My husband has piled up three or four huge garbage bags full of shredded material. I've only come up with about a kitchen bag full of old papers I don't need anymore. But that's because I already go through my files once a year and weed them down. (I usually do this in the summer).
Getting Things Done recommends a simple alphabetical system for filing materials for reference. You CAN file by topic, which is what I was doing before, but Allen warns that you may end up not remembering how you fixed up your topics -- which tends to be what happens to me.
He does say that if you have some very compartmentalized areas of your life and reference stacks to match, you may want to keep materials devoted to one area in a particular drawer or box or whatever.
What I did is reserve a set-aside box for all the materials associated with my parents' estate. The rest of my reference materials are pretty much straight alphabetical. I haven't finished the effort. I have about 4 boxes worth (using milk crates because they are stackable and sturdy).
I think I will end up separating homeschool reference materials from home materials, but otherwise keeping the flat alphabetical system going.
Another thing recommended by Getting Things Done for reference materials is to have a stack of file folders and file everything that is separate as separate, with a separate title and a separate folder. Even if it is only a single piece of paper.
This is something I wasn't doing. I think I was trying to save on file folders. So I would have several loosely-associated sets of paper stuffed in one folder, making it more mental effort to retrieve it. Getting Things Done wants you to save your mental energy for creativity and learning, not use it trying to puzzle through your system.
The most important part of filing reference material vs piling up what Allen calls "stuff" is that the action items are separated out from the reference material.
Now when you have a lot of homeschool material, some of the reference files are potentially actionable. For example, I have quite a lot on the Middle Ages, which we studied last year. We will not cycle through again for 3 years. But in the meanwhile, it is all there, and categorized. David Allen said that reference material and "project support material" are basically very similar. And dormant projects, like my Middle Ages lists, are even more like reference material, so it doesn't bother me to have it in reference boxes.
"Action items" are PRESENT actions.... things that should be getting done now.... or soon, within a specified amount of time.
It has been a huge boost to my morale -- and my ability to get through my work -- to have this separation of action items from reference items.
You may remember our book study of Counsels of Perfection for Christian Mothers. One bit of the book that has haunted me for years is the following:
"Ask any Christian mother who accomplishes an astonishing amount of work, yet never has an air of depression, ask her, I say, the secret of her activity. She will tell you that she works methodically, because she is guided by a rule."
Though David Allen does not refer to spiritual things -- he specifically says that he is focusing on the method, on how to get things done, not on the bigger picture of why and what you want to do -- the method has spiritual implications, at least for me, because I tend to have a fall-down between resolution (or intention) and action. And this is the exact area that Getting Things Done focuses on. So for me, incorporating it into the practical aspect of my Rule of Life has made a giant difference.
Mystie Winckler, who has written the book on GTD for Homemakers, wrote about this, and it has been one of my ongoing thoughts during this time of Lent and trying to work out my systems.
Allen brings it out in his book, too. He is writing for people who have too much on their plates -- many, many "incomings" from several different areas of life. And if that isn't the life of a homeschooling mom of several, I don't know what is. His system doesn't promise that you will suddenly have an uncomplicated life. He doesn't expect you to sort out all the incomings into formal priority categories (which adds another step and often has stumped me in the past -- what does priority mean in everyday terms?)
I finally realized awhile ago that it was the desire to have life running on autopilot that was at the root of much of my “get it all done” frustrations. Running smoothly on autopilot is what is never going to happen. Keeping your bases covered, each in their turn, not stressing over those that have to wait for awhile, can happen.This is true of me, too. What I've noticed in applying GTD principles is not that I suddenly can do everything that comes at me during a day. It's that I can shift gears between all the things that unexpectedly crop up that need to be dealt with -- like my teenager suddenly communicating to me that he has an ongoing foot infection -- and things that are on my calendar -- like the fact that one of my grown sons is home on spring break, so that I needed to get his room nice in preparation, and stock up on some of the things he likes.
It also allows for things that are ongoing -- like homeschooling and cleaning. They have to be done every day, and they are never going to "be done".
It also allows me to trust my intuition on what is more important right at the given moment. Allen mentions this, that usually we have a basic instinct on what the "next thing" is -- it's just that when we have a lot of mental clutter, that instinct gets blocked.
The infected foot is important enough to interrupt the normal homeschooling schedule to run to the doctor (but I can have a Plan B ready so at least some of it gets done anyway). The grown son's room prep is important, but if I start the week before, I can work at it in little 10-minute bursts every day or so.
This post took longer than 15 minutes, but it's Sunday, so I get to break my normal Lenten habits! : ).