A Chaotic Week with GTD

- 13 min -
Joe Buhlig

When I was getting started with GTD (Getting Things Done), I wondered what a week looked like for someone who used it. I never found anything along those lines and I recently had a week where I flexed it pretty hard. So I decided to give you a snapshot into my crazy week and see my GTD system in action.


Last Spring our lower level family room had water in it. We had some hard rains and the water managed to work its way into the house. After many failed attempts to fix it from above ground, we decided to dig up a portion of the foundation to fix the root of the problem. This project was the main contributor to the chaos, but there were a few things that came up at work as well.

I often refer to my Dashboard throughout this article. It’s a custom perspective in OmniFocus. It consists of all my due and flagged tasks and it’s what I spend most of my day working through. You’ll see how I use it each day as we walk through my chaotic week.


I started off Monday by sleeping in a bit. I got up at 5:45 as opposed to my normal 5 am. I was coming off of a cold and wanted to make sure I had it beat.

I did my typical morning routine. I got up and made breakfast, did my Bible reading, meditated for 10 minutes, did some writing, and then jumped into my Daily Review.

During my Daily Review I decided that after work I would mow the lawn, then start in on the foundation. I wanted to have the yard looking nice before I completely tore it apart. So I flagged those two tasks to add them to my Dashboard and deferred them until I was off work.

Once my review was done, I started my work for the day. The girls woke up around 8 am and I took a break until 9 to have breakfast with them. At 9, I jumped on a daily call that helps me get in sync with a couple coworkers.

Everything went according to plan on Monday. Work went smoothly. I had a couple small things come up, but I grabbed them from my email and added them to the appropriate projects and contexts. After work, I mowed the lawn and moved the rock mulch away from the house so I could start digging up the foundation.

Before I went to bed at 9:30 I did my typical evening routine. Tomorrow I would move the hostas from around the house and start digging up the problem area of the foundation. Again, I flagged these two and deferred them until after work the next day. I also saw that I had expense reports due at work, so I set aside time for them.


Since I was going to start digging up the foundation that afternoon using only my trusty garden shovel, I slept in until 5:30. I knew what was coming.

The morning was normal and I kicked off my day without any issues. At 9 am, I did my sync-up call. On that call, we decided that some of the coding work I had been doing needed to be rethought and a majority of it needed to be redone.

After letting go of my frustration and admitting that it was a good decision, I wrote down what needed to happen and detailed the next actions I needed to take. I entered those into OmniFocus and deleted any tasks that no longer applied to the project. Then I resumed work on my Dashboard.

I managed to empty my Dashboard by late morning on Tuesday so I went to my list of contexts to start my next list. I was in the office so almost every context was available to me. That can be paralyzing, but I have them listed in order of importance so I started at the top.

As I was leaving my office at the end of the day I checked my Dashboard again and saw that I needed to move the hostas and start digging. So that’s what I did after work. The hostas went easily, but I reached a point of overwhelm when I started digging up the house. It was too much for me to do on my own.

I thought I was being a wuss so I grabbed my hPDA and wrote down a couple friends to call if I needed help. I knew I wouldn’t add it to my system until my review the next day. I would wait and see how I was feeling in the morning before making my decision.

I set up my Dashboard for Wednesday that evening and went to bed around 9:30.


On Wednesday I was up at my normal time of 5 am. The morning routine was normal except that I spent 30 minutes running a shovel. It was during that time that I officially decided that I needed help. I wrote it down on my hPDA.

During my Daily Review, I threw out the card that had the names on it from Tuesday and didn’t even enter the newer task into OmniFocus. I texted a friend right away (he’s an early riser as well). He only asked what he needed to bring. I’m not sure what I would do without great friends.

The rest of my review was normal and I started working on my Dashboard until the girls woke up. It’s amazing what you can get done before the rest of the world is alive.

At work I had a few folks call me asking for help with either code or phone issues. I’m the resident Apple guru, so I get all of the iOS and Mac questions that aren’t easily fixed. That meant that I didn’t even get close to finishing my Dashboard for the day.

About 30 minutes before my work day was over, I quickly entered in some communication tasks based on the tasks remaining on my Dashboard. I had some coworkers that needed to know their stuff wouldn’t be done on time. Once I had dumped my brain of any emails and calls I needed to make, I pushed off the remaining Dashboard items to Thursday and worked through the list of emails and calls. Then I could stop work for the day and not have it running through my mind all evening.

My buddy showed up and we started digging. It went a lot faster with two of us. In one area we managed to get to the footing of the house, the hunk of concrete that the walls sit on. We discovered a big problem. There was no crack in the wall where I was expecting and there was no drain tile next to the footing. On top of that, the waterproof coating that is supposed to be on the foundation wall was basically non-existent.

I stared at it for about 10 minutes. Put in a drain tile or not? I already had it dug up so the time to put it in was now. I called a friend who knows this stuff better than me and he confirmed my thoughts. I had a lot more work to do.

Using my hPDA, I wrote down some of the high-level needs for the project and then kept digging. During my evening routine, I took those high-level needs and turned them into a list of materials needed and re-wrote most of the action steps for the project. Bed time came late at 9:50pm.


The 5 am alarm was hard to swallow on Thursday. I was tired. But I got out of bed anyway. I made breakfast and my Dashboard showed that I needed to keep digging that morning. Part of the new plan involved the expansion of the current hole.

After 30 minutes of time behind the shovel, I went about my normal routine for the morning. The rest of the morning was pretty easy. I worked through my Dashboard all morning, but didn’t complete it. I grabbed lunch and then had a meeting early that afternoon.

I jumped on the call and was waiting for the key person to join so we could start. They never showed. That meeting was supposed to give me a big picture view for some of our future projects that I’m leading. Without that discussion, I couldn’t do any of the work I had planned for that afternoon and Friday.

The next 30 minutes was spent pushing off my long-term planning tasks and reviewing my projects for actions for that afternoon and the next day. Once I had re-adjusted, I went back to work on my Dashboard.

After work, my faithful friend came back to continue digging with me. Since we were expanding the hole, not digging a new one, it went pretty quick.

As soon as we were done with the digging, I checked my Dashboard and noticed that I had decided to call another buddy of mine about how to make all of this tile and drainage stuff work. I had completely forgotten about it. There was just too much going on. So I called him and he confirmed everything I had been thinking. At least I didn’t need to re-factor my plan… again.

At this point, my back really didn’t like me. I sat down to plan for the next day and I wasn’t sure I’d get back up again. But during my review, I decided to take a day off from the foundation work and recover. I needed to pick up a few more supplies and my in-laws were coming to visit so I wanted to take time for them as well. Bedtime came late again at about 10 pm.


Once again, I was up at 5 am. After my normal morning routine was completed I jumped into work for the day. I had a number of meetings and wanted to finish early so I could spend some time with my in-laws. I worked on my Dashboard and managed to complete it before the girls woke up around 8.

After second breakfast, my meetings started at 9. I had a 30 minute break at one point, but otherwise it was solid meetings until 12:30. I took a 30 minute lunch and then had another call at 1 pm. I was done with calls at 2, but had 7 pages of notes to process.

They were good meetings, but I wasn’t planning on that volume of paper to process afterwards. I ended up spending the remainder of my workday reflecting and processing notes from those meetings.

After work, I spent some time with my in-laws. My father-in-law was planning to help me with the foundation for a couple days so we were talking through everything that had been done already and what I was planning to do.

In the midst of that conversation, I realized that I was going to have to put in a new sump pump. But that meant a lot more work on the inside of the house - jackhammer a hole in the floor, dig out dirt, put in a sump basket, concrete around basket, and install the pump and piping.

That evening when I did my routine, I made the alterations to the project and put together the plan for Saturday. We would paint the rubber membrane on the wall and cut the hole for the new sump. It was a late one at 10:45 before I made it to bed.


On Saturday morning I was up at 5 am. I did my morning routine and then loaded some materials I needed to return into the truck. By the time I had done all of that, the house was starting to wake up.

It was a busy day. We returned things in the morning and then painted on the rubber membrane. Before lunch we made a list of the materials we needed for the new sump pump and went to pick them up. When we got to the hardware store, my phone let me know that there were some other small things that I needed to get while I was there. Thanks, OmniFocus!

We came home, grabbed lunch, and then prepped the inside of the house for the new pump. While prepping, a couple things came up that we needed to get, so I added those to my system. The girls were going down for a nap so we stopped working on the house and went to rent the tools we needed to cut the hole in the concrete. The things I wrote down earlier popped up on my phone while we were out. I love that. Sometimes I add items to those lists just to watch it work. #nerd

When we got back, we took a short break and then the girls woke up from their nap. Time to jackhammer! It took a while, but we managed to cut the hole in the concrete and my mother-in-law returned the tools for us while we kept working. Yes, I trusted her with my debit card. Scary.

The sump basket then went into the hole and it was time to pour concrete around it to lock it in place and make it look nicer. We didn’t have enough rock to make it work. Back to the hardware store. We came back and finished up the concrete work.

That night I checked off a bunch of the items on my list for this project. I refer to my list as needed, but with a physical project like this I usually know what comes next. The list is to ensure I don’t forget something. I planned to finish installing the sump pump on Sunday. I don’t normally do work like that on a Sunday as I simply need a break at least once a week, but I had the help and wanted to take advantage of it. Bed time came around 9:30 that night.


I was up at 5 am on Sunday. I did my normal morning routine, but added in a Weekly Review. I really needed to go through everything. It would help me reset and be ready for the week ahead. I knew there would be a number of things on my mind that I was unaware of so I decided to work through David Allen’s trigger list. Sure enough, I added a bunch of tasks to OmniFocus.

The reflection time of my Weekly Review showed me that I had too much going on. I wasn’t prepared to drop projects so I moved 8 projects over to my Stalled folder to get them out of view. I review that folder once a week to see if I can pull any projects back into play.

We went to church that morning and afterwards we finished installing the new sump pump. I really appreciated having that completed. Everything else was mostly repetitive physical labor that needed to be done.

My in-laws left after the pump was installed. All we did that evening was play with the girls.


  1. It was crazy. Things were being completed and added so fast. But it was only stressful when I tried to use my mind to keep track of everything. When I realized that I had the system to rely on, I was relieved and could focus on doing each task well.

  2. Doing my evening journal has to be really easy. I was able to get a read on myself by doing it, but I had too many questions to answer and I kept running through them just to be done.

  3. Taking time in the evening to set up tomorrow’s tasks is invaluable. I love being able to get up and run.

  4. Ask for help. We moved about 34,000 pounds of dirt - with garden shovels. I needed someone else there to throw dirt with me.