Do you put on a load as soon as there are enough dirty clothes or do you wait until you run out of clean clothes? Do you do things when you can or when the red alert is flashing that the final deadline is right here?
Consider your laundry basket as a Next Actions List with Reminders being the dirty clothes in it. There is no set deadline in the calendar – the imaginary amber alert flashes when you pulled up your last pair of clean socks. Red alert screams when you reach into the empty sock drawer.
I admit that in my pre-GTD®, Bridget Jones style, young spinster days, I dedicated a full day to doing all the laundry – with 80’s and 90’s pop music on in the background of course – and I actually enjoyed it. It was like many other aspects of my life back then: “binge” being the keyword. Binge-watching series, binge-drinking, binge-housekeeping. I would not do any housework for quite a while and sometimes only get home to shower and sleep. Then given the day off, I would binge on it and just wash, iron and fold for a whole day. It was also well worth it at the time, as I lived on my own, so it was only my stuff and only me to mess it up.
However, today with two little kids under my wings and two jobs to work, I hardly ever get the luxury of a day to myself. Also, I cannot let the house go without any cleaning for even half a day. If you have met any toddler boys, you know why.
Binge days behind me, I have to fit the Next Actions of housekeeping in my days bit by bit. Today, while brushing my teeth in the morning I take a peek at the basket and see if the contents would fit a load. I put it in the machine on my way out of the bathroom. It finishes by the time I get back from the school run and hang the clothes to dry while logging into my first call.
Apart from laundry duties, this is the same approach I take with everything else. I get something done as soon as there is an opportunity, well before any deadline. The secret for me is that the Next Action is always small enough. While my Housekeeping Next Action List is not a written one, it would never read “spring cleaning”, but “do the dishes while waiting for the kettle to boil” or “wipe down windowsill before closing the windows”.
I would not have “write proposal for client X” on my list because I know that I hardly have enough mind space and time between meetings to do the whole thing at once. Instead, I break it down to much smaller actions, such as “dig up last proposal from emails”, “email developer for estimate”, “update price in proposal” and “send for approval”, so I can fit them all in the cracks throughout the day.
My “binge” self would love to get everything done at once: empty my Next Actions lists, just like the laundry basket. But I know it would never last long. Not only because life keeps on going (and things get dirty) but as Aristotle famously wrote: “The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.” Translated to GTD: The more you get done, the more you want to get done.
Even with never-ending lists, I know I get a lot more done than ever before. I wish I knew about GTD when I had all that time for myself before kids and demanding jobs. Who knows what I could have achieved – instead of lazy binging.
When I have the rare luxury of having a day to myself today, I treat myself and relax. I know I can do nothing because I trust my GTD system to remind me if it was otherwise. Knowing that I cannot sit still too long, I might indulge in something from my Someday/Maybe List. I might even clean the house – just to enjoy the result for a few moments until everyone gets home.