Easy Ways To Implement the Best Ideas From GTD

Easy Ways To Implement the Best Ideas From GTD

Photo by Todd Quackenbush on Unsplash

“You can fool everyone else, but you can't fool your own mind.”
― David Allen



When people talk about productivity, the first thing that comes to mind is personal productivity. But, as your business grows, it is essential to think about what you are doing to help your employees be more productive. It's not enough to just set up an email and Slack account and let them have at it. We believe that companies need to set examples and implement procedures that help employees organize how things get done.

One place to look for ideas to implement in company productivity workflows is Getting Things Done.

What exactly is Getting Things Done, or as it's more commonly referred to, GTD? Is it a book, a system, or a cult - perhaps it's a little bit of each? In this post, we will point out a few of the best parts of GTD that you can incorporate into your workflow.

What is GTD? History and Background

GTD stands for Getting Things Done. In 2001, David Allen published the book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. Since that time, it has become prevalent, and the principles of the system have made their way into personal productivity apps such as todoist and Things 3. 

How Does it Work? A quick introduction

This post isn't trying to give you a complete overview of the workings of GTD; for that, check out Why Getting Things Done is the Best Productivity System For You and Productivity 101: A Primer to the Getting Things Done (GTD) Philosophy, but it is helpful to have a summary, general understanding of the system, and familiarize yourself with some of the terminologies. 

GTD promises that in today's busy world where you are juggling multiple projects that all compete for your attention, this system can bring a sense of calm regardless of the size or complexity of the work you set out to accomplish.

A GTD system is composed of the following.

Tasks and Projects

You need to do a task, and a project is something that you need to do that will take two or more tasks to complete.

Tasks roll up into projects. The task "Download W2," would be part of the "File 2020 Taxes" project. If you have tasks that aren't part of a specific project, you will create a single-action project like "Misc Personal" to hold them.

Next actions 

When putting a task into your trusted system, ask yourself, "what is the next action?" Well-defined tasks are much easier to get done than ones that are not defined. It is good practice to take a little time to make the task straightforward and doable. The next action should be physical and visible.

Here is a Helpful article on project verbs vs. next action verbs, including this help chart.

The chart is a great reference when creating tasks and projects and will help you zero in the best wording of your next action. This will insure that your future self will be able to simply take action without thinking about what needs to be done.

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A Trusted System

A trusted system is the place that is outside of your brain, where you capture all of your unfinished work. It can be digital like Things or a Notion database, or analog, notecards, or a Bullet Journal.

The trusted system holds all of your projects and tasks.

Capturing Open Loops

Regularly you need to scan all of your "inboxes" for open loops, commitments, and promises that you have made to yourself and others and add to your trusted system.

For example, some of your "inboxes'" would be your email, your physical mail, checking in with your partner, and your calendar.

Weekly Review

GTD instructs you to perform a weekly review where you take time to review all of your projects and tasks and clarify the agreements that you have.

Here is a complete trigger list to help you identify potential tasks and projects that you might want to include in your review.

What are the best parts, and how do you implement

1. Do Defer Delegate

Items in your inbox should be processed, one-by-one, without regard for importance or urgency. When you grab an item, you need to determine what to do with it, don't just put it back in the inbox! Look at the item and decide to do it, delegate it, or defer it. One exception to this process is that if you think the task will take two minutes or less, you should do it, as the system's overhead will take more time than just getting the job done.

Putting this idea to work

Print out this flowchart that outlines the do, delegate, defer process and put it somewhere where you can see it when you are at your computer and start going through your email. Follow this process for each email you receive. Forcing yourself to process each email fully and not just opening it and leaving it in your inbox will be hard at first, but with some practice, it will soon become second nature.


2. Context lists 

GTD talks about arranging your tasks by context. A context in GTD is the how, when, where, and with whom of a task.  It's traditional to name the content beginning with an "@" like @Computer, @Phone @JoeSmith. To illustrate, let's say you have a project that is "File 2020 Taxes." This project has multiple actions, including Download W2, call my accountant to set up an appointment, and print donation receipts from email. You might assign the content @Computer to the W2 and printing tasks and the content @Phone for setting up the appointment. Additionally you might have a single-action to call American Express to dispute a false charge.

It would end up looking something like this in your system:

  • File 2020 Taxes - Download W2 - @Computer
  • File 2020 Taxes - Setup appointment with accountant - @Phone
  • File 2020 Taxes - Print donation receipts - @Computer
  • Misc Personal - Call Amex to dispute charge - @Phone

Let's say you need to run a software update on your computer, so you decided to make some phone calls. You can pull up your context list @Phone and work through all of the phone calls you need to make regardless of the project.

Putting this Idea to Work

One somple thing you can do with the context idea is to create a context list for all of the essential people you interact with regularly.

You can have tagged with the name of your manager, @MyBoss. When would be a good time to review that list? Maybe each workday, in addition to checking it if you are going into a meeting with her. The above is a great way to stay on top of your responsibilities, as well as covering smaller items that a mere mortal might have let slip through the cracks.

3. Weekly review

The weekly review is where you take time to review all of your projects and tasks and clarify the agreements that you have.

Putting this Idea to Work

Set aside a specific time each week to review your projects. Start small. Initially your process might be simple. Here's a quick checklist to get you started.

  • Use a list to help trigger ideas - it could be OKRs that you have committed to, your job description, etc.
  • Look at each project on your list and determine if it's still relevant.
  • Is there a next action clearly defined? if not create one.
  • Look over your calendar for the next week. Is there anything that needs to get some to prepare for any of your meetings that needs to be added to your projects or tasks?

After your weekly review, perform a "retrospective" on your process. Does anything need to be added to your checklist? Should anything be removed or changed?

4. Waiting for

One context proposed in GTD is "@Waiting for." This helps keep track of open items and commitments that you cannot directly manage because they are outside your system. Maybe you ordered a new external hard drive that you need so TimeMachine can continue backing up your machine. Your project "Get TimeMachine Backups working" had a task "Order new hard drive" once you placed the order on Amazon and the task is complete, you would create a new task "Waiting for: HD Delivery" with a context of "@Waiting for."

Putting this Idea to Work

Even if you don't have a robust tasks management system or contexts, we find it helpful to remind yourself to track important requests you made over email. Next time you send off an email to one of your employees, "Jim, can you prepare the SEO Proposal for Spacely Space Sprockets, Inc. I want to get that to them by Thursday." Put a task in your system "Waiting for Sprockets Proposal from Jim."


Hopefully, you now have a good overview of the GTD system and some ideas you can implement within your productivity system and encourage within your organization.