Getting Things Done: A Day in the Life

Dec 5, 2014
Joe Buhlig
~5 mins

There are a lot of articles about setting up GTD. But I don’t see many that show what a typical day looks like when you adopt the framework.

So let me walk you through a normal day with Joe. You’ll quickly see that I lead a very structured life. It’s intentional and not for everyone. I do that to give me more creative space in the day. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but the structure frees my mind to focus on now and not worry about what comes next.

Starting the Day

My day starts at 5am. I eat breakfast, read my Bible, and then spend some time in the wood shop (working on my @woodshop list) or catching up on articles.

Once I’ve done my morning routine, I run through my Daily Review. I like to empty all my inboxes at this point and make sure I know what I’m planning to do for the day.

After the Daily Review, I start working on my 3 Most Important Tasks (MITs) for the day and usually have these completed by the time my wife and daughter wake up.

While I’m getting Cutie ready for the day and making her breakfast, (and my second breakfast), I tend to have ideas running through my mind. I try to jot them down on my hPDA so I can stop thinking about them and enjoy my time with Cutie.

After second breakfast I grab a shower and then “go to work.” I put that in quotes since all I do is go to the family room and turn on a computer. I’ve also been working for at least an hour or more already.

Accomplishing Tasks

95% of the work I do is on the computer or in my head. Because of that, my contexts don’t revolve around tools, but verbs. Read/Review, Write, Think, Learn, and Create would be examples.

There are times in the day when my energy levels and attention are best suited for each of these, so I put them on my calendar accordingly. For example, I do my best thinking right before lunch and enjoy learning right after lunch. I schedule each list for the best time.

This makes it super easy for me to work through the day. I see a calendar notification on the computer or my phone that indicates the context I need to shift into and switch to that list in Omnifocus where I’ll decide which task to work on. Throughout the day, I’ll have meetings, phone calls, text messages, and IMs that I work around, but the majority is spent working through different lists at different times.

Dealing with Email

I’ve written about my email habit before, but the short version is that I only check my email twice a day. I don’t let the constant emailing distract me from the real work I’m doing.

If things get busy or I have a fast moving project, I’ll add a third email check into my day. But every time I open my email, I’m working towards an empty inbox by either archiving, deleting, adding a task to Omnifocus, or clipping it to Evernote as reference material.

Handling Meetings

Meetings can be a great way to collaborate and reach decisions. But you need to make sure that you’ve planned for them and can handle the influx of “stuff” that comes out of them. Because I check my calendar during my Daily Review, I’ve seen the upcoming meetings for the day and plan appropriately for them.

I take a lot of notes using the Dash-Plus system and process each line right after the meeting. Each item on the paper goes either to Evernote or Omnifocus. Then I take a picture of the paper with the Evernote document scanner and throw it away.

Sometimes I’ll have meetings requested the day-of and have to readjust last minute. Although it’s frustrating to have those come up, they are sometimes necessary. Because my calendar is up-to-date, I can easily push things off or reject the meeting invite depending on the urgency and importance of the request.

Phone Calls, Text Messages, and IM

These are unexpected communications in one form or another. The key is to set aside my current work and handle it. That usually means grabbing a piece of paper to collect the actions and reference items that I process later. Depending on the urgency of the new items, I’ll either adjust my day or toss it in my inbox to be processed tomorrow morning.

Ending the Day

I mentioned earlier in this article that I work on my 3 MITs in the morning. I choose those the night before so I can get up and go quickly in the morning. I pick them by reviewing my calendar and my goals for the week. I can see what’s coming up, what I’m working towards this week, and plan the next day. This is the one of the last things I do before going to bed at night.

Weekly Review

Every Sunday morning, I take the time I would normally spend on MITs to review my whole system. Every action list, Someday/Maybe list, upcoming calendar, previous calendar, and project gets a look. I see if I’ve accomplished my goals for the week and choose three goals for the next week.

I look at my action lists and see what my workload looks like for the next week. I try to be honest with myself by choosing only the items that I want to complete this week. I push off anything that I don’t have time for or isn’t urgent… yet.

The biggest advantage that I see with GTD is the ability to look at all events and actions that I have going on for the day and know what I can push off or work on depending on the energy and urgency of the day. It frees me up to focus on the task and not worry about it being the right task. I can have a “mind like water” and let my creativity roam.

This is a series about the productivity framework Getting Things Done by David Allen. You can find the entire series at the following links:

  1. Getting Things Done: Introduction
  2. Getting Things Done: Capture
  3. Getting Things Done: Clarify
  4. Getting Things Done: Organize
  5. Getting Things Done: Reflect
  6. Getting Things Done: Engage
  7. Getting Things Done: A Day in the Life