How I Use GTD (Getting Things Done)
Most of us spend too much time either on prioritizing what to do next or recollecting what we forgot to do. Getting Things Done or GTD solves this problem. It is a productivity system to manage the tasks from the time you have attention on something to its completion. It’s a task manager on Steroids. GTD is a five-step process.
Step 1 – Collect and Capture
Goal – Collect all the tasks you want to do in your life and capture it in one place called inbox.
- Collect all the tasks into containers. As soon as a task comes to your attention, record it in one of the containers. I use a notebook and the voice recording app on my phone as my containers. When you implement the GTD system for the first time, go through the following list and collect all the tasks into the inbox.
- Look for physical objects like desk, drawer and notice boards.
- Go through your computers, emails, calendars and messaging apps.
- Get it all out, empty your brain – Think through all the commitments you made to yourself and to others. All those articles & books to read, videos & movies to watch, places to visit, things to buy, phone calls to make. Think about the project you always wanted to do. The gift you want to buy for your wife for her birthday/anniversary. The book you thought of reading to your son. Get it all out.
- Move the tasks you captured in the containers to the ‘Inbox’. Inbox is the first entry point for every task in the GTD system.
Action Item – Spend an hour and empty your mind. Capture everything in the ‘Inbox’.
Tips – Have as few collection containers as possible. Empty the containers into your inbox daily.
Step 2 – Clarify and Process
Goal – Make sure the task is specific and actionable. If not actionable, then delete, incubate or file it as reference.
- Ask if the task is actionable? If not, identify the next GTD Action.
- Trash – Delete if the task is not urgent or important.
- Incubate – You will sit on it. You may want to do it someday in the future. Ideas and bucket list items belong to Incubate.
- Reference – You need it for future reference. Receipts, notes, and materials belong to Reference.
- Go through the remaining task and rewrite it to be specific and actionable. Rewrite ‘Call John’ to ‘Call John and confirm the place for Saturday dinner’. Rewrite Buy battery’ to ‘Buy AAA battery from Walmart’
Action Item – Delete, Incubate or file as Reference if a task is not actionable. Rewrite the remaining task to be very specific and actionable.
Tips – Process one task at a time from the top. Never put anything back into the inbox.
Step 3 – Organize
Goal – Determine the next GTD action.
- Do it – Can you do it in under two minutes? If yes, get it done right away.
- Delegate it – If it is not important and someone else can do it for you, then delegate it. Update the GTD Action to ‘Waiting’
- Defer it – If you cannot delegate it or cannot finish in under two minutes, then defer it. Update the GTD Action to ‘Deferred’.
- Calendar – If a task needs to complete on a specific day, then assign the Task Date. Update the GTD Action to ‘Calendar.
- Context – Add context to every task. Priority, Estimated Duration, Energy and Tools needed
- Area & Project – Assign an area and a project. If a task needs more than one action, add that as a project and identify the next action.
Action Item – If the task can be completed in under two minutes, get it done. If not, delegate it or defer it. Update the GTD action to ‘Waiting’, ‘Deferred’ or ‘Calendar’. Add Priority, Estimated Duration, Energy and Context, Area and a project.
Tips – Prioritize tasks using Eisenhour’s box to tasks.
- Important/Urgent – Do it
- Important/Not Urgent – Defer it
- Not Important/Urgent – Delegate it
- Not-Urgent/Not Important – Delete it
Step 4 – Review & Reflect
Goal – Review the GTD action lists, projects and capture all open loops. Also, check the health of the system. This is the most important step of the GTD system.
- Daily Review – Review the Calendar and Deferred list and identify the tasks for the day. You should also empty the containers to your inbox. I spend about 10 minutes every morning to review my GTD system and identify the task for the day.
- Weekly Review – Weekly review is the most important review to stick with the GTD system. Review all the active projects and the calendar to identify open loops and capture it. Also, review the waiting list for follow-ups. Review the health of the productivity system and adjust to make it work better for you.
- Monthly Review – Review the Incubate list and identify projects that can be activated. Be creative and add projects to the areas and incubate on it. Review the areas and projects list and add any missing projects. Review the short-term and medium-term goals.
- Quarterly and Annual Reviews – During these reviews, we look at the long-term and life goals.
Action Item – Schedule the daily, weekly and monthly reviews to your calendar. Attached the review checklist to the invite.
Tips – Do the review at the same time and the same place to make it a routine.
Step 5 – Engage and Do It
Goal – The goal of this step is to choose the right tasks based on the contexts.
- During the daily review, choose only three tasks for the day. After you are done with the tasks for the day, choose the next task based on priority, time available, energy and tools available.
Action Item – Choose three tasks during the daily review.
Tips – Do not pick more than three tasks for a day. Always use the context filter to identify the next task to work on.
Benefits of GTD
- It will save you a lot of time over the long run.
- It will help you focus on one task at a time.
- It will help you prioritize and choose the right task to work on.
- It will free your mind from remembering hundreds of things to do
- It will relieve you from the anxiety about work and life altogether.
As you know by now, GTD is a powerful task management and productivity system. It takes some effort up front to understand and set up the system. After the initial setup, it should not take a lot of time to maintain the system itself.
David Allan’s introduction course in LinkedIn learning
Tiago Forte’s detailed course on how to set up GTD which I highly recommend
A great blog post explaining the system in detail
David Allan’s book – Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity