Mom gets the right things done with the Natural Planning Model

This is a Community Contribution from April Perry.

Lately I’ve been feeling overwhelmed. Not because I can’t process all the tasks, projects, and goals on my plate, but because I keep forgetting that I only have one plate.

As I’ve applied GTD strategies to my life, opportunities to “live the life of my dreams” have literally exploded in front of me. My website is growing, creative ideas are spilling into my colorful assortment of spiral-bound notebooks, friends and associates are jumping on board to support the vision I’m helping to create, and my family life is exactly what I always hoped it would be.

However, along with all this excitement, my emails have quadrupled, my project load has significantly increased, and my stress level has been rising beyond my comfort level. (Once you experience “stress-free productivity,” there’s no going back . . . .)

So today I decided to apply the Natural Planning Model from GTD to my overall life plan. The point of getting organized isn’t to simply “get more done.” The point is to get the right things done–and that takes some serious decision making.

I figured that as long as I’m doing this exercise, I might as well document the process and share it with others who also might be trying to cram too much onto their plates.

Step 1: Defining Purpose and Principles

This was a fun one. I got out a blank sheet of paper and wrote at the top: “If I were to feel thrilled about my life each day, what would it look like?” I know this list could go on and on, but I tried to keep it simple, basically entailing things like having a healthy, clean environment, building strong relationships, spending my time on meaningful projects (that can only be done by me–delegating everything else), nurturing my mind, body, and spirit, and living a life filled with purpose.

Step 2: Outcome Visioning

As I looked over the list from Step 1, I started envisioning how this “new life” would be (and how it would not be). For example, I pictured our closets and cupboards containing half as many things as they currently do. I pictured my children happily completing their responsibility charts. I pictured our family going on more walks together, cooking new recipes in the kitchen, and snuggling together for story time and bedtime. I imagined myself responding to emails twice a day, when I could actually sit down and process them calmly (instead of rushing through them whenever I had a free second in the kitchen). I also pictured myself breathing more, smiling often, and feeling more deliberate about my daily routines.

Really seeing these things is empowering.

Step 3: Brainstorming

With this vision fresh on my mind, I started seven small mind maps–encapsulating all the actions and characteristics I want to translate into habits.

The seven mind maps (for my specific needs) were as follows: Spirit, Environment, Routines, Recreation, Relationships, Power of Moms, and Other Pursuits.

As I did this, an interesting thing happened. I started to see how a few basic changes would transform my entire life.
I need firm boundaries. As a mother who is working on lots of projects from home, it’s enticing to squeeze work into every open minute. I need more space in my day, and that means keeping “extra” work separate from “family” work.
I need to be deliberate about making time to read and think. That’s what fuels me, and when I stop doing those things, the person inside starts to die.
I need to delegate or defer as many projects as possible. There are some things that can only be done right now–like making podcasts with my children, photographing their childhood, recording what I’m learning about motherhood, and building a family that I adore. A lot of the “urgent” things can wait.

Step 4: Organizing

Here’s where I took all those principles, dreams, and brainstorms and translated them into a very doable list. I first identified eight components of my “ideal” life. As I prioritized them, I realized that half could wait awhile, so I put them onto next month’s trigger list. I also realized that the four remaining items were the essence of my stress. (Kind of fun to figure that out.)

Step 5: Identifying Next Actions

Before placing these four items onto my “Current Projects” List, I identified my Next Actions and put them on my context-based list. It is one of the most liberating things in the world to see a broad, theoretical plan become something doable and focused.

This week, I don’t have to think about every little thing I’ve ever wanted to accomplish. I simply need to keep my work hours within predetermined slots of time, spend 30 minutes moving those “I’ll-sort-someday-but-these-really-belong-in-the-office” boxes out of my bedroom, take 15 minutes to research a landscaping company, and invest one hour evaluating my Routines and Responsibilities List. That can be done.

Not everything in life can be controlled, and there’s no way I can plan for every single distraction or opportunity. However, GTD has helped me realize that I can create the life I’ve always wanted–even if I DO only have one plate.

April Perry is the mother of four children and co-founder of

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  1. Simply brilliant. Thanks for offering a practical example it helped to refocus me.

  2. Nice article April and definitely inspiring but a serious question – how did you find/make time to do all that?

    I’ve been trying to apply GTD to my life for about a year now and I’ll admit it, I’m struggling. My biggest hurdle is Finding time to keep things maintained (nevermind even just go through such a planning process). My wife works shifts and we’ve got a toddler, so …hah! And there we go… I’m breaking off now cos “life is calling”…

    GTD is great in theory, but it seems to need time to maintain, which I don’t know where to find.

  3. Thank you, April. It is great to see a real-life example. I’ve been thinking of applying the model to my projects but this has also inspired me to think of applying it, as you say, to my overall life.

  4. Thank you April! How youd described it was like seeing myself reading my email in the kitchen and in between my homework (I started studying recently) and getting my kids from school and the babysitter… I feel inspired to go to the process myself!

  5. This is a really helpful article. Being able to see a real-life example logically developed helped me to kick-start my own thinking. I’d like to see more examples if possible.

  6. Great, great point April!

    A big part of not only being successful but feeling successful is setting realistic expectations. It’s much better to make consistent progress on a few areas than to try to do everything all at once.

    Rich-I completely understand that it can be overwhelming to do a huge planning session when you feel totally strapped for time. What I’ve found works best is to choose just one area: For instance a messy desk, and to commit to consistent progress for a certain amount of time. For instance 15 minutes right after dinner each day. Then gradually, you can build in other routines.

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Saunders

  7. Thanks for all the kind comments. I really appreciate them. GTD has changed my life, and I love sharing it with others.

    On my website, The Power of Moms, I’ve put together a GTD-based program called “Mind Organization for Moms.” Within that program, I’ve outlined my routine and explained how I organize my time, but here are a few general tips.

    (1) Elizabeth is right on the money. I have to pick one thing to “fix” and then move on from there. The day I did this Natural Planning, I had about 12 other important tasks to accomplish, but I was so stressed out that I decided to put everything on hold until I figured out my life plan. That has changed everything.

    (2) Fly Lady’s book “Sink Reflections” has also been a huge blessing for me. I’ve been using her morning, evening, and cleaning routines with my family, and I feel like I’ve gained an extra hour a day.

    (3) I have my children’s bedtimes and nap times established consistently, as well. On The Power of Moms, there’s an article called “Mommy’s Naptime 101,” as well as a webinar/podcast called “Me Time for Moms.” I love being with my family, but quiet time is good for all of us.

    Hope that’s helpful.

    Thank you so much!


  8. Everything needs maintenance, if you dont maintain it will break down early.
    Find the time for GTD

  9. We’ve done the first couple of steps consistently but would love to see you post a little more detail on the brainstorming through organizing steps. Great post!

  10. I came across a wonderful example of a life purpose in the book, ‘The Way Of The Warrior, The Paradox Of The Martial Arts’ by Howard Reid and Michael Croucher, 1983. The authors surveyed the martial arts around the world (for a BBC programme in 1980-81) then wrote the book. On page 115: 90-year old father Hung has a Long Life Poem (written in elaborate calligraphy).

    Sound sleep, early rising,
    When eating, stop when still one quarter is empty,
    Always walk, and smile, always smile,
    Be free of worries and busy every day,
    You will not grow old.

    April, it sounds like you’ve got the “Be free of worries and busy every day” covered, and the rest in your sights. May you never grow old!
    Thank you for publishing your experience with GTD.

  11. Thanks lot for posting such an great article, it is really helpful. I am an college student and I am also fairly new to gtd. I am really confuse about where should I put this planning material, should I make different file, like project planning and put the planning model (except next action list because that will go in next action list with other actions) of each project there on separate pages. Where should I put this information. I am really confuse and stuck, it would be really great if you address this issue. Thanks a lot again.

    1. There are many places project plans/support material could go, such as the “note” field where you are listing the project, in another program, a hard copy folder, etc. The key is to not blend your project support with next actions. Be sure you have a clear list of next actions you can take now, in a separate place or list from ideas/notes/future actions. Hope that helps!

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