All the planning in the world won’t help if we don’t actually do the stuff we plan. In this episode we’ll finish our mini-series about the GTD® method and talk about some of the tools we can use to implement the method and get stuff done.
Well-chosen productivity tools, used consistently, can help us get things done
A few weeks ago, in episode 440, I started a short series on David Allen’s Getting Things Done productivity methodology with a brief overview of the system. Then in episode 441, we did a little more detailed review of the first step in the GTD system, which is capture. In episode 443 I looked more closely at the next two steps: clarify and organize. Last week, in episode 445, we discussed the reflect and review step.
All of those steps are important, regardless of what system or approach you use, but they are not the purpose of the GTD (or any other) productivity system. The purpose is in the name: getting things done. The last step is what the GTD system calls “engage”–it’s about actually doing the things.
This week we’re looking at some of the tools we can use to do all these steps: to capture all that information, to clarify and organize it, to reflect and review, and ultimately to get to engagement.
Tools we can use to get things done
For a tool to be useful in implementing the GTD methodology it needs to have certain characteristics:
- It should have a way to track projects separately from tasks, breaking down projects into their component tasks and identifying next steps to be added to the daily task list.
- It should allow you to identify or view tasks by context–like where it needs to get done, or who else needs to be involved. This allows you to batch tasks more efficiently.
- It should be available to you wherever you need it to be.
- It should be as simple as possible, but as robust as you need it to be, depending on the complexity of your life.
On the GTD website they have a page that lists common tools and software they see their clients using. The biggest part of the page lists what they refer to as list managers–which makes a lot of sense, since so much of the GTD methodology revolves around organizing and viewing the information you capture into various lists.
They’ve developed their own Organizer that’s built on the GTD Methodology. It’s sold on the website as an editable PDF download for $29. They say you can either use it electronically (such as in a PDF manager like Adobe or or print it out as a paper organizer. I haven’t used it but it looks like a great possibility for those who prefer a paper planner. They also offer guide books for implementing GTD in various digital task managers, including several I’ll mention below. The guides are $10 each and offered as immediate PDF downloads.
Probably the most important features needed in a capture tool are ubiquity and “frictionlessness.” It’s got to be with you, when and where you need it, with as little resistance as possible to its use. No matter what system, approach, or tool you use, it only works if you get everything into it.
The simplest method is paper–something as low tech as a small notebook or even 3×5 cards that you can keep in your pocket, purse, or diaper bag and pull out to jot down anything you want to remember and get into your system–any idea, phone number, appointment date, etc.
- Elisabeth from France comments: “To capture information, I’ve got a sheet of paper. Each day, I put all meetings in my digital agenda (often shared with my husband), if needed on the wall family calendar. If it’s actions to be done, on my to-do list or my paper agenda (if there is a deadline). Thank you for the last episode about boundaries. Love and grace to you and to all the listeners.”
- Jodie from Canberra, Australia: “I am a mother of three, business owner, and Treasurer of my tennis club (volunteer). David Allen talks about the importance of writing each ‘thing’ down on a separate piece of paper during the capture phase. I use this, on speech cards, each and everything on a separate piece of card. It has been a game-changer! So simple and when I look at the card there’s just one task to focus on and it is a poignant reminder to work on one task at a time. I keep the cards in the kitchen drawers, home office, and workplace.”
A well-designed app can serve the same purpose if you always have your tech with you, letting you add info one-handed (or even hands-free in some cases).
- The GTD website includes Evernote in its list of capture tools that work well with GTD. It’s available on the web and as apps for various platforms for individual use and for teams and syncs across all. It’s great for note-taking and for reference material management since you can save documents in various formats into Evernote, and can create to-do lists.
- Microsoft OneNote is another option for capture, and is included in the Microsoft suite of software many companies provide to their employees. It integrates with Outlook. One listener from New York makes good use of the Microsoft suite, and she describes in her voice message (listen to the episode to hear it).
Many devices, such as smartphones and smart watches, can be used as convenient capture tools:
Reshma comments: “I am an Apple fan. I have set up my Apple Watch so that the top right-hand corner of the screen, when pressed, takes me directly to the Apple voice memos app. Throughout the day, as things occur to me, I make voice memos using my Apple Watch, which means I don’t have to carry anything with me, not even my phone. At the end of each day a listen to them all either on my phone, watch, or iPad, either dealing with them immediately or adding to my weekly review. It’s been a game changer for me.”
I do the same with my Apple Watch for things that need to be added to the grocery list while I’m cooking. If you’re on the Android system, you can add things by triggering your Echo device
An advantage of using an app to capture is that you don’t have to rewrite or re-enter the information in order to complete the next steps (clarify, organize, review), so if you have a lot of stuff, managing it electronically is likely going to be more efficient.
- Some good options:
- Todoist – Free version, upgrade for $48/year, or teams version if you want to use with your colleagues or family, $72/user/year. GTD website offers a guide for this one.
- Microsoft To Do – Included in the Microsoft software suite many businesses provide; integrates with Outlook if that’s your email program. GTD website offers a guide.
Clarify and Organize
Shannon: “I really like Nirvana GTD. I like that I can separate my “areas” for work and personal and then break things down even further using the GTD system. It’s a great tool!”
It looks like there’s a free version, or you can upgrade to Nirvana Pro for more functionality for $36/year as of the date I was preparing this episode. It’s available for Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, and on the web. As mentioned above, GTD offers a guide for using Nirvana with the GTD methodology. It explains how to configure Nirvana in a way that works best for GTD, how to create project, next actions, waiting for, and someday/maybe lists in Nirvana, how to use tags effectively, and more. It’s available as an immediate PDF download for $10.
Carey: “I am writing to share the task manager I use and like. I use Things. It has similar functionality to other programs but is not a subscription service so once you buy it you have access. I like how I can organize tasks by project, easily arrange them in different ways, and easily duplicate lists. For instance, I have a subcategory I label “Lists to copy”. Then I can duplicate the list, change the name of the list, and add dates as needed. So, it allows me to have checklists within my task manager very easily.”
This is an excellent app, available only on Apple devices: Mac, iPhone, Apple Watch, and iPad. GTD website has a $10 guide to implementing GTD with Things.
I’ve used OmniFocus for years. For Mac and iOS; 14-day free trial, then available by subscription or one-off purchase. GTD website also has a $10 guide for using OmniFocus with the GTD methodology.
Reflect and Review
Any of the apps I’ve mentioned can support a regular reflect and review process as we discussed in episode 445. Of course you can do this process with a paper planner or notebook list system as well. One article I read suggests for the Review and Reflect step we can use a tool like Notion or Airtable to create a framework for doing your review and they share a template you can import into Notion for that purpose.
The most important key to an effective reflect and review process is simply consistency, no matter what tool you use. Cultivate the habit of doing it regularly.
I couldn’t possibly do an episode that reviews or even describes all the possible tools available for managing the information, commitments, and tasks we deal with. I’ve included in the show notes for this episode links to several articles that purport to list and describe some of the best options for implementing GTD. Be sure to check those out if you’re looking for a new tool.
I don’t believe there’s any tool that is “best” or right for everyone. So much depends on your life, your personality, your tech preferences, and more. As I’ve said before, the best productivity tool is the one you’ll use.
What do you think?
Resources and Links
- TPW440 – A Quick Refresher on GTD
- TPW441 – A Deeper Dive Into GTD Capture
- TPW443 – A Deeper Dive Into GTD Clarify and Organize
- TPW445 -A Deeper Dive Into GTD Reflect and Review
- Getting Things Done: Best GTD Apps 2022 by Jason Dydynski on Team Compass site
- Getting Things Done: Best GTD Apps 2022 – Weekdone
- Common Tools & Software
- Best Note Taking App – Organize Your Notes with Evernote
- Things Setup Guide
- OmniFocus 3 Setup Guide
- 2023 GTD Organizer
- Nirvana Setup Guide
- Top 20 GTD Software for Getting Organized and Staying Productive | Infinity
- 14 Best GTD Apps and how to know which one is right for you | RadReads
- The Best GTD® Apps For Getting Things Done – Asian Efficiency
- Track and Manage Tasks | Microsoft 365
- 12 apps for getting things done
- Best 5 GTD Apps for Better Productivity in 2021 | by Francesco D’Alessio | Medium
- What’s New in the all-new Things. Your to-do list for Mac & iOS
- Getting Things Done (GTD) Method + The 12 Best GTD Apps of 2023 – Productivity Land
- Nirvana – for Mac, Windows, iOS and Android
- Getting Things Done (GTD) Method and 27 Best GTD Apps & Tools
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