If you’ve been following on with the process, you now have at least one area of your life ‘collected’.  This should mean that you have a relatively clear space in front of you, with a designated in-tray filled with things. The next step is to Process this stuff, which is where you make a decision on what is going to happen to it. During this process you will take each item in order, and do one of 5 things with it.

  1. Bin it if you don’t need it
  2. Complete it, if it can be done in 2 minutes
  3. Delegate it
  4. File it
  5. Put it in in a project

Your purpose in this process is to get your in-tray to zero. This, as a concept, will be your guiding principle and we’ll discuss it in more detail in a future post.

As in the previous step, one of the most important aspects of this initial set-up is to be disciplined in working through your pile, handling each piece of paper, one at a time. So, lets get started.

As you go through this, it may be useful to refer to the following flow-chart (click on image for larger version)


Take each piece of paper and ask the question “do I need to do something with this?”. If the answer is no, then is it something you can bin? I know that we did some of this in the previous post. What we were more than likely doing there was binning the actual trash – pieces of paper that hadn’t been binned; things you thought you might need later; things that had expired. In this instance, we are having a considered thought about whether we are actually going to do any things with it. You will still find a fair amount of the things in your in-tray will end up in the  trash. If you can’t bin it, is it something that you might want to come back to someday? This should not be things you know you need to do now, or things you know you will never do; it should be notional desires that you actually want to get round to looking at. If so, put it in a ‘Someday/Maybe’ tray. (in a later post, we will look at some of the technology solutions for filing things, but at the moment, just put it in a folder or tray marked Someday/Maybe. If it does not need action and is not trash or for ‘someday’, then it is just something you need to file for reference. Therefore, either file it now, or put it in a  folder marked ‘filing’ that you are going to have an action to sort out.

If  it is something that you need to action, ask this question “What is the next action?” You will get better at articulating this, but it is important that it is an action, rather than a vague notion. It should be something that, when read, tells you exactly what you need to do next. For example, “Call John about next week’s conference” is a next action, whereas “make arrangements for next week’s conference” is not. If you find that you come up with the latter i.e. something which you know is going to take a series of actions to complete, this is going to be defined as a project (we will discuss these in the next post). In the meantime, file this in a ‘projects’ pile/tray so that we can come back to it.

Once you have your Next Action clear, ask this question “Can I do it in 2 minutes?” if so, then do it. You will be amazed how many things in your tray will fit into this criteria. This could be a quick email, or scheduling a meeting, or filling in a quick form. If it can’t be done in 2 minutes, then you will either delegate it (in which case you should delegate it now and file it in a Waiting folder/tray) or put it in your ‘Next Action’ list.  We will discuss at length how do deal with this, most important, list. Some things will be scheduled, as you know you need to do them at a certain time; some things will be given a time limit; some things will just sit there waiting to be addressed. When we look at the review process, we will begin to understand how this list becomes a living thing that will always feed you the right ‘next thing to do‘.

Having done this for the first piece of paper, pick up the next piece and do the same again. Be strong, be disciplined. One at a time. Start at the top and go through until there is nothing left. Resist the urge to put anything back in the in-tray to decide on later. This discipline is the start of your new way of living your live, in a more controlled, less stressful way.

You should now have in front of you:

  • an empty in-tray
  • a full bin or bin bag
  • a Next Action list – containing all the actions you need to take, either scheduled or not
  • a Waiting list – detailing all the things you have delegated, or need to wait for input from someone else
  • a Someday/Maybe list – things that you want to get around to exploring sometime
  • a Projects list – actions that you need to coral into projects (to be discussed in the next post)
  • a Filing List – this will be discussed in a further post, but you may already have a robust filing system. If this is the case, file as you go

In addition to this, you will have an enormous sense of achievement as not only will you have an empty in-tray, you will have no doubt achieved a great many things which have been waiting to be done for some time. Also, you have taken one more step towards having your own robust, trusted system for Getting Things Done.

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In the next in this series, we will discuss how GTD defines Projects and how to manage them. In the meantime, let me know how you are doing implementing this process; add a comment or a question.