GTD Nuggets – Quick Fix for Mental Fatigue

You will experience unnecessary mental fatigue and numbness in your environments and organizational systems by simply mixing up things that represent different agreements with yourself.  – David Allen

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  1. Last week when I reviewed I found some reference files in the folder where I keep ‘waiting for’ items. By separating those so the waiting for file only had waiting for items, and the reference was ina ‘to file’ folder, it was easier to deal with both. That may seem simple but it made a big difference to me. I have been looking for other examples of how I mix my organizing up. If the next action is not precisely a call, it doesn’t go on my calls list, and so on.

  2. I’m sorry but I was hoping for more in this nugget. I’m not entirely clear on this. I’d like to get some elaboration or examples and what to do about them to address this kind of mental fatigue.

  3. The best general example I know of is an email inbox that is not processed to empty on a regular basis. When people use their inbox for action reminders and reference as well as for new input, they are mixing up things that represent different agreements.

    Here are some specific examples that might be found in an inbox that is causing extra mental work.
    – webinar registration confirmation (should go on the calendar)
    – email from colleague that says she’ll send the report next week (goes on waiting for list or in waiting for folder)
    – email from HR clarifying a policy (goes into reference folder)
    – any email that has been opened, closed, and not processed as a project, action, or reference.

    Or imagine if your calls list also had your grocery list and your 3-year goals list. Those represent different agreements, and mixing them causes extra mental work.

    I hope that’s helpful. I’m sure other GTD Times readers can come up with examples from their own experience.

    — John

  4. John,

    That clarification helps a lot.

    To me this means if anything isn’t both processed and organized (put in a discreet context bucket either physically or list-wise), it is by default lumped in with other stuff, all of which represent some sort of self-agreement but not ONE sort of self-agreement.

    Having everything grouped with like self-agreements (calls list, waiting for list, tickler file, reference file, whatever) IS what reduced mental fatigue and environmental numbness. That’s an important reminder.

    I knew there was something important in what David said, but I couldn’t see it without your examples. Thanks.

  5. David has this wonderful skill of saying amazingly deep stuff in such short sentences…. which, most of the time, you have to read and read again until you get it 😀

  6. I just realized this doesn’t only apply to work. Thanks! I have laundry and dry cleaning in the same hamper. But that means I have to sort through everything to do laundry, or when I finally take stuff to the dry cleaners. A separate bag or hamper for dry cleaning would organize it better and reduce my mental work. How many other areas am I mixing things up and re-sorting through them? Great ah-ha for me.

  7. I also realized that it applies to time. Trying to multi-task when it doesn’t make sense (folding laundry and watching tv or driving while listening to an audiobook makes sense, as does cooking dinner while chatting about the day with your spouse, but lots of it falls into the mixed agreements rule.

    And it’s more than multi-tasking. Switching back and forth between types of activities too quickly or too often leads to mental fatigue, and I’ve just realized that this is another case of mixed agreements.

    The cause may be anything–unavoidable interruptions, a fuzzy plan for the day, having a real ADD frame of mind that day, or having too much to do in too short a time and trying to do it all at once. All of these are mixed agreements.

    Even though we may be doing one thing at a time, the switching around and not ever getting into a sustained rhythm and a natural pause or close point with anything causes, I think, the brain to take on all of these things as “I’m doing this now”, never turning any of them off, just piling them up. Big time mental fatigue.

    This is an important insight for me. Thanks, David.

  8. When I first read this, I realized that I have some “agreements with myself” that are actually contradictory or at least conflicting. Thus confusion and inability to focus, leading to mental fatigue. But the examples given are helpfully insightful. Thanks!

  9. I have been doing GTD for several years now, and I still cannot differentiate between Processing and Organizing. If process, I organize, I cannot decide something belongs in Reference without PUTTING it in Reference, and so forth. Can someone point me in the direction of making a better distinction between the two?

    Yes, I own all 3 GTD books (plus audio versions) read/listened several times, sounds good in theory, cannot do it in practice yet (separate processing from organizing).

  10. Don, maybe it’s that you move instantly from processing to organizing, which may be the most efficient way to do it. So it seems like one step, because it’s seamless. As long as you take enough time to really decide what it is and the next action, then you may be immediately moving to organizing. I practiced following the workflow map for awhile until this was habit for me.

  11. I am new to GTD but I like Don was searching for a clearer idea of how to differentiate between ‘process’ and ‘organize’ as to me they seem the same one?

  12. Hello M. Howe,

    You are in just the right place to find just what you’re searching for. There is a series of 5 best practices posts right here on GTD Times. Here are links to the posts on process and organize. On those pages you’ll also find links to the other 3 posts in the series of 5.

    We hope that helps!

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