This guide will introduce you to GTD principles and workflows, and what we think is the most intuitive way to implement them. The key to GTD isn’t the specific tools you choose but rather the habits you employ on a daily basis to think about and prioritize your work.
Getting Things Done, or GTD for short, is a popular task management system created by productivity consultant David Allen. The methodology is based on a simple truth: The more information bouncing around inside your head, the harder it is to decide what needs attention. As a result, you spend more time thinking about your tasks than actually doing them. When information piles up in your head, it leads to stress, overwhelm, and uncertainty.
Allen observed that our brains are much better at processing information than storing it ("your head's a crappy office"). His GTD method lays out how to dump all your mental clutter into an external system and then organize it so you can focus on the right things at the right times. When your GTD workflow is set up right, you’ll be able to confidently answer “what should I be working on?” at any given moment without worrying that you might forget something important you need to do later.
Try GTD if you...
- Feel overwhelmed by the amount of things you need to keep track of
- Worry about forgetting small details
- Wear lots of hats in your job and life
- Starts lots of projects but have trouble finishing them
- Have never GTD'd before (everyone should GTD at least once in their lives)
The GTD method is made up of five simple practices to systematize the clutter in your brain and get things done:
- Capture Everything: Capture anything that crosses your mind. Nothing is too big or small! These items go directly into your inboxes.
- Clarify Process what you’ve captured into clear and concrete action steps. Decide if an item is a project, next action, or reference.
- Organize: Put everything into the right place. Add dates to your calendar, delegate projects to other people, file away reference material and sort your tasks.
- Review: Frequently look over, update, and revise your lists.
- Engage: Get to work on the important stuff.
While GTD requires an upfront investment in time and energy to set up, it pays off with consistent use. You’ll no longer worry about forgetting a deadline or missing an important task. Instead, you’ll be able to respond to incoming information calmly and prioritize your time confidently.
Some very specific but seemingly mundane behaviors, when applied, produce the capacity to exist in a kind of sophisticated spontaneity, which, in my experience, is a key element to a successful life.— David Allen
Though the basis of GTD are these five simple steps, they’re not always easy to execute. GTD doesn’t require a specific tool, app, or product. Allen doesn’t even make a case for digital over analog systems. Rather the key to any lasting productivity system is to keep it as simple as possible and to use it as often as possible. Your tool should be versatile enough to handle your most complex projects yet simple enough to maintain when you’re low on energy.