Getting Things Done: My 3 Day Challenge

For years I have battled with mountains of clutter in my office and bedroom. I have been labeled ‘a mess maker’. Typical time management and organisational strategies (i.e. writing lists and prioritising) have never really worked for me (no matter how hard I have tried and believe me, I have tried hard!).

In some ways I think I was secretly proud of the fact that I was messy. After all, who would want to be clean and super organised? Wasn’t that for uptight people who had too much time on their hands? I just wasn’t inspired to live like that.

But people who were efficient and able to get things done, now they inspired me! I wanted to be like them and thankfully, David Allen’s book ‘How to get things done’ showed me how I could be and do just this – all for $29.95 (a bargain I say!).

Let me give you a picture of what my life was like before reading this book. In the picture below (click on it to enlarge), I am sitting at my desk feeling overwhelmed by the mess and all the projects in my life.

I have had enough.

‘I have too much to do! I don’t have enough time to do it all’ is something I used to frequently tell myself. I always had this sense that I had forgotten to do something, that I was running out of time.

I knew that there had to be a better way to do things and several people had told me that David Allen’s book had changed their lives dramatically.

So I set myself a challenge. I’d give myself 3 days to read his book and implement his system. I wouldn’t allow myself to be distracted by phone calls, email, university work, appointments, etc. It was just 3 days of me with my clutter and new filing system (as well as the occasional conversation with my partner to stop me from losing my mind).

The beauty about this book is David Allen takes you through implementing the process step by step. It’s like he is there by your side, holding your hand and cheering you on as you sort through your piles of papers and random clutter.

Papers, Papers Everywhere!

My biggest problem was I had folders and notebooks full of interesting articles, ideas and projects scattered all over my house. If you told me ‘Jane, go get me the notes you took while watching Al Gore’s movie’, I wouldn’t know where to look.

David Allen says you need one centralised system, that shouldn’t take you more than 1 minute to find the document you need. If it does, your system needs some work.

Mine clearly needed some work. So I got a box (David refers to it as your ‘inbox’) and started dumping everything into it. Papers, paintings and photos that no longer inspired me, books that were collecting dust, etc. What an emotional roller coaster ride this was! I felt excited and liberated as I threw away papers I no longer needed. At other times, I just felt completely overwhelmed by all my ‘stuff’. ‘Why did I even get this in the first place?’, ‘What was I thinking buying all these cheap toxic textas/stationary when I already had enough?’ and ‘Is David Allen’s system actually going to help me? What if it doesn’t?’ I thought.

YouTube Inspiration

One night (when I was feeling flat after sorting through piles and piles of papers) at 12:30am, I logged onto youtube to see if there was anyone out there who had benefited from GTD. I was excited to find an American woman with purple hair who had been using the system say ‘GTD is about kicking ass!’. That was enough to keep me going.

I then got myself some files and created the following:

  • General reference folder: for all the articles, notes, etc that I didn’t want to throw out
  • Someday/Maybe folder: For all the activities and projects that I didn’t want to do now but at maybe later on in the future I’d want to do
  • Project folders: A bunch of manila folders for the projects I was currently working on (these were labeled with my cool, new automatic labeler)
  • Already, I was starting to feel clearer and more energised (even if I was starting to have obsessive dreams about filing and my partner setting the table with stationary instead of cutlery).

    GTD Notebook

    A big part of David Allen’s system is the GTD notebook. It’s a notebook or folder that you create that contains lists of all your ideas, projects, ‘next actions’, things your waiting for from others, etc. It’s a place where you dump everything from your mind onto, because the last thing you want is to waste your mental energy by having the same reoccurring thoughts (e.g. ‘I must remember to return my library books’, ‘Can’t forget to call Lisa’, etc.).

    I made sure I bought a book I liked because I had been warned ‘If your materials look shabby, you won’t be inspired to use them’.

    Much more to GTD

    There’s much more to GTD than I can possibly share with you in one blog post. I mean David Allen spends close to 300 pages explaining it in his book! But don’t think it’s complex, because it’s not. David is just extremely thorough and doesn’t allow for anything to be missed.

    So does GTD help? Did it help me? You bet! Thankfully my dreams are back to normal and for the first time in my life, I am in control of my papers/clutter and not my papers/clutter in control of me!

    Below is a photo of my desk now.

    Sure it looks clean, but it’s not about being clean. If only my camera could capture the sense of freedom and how effective and clear minded I now feel from having a system that works and makes sense.

    9 thoughts on “Getting Things Done: My 3 Day Challenge

    1. Hi Jane, I’ve listened to half of the GTD cd – and I must listen to the rest and get to the action part. I’d be interested in an update on how you are finding the GTD strategies. Have you been able to sustain them?

    2. yes, I am still using GTD strategies, but not naturally being an organised person, it really takes discipline and can be hard at times!

      I occasionally fall of the ‘GTD bandwagon’ and go back to my old, disorganised ways, but it is surprisingly easy to get back into it again.

      Overall, I have found these strategies have helped me to be calmer and get heaps more work done.

    3. Dear Jane, After reading your info, I went out and bought David Allen’s book – Getting Things Done. I’m half way through the book right now. Thanks for all of the information and especially the pictures. I couldn’t read what you had written on the tabs in your notebook. Could you please let me know what is written on your tabbed dividers? My office looks a lot what yours used to look like and you have inspired me. Thank you. Jean

    4. Hi Jean

      Thanks for your message. It really is a fantastic book. The ideas have helped me so much.

      On my GTD notebook I have the following tabs: My projects, next actions, someday/maybe, waiting for, thesis, at university, talks, (things to) think about and at computer.

      Hope that helps! Let me know how you go 🙂


    5. Hi Jane

      did you buy a note book with tabs or are these stick on tabs if so where do I get some? I did a seminal a month agao & still haven’t found the right way of keeping my lists.

      1. Hi Carol

        No I didn’t buy a book with tabs. Those are stick on tabs and the plastic can break/crack easily if you’re not careful with your GTD book.

        I live in Australia so got them from “Officeworks”. Any good stationary store should supply them.

        Alternatively you can make your own tabs with coloured paper and tape (my mum did that). Looks ok but not as good as the ones bought from the store.

        Goodluck organising your lists!


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