwise, you put it in the reference bucket, and file it as part of your weekly review. Do not put anything that needs action in here: this is for reference purposes only. We will discuss some filing options in a later post.

Once you have these buckets (files, folders, boxes etc) set up, you’re processing will be a breeze. Next to the cathartic, stress-lifting, experience that processing your inbox to zero is, having your buckets in order is the best thing. You know you that your system will work for you, you can trust it, and you do not need to stress about stuff any more.

Take this list, and set up your areas (physical or virtual), when you process, their use will be obvious.

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Next week we will look at Doing It – how to work through your action list and actually Get Things Done.