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Get Things Done: The Ultimate Guide To GTD

Get Things Done: The Ultimate Guide To GTD

This blog post is on GTD, a time management method that can be applied to all aspects of life, not just your (academic) career. We will cover what GTD stands for and means, how it works, how to get started, and what other ways there are to get things done.

Table of Contents

- GTD meaning
- Getting started with GTD
- GTD tips
- Other ways to get things done

GTD Meaning

"Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them" - David Allen

David Allen’s quote is at the core of the method that he developed.

GTD is short for ‘Get Things Done’.

This is a strategy that can be applied to all aspects of life and will help you to keep track of what you need to do, what you have achieved so far and how to organize these actions.

It will also allow you to incorporate new ideas and it involves not only actionable actions such as getting someone’s present sorted, it also includes unactionable actions such as filing that payment confirmation that just came through.

If you ever feel that you have lots of things to do and you are trying to remember them all at once, without forgetting something, then this strategy might be for you.

Importantly, it is easy to tweak GTD to suit your schedule and needs so you will definitely find one aspect of it that you could incorporate in your weekly schedule or to-do list.

The video above summarized the GTD’s main ideas and concepts.

There are 5 simple steps to follow that will make using this technique feel intuitive and clear.

Step 1: Capture

Write down ideas, to-dos, things that come to mind when on a walk etc.

This could be anything that feels like it needs you to do something.

In the following stages you will process and organize these ideas, so for now, just write it down and ‘get it out of your head’ so to say.

This might actually make you enjoy that walk even more because you will know it will be taken care of later.

Step 2: Clarify or Process

Are the captured ideas and tasks actionable?

Does it take you less than 2 min to quickly to do it?

If yes, do it straight away.

If no, the task will be added to an action list.

If you had been thinking about a bill you paid previously or a bank statement that just came through, this would be an action that is not actionable.

You don’t actually want to do anything going forward.

The point here is to decide whether to keep it or not and if so, where.

If you jotted down multiple actions in the first step, go through all of these, and process them, before moving on to the third step.

Step 3: Organize

In the previous step, you will have completed some of the actionable tasks.

However, there might be remaining tasks that would have taken too long to complete straight away or that were unactionable.

In the organizing step, you will organize the processed actions into three blocks: Project, Time, and Context.

The project section will include all actions that belong together because they relate to the same ‘project’.

This could be anything from organizing a friend’s surprise birthday party to writing an essay.

The time section is used to keep track of when actions are due.

In the first step, you might have thought of something to be completed that will not become relevant until 3 months down the line.

So you might not need or want to do it at this point.

Similarly, you might be required to give a presentation in 4 weeks, but you have not covered the relevant lecture material yet.

There is no point in starting just yet, so you schedule the action for later on.

The context section relates to things that could be grouped together but would not make up a project.

For example, you need to go to the library to print out multiple texts for different courses.

This would be one context and you’d make a list of the things that will need printing once you get to the library.

Of course, these three sections don't have to exist in isolation.

Instead, you might wish to put things in multiple sections.

Indeed, making use of a calendar and schedule when things will be due, might generally be a good idea.

The above grouping mainly refers to the actionable items, however, you might have some unactionable items left from the processing stage.

Here, you need to decide what you want to do with them.

If it is a physical or electronic copy of a receipt, for example, you might want to store it in the right folder so you could access it later.

You might have also had unactionable ideas or future plans that are too unrealistic at this stage to work them into the schedule.

You could create a list for these and group ideas and actions together, similar to the above strategy.

Step 4: Reflect or Review

In the previous three steps, you will have created a lot of lists, to-dos, and action plans to get through all the things that need to get done.

However, this list is not static in any way.

You might have completed an action soon after creating the list or you might need to add things to your action plan.

Either way, reviewing your plans and editing them according to the updates helps you to prevent feeling overwhelmed by all these actions to be sorted.

This refers to reviewing things on a weekly, rather practical basis.

You might also consider reviewing your plans on a monthly basis, looking into the fulfilment of the short-term goals you had in mind when first setting up the list.

Step 5: Engage

In the final stage, you want to make sure you can actually engage with all the things covered in the previous sections.

Here, it is essential to make time in your daily schedule to get started on completing or storing the actions mentioned above.

While engaging with translating your plans into action, more ideas might come your way.

Try to incorporate these using the same steps as mentioned before.

If you are a little unsure, whether that is going to play out as it should, don’t worry.

You will go over these things in the weekly review to make sure that your new ideas and actions integrate with the previous ones.

Getting started with GTD

If you struggle to get started with this technique or if you have limited time at hands to get used to it, it might be worth combining this technique with other time management techniques.

In particular, the Pomodoro technique might be extremely helpful when it comes to using your time efficiently.

This technique does not require more than a timer. The idea is that for 25 min, as measured with your timer, you will focus on one particular task.

This could be capturing your ideas and actions for example. When the timer rings, you will take a short break, maybe refill your glass of water etc.

Then you will go through three more of these so-called ‘Pomodoros’, after which you will have completed your first Pomodoro cycle.

Between cycles, you will take a longer break. This should be a very easy and rewarding way of getting started with GTD.

Of course, once you feel that you got the hang of it and that you are in the rhythm of things, feel free to stop using the Pomodoro technique.

On the other hand, if you find it difficult to take breaks in between, you might want to keep using it, entirely up to you.

GTD tips

General tips for using the GTD technique would be to set yourself realistic and actionable goals.

Try to break down the big tasks into chunks that can be done relatively quickly.

When scheduling the tasks and integrating them into your calendar, make sure you are giving yourself enough time.

In fact, using the Pomodoro technique is really useful for learning to estimate the right amount of time a particular task will need.

If you could schedule the actions in a way that will feel manageable, then you will enjoy the process more.

Similarly, try to organized when filing unactionable ideas and come up with a system that will prevent you from searching for a single document for a long amount of time.

Other ways to get things done

Of course, you may have already developed a system that works for you to get things done.

Indeed, there is not one single approach to fit all people’s schedules and lifestyles.

Rather, it is about testing out what works for you.

In all cases, when scheduling actions and tasks, make sure to give yourself some time off to relax, do exercise, see friends, read a book or watch TV - whatever it is that you might want to do.

A rewarding system might help you to get things done in the first place.

Indeed, you might want to use the GTD method to schedule in free time and to arrange to see friends and family.

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    • Getting Things Done®. (n.d.). Retrieved 25 February 2019, from
    • QuickTalks. (n.d.). How to Get Things Done, Stress-Free (GTD) | David Allen. Retrieved from
    • Successful By Design. (n.d.). Getting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen - Animated Book Summary And Review. Retrieved from
    • The Pomodoro Technique® - proudly developed by Francesco Cirillo | Cirillo Consulting GmbH. (n.d.). Retrieved 20 February 2019, from

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