Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (GTD) is a widely-known book detailing a task management system devised by productivity consultant David Allen.
It is a fairly complicated system of collecting and organizing your activities and plans. This article simplifies the explanation as much as possible to summarize the system explained in the book.
Stress-Free Part of GTD
You relieve stress by freeing your mind. The method is based on the idea that it’s harder to think when you have too many things on your mind, which causes stress and poor performance. So, you free your memory and mind power by keeping everything on a list instead.
Emptying everything onto a list (your inbox) unclutters your mind. It reduces stress because you have less on your mind to worry about and more mental energy to do things.
The 5 Steps of Getting Things Done
The GTD approach is made up of five routines to organize the clutter in your brain and get things done:
1. Capture Everything: Capture everything that crosses your mind. Everything is important for capturing.
2. Clarify: Decide if they are actionable now.
3. Organize: Put everything in the right place.
4. Review: Frequently read over, revise, and update your calendar, projects, and task lists.
5. Engage: Plan your daily tasks and get to work on the most important ones.
Initially, setting up GTD involves a heavy upfront investment in time and energy. But, it more than returns your investment with constant use.
Flow Diagram for Getting Things Done
Related: Use the Eisenhower Matrix to Get Your Priorities Straight.
Explanations of GTD Steps
Capture and store everything that comes to mind—record tasks, events, appointments, meetings, ideas, book recommendations, etc.
A core principle of GTD is to clear tasks out of your head and put them in your inbox immediately.
Now you need to convert everything in your inbox into tangible action steps. Evaluate each item in your inbox, and do one of the following:
Make your next actions specific. Add as many details as you need to save you from having to recall details later. Who hasn’t jotted a short note down and later couldn’t remember what it was all about?
- “Call Eric” may actually need to be entered as “Call Eric to discuss the summary for the ACME presentation.”
- Or, “Quarterly Report” could be “Call Sandy to discuss quarterly sales data from her department.”
You also might attach phone numbers and notes to reference in these examples.
After you clarify stuff in your inbox, sort it into the right place. You will normally clarify and organize tasks at about the same time as you sort through your inbox. Still, it’s useful to think about them as different actions.
There are multiple different ways to organize your work with the GTD process. I prefer the simplest possible form because it takes the least time to learn and implement.
Tasks: Things that take more than 2 minutes but only require one step.
Group similar task items together based on location and available tools (contexts). For example, keep phone-related tasks together to do at once. Another example might be to group computer research items together and do them in one sitting.
For items with multiple actions over some time, you need to create projects.
Projects and Next Actions
You’ll see that many of the things you wrote down are projects with multiple actions to do over an extended period of days or weeks. In the GTD, projects are anything that requires multiple steps to complete.
For example, “repair the broken window” is a project because it includes other tasks like measuring and getting tools and supplies to replace the broken glass.” Your next action might be to measure the window or make a list of items you need to repair your window.
Next actions are different from future actions – steps you’ll take someday but don’t need your attention right now.
Reminders and Tasks With a Deadline
Schedule and set reminders for things that must be finished at a specific date. Only use dates and times for genuine deadlines. For everything else, depend on your lists of next actions and your weekly review of all your task lists.
Some of the things you capture in your inbox will be reminders of topics you want to bring up with someone else and not “next actions.”
Reference materials are items that you need to hold (e.g., tax records, articles, spreadsheets, charts, phone numbers, and other documents). While they aren’t tasks, you may need them to do a task later. You should link or attach these to applicable projects and tasks.
These are items that you have delegated, or you are waiting for someone else to review or provide input.
Many items you capture are things you want to do in the future but don’t have the time or resources to do now (e.g., vacations, books to read, new projects, ideas for new products, etc.). You want to review these later, but you don’t want them cluttering your system now.
Review your someday/maybe projects when the circumstances are right.
In GTD, contexts recognize tools, places, or people you need to finalize a given task. For instance, if you are at work, you don’t want to waste time sorting out the next actions for home.
Some examples of contexts are:
- Offline (for when the internet is down)
You need to combine tasks that you do in the same contexts for efficiency.
- When you’re at the computer, work on your list of stuff you do on the computer.
- Have a list of calls you need to make when you’re using the phone.
Related: Here’s a decent article explaining GTD contexts.
Set aside time every week to read over all your lists, manage your tasks, and keep your system operating smoothly. The review helps you adjust to changes, refocus, identify the next actions, and evaluate your workflow.
The weekly review is crucial for success because a frequent examination of your system will ensure you do the right things.
You’ve finished defining and organizing things. Now it’s time to get stuff done. You decide what to do first and should plan your day in advance.
- Check Your Calendar for items due today.
- Check your tasks, contexts, waiting for, and project next actions.
- Decide which tasks you need to get done for the day.
Final Word About Getting Things Done
Once you master this system, you won’t have to worry about missing a deadline or forgetting a critical task. Instead, you’ll become skilled at responding to incoming information and prioritizing your time confidently.
I hope you have great success and happiness in your life!
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