Wednesday, September 19, 2007

GTD Overview

I thought that before I move onto anything else I should probably explain GTD (Getting Things Done). While I will do other posts on this subject, this post is meant to give you a very brief overview.

One thing that author David Allen points out in the book is that in the past people did jobs that were pretty well defined. If you were in manufacturing, you would have a part or finished product when you were done. If you were in farming, you ultimately had a product when you were finished. Most people that were working knew what was needed to do their job. Today their are so many jobs that produce less tangible products. It is often not clear what steps you need to follow and in what order. It is also not clear when you're done. In much of the products that are made today something is made, knowing that there will be bugs that will hopefully be corrected with the next release or version. If you were to be a perfectionist in all the activities that you do in the course of the day, you would see diminishing returns for the effort extended. Besides that, if it took you two hours to compose every email that you wrote, you would never do anything else and people probably would lose interest in reading your emails. With many of the jobs today, we have choices as to what to do next and how to prioritize our work.

The System

In his book Ready for Anything, David Allen gives this brief description of the GTD system...

"Get everything out of your head. Make decisions about actions required on stuff when it shows up—not when it blows up. Organize reminders of your projects and the next actions on them in appropriate categories. Keep your system current, complete, and reviewed sufficiently to trust your intuitive choices about what you're doing (and not doing) at any time." (p.16)


You'll want to collect everything that you're concerned about, in what David Allen refers to as buckets. These include an actual physical Inbox, your email Inbox, maybe a notebook that you carry around with you, and so on. The point is to capture it all because your mind can't remember it all (nor should it). When you first start you'll want to collect everything in a big Inbox. You'll put physical things like letters, reports, memos, bills, and etc. in there. If an item is too big to fit in there, can't be moved, or is an idea of task, you can make a representation of the item on a piece of paper and put it in there (this is really good for tasks, like planning an event). When you first start with GTD or any other time that there is a lot on your mind, you'll want to clear your mind and capture all that you're thinking about with a "mind sweep".


You'll want to empty all of your "buckets". Start at the top of each one and look at each item. Ask yourself "is there an action I need to take about this item?" Where you don't have an action to do, you can throw it away, file it for reference, or add it to your "someday/maybe" list. If you do need to take an action on the item, is this something that you can do in two minutes or less? If it is, then you should do it now and avoid any further procrastination. If it isn't something that can be done in two minutes or less, then you should decide what the next action on it should be and add it to your "Next Actions" list. If that next action won't complete the task, then be sure to enter the goal of the item into your "Projects" List.


Lists make up a big part of GTD. You'll have a few lists, but not so many that when you're trying to decide where to put something, that you can't manage.

  • Next Actions- this contains the very next thing that you need to get whatever done.
  • Projects-many tasks that you need to do aren't done in a single action, so here is a collection of your multi-phased actions.
  • Waiting-these are things where you have a dependency on someone else in order to get it completed. Maybe you need to produce a report but you need input from someone.
  • Someday/Maybe-these are those great ideas or long-term goals you have that you don't have time to do at the moment but you want to capture them so that you don't forget. Since you don't have time (or maybe the bandwidth) to do it now, you won't want to clutter up your projects list.
  • Contextual-these are a series of specific lists such as "@ grocery store","calls", and "errands". How many times have you been at the supermarket and forgotten the very thing that you went there for? If you have some time to make some calls, then having a list of whom you wish to call about what, can help you knock all those out quickly
  • Calendar-these are appointments and other items that are day/time specific.
  • Filing-you'll want to keep a simple filing system, so that you don't let things pile up. If you file as you go it is easier to stay on top of things.

You'll probably review your Next Actions list and calendar on a daily basis (if not more often). You'll want to make a weekly appointment to review all your lists and process your Inbox. In your review you can determine if the items on your lists are still relevant and if you want to add more to your lists.


GTD leaves deciding what to do up to you. If you have everything organized and laid out, Allen believes that it will be obvious to you in deciding what to do. You won't need to waste as much time determining what needs to be done and you can focus on what you're doing. Based on your circumstances you can work from your lists and consider the factors below in determining what you do:
  • How much time do you have? If need to do something that will take a lot of time and you only have ten minutes till your next meeting, you wouldn't want to start this task.
  • How much energy do you have? If you're feeling worn down and listless, you wouldn't want to start a task that you know will just suck all your energy.
  • How critical are the tasks? Is there an important deadline that you're working to, or is something due shortly. Sometimes urgent matters come up that demand your attention.
  • What resources to do have? If you find yourself at a phone out of town with some time between meeting, it might be a good time knock off a bunch of calls that you need to make. If you need to write some emails, you might need to be at a computer (possibly a smart phone or other device that will allow you to compose your emails).
  • You can also choose to process things as they come in.

Resources that You Might Want to Look at:

If you start looking around on the Web there is no shortage of material on GTD and it is easy to get lost in the information. Hear are a few links that you might want to check out.

GTD Lunch and Learn: This is a nice short summary of GTD.

Massive GTD Resource List: This is a great list of links for things like overview of GTD, blogs about GTD, online tools, offline software, analogue tools, tools for your mobile phone and PDA, articles, and other resources. This is a wealth of resources from one list.

Zen Habits: Aside from many great posts about GTD, this site has a lot of other useful posts on a variety of topics.

43Folders: This blog by Merlin Mann was one of the first to discuss GTD. He also covers a variety of "life hacks".

Until next time.

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