How GTD Can Help Keep Your Basement From Flooding

Last Thursday or so, we had about four inches of rain. I was in my basement Friday morning and didn’t notice anything. On Saturday morning, however, I went down there to get something, only to find that the carpet was saturated with water. It turns out that our sump pump had failed, creating a big mess.

Could GTD have helped keep this from happening? Well, it provides a critical tool I’m going to use to help keep this from happening again.

Before this happened, I never gave much thought to the life expectancy of a sump pump. And our sump pump gave out earlier than would have been expected, anyway. But the reality is, every sump pump will eventually fail. The thing is, you don’t want to wait for it to fail to find out, because that means a basement full of water.

So it makes sense to replace your sump pump on a regular basis. For me, there’s a big insight right there: If you have a sump pump, you need to have it on your agenda to replace that sump pump when it starts to get old. That’s a simple concept, but it had simply never occurred to me before.

But how do you remember to do that? That’s the challenge. You could just trust your brain to somehow randomly bring it to mind every few years or so that it’s time to change your sump pump.

But I don’t really want my sump pump to take up even that much thought. I don’t want to have to program it into my head to pause every few years and say to myself, “is my sump pump getting to old?” I’d rather automate everything I can. It’s also less likely that I’ll totally blank it out since, after all, 7 years is a long time. And the consequences of forgetting can be large.

Enter the tickler file (or “action calendar,” which I call it because I keep it electronically). An action calendar is simply a list of repeating tasks that you keep in your task management software (whether Outlook, OmniFocus, Things, Remember the Milk, or whatever). You set each task to repeat at whatever interval you need. Every day or week (depending on how many tasks you have in there), you review it to see what needs to be taken care of.

In my action calendar I’m just going to create a repeating task for every 7 years to replace my sump pump. That way, before the pump gets to the point of failure (unless it breaks before it’s time — which is entirely possible!), it will be replaced. And I don’t have to think about it otherwise, because the reminder will come up automatically when it’s time.

Here’s the interesting thing: There are all sorts of things like this you need to keep track of as an adult, and they occur on both short-term and very long-term intervals. Things like: refill the salt in the water softener, change the furnace filter, change smoke detector batteries, keep up with the kids’ immunizations, renew your tetanus shot (every 10 years), renew your passport (every 10 years), and so forth.

I used to think that there was some big mystery to remembering these things. That you just had to trust that they would come to mind at the right time. But there is no mystery to it. If you have a tickler file (action calendar), remembering when you need to change the furnace filter or update your tetanus shot or change your sump pump simply becomes a matter of creating a repeating task. That gets it off your mind, and you can trust that you’ll see it when you need to.

And it could save you a lot of hassle, also.

  • Jim Belle

    I realize this article is more about having an “action calendar” than it is about sump pump failures, but the author mentions an important sub-note. Even though you can schedule for a sump pump replacement periodically, you never can tell that the pump will even last that long. A couple years ago I had replaced by sump pump in October of that year and on January 1, just 2-1/2 Months later, it failed. The impeller broke off the shaft so even though it was running, it could not pump any water. Fortunately, I had installed a Backup Sump Pump several years before and it was there to automatically take over when the main pump failed. This was especially important because I discovered the problem when the backup pump and alarm came on as I was leaving the house for a wedding. All dressed up and fashionably late, I had no time to address this new situation. So we left for the wedding and the backup system handled it for the next three days until I could get around to the replacement of the pump. Since the system I had was water powered, it had no problem running for several days until I could get to it.

    Get it? You need a backup sump pump for those unforeseen emergencies regardless of all your plans for replacement, etc.