Getting Things Done

I’ve decided to start my series of posts on productivity systems with an overview of one of the better-known ones: Gettings Things Done (GTD for short). This system (and a book by the same name) is the brainchild of David Allen, an American consultant. It has millions of devout followers, and has engendered a myriad of similar systems. Today I’m just going to talk about the basic principles of GTD.

GTD is based on a five-step process: collect, process, organise, review and do:

Collect. This means capturing anything requiring your attention or action. You can write things down on paper or electronically – the main idea is that you gather anything that you’re planning on changing in the world. This can be as basic as hoovering the floor or as complex as world domination. The important thing is to record all those things, and process your notes regularly.

Process. This step involves looking at your notes and deciding what to do about the items, and whether to do it. Sometimes you simply need to archive the information; other times you can postpone an action or get someone else to do it. There are some things you can do in under 2 minutes, so you may as well do them now. And finally, there are multi-step projects that need further planning and breaking down into small actionable steps.

The ‘processing’ step. © The Cotsco Connection.

Organise. Once you’ve reviewed your notes, you should end up with neatly organised ‘categories’ of items: trash, to be reviewed later, reference, waiting for someone else, calendar, projects, and next actions. The latter is the high-priority stuff you’ll be focusing on doing. It will include any tasks that need to be done soon but will take more than 2 minutes, as well as tasks from your projects.

Review. There’s no point in writing things down unless you check your lists regularly! David Allen suggests checking your calendar and ‘next actions’ daily. He also recommends a weekly review to go over all your lists and any new items you’ve collected. Those reviews enable you to stay on top of your system and ensure you don’t forget things.

Do. This is the entire point of this system – making sure you get stuff done. Having the system in place is intended to take the guesswork out of what you’re going to do next. A lot of your actions will be based on the ‘next actions’ list – as long as you’re in the right place, have the time and energy to do them, and pick the highest priority ones first.

David Allen covers a lot more in his book, but this post is intended as a basic overview of the ‘meat and gravy’ of the system. As with any system, many people find themselves using some aspects of GTD more than others. You’ll notice that this system follows closely the components I’ve outlined before.

GTD was one of the first productivity systems I’ve heard of, and definitely one of the things that got me involved with productivity planning. I’ve never used it in its entirety, but a simplified version is the cornerstone of my own method.

Have you ever tried using GTD? Has it worked for you?


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