Creating the All-In-One planning journal (Step 2)

Last week I started you on the process of creating your planning journal.  This week we are heading onto the next step.  You will be gathering up all your To-Do items and organizing them into the following groups:

  • Multi-step actions – these will be the start of your projects
  • Single-step actions
  • Routine actions – these will be the start of your checklists
  • Special routine actions
  • Someday/Maybe

We are also going to do a quick overview of handling Multi-step actions, Single-step actions and routine actions.  This will be just enough to keep you going until I go through them in depth.

If you missed the previous posts in this series, I strongly advise reading them before continuing with this step.  Here are the links to the previous posts:

Step 2: Organizing your To-Do items

Gathering your To-Do items

If you have been doing the assignment from last week, then you should have a physical inbox filled with To-Do items.  If not, then I want you to sit down for as long as you need to with a piece of blank paper in front of you.  Write down everything that comes to mind that you still need to do something about.  It is good practice to write the date at the top of the page before putting it into your inbox.

You can choose if you want to try and capture all the things that you have been meaning to do in a single sitting, or you can just write as much as comes to mind.

If you try to capture everything, then you may need to go from room to room in your house, and write down everything you can think of that needs to be done in that room.  You will open the cupboards in the kitchen and write down “organize Tupperware”, “clean oven”, “mop floor” etc.  Then go to the next room and write down everything that you can for that room.  You may find that you have a list of up to (or over) 300 items to do when you are done.  This can be overwhelming, but if you would prefer to get it all off your mind in one shot, great!

What I prefer to do is write down stuff as I think of it instead of going around the house looking for stuff to write down on my list.  If it is on your mind, then your mind isn’t clear and you are under stress.  So as long as there is stuff on your mind, write it down.  As soon as you feel your mind is clear, stop.

Next Actions:

  • Sit down with your beverage of choice, a pen and a blank sheet(s) of paper.  Keep your physical in basket nearby.
  • Write down everything that comes to your mind.  Make sure your mind is clear before moving onto the next section.
  • Put the pages into your physical inbox.

Don’t try to organize your To-Do items just yet.  Just get it all out of your head.

Sorting your To-Do items

You are now going to sort your To-Do items.  It will be useful to print out the diagram below and put it somewhere you can see it whenever you start sorting out your Inbox.  I will discuss the diagram briefly below.  If you want a detailed explanation, please buy David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done” as this overview won’t do his system justice.  You can click on the image to get a larger version of it.

Getting Things Done Workflow Diagram
Getting Things Done Workflow diagram, with Authentically Ash routines addition.


By now you should have all the stuff that is on your mind captured in some form in your physical in basket.  We are going to work through all the items in this basket.  Take the first item out of your inbox.  If there are multiple reminders written on a single page, work from the top to bottom.  Look at each item before moving onto the next.

What is it?

The first question you need to ask yourself is “What is it?”  This may seem like a stupid question, but if you don’t know what it is then you won’t know what to do with it.  Is it a reminder about Susan’s birthday next week?  Is it a reminder about a movie you want to watch?  Answer your question!

Is it Actionable?

Actionable means that there is something that I need to do about this.  Buy Susan a birthday present would be an action, whereas just remembering about the movie you want to watch at some point in the future isn’t an action, you just don’t want to forget the name of the movie.  So you need to decide, do I need to do something about this sometime in the near future (within the next month) or not.

No – it is not actionable

There are three options for what to do with stuff in this section.  You either throw it in the trash (e.g. a flier for a concert that you are not going to attend), put it on a someday/maybe list (e.g. a movie that you would like to watch at some point), or put it in a filing cabinet for later reference (e.g. a recipe you cut out of a magazine).

This brings us to the first thing that you are going to add to your Planning Journal.  Whenever you get a Someday/Maybe item, write it on a piece of paper and put it behind the Someday/Maybe tab of your planning journal.  You can use one sheet of paper for multiple items, but I like to group similar stuff together.  For example, I have a single page with the title “Movies to watch” where I add all the movies I want to watch at some point in the future.  I have another page with the title “Home Renovations” where I list all the things I would like to change about my home when I have the finances to do so.

The next part isn’t a section in your Planning Journal.  If it is a reference item (like a recipe), I want you to add it to a separate basket.  We will discuss filing in a later blog post.  For now, just collect all the “To File” items in the same place.

Yes – it is actionable

If there is an action (or multiple actions) for the task ahead of you, then you need to ask yourself 3 important questions:

  • Are there multiple steps to this task?  (e.g. organize Susan’s birthday party)
  • Is it a routine task? (e.g. Feed the pets) [note: this is not part of the David Allen GTD system]
  • Is there a single step to complete the task? (e.g. Write thank you note to Jane)

Multi-step tasks – If this is a multi-step task, I want you to write the name of the task at the top of a piece of paper and put it behind the Active Projects tab in your planning journal.  Each task (project) should be on its own page.  We will discuss the details of projects on another day.

Routine Tasks – If it is a routine task, you need to make one more decision – how often do you need to do this task?  Daily, weekly, monthly, yearly or on special occasions?  If it is a daily task, write it on a sheet of paper and place it behind the Daily Checklists tab of your planning journal.  If it is a weekly task, write it on a sheet of paper and place it behind the Weekly Checklists tab of your planning journal.  If it happens on a specific day of the week, then include the day next to the task.  If it is a monthly task, then add it behind the Monthly Checklist tab.  And if it is a yearly or special occasion routine task, add it behind the Yearly/Special tab.  I will discuss checklists in more detail on another day. [Note: this is not part of David Allen’s Getting Things Done system]

Single-step tasks – If the task only requires a single step to reach completion, then there are some more questions you need to answer before continuing.  Let’s move onto the next section.

Will it take less than 2 minutes?

If yes, then do it right now (if you are in the correct place to do it), otherwise move onto the next section.  Personally, I work on a 5 minutes or less rule.  Some things do take a little longer than 2 minutes, but will definitely take less than 5 minutes.  Those I also do immediately.

No – it will take longer than 2 minutes to complete

In this case you can either give it to somebody else to do (Delegate it) or you can decide to do it later (Defer it).  A delegation example would be when you tell your 8 year old to pack up their toys.  Once you have given the person the instruction add it to a list titled “Waiting On” and put it behind your Action Lists tab in your Planning Journal.  This reminds you that you have asked somebody else to do something, and you are now waiting on them to do it.  I will discuss the “Waiting on” list in more detail when I cover action lists.

A deferred task, will either go onto your calendar or planner to be completed on a specific day (only use this option if it absolutely HAS to be done on that day).  Or place it on another list, called an “Action List” and put it behind the Action Lists tab in your planning journal.  I will discuss the calendar, planner and action lists on another day.

Things to practice this week:

  • Daily:
    • Continue doing what I asked you to do last week
    • Empty your inbox daily using your diagram above
    • Check your calendar and action lists daily
    • Do as many items on your daily checklist as possible
    • As soon as you are finished with your daily checklist, work on your weekly checklist and action lists
  • Weekly:
    • Continue doing what I asked you to do last week
    • Review all your action lists to make sure that you haven’t missed anything that MUST be done in the coming week
    • Rewrite your action lists if needed, clean them up and make them neat.  Put the old ones behind the Completed Projects tab.
  • Monthly:
    • Go through your someday/maybe lists, have any of the items on them become more relevant? Is there something on the list you don’t feel as strongly about?  Remove it, or turn it into a project.

Don’t forget to check in next week for the next step in creating your planning journal!


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