Getting Things Done — Reintroducing my basic productivity system

In my previous post, I shared the circumstances how I got back into using GTD. This post explains the basic steps and my tools I started to use.

GTD Workflow

The basic GTD Workflow can be summarized in three definite steps:

  • Process one item at a time, deciding if it is actionable or not
  • If it is not actionable, throw it away, put it into a someday list or reference file
  • If it is actionable, and lasts less than 2 minutes, then do it immediately
  • If it takes longer, you put it into your next action lists, your calendar,m or into a waiting list

The big value of this workflow is to put the question “What to do with this item?” into your consciousness and to decide immediately what to do with it. This helps you to quickly process your inbox.

GTD Tools

GTD only works if you have clear defined boundaries between the various tools. It does not matter whether you go for a paper based solution, use documents on your computer, apps on your phone, whether you sync your data across all your devices etc. GTD is not strict on tools, but on the information you put into it.

My recommendation about choosing the right tools are related to the way you want to handle the information:

  • How often do I need to access this information?
  • How much structure do I need (indexing, searching)?
  • How to archive the stuff, or just put it into the trash?
  • How creative do I want to be with this information?

Based on these questions, my system looks like this:

  • : Most frequently used, several times a day, needs to be available immediately. I’m using a To-Do app for the Inbox, Next Actions and Waiting List, and my Calendar.
  • : Used infrequently during the week, access can take some time. I have a rather big someday list (200+ items) which is just a text file. The project and area of interests are stored as a mind map. How so? A flat text list is just a trigger, but a mind map is a creativity tool. I got much more engaged into my goals and projects with a mind map because of its beauty, of icons and color, of visual relationships of topics. It helped me very much in getting a birds eye view on my life.
  • : Most infrequent used, access to it can be time and context specific. Most of it are just folders and documents on my computer, and I have text-notes for specific projects and areas of life.

Using GTD

Once you have defined your tools, be sure to really make the boundaries between them very specific. Insert all input in your inbox first (preferably just one inbox, see below). Put all actions in the next action list, not in your project reference material. Access your information as frequently as you need to. And lastly, give GTD some time. I’m using it for 8 weeks now, changing process, tools and reviews frequently. Find your GTD.

GTD Traps

Using GTD for a couple of weeks now, I stumbled into several pitfalls:

  • : The most crucial thing! To feel relaxed and truly trust your system, you need to have hard edges where to put your stuff. You need to separate next actions from day specific actions, and you need to separate your active projects from all someday projects that you might be pursuing.
  • : Be rigorous with the weekly review and take a look at all your information. I strongly advocate the three steps “get clear”, “get current”, “get goal oriented”. Take a look at all actions and projects, deleting everything you do not need and add anything you come up with. Use hard edges, sort and resort until all things are in its place. Then the fun part: Pursue your goals. Identify important projects, think about outcome and next steps, and populate your next action list with enough entries. Review you someday list, but don’t feel obliged to do all this stuff.
  • : Don’t create to much inboxes in your life. If you have them, try to consolidate them (auto-forwarding and filtering of E-Mails) or restrict yourself to using you one (not an inbox app, a notes app, a paper diary and other loose leaves). Processing just one inbox will greatly enhance your overall relaxation with GTD in general.

IT Project Manager & Developer

IT Project Manager & Developer