Absolutely Not, and Yes, Absolutely - Next Action Associates

When we help someone build their GTD® ‘external brain’; their ‘trusted list keeper’ for remembering all of their commitments, sometimes they feel that they don’t want to put all their personal items into their company computer.

This can be for various reasons: they wouldn’t be able to see their personal items outside office-hours without opening up their company’s computer and being overwhelmed by items they were trying to forget; they don’t like the idea of their personal items being on their company’s machine; they don’t feel it is helpful to mix personal and professional because they would be distracted by personal items in the office.

At this point, people often ask: “Should I have two systems?”. To which the answer is, most emphatically “no!” and also, oddly, “yes!”.

Yes, in as much as they may want to use a separate tool for their personal items, either a different digital list app or a private paper-based list keeper. After a short time of working with two list locations, it will make perfect sense that, when thinking about professional items, you will go to your work lists, in whichever tool they are in and when it is time to crack on with some personal tasks, to look at where you keep those. There may even be advantages, like not resisting looking at your personal system at home, for fear of seeing all your work items. This is the simple part of the answer.

No, though, to the trap that many people fall into of using GTD best practices professionally, but then falling back into old habits at home – or indeed, never getting out of the old ways of doing things for your personal life.

Once you have spent the time and energy to learn the power of GTD and know the benefits of next action thinking, defining projects and tracking those, how to achieve balance and perspective from doing regular Weekly Reviews®, etc, etc, it seems almost criminal to ‘only’ use that for your job and not allow your personal commitments the same ability to flow – stress-free – as well.

I have seen people build and use a full GTD system at work but then try and survive with their pre-GTD list habits at home: keeping a few items of ‘stuff’ on a piece of paper by the fridge! Your professional system will probably have more items in it and will likely require a few more contexts than your personal system, but the desirable clean edges between categories should be set up and maintained.

When people first do a mind sweep, they are often surprised by how much ‘personal’ stuff shows up, or how it shows up first before ‘important’ professional stuff. Most people, no matter how much they are struggling with their workflow before they experience GTD, are still getting things done at work. Possibly because they are there for such a large part of their week, possibly because they are being held accountable by their boss or possibly they are driven by a simple need to get their salary. At home, things can slip though, often for months or years, and ‘personal’ stuff can start to seem less important. It isn’t and shouldn’t be treated as such.

When I first read ‘Getting Things Done’, one of the ideas which resonated with me was David’s definition of ‘work’ as being “anything you want to be different than how it is now”. So, getting new tyres on my car is ‘work’, getting my daughter into her new school is ‘work’ and writing this blog post is ‘work’. I was never tempted to have two different places to keep my GTD reminder lists because I was self-employed, and so I only had the one computer and the one phone and everything I was trying to do was ‘for me’.

There are certainly advantages to keeping everything in one system. For example, I only have one place to look for ‘work’, be that personal or professional. I can put down “call the dentist to book appointment” on my one call list, which I will look at throughout each day; if I had two systems, which call list would I put this on? If I put it on a private list, I may only see it when the dentist is closed.

However, if it isn’t appealing or possible for you to have everything in one place, then yes, run two GTD ‘external list keeping brains’ but think of these two parts as making one whole GTD system for your personal and professional ‘work’.

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