Getting Things Done is an all-encompassing methodology, of which this section is only a brief summary. In order to get the full benefits, you should read the book or check out other online resources and courses. At the core of GTD is a workflow system of five stages:

  1. Capture: Collect what has your attention
    Get information out of your head and pour it into an inbox. This frees you from nagging thoughts such as “gotta buy groceries,” and lets you process them at the appropriate time.
  2. Clarify: Process what it means
    Turn each inbox item into a meaningful, clear action. If you noted down “groceries”, for example, you might change it to “buy groceries: 2 milk, 10 eggs, and 4 bananas.” For every item, make sure you define a concrete physical step you can take to advance this action or project. If you can’t find anything you need to do with the information, either file it for future reference or trash it.
  3. Organize: Put it where it belongs
    If you can perform an action in two minutes or less, do it now (Allen calls this the two-minute rule). Otherwise, you can do one of several things: delegate it; file it as an action or a project; defer it to a later date, or, if you’re not committed to completing it soon, perhaps move it into a folder labeled
    Someday/Maybe.
  4. Reflect: Review frequently
    Periodically and as often as you need to, take some time to review your projects, actions, and everything else you feel the need to review. This helps you prioritize important actions, instead of just being drawn to put out the hottest and most urgent fires. By doing so, you can build a holistic workflow that takes care of a range of tasks from buying the milk and answering your boss’s emails, to planning big life changes such as moving, switching jobs or careers, and even answering questions like “where do I want to be in 5-10 years?” You can do this at multiple regular intervals, e.g., every week, month, year, etc. according to your needs.
  5. Engage: Simply do
    Finally, you have to just buy the damn milk or answer that email.

The following are a few examples of handy GTD techniques that you can use right off the bat.

Mind Sweep

A Mind Sweep is a way to clear information from your brain, and move it into a trusted system, freeing up your brain to focus on other activities. Sit down with a piece of paper (or a computer, phone, or other capturing device), and take stock of what is on your mind: the things you need to do; the conversations you need to have; the resources you need to find, questions you need answered, etc.

Write every item down as a separate bullet point; each of these items will go into your inbox to be processed at a later time. Don’t worry about listing too many tasks. At this stage, writing something down doesn’t commit you to doing anything about it. When you Clarify and Organize this list, you could decide to trash some items.

There are various kinds of mind sweeps. You can do a quick one-minute sweep at the beginning of your day. You can do a full twenty-minute sweep of your mind across various categories, such as Health and Vitality, Significant Others, Work, Finances, etc. (see link in references for a template). You can focus on a particular field or problem, for example mind-sweep while walking around your house and note down everything you’d like to repair or improve about it.

A mind sweep differs from a Mind Map (1.5), which is geared toward helping you gather all your thoughts about a concept or goal in one place and mapping the connections between them. Mind sweeping is less concerned with grouping or cataloging thoughts. It is more a method of clearing your mind, in a way that frees your brain from conscious or unconscious worries. Once you have written everything down in a safe place where your brain knows it can access it, your mind will be clearer and more readily able to focus on a specific task, or allow room for creativity.

Two-Minute Rule

The two-minute rule is briefly described above. It is simple: when you are organizing an action in your system, ask yourself whether you can complete this action in under two minutes. If so, do it immediately. If not, add it to a list of actions to do later, or delegate it to someone. It’s important to estimate correctly. Some tasks may appear to be achievable in one or two minutes, but blow up to ten or more, leaving you asking, “what was I just doing and why?” Like most things, your accuracy will improve with time and practice. One way to train your estimations is to keep a physical two-minute timer handy, and check your guesses against the timer.

Inbox Zero

While Inbox Zero was not created by David Allen, it was inspired by GTD and then integrated into it. Many of us have thousands of read and unread messages in our email inbox. But, according to Allen, that's not the role of an inbox. An inbox is not meant to store things forever. It's meant as a place for things to arrive, be processed, and move out of, just like the physical inbox where your mailman leaves letters.

Usually, if you're on top of things, you don't keep your letters in your mailbox for a year. You take them out of the mailbox and do something with them. You read them, toss them, file what needs storing, and make room for more items. The same can be said for your email. You can process your email through the five stages of GTD to keep it down to zero messages, or a minimal number. If you can do this, you’ll find your email inbox is less stressful to open and more efficient to process. The general rule here is that you should open and read an email only once, rather than reading and re-reading the same emails and subject lines. Besides, your inbox is prettier when it's empty. 🙂

Review

Reviews—revisiting and optimizing different areas of your workflow, including your GTD workflow itself—are an important part of GTD. You can schedule reviews for specific times: daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly, three-yearly, or whatever fits your life best. Each one can be tailored to your particular circumstances and needs, and will usually address one particular Horizon of Focus. Allen describes six horizons:

While you can approach these horizons bottom-up or top-down, most people find it easiest to first tackle the Ground level and Horizon 1, with daily and weekly reviews. These clear up time and energy, allowing you to address higher horizons.

What should you review? There are numerous possibilities, including: your different inboxes; your projects; the someday/maybe list; the contents of your calendar,  and anything else you feel is worth reviewing at this frequency or is pulling at your attention. As an illustration, let’s look at the daily review.

Each morning, you can spend a few minutes deciding on your focus for the day and the most important task you want to accomplish. You can use this time to clear various inboxes, such as texts, emails, notifications, and physical letters—it depends on your life and work style. If you keep a Decision Log (tool 1.9), you can review it and, if you haven’t already, update it with every major decision you made the day before.

You can also make a calendar review part of your daily review. You can go over the day before, the current day, and the next day, and look for anything that requires action. Maybe you want to send a follow-up email about a recent business meeting, or text a friend you met yesterday and share how much fun you had with her. Or, you might want to look at tomorrow’s schedule and eliminate any double bookings you’ve made—and make sure you have time for lunch! Of course, if you discover any actions that you need to take based on this information, you can add these to your Inbox.

A key part of your daily review, or any other review, is to experiment and customize it to your particular needs. You can also use the weekly or monthly reviews to think about and customize the structure of your daily review. A review is basically a checkpoint, an opportunity for you to zoom out of your current Horizon of Focus and change your perspective.

References

David Allen’s Getting Things Done book, and other books on this topic, are available at most bookstores.

The GTD website is: https://gettingthingsdone.com/ 

Sample Daily & Weekly Review Templates: https://workflowy.com/s/gtd-review-lists/PhDOt9Q7YHEiYfon

Mindsweep template - https://trello.com/c/BZJOOTR6