I’m a zealot, I admit it. As I looked back at my posts related to David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD), my writings were that of an “insider” and I was using insider jargon.
When it comes to GTD, the web seems to have two camps: those who follow it, and those who are sick of people talking about it. This article is for the ones who are in between… the ones that heard about it and are curious to know more about it (the article may be a good reminder for those who follow it as well!).
What You Can Get From GTD
The main reason why people are attracted to GTD because it offers them a chance to manage the information overflow. In today’s world, we are benefited with an abundance of choices. The bad news is, we are inundated with an abundance of choices. What to do?
The main benefits GTD offers are:
- Help become stress-free by removing the “to do” list from your head
- Be on top of the multitude of projects and activities you are involved in
- Have better control over your time and energy
If any of these things are missing in your life now, you should consider GTD.
The GTD Workflow
So, what exactly is GTD? In a nutshell, GTD is simply a workflow:
As you can see, there is an ordered flow when new things come into the inbox. It’s probably obvious why some of the early adopters of GTD were tech geeks, but GTD has proven to be so effective that it’s now mainstream. The workflow will make more sense after reading the next section.
The Five Stages of Mastering the Workflow
According to David Allen, there are five stages of managing the things that require our attention:
- Collect. The collection bucket. Whether it’s a folder in your filing system, your email inbox, or your PDA, the fundamental first step is to gather all the stuff that comes your way and to direct them to your “in” box. There are three requirements to make the collection stage work: (1) every open loop must be in your collection system and out of your head, (2) have as few collection buckets as needed, and (3) empty the collection buckets regularly.
- Process. The next stage is to empty the collection bucket. A commonly used sound bite from David Allen is that you can do actions but you can’t do projects. When deciding what to do with what’s in the collection bucket, it needs to be made actionable. Non-actionable things are either saved as reference, thrown away, or stashed way in what’s called the “tickler folder” (basically a holding bin for things you’re not sure if you should throw away or get involved in yet). If it is actionable, you then either do it, delegate it, or defer it.
- Organize. The outer boxes of the GTD workflow represents the end points where things will end up. If it can be done within 2 minutes, no need to mess around and just do it. If not, delegate it to someone else if possible. Otherwise, the action can be scheduled on the calendar or deferred to your “next actions” list.
- Review. The weekly review is a step that David Allen stresses. It’s a time to gather remaining stuff, to review your system, and to basically to cleaned up, updated, and completed. This is the maintenance stage of the system.
- Do. This stage is similar to one of the seven habits by Stephen Covey - namely, Habit 3: Put first things first. Here, David Allen espouses that we should have a method to prioritize and determine what to do. In his book, he presents three models for making action choices: (1) a criteria for choosing actions at the immediate moment, (2) criteria for choosing actions for the day, and (3) high-level criteria for long-term projects.
Popular Topics with GTD
Here are are a few topics that garner a lot of discussions.
The Tickler Folder: The detractors of GTD complain about its overbearing filing system, and particularly point to the tickler folder. If done “by the book,” the tickler folder comprises of 43 folders - 31 for the next 31 consecutive days, and 12 more for the next 12 months - which store things that should be revisited in the future to “tickle” the memory for reconsideration. Some find it to be very useful, while others do not see the need for using all 43 folders and have created their own version of a tickler folder that is less cumbersome.
Paper vs. Digital: With the advent of PDAs and smartphones, one would expect that the majority of people would implement GTD electronically. In practice, the majority use a paper version for their GTD system. I believe one of the main reasons is that we live in an analog world, and not everything that we get is digital - hence, an all-digital system will have holes in it. [I personally use an all-digital system, but I know I’m in the minority.]
By the book or a modified GTD system: I find that a large number of GTD practitioners do not apply GTD by the book. Instead, they take what they found as the most useful parts of the GTD system and adopt it to suit their own needs. Two popular modified GTD systems is Lifehacker’s Simplified GTD and Leo Babauta’s Zen to Done.
These are the main points of the GTD system:
- GTD is a workflow: It is a streamlined system that many found to be effective.
- Offload from your head and onto the GTD system: GTD can help to manage the information overflow that we experience today.
- Break things down into actions: As David Allen has said, you can do actions, but you cannot to projects.
- Modify GTD to suit your needs: My recommendation is to first read the book. Then see what fits best to your needs.
- Getting Things Done Guru David Allen and His Cult of Hyperefficiency: Wired Magazine’s in-depth review of GTD and David Allen.
- Getting Started in GTD: A popular article from 43 folders.
- Five Tips for the GTD Beginner: An article I wrote listing things I wish I knew before I started GTD.
- Huge List of GTD Sites: A very comprehensive list of blogs related to GTD and productivity.