Standing Lists for GTD or Other Organizational Systems

Write things down to aid in thinking and decision-making. Here are some ideas for standing files you should update regularly.

You may want to include some of the following files in your plaintext system for notes, drafts, and journal entries. These are just suggestions. I have used all of them, off and on, as part of my work journaling system.

Do you GTD?

Getting Things Done (GTD) is a fantastic system that I use to help manage my work life. It has a tactical focus, meaning it primarily helps you manage your day-to-day tasks, rather than think about the big picture every time a new task comes up. This is due to its pragmatic philosophy: you have to manage your day-to-day work before you can really think about the big picture cohesively.

One of GTD's tenets it to capture (write down) your plans and future commitments into a trusted system. (Obviously, my trusted system is Todo.txt plus various files within my @Drafts folder.) This helps get all the nagging "I need to do X" thoughts out of your head, which frees up your mind for focusing on the task at hand.

Next, GTD encourages you to break down your projects and tasks to very small (and more easily accomplished) "next actions". This helps you execute them, and helps you break up them up into smaller units that can be more easily shifted around the other time commitments, such as meetings, in your workday.

Your next actions should be in your Todo.txt file. Projects and next actions that are scheduled further out in the future, or those that may happen someday (maybe), need to go somewhere else in your trusted system. That is why I use what I call "standing files" in my @Drafts folder to capture them.

Weekly review

An integral though often overlooked part of GTD is a weekly review. This is the part of GTD that is strategic, rather than tactical. Not many GTD practitioners bother to do a weekly review, probably because they don't understand the strategic aspect of it and don't feel the need for it. (You don't have to do it weekly to be successful. Just review all your projects and commitments monthly or occasionally.)

In a weekly review, you are supposed to update all your project and next action lists, think ahead, and add new items to these lists. During my weekly review, I capture in a special entry in my work journal where I stand on each project, what new ideas I have had about future work, and what is important for the week or so ahead. Writing these thoughts down helps me plan out my next week. I also make sure that my project list and someday/maybe list are up-to-date as well.

Project list

Writing down a list of all your projects is not necessarily something you have to do every week, but it is useful to do when you are setting up your system for the first time, and to refer to and update while you are doing your big-picture thinking in weekly, monthly, or annual reviews.

I keep a single "Project" file in my @Drafts folder, and update it during my weekly review. Instead of keeping one file, you can create a dated file ("Project List") each time you update your list, or simply list of your projects in your "Weekly Review" journal entry each week.

Someday/maybe list

Sometimes you have a lot of ideas and have to get them out of your head. The "Someday/Maybe" list is the landing zone for all those ideas, notably the ideas that you can't act upon immediately. Write them down and go back to the list regularly (say, in your weekly review) to pick them up again when the time is right. you don't have to expend energy remembering these ideas, just write them down whenever they come and leave them in your system until you need them.

I keep a "Someday" file in my @Drafts folder, and refer to it and update it when I do my weekly review.

Annual review

Similar to a weekly review, an annual review is a journal entry you make at the beginning or end of the year. It is backward looking and forward looking, and focuses on long-term (one year) accomplishments and goals.

I like to work on an annual review entry instead of a normal journal entry in the morning on the first work day of every year. That is a good time for reflection, because usually everybody at your workplace is returning from the holidays and the morning is spent catching up with people and getting back into a work groove. Alternatively, you could do your annual review just before or after your annual performance review with your boss (or "the annual insult" as a wise cynic once called it).

Personal manifesto

Who are you? What do you stand for? What values drive you? What are your principles and motives? What are the important elements of your character? How do you cope with adversity? What do you want to achieve in your life or career?

Capture these big-picture thoughts, all of which are integral to your core identity, in the form of a personal manifesto. You don't have to be Marx and Engals to do so. If you are trying to project a consistent professional image, or personal brand, writing a manifesto that defines exactly who you are (or want to be) is powerfully motivating and focusing.