Getting Things Done book

Getting Things Done (GTD) – What is it?

Getting Things Done is a productivity methodology described in the book Getting Things Done – The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, by David Allen. The methodology is often referred to as GTD.

In this post, I will try to outline the most important aspects of GTD. I have added my own personal recommendations and best practices where relevant.


What is Getting Things Done?

Getting Things Done is a system that helps you to get organized and stay productive. The basic concept is that you have one or more places to capture all of your to-do items, ideas, and commitments and that these should be gathered, organized and frequently reviewed.


The 5 steps of Getting Things Done

To get anything done you have to go through five steps. You can choose how to do this.

1. Capture

Getting Things Done list
Picture: Bigstock

Capture everything that has your attention. Examples of capturing tools are:

  • In basket
  • Email inbox
  • Evernote or OneNote
  • Calendar
  • Voice recorder
  • GTD app
    • Inbox
    • Directly into the relevant list.

Personal note

Since I always will have either my, phone, tablet or computer nearby, I find that having a shortcut to creating a new task in my GTD app (I use Todoist) makes it very easy to get my task into the right list at once. This saves time in weekly review.

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For instructions on how to best set up Todoist for GTD, see the below posts:
My Todoist GTD setup – Part 1: Projects, contexts, and actions.
My Todoist GTD setup – Part 2: Weekly Review and Focus Horizons.


GTD Getting Things Done


2. Clarify

Find out what it means. Is this actionable? If no, trash it or file it.
If yes, start by asking yourself what is the next action?

In cases where the next action takes less than two minutes to complete, do it right away. This is why you should set aside some time to the clarify-phase. If you do that, then you will achieve maximum productivity.

Last, but not least: If it takes more than two minutes and you have someone you can delegate to, you should ask yourself one question: Am I the right person to do this?  Only if the answer is yes, should you put it on one of your lists, so that you can do it at a later time. Only date-specific items should go into your calendar.

Personal note

If you have the time and do the clarification when you are adding the task in your GTD system, you will save both time and energy.

[bctt tweet=”Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them. #GTD”]


3. Organize

Get your items into the right list and set appropriate reminders. If you do your organizing right you can save a lot of time and achieve a whole new level of control and order.


Contexts are either the tools you need to get the job done, like a computer or internet access, or a physical place you need to be. I.e., at work, at home, in a specific store or in the same room as your boss.
A typical list of contexts could look something like this:

  • @Work
  • @Home
  • @Internet
  • @Computer
  • @Agenda: Boss
  • Waiting  for
  • Someday maybe

Personal note

This is where you will find that you will have to tweak your system for some time. I have played around a lot with contexts. In general, I would say; don’t start out to complex. I used to have a @internet context, thinking that this would be useful whenever I was on my phone or computer. Later I found that I tended to forget to check this context where relevant.

Today my context list looks like this:

  • Private
  • Home
  • Work
  • Cabin
  • Shopping
  • Waiting for

Private: This is outside of work, at any given location.
Home: This is the things I need to be physically at my home address to do.
Work: What I get paid to do.
Cabin: This is the things I need to be physically at my cabin to do.
Shopping: All shopping, except groceries. I have a separate app for grocery shopping.
Waiting for: Self-explanatory. All item I need to check if has been done, or if I got an answer to.

Private and work are not only physical places. I can do private stuff at the cabin or anywhere else. If I’m working from home, I’ll check the work context.

Notice that all my contexts start with uniquely different letters. This means that they will change as I type, meaning that I can fill this in very fast by using only the keyboard, not the mouse.


A project is anything that requires more than one step to be completed.
By this definition, “Paint the house” is not a to-do item. It is the end result of a project with the following actions:

  • Check if you have paint
  • Check if you have brushes
  • Find the ladder
  • Check weather forecast
  • Do the painting

By breaking it down like this, you know that you have the paint and the tools – and you know when the weather is good enough to do the painting. This makes it easy to get started once you have the time.

Personal note

This is where I failed in the beginning. What seemed self-explanatory when I added it in my system turned out to be fuzzy by the time I wanted to do them. Do not be afraid of making new projects. Small projects with clearly defined actions will only make things easier to complete.

Handle things only once

For filing paper, use a folder based system. This makes it easy and quick to find the right place to put your papers. The same goes for email. The search function is good enough so that you do not have to categorize everything.

For notes and reference material use a tool like Evernote, OneNote or Google Keep. These tools have built-in clipping functionality, making it easy to capture what you think is relevant.


4. Reflect

In order to get Getting Things Done to work, you have to review your to-do lists. A weekly review of all current projects and lists is essential.

GTD weekly review
Picture: Bigstock

Weekly Review

    • Collect all papers and materials
      Gather all accumulated business cards, receipts, and miscellaneous paper-based materials into your in-tray.
    • Get “IN” to zero
      Process all outstanding papers, journal and meeting notes, and emails.
    • Empty your head
      Put in writing and process any uncaptured new projects, action items, waiting for items, someday maybe items, etc.
    • Review your action lists
      Mark off completed actions.
    • Review the previous week in calendar
      Review past calendar week for remaining action items. Have you followed-up on what you committed to?
    • Review the upcoming week in calendar
      Review upcoming calendar events–long and short-term. Capture actions triggered.
    • Review your follow-up list
      Record appropriate actions for any needed follow-up. Check off received ones.
    • Review your projects
      Evaluate status of projects to make sure that you have at least one current action item on each.

Personal note

I think this is maybe the hardest part of Getting Things Done, but also the most rewarding one. If you succeed in this, you will succeed in GTD.

If I have little time, I sometimes will split my weekly review between work and private. In periods where I have been traveling a lot, I have done my weekly review on the plane. I found this very effective as I would be able to work without interruptions.

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For instructions on how to set up your weekly review as a project in Todoist, see
My Todoist GTD setup – Part 2: Weekly Review and Focus Horizons.



5. Engage

The final step. This is what it is all about. This is where you get shit done.
If you have problems with concentration or motivation, read my blog post on the Pomodoro method.

Personal note

I sometimes find it very motivating to go back and look at my list to see how much I got done in the span of a day. This is a bonus you get if you are good at putting all of your to-do items into your system.


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