David Allen’s GTD ™ system includes important concepts and tools for a productive life. This week we’re reviewing the fundamentals of Allen’s system.
Reminding ourselves of the fundamentals of David Allen’s GTD ™ productivity system
When I was working on last week’s episode about getting things done when you don’t feel like it, I kept thinking about the meaning of “getting things done” in the productivity space–or at least a significant meaning of it. Obviously, “getting things done” is a generic phrase that we all use to talk about, well, . . . getting things done. Doing things that we need or want to do.
But in the productivity “industry,” it has another more specific implication, which is to the productivity approach developed by David Allen in his book by the same name. In many ways, Allen’s system–often referred to as “GTD”–forms a foundation to most other approaches, methods, systems, and tools that have developed over the years for facilitating productivity.
I tend to think anybody who listens to this podcast knows about that. But I realize that might not be the case, and anyway it never hurts to revisit those things we have learned, so I thought it made sense to do a quick review of what this method or approach actually consists of and a few thoughts on implementing it.
Getting Things Done
GTD is a productivity system developed by David Allen that helps you capture, clarify, organize, reflect, and engage with tasks effectively. (Read the book Getting Things Done to understand the method in detail and how you can apply it to your life.) The GTD method aims to help individuals effectively manage their tasks and responsibilities, ultimately increasing productivity and reducing stress. Here are the basic principles of the GTD system and how you can implement them in your own approach to productivity.
1. Capture everything: Write down all your tasks, ideas, and commitments as they come to mind, in a notebook or an app. This prevents you from forgetting important tasks and helps reduce stress by decluttering your mind.
- Mind sweeps: Conduct regular “mind sweeps” to identify any outstanding tasks, ideas, or commitments that may not have been captured. This practice helps ensure that your system remains up-to-date and comprehensive.
- The Two-Minute Rule: If a task takes less than two minutes to complete, do it immediately instead of adding it to your list. This helps keep your task lists clutter-free and allows you to make progress on simple tasks without delay.
- Capture tools: To successfully capture everything, choose tools that work best for you. Some people prefer a physical notebook, while others opt for digital tools like note-taking apps (e.g., Apple Notes, Evernote, Google Keep) or task management apps (e.g., Todoist, Trello, and so many others). It’s essential to have a capture tool readily available to quickly jot down tasks and ideas as they arise.
2. Clarify your tasks: Once you’ve captured everything, clarify each item by asking yourself, “What is the outcome I want to achieve?” and “What is the next action needed to move this forward?” This helps you break down big projects into smaller, manageable tasks.
Inbox zero: GTD encourages processing all incoming items (emails, notes, messages) to maintain an empty inbox. For many of us, so much information and so many communications are constantly coming in, that a truly empty inbox might not be realistic, but by regularly processing your inbox, you can ensure that important tasks are captured, assigned to the appropriate list, and prioritized.
3. Organize your tasks: Categorize your tasks into different lists based on their priority, context, and due date. You can also create separate lists for personal and professional tasks or use tags and labels to differentiate between them.
- Context-based lists: In GTD, tasks are often organized by context, such as location, tools required, or the people involved. Examples of contexts include @home, @office, @computer, @calls, or @errands. By organizing tasks by context, you can efficiently tackle tasks based on your current situation or environment.
- Project lists: For larger goals or projects, create separate project lists that outline all the tasks required to complete the project. Break down each project into smaller tasks or actions, making it easier to manage and complete.
- Priority and importance: GTD doesn’t explicitly focus on prioritization, but it’s crucial to identify tasks with higher importance or urgency. You can prioritize tasks using the Eisenhower Matrix (urgent/important, not urgent/important, urgent/not important, not urgent/not important) or simply assign priority levels (high, medium, low).
4. Reflect and review: Regularly review your lists to ensure that you are on track and prioritize tasks accordingly. A weekly review is a crucial part of the GTD system, as it helps you stay on top of your commitments and maintain focus. Make that a part of your weekly routine by choosing an appropriate time and putting it on your calendar.
5. Engage and take action: Once you’ve captured, clarified, organized, and reflected on your tasks, it’s time to engage and take action. Select the appropriate task based on your context, available time, and energy levels, and start working on it.
Tips for implementing the GTD system:
- Customize the system: GTD is a flexible system that can be tailored to suit your preferences and needs. As you use the method (or, frankly, any method or approach), evaluate what works well and what could be improved. Customize the tools, lists, and processes to make the method work for you. Regularly fine-tune your GTD process to maximize productivity and effectiveness.
- Balance work and personal life: As a woman, you probably have multiple roles and responsibilities in your personal and professional life. GTD can help you strike a balance by managing tasks efficiently and setting boundaries between different aspects of your life.
- Self-care and personal growth: Include self-care and personal development tasks in your GTD system. This can help you maintain a healthy work-life balance and ensure that you are investing time in yourself.
- Habit building: Successfully implementing GTD requires building new habits and routines. Be patient and give yourself time to adjust to the system. Remember that consistency is key.
- Find a supportive community: Connect, either online or in person, with other women who are as interested as you are in making a meaningfully productive life. Sharing experiences, tips, and challenges can be motivating and help you stay committed to the system.
Some final thoughts
GTD is a comprehensive productivity system designed to help individuals manage tasks and responsibilities more effectively. By understanding and implementing the GTD method, you can increase your productivity, reduce stress, and achieve a better work-life balance. Remember, though, that GTD can–and I’d say should–be adjusted to fit your needs and preferences. Experiment with different tools and techniques to find what works best for you, and don’t be afraid to make changes as you go along.
What do you think?
Do you intentionally use the GTD system? How have you customized it to help you be productive in the best sense? Post your thoughts and suggestions in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or email me.
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I would like to have an episode on the gtd capture. I travel for extended times so capturing is difficult.
Thank you, Joan. Great idea–I’ll start working on that for an upcoming episode.
Laura, thank you for this overview of GTD. I have read the book and I do use some of the concepts. But overall, I’m not a big fan. I think a more valuable book on key productivity fundamentals is Hyrum W. Smith’s “The 10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management: Proven Strategies for Increased Productivity and Inner Peace.” This book was published in 1994 (nearly 7 years before GTD). The critical difference between Smith’s work and GTD is that Smith recommends organizing tasks by governing values – doing those tasks that are most important. He also focuses on looking at the totality of your life (not just a worker, but also a friend, family member, community member, and growth-oriented person) when choosing the tasks you work on. Some readers may be put off by two aspects of the book: it is old so there is no reference to the computerized tools available to us today and Smith’s religious viewpoint which is present, but in my opinion not too “preachy.” If readers can look beyond these two elements I think they will find key productivity fundamentals that are useful in our lives today, regardless of what tool you use or worldview you hold.
Hi, Stacy. I appreciate your thoughts on GTD and the insights on Smith’s book. Might be worth an episode in the future to compare the two.