Cleaning the Augean stables

Implementing the full capturing process can take up to six hours or more.David Allen

After several months of filling my IN (i.e., the initial capturing), I am not yet done (i.e., ready to move to the next step, namely clarifying), and worst, I am not getting anything done! Admittedly, I could not create a [two whole days, back to back] block of time to initialize this process as recommended in the book. As you may know by now (if you are following this blog), I do not have enough time already (see How to find time?) – not to mention the absence of weekends or holidays. Despite David Allen’s advice against it – I don’t recommend using after-hours for this work. It usually means seriously reduced horsepower – I had no other choice but to work on implementing the GTD method whenever I could find a few minutes, i.e., mostly late in the evening.

Sisyphus vs. Hercules

Erroneously, I did refer to the initial capturing process as a Sisyphean task in my previous posts. Granted, it looks like a never-ending task; yet, it can be completed.

The son of Aeolus, punished in Hades for his misdeeds in life by being condemned to the eternal task of rolling a large stone to the top of a hill, from which it always rolled down again.

In that sense, the capturing step is indeed an eternal task; I will always have something to capture. However, in keeping with the definition from the Oxford Dictionary of English, Sisyphean is denoting a task that can never be completed. Thus, when referring to the very first implementation of the GTD method, I should have referred to another Greek Mythology instead, namely Hercules’ Fifth Labor.

The task in question – cleaning the Augean stables – was assigned by Eurystheus as an impossible assignment since these stables had not been cleaned in over thirty years and 3 000 cattle lived there.

(of a task or problem) requiring so much effort to complete or solve as to seem impossible.

Now, Hercules cleaned them in a day by diverting the River Alpheus to flow through them; I did not achieve much yet. It will take me more than a day week month (year?) to accomplish my exploit.

As alluded to, I am not Heracles; still, I have this Augean task to deal with. To move forward, not only I have started to process (i.e., both clarify and organize) some items on my list, but I have also decided to cheat a bit with the GTD method – the clarifying part, in particular. Theoretically, I should flip my in-tray upside down and process first the first thing that came in. This is called the First-In, First-Out (FIFO) method, as opposed to the Last-In, First-Out (LIFO) approach. Indeed, I moved all my job-related items to the top. Besides being more important and urgent, they are actually also the easiest to process.

That being said, some of my INs (e.g., my email inbox, my download folder, etc.) are so big – even at work – that I put them back in my main IN as stuff that I will have to deal later with. In doing so, I am breaking another rule of the GTD method: You must get it out of the container. You don’t leave it or put it back into ‘in’! Oops.

Most probably, these other Augean tasks will become projects. I will go slowly – but surely – through them, going back in time. Surely, it will take me some a lot of time to reach IN to 0, but I will try to do so, little by little, whenever I have 1 or 2 minutes in between two meetings. As for the new stuffs, which are coming to my inboxes, I should clarify and organize them regularly from now on (not to add more dung to my “stables”).

As for the rest of my stuffs, I will continue to go through the initial capturing process and hopefully, start the capturing process at some point; FIFO, of course.

You can also collect and process your stuff in chunks, but it’ll be much easier if you can tackle that front-end portion in one fell swoop.David Allen
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