Brandon's Notepad

December 11, 2013

Getting Things Done: Shopping Lists

Home > My Research > Improvement > Getting Things Done > Shopping Lists


How do GTDers manage shopping lists? As I see it, there are at least two primary approaches: specific-item reminders and using lists as reminders.

The first is derived from the GTD text itself. Throughout his works and interviews, Allen consistently uses phrases like “buy cat food” as examples of mundane tasks that require some reminder; thus, each item on one’s shopping list would be a new record in the system. But when does this thought occur? When the current bag of cat food runs empty? The truly GTD-savvy would scribble this reminder on a slip of paper and bury it three-quarters of the way down each new bag of cat food they buy. (In business, we call this the “reorder level” or “reorder point”.) The reminder is added to the @Store context list, of course, so that the cat food will make its way into the basket like magic on the very next trip to the grocery store (or in the next online order delivered to your doorstep if your are so technologically inclined).

Canonical as it may seem, managing each new item as a reminder will inflate the ol’ GTD system fairly quickly. Maybe a more practical approach would be to slip a grocery inventory sheet into the Tickler File on the day prior to the next scheduled visit to the store. This will remind you to take stock of the pantry the night before. Once the inventory sheet is filled out, just slip it into the @Errands folder in your briefcase. Of course, this won’t help you when it comes to your attention (outside of the inventory activity) that something is needed, so you must either trust yourself to rediscover that item during the next inventory or deal with a potential hit to your confidence in the system by storing the reminder in some other way as well.

Alternatively, the inventory sheet is kept close-at-hand as reference material, a sort of planning tool for the project “Next Shopping Trip”. This way, a needed item can be checked or written in as soon as the need is recognized. Tablet/Smart Phone apps excel in this capacity. There is the concept of a perpetual inventory, of course, but even my most obsessive-compulsive friends haven’t gone so far as to install a kitchen inventory computer system complete with bar code scanners. A well-positioned “running list” is a simple and cost-effective solution.

Wish lists are a similar beast, though it may be a bit presumptuous to log each item on the “Waiting For” list.


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