That's why GTD begins with getting things off your mind through a RAM dump or mind sweep. When he attended his first Allen seminar in the late 1980s, Andrew Hoxsey was told to write down all of his "incompletions" before the second day of class. He started writing in the afternoon. And writing. And writing...
"There I was in the hotel, so wrapped up in the process," Hoxsey recalls. "It's midnight, and I'm still working through these open loops. My wife said, 'Turn out the light!' So I went in the bathroom and sat there until the sun came up, writing down all these things I hadn't collected anywhere else. It was such a catharsis."
A full-fledged RAM dump, performed in the office or at home, requires hauling out all the stuff that's choking your psychic RAM and getting it into one collection point - a desktop in-box, for example. If it's a conference invitation, toss it in. Confusing memo from a VP? In. Training-film script you promised to critique last year? In. If the stuff isn't physical (e.g., you need to find a new site for the family reunion), write "find site for reunion" on a piece of paper and put it in. Same thing if the stuff is too big or bulky, like that file drawer filled with Clinton-era invoices. Write "review and purge invoices" and add it to the stack.
You'll notice that GTD, starting with the mind sweep, makes littledistinction between work life and life life. Again, neither doesthe mind. That's why we think about ski trips during meetings andthink about quarterly reviews while we're on the slopes. Splittinga river into two artificial streams makes little sense; we need todeal with the river as it is.
In his executive-coach role, Allen has sat beside many a CEO or topmanager and gently forced them to face up to a staggering number ofopen loops. He has seen people take six hours just to gatherplaceholders for all the things on their minds.
"After you've done a mind sweep, everything is captured," saysHagerty. "Then there's this wave of panic and relief. Panic becauseyou have so much to do. Relief that it's all in the right place.Nothing is lurking in the box that's going to come up and bite you.It's an amazing kind of peace."
That peace is part of what Allen, who earned a black belt inkarate, calls "mind like water" - the ready state of the martialartist, poised and stress-free. "Your ability to generate power isdirectly proportional to your ability to relax," he writes inGetting Things Done. If your psychic RAM is overloaded, you're notrelaxed and ready for the next minicrisis. You may overreact,underreact, or run screaming down the hall.
As each open loop is discovered, the RAM-dumping newbie must make adecision: What is to be done with this? If closing the looprequires two minutes or less (call Bob, skim letter, make dentalappointment), do it immediately. If the loop requires more than twominutes (hire assistant, plan London trip), it's a project forwhich a successful outcome and next actions must be determined(review résumés, narrow down choices, schedule three interviews fornext week).
Question: Can I just slip stuff back into the in-box without deciding?
"Getting 'in' to 'zero'?" is part of the Allen Grail. Refusing to decide is a major stress builder. Decide, act, move on.