So David Allen has kinda sorta changed how people increase their productivity. His Getting Things Done method is said to have revolutionized the way people, well… get things done. Despite GTD’s raging success, it has been met with someĀ critisism, however, the most prominent of which is that GTD is too inflexible and impracticle to be implemented easily. While I agree, I think that GTD is not meant to be followed evangelistically. Rather, GTD should be thought of as a set of guidelines that should be implemented so that it fits into the way you work. Even David Allen has said that he falls off the GTD bandwagon every once in a while.

The point of this post, however, isn’t to defend or slam the GTD system. It is to give the seven of you reading this my take on David Allen’s methods and how I’ve implemented them into my daily workflow.

So, GTD’s major priciple (and the reason why I believe it works) is that you must empty your mind of all tasks by recording them externally. This external device must be something reliable so that information is not lost (and so that your subconcious knows that it wont be). This way, instead of remembering what you need to do, you can focus more on getting those tasks done. Allen suggests that the simple act of “unloading” your mind is enough to relieve most of the stress that hinders actual productivity. The unconcious mind is therefore free of anxiety so that the concious mind can focus on completing tasks.

The first step to implementing GTD is to identify where you will be storing things that need to get done. This doesn’t have to be in one place and can actually consist of several different ways of storing tasks. When I first started using GTD methods, a major roadblock for me was that I had not clearly defined my “inboxes,” resulting in a chaotic mess of tasks that hampered my productivity. After clearly identifying where I collected tasks, my productivity skyrocketed. For me my inboxes consist of the following:

  1. Things (iPhone application)
  2. Moleskine
  3. Microsoft Outlook inbox
  4. Balance (iPhone application)
  5. Google Chrome bookmarks
  6. Voice Memos (iPhone application)
  7. Post-it notes
  8. Paper tray (for letters and bills)
  9. File folders

After identifying where you store your tasks, you must decide how your tasks will be stored. For example, in Microsoft Outlook, when I encounter an email that needs a follow-up, I either flag it, or categorize it. In my Moleskine (being the most flexible of all inboxes), I just write lists in a free-form manner and sort through them later. I use a similar method when recording memos to my iPhone. In a later post, I’ll describe in detail how I use the inboxes that I’ve defined and how I empty my lists on a daily basis.

Recording your tasks, however, isn’t all there is to GTD. A good practice after you have identified and recorded your tasks is to group similar tasks together. Not doing this can actually hinder producticty as your mind isn’t capable of reminding you of any related tasks that need to be done, just as it seldom reminds you of when and where a specific action needs to be taken. Grouping your tasks as well as identifying each action’s context is, therefore, very important.

Getting your tasks in your inbox isn’t the end all be all of the GTD system. The point is to actually get things done, so if a task will take less time to do than it would to record, then by all means, get it done. The trick is to know when to bypass the process and when not to.

So, the seven of you should get out your pencils, stack your paper, turn on your cellphones and/or get your computers ready and… GET THINGS DONE!


  1. I’m certain there are more than seven of us reading this post. I’ve using the Lifetick site to organise my goals but I’m not always reliable when it comes to capturing them in in-boxes. I’m aiming for my desk not to become one giant in-box.

  2. @Teresa: My Google stats say there are 7 of you. :)

    I checked out Lifetick and although it’s interesting and very well thought out, it’s a web app which I kinda try to avoid. The problem with GTD and software is that most times, you will need more than one application to use it and that can become tedious very quickly. If Lifetick had a way to organize your e-mail and bookmarks, it would be a step in the right direction.

    Pen and paper are still the best tools because of their flexibility. It’s crazy to need nine inboxes (in my case) but one tool doesn’t do everything (yet).

    I suggest you get a Moleskine (or something similar) and try using that as an inbox. If you find it hard to write stuff down on the go, your mobile should have a voice recorder that is great for taking quick notes. Then, at the end of the day you can always transfer them to Lifetick.

  3. Like the website design. I am sure there are more than seven of us but good thoughts on DONE. I am just exploring GTD, stumbled on it by accident and only bought the book by David Allen 5 days ago. Reading through, prefer to start small. Web Info on GTD is a bit overwhelming. I think it is important to do the mind sweep first. Good tip. Thanks.

  4. @Benedict: Managed to move the post…

    I think the most important aspect of GTD is the unloading process. I’ve find it a very interesting experience every time I do it. Most important when you do a mind sweep, that you record everything on a medium that you know is reliable (meaning won’t get lost) and that you refer to it often.

    The web is an overwhelming place and there are a lot of opinions about GTD out there. I started like you did, with baby steps and as I got into the habit of using the system, I expanded my use of it, customizing and modifying the methods to fit my way of doing things.

    Don’t get caught up trying to implement the GTD system 100%… it’s almost impossible and very impractical.



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