Tag Archives: GTD

5 Family Rules for Clutter-Free Spaces (Guest Post at Waltzing in Beauty)

5 Family Rules for Clutter-Free Spaces: Guest Post at Waltzing in Beauty

Long-time blog readers might remember my previous collaborations with the lovely Christina of Waltzing in Beauty. We met through one of my oldest friends, and I am so blessed to know her. She just had a sweet little baby boy, so she is easing her way back into blogging by hosting a guest post series on how to make a house into a home.

My contribution is about some of my favorite things: rules (let’s be real), organizing, and practical tips. Here’s a sneak peek:

Everyone gets an inbox, even at home. I am a practitioner of GTD, the productivity methodology made famous by David Allen over 15 years ago in his book, Getting Things Done. One of the keys to GTD is reducing your inboxes. You will only clutter up your spaces by keeping bits of paper everywhere: Post-Its on your computer screen, receipts crumpled up in your purse or wallet, piles of paper all over your desk, and a mound of snail mail by the door. Do yourself a favor and get a physical inbox or letter tray. You can even get pretty ones: one of my inboxes is striped! Every piece of paper that comes into your life needs to go in that tray, and once a week, you need to deal with all of it. My roommates and I have “invisible inboxes.” We make 3 piles on the first horizontal space after the front door (a.k.a. our landing strip). When we see something in our invisible inbox, we know we need to pick it up and do something with it. Nothing ever stays there for long.

Read the other 4 rules at Waltzing in Beauty.

7 Quick Takes on GTD, Dance, and Radio Buttons


— 1 —

Although I have not been up to much besides the mad dash before Christmas, I had a bunch of fun things to share stored up from the weeks I skipped in October and November. Score another point for GTD.

Speaking of GTD, I finally published a second installment of my GTD “series,” this time on how I organize my Next Actions. I also published some key terms for GTD and for Wunderlist, with a dash of commentary for pizzazz.

— 2 —

I went swing dancing at the Fed for the first time on Thursday. I stayed out too late (even though the party was still going when I left), but I had a great time. I learned a little East Coast (triple-step) Swing to go with my growing knowledge of West Coast Swing and my Jitterbug (single-step swing). As we rotated between partners, I could tell that I was getting it, or at least that I seemed like I was getting it. My leaders who were not actually first-timers kept testing out my skills randomly. I managed not to step on or kick anybody, so that worked out.

— 3 —

After the intro lesson, I went over to the West Coast side room. (A side room is a smaller room with a different style of music and dancing than the main ballroom.) That’s why I went to the Fed in the first place. I took this month off from classes, but I didn’t want to get too rusty, and since I didn’t have class, I was available for 3rd Thursday Westie night. The first few sugar pushes felt weird, but then I found my groove again.

For better or for worse, I was mostly surrounded by people who dance less like I do and more like this:

I’m better than when I started, but I don’t have half as much style as that!

— 4 —

I’m not in dance class this month, but back in October, I got the most wonderful compliment in class from a fellow student.

My general strategy for trying things you’re unsure about is to just believe you can do it. I have psyched myself out of things before. There’s a reason athletes visualize completing passes and making goals and all that. I think you can psych yourself into things, too.

So, when I rotated around to one particular leader (who I like because he’s taller than I am), I was stunned when he complimented me out of the blue for sharing that exact concept. When we’re working on something new and I rotate to a new leader, I usually ask, “How you feelin’?” It’s a more constructive version of “hello,” and it builds camaraderie when no one is getting the pattern we’re practicing. Back in my first month on Level 3, he was not confident one week, and I told him to just believe he could do it. All those weeks later, he took the time to tell me that he’d taken my advice and started believing in himself. I was flattered, and now I know that it’s not just my head that works that way.

— 5 —

My company started using new accounting software a few months ago. In training, we had to do a lot of that awkward thing where you describe where you want someone to click, because our trainer was on a computer, but we peons weren’t. At some point, I used the term “radio button,” which confused everyone. Not everyone can handle my vocab skills.

Radio buttons are these guys:

3 radio buttons

They’re called that because they work like buttons on a radio. When you click/tap/press a radio button, it stays selected. If there is a set of 2 or more radio buttons, you can usually only click one at a time. You’ve seen them in online surveys that have questions like “select one of the following,” because the radio button forces you to select one and only one.

The funny thing is that our IT guy, who was in that training session, wasn’t familiar with “radio” button, so he heard radial. Like a tire. Which is also round, I guess. He keeps saying it now, and I don’t have the heart to correct him.

— 6 —

One quick GTD tip: how to capture while driving.

I have a long commute, so it’s not uncommon for me to think of something I need to do or buy while I’m driving to and from work. I have a holster for my phone in my car, so it’s within safe and easy reach. I do almost all of my capturing on my phone, but I can’t write while driving. It takes too much time and looking and tapping to unlock my phone, launch Wunderlist, open a new task, tap to start dictation, and capture the task. So I was stuck.

I can, however, use Siri while driving with relative ease. Siri doesn’t connect to Wunderlist, though. My solution is to use Reminders with Siri and process the tasks later. As long as I tell Siri to remind me at 9 to (fill in task or item), it works fine. The item is out of my brain, I’m still driving safely, and at 9, the reminder pops up so I can get it organized properly. Done and done.

— 7 —

Goodreads has offered me my year in books report already! I feel a little shorted since I actually have more time to read now than any other point in the year, but it’s fun to see the statistics laid out like that.

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum.

Wunderlist and GTD: Organizing Next Actions into Projects and Areas of Focus

woman writing on a notepad

It’s time for another installment of my disorganized, ad hoc series on how I use Wunderlist with the Getting Things Done productivity methodology. In the meantime, I made a separate page with a handy list of key terms and definitions for you, since GTD has its own jargon. I am a teacher at heart, so I like to define things first.

Just like in my last GTD post, on Projects vs. Areas of Focus, I wrote this one in response to a post on the GTD thread in the Wunderlist Support Center.

The Question (edited for clarity)

Let’s say I have 3 Areas of Focus: health, work, self development. I would have one GTD list/folder and another folder for each AoF. My question, what do I put in every AoF folder in terms of additional lists? Do you implement the same lists as the main GTD per AoF? Or do you solely put in projects concerning that AoF and make sure all items are tagged properly and come together in one of the main GTD lists? (i.e. All scheduled/tickler actions come together in one list—so health/work comes together in one [list] but I would be able to filter this through using tags?)

My Answer (which I posted ages ago)

(Non-GTDers: This is where the abbreviations and jargon start to come flying at you.)

In Wunderlist, lists and folders are totally different concepts. A folder contains 1 or more lists. A list contains 1 or more tasks/NAs.

I’ve never found it useful to have one master NA list, although that is part of the GTD methodology. I find it much more helpful to sort my NAs by AoF or by Project. I have a folder called “Areas of Focus” with one list per AoF, and I have another folder called “Project Plans” with one list per Project.

Therefore, if I view my “Friends & Family” list, I see all the things I need to do regarding my friends and family. If I view my “Closet Purge” Project list, I see all the things I need to do to purge my closet.

I use very few tags, so my filtering is just by date. (What gets scheduled gets done.) Thus, I click on the Today smart list to see what NAs I have scheduled for today in each AoF and each Project. Since they’re separate lists in WL, they are visually labeled and separated within the Today smart list. I guess I could also tag my S/M list by AoF and future Project, but I don’t. One giant S/M list does work for me.

For a different perspective, Andreah at Frazz2Fab has a post about maintaining separate NA, S/M, etc. lists for each AoF that you might find useful.


Lists and folders are different things. The fewer of each you have, the better.

Wunderlist and GTD: Projects vs. Areas of Focus

In my “vision of wild success,” as David Allen puts it, this would be just one post in my beautifully organized series on how I use the Getting Things Done methodology (GTD). In reality, I detest long comments on blogs and forums, so I wrote this post just to avoid that. Skip down if you’re just here for the answer.


Here’s some context for everyone else: I have mentioned a few times that I am using GTD to get my life together, with spectacular results. I started drafting a blog post about my GTD conversion in January of this year. My GTD implementation relies heavily on my use of the marvelous app Wunderlist. Since I started using Wunderlist last fall, there have been some huge improvements to the app, and I have refined my GTD implementation and use of Wunderlist, so that drafted post is still not ready to publish. #bloggerproblems

In the meantime, I have been following a support thread for Wunderlist to keep up with others who are using it for GTD. A fellow Wunderlist user asked a great question this week. I think I have a solution, but it took way too many words to explain in that support thread. So I wrote this post and linked to it. Problem(s) solved.

The Question

Jon P. writes:

How do you or anyone here treat projects that aren’t really projects[?] My interpretation of a project is something that can be completed at some point. I tend to have lifelong jobs that require action like “parenting” or “home improvements”. These lifelong jobs all have many smaller projects and actions associated. For instance in my parenting folder I might have “BMX Project with my son”, and one of the actions is to “buy a bike hook for garage to hang the bmx on”, another action might be to “research handlebars”. These projects exist as sub projects under their respective lifelong area. But it seems strange to put “parenting” as a project under “active projects” when really it’s something that’ll never be completed all the time I’m a Dad.

Key Terms

You can take my English classroom away, but I’ll always be a teacher. Definitions first!

A GTD term. A Project consists of two or more individual action items and a defined outcome. The Project is complete if and only if all the action items have been completed and the desired outcome has been reached.
A GTD term. A Project must have a defined outcome, i.e. how you know when the Project is complete. This can be an action item or a description of the situation after the last action is completed. “Publish a book” is the outcome for a Project also called “Publish a book”; there are several steps to take to reach that goal.
A core Wunderlist feature. A list is a group of tasks/items. The number of lists per user is unlimited.
A recent Wunderlist feature. Folders are groups of lists.
Next Action (NA)
A GTD term. A Next Action is a single, physical task you can complete in one sitting to move toward your Project’s desired outcome. If you need to do anything else before you can begin a task, it is not your Next Action. “Search my favorite magazine to find out if they accept submissions” is a Next Action for the “Publish a freelance article” Project.
Weekly Review
Part of the GTD process. The Weekly Review is a once-a-week, comprehensive read-through of everything in your GTD system and anything still in your head.

My Answer

“Projects that aren’t really projects” sound exactly like Areas of Focus (AoF). “Parenting” is a quintessential AoF.

Here’s how I set up Projects vs. AoF in Wunderlist:

I have a list called “Projects” that contains all of my defined outcomes, starting with action verbs. Projects, per GTD, can be completed: “Purge closet,” “Go see the musical,” and so on.

I have a separate folder called “Project Plans” that contains one list per Project. I sync this by hand with the”Projects list during my Weekly Review. Each list in Project Plans corresponds to one of the items in the Projects list and contains Next Actions, future action items, and reference URLs for that Project. These lists substitute for the files that GTD recommends keeping for Project Support Materials. I just don’t have many paper or electronic items for my projects.

I have another folder called “Areas of Focus” that has one list per AoF: Friends & Family, Household, Health, Dance, etc. These lists contain Next Actions related to each AoF, such as “Go grocery shopping” and “Watch this YouTube video on West Coast Swing anchors.” No Projects are included in these AoF lists.

Here’s an example of how I decide what goes where:

I go see the outdoor summer musical in my town every year. I organize a group of friends to go with me. I don’t stop associating with my friends after the musical (not if I do it right!), but I only go see the musical once. “Go to the musical” is a Project. That goes on my Projects list. All the actions to make that happen (Pick a date, Invite people, Send reminder texts, etc.) go on the list called “Musical” in my Project Plans folder. Friends is an AoF, so it’s a totally separate list in my AoF folder. “Go to the musical” is not on my Friends list.

There’s currently no link between my Projects and the AoF’s they fall under, but that’s okay for me, for now. I could use tags for that, but I don’t. Resolving that disconnect is an item in my Personal Growth AoF!

I also don’t have a solution to scrolling through all your lists when you are organizing tasks on mobile. I usually use desktop for that! Click & drag is easy.


“Parenting” is not a Project at all. It’s an Area of Focus. Organize your Projects and Areas of Focus separately.

As you can see, GTD has helped me do things as simple as remembering what YouTube videos I want to watch and things as complex as making sure I get to see the Zilker musical with friends before it closes. Implementing GTD has truly changed my life for the better. I’ll post more soon.

Not Alone Series: Plans for 2015


How are we going to make 2015 different than last year? What goals are you planning/making to be more YOU this year? These goals can be personal growth, spiritual life, physical/health, or even your love life! Maybe you don’t have concrete ones yet, but it helps to talk them out and get motivated!

I posted about resolutions yesterday, including a recap of my philosophy about making New Year’s resolutions. (I wrote about resolutions last year, too. I’m still going on both of those.) In a nutshell, I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but I make resolutions when I think they need to be made, and they usually stick.

My best resolutions of the recent past have been flossing, setting a bedtime, drinking more water, budgeting, and using GTD and Wunderlist. For the near future, I am working on setting a bedtime and something secret.

Past Resolutions I’m Going to Continue

I started flossing daily in December. I am embarrassed to admit that it took this long to develop the habit, but I’m in for the long haul now.

I did National Blog Posting Month in November, and it was great for my writing fluency, my traffic, and my confidence.

On October 14, I drew a line in the sand and gave myself a bedtime. Going to bed earlier than I would like forces me to be more efficient with my time. I set an alarm on my Google Calendar, which is synced with my phone. (That is how I know the exact date I started.) GCal is always open in my browser, so the pop-up interrupts what I’m doing and forces me to at least acknowledge that I ought to go to bed. It literally says, “Go to bed.” My phone chimes to alert me if I’m away from my computer (although it is rare that I’m not at my computer at that time of day). Most nights, I push through to wrap up “just one more thing,” but I know that it is bedtime. Knowledge is power.

I adopted GTD and Wunderlist in September. I needed a better to-do list. I think I’ve found it. My use of both tools grows and changes over time—and that’s exactly what I needed. I started to describe my implementation for this post, but it turned into enough for a separate post! Basically, I use the Wunderlist browser and mobile apps to write down everything I need to do. I cross tasks off the list during the day and review my progress daily and weekly. It’s been fantastic. More to come.

Last summer, I realized that I needed to drink more water. My office has a water cooler. I left my beloved FOCUS Nalgene bottle on the plane when we landed in Nicaragua in 2012, and I hadn’t replaced it since then. A cute striped bottle caught my eye at Target, beginning a new love affair. I used the stripes to measure how much I drank, and I slowly started increasing each fill-up. At home, I just refilled my water glass; I use one glass per day. I don’t always stay hydrated all day every day, especially on weekends, but I love the way I feel when I do.

I found YNAB (You Need a Budget) (referral link) in May. It changed my life permanently. I effectively fell in love with YNAB. Read my story, and you’ll understand.

New Resolutions

NaBloPoMo is biggest in November, but BlogHer actually hosts it every month. I signed up for January. I haven’t decided whether to keep going through February.

I feel good about my spiritual life these days. Lectoring is my favorite ministry, so it brings me peace to belong to a parish and lector on a schedule. I’ll keep going to Spirit & Truth every week unless I don’t live in Austin anymore or have a child I can’t bring with me. Resuming my individual weekly holy hour is on my Someday/Maybe list for now. Not only do I make resolutions whenever I need them, I make them only when I need them.

As for love life resolutions, I have one, but I’m not sharing. I love expressing myself here, but until/unless I’m ready to let the whole world know, I can’t blog about it. Trust me when I say that it is SMART and will hopefully be fruitful.

Thanks to Jen and Morgan for hosting! Check out other responses on their blogs.

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