You’ve probably heard of David Allen’s famous productivity method, Getting Things Done (GTD). But implementing it in our lives is a whole different matter. This quick fluff free walk-through will give you an idea of how easy it is to get started and why you should bother.

The essence of GTD is never ‘having to remember’ something. Everything that’s important to do or remember goes into a task list or calendar when you first come across it.

Your daily actions are always based on a prioritized task list rather than what you happen to remember to do or what turns up in your inbox.

Once you have a system to control the tasks coming at you every day, you can start to prioritize work and deal with things in the right context rather than whenever you happen to remember them.


Keeping it simple

Your first GTD ‘system’ can be as simple as you like. That’s why ActiveInbox gives you just three task lists to add things to.

  1. ‘To-do’, for – you guessed it – anything you need to do.
  2. ‘Waiting On’  for anything out of your hands that you need to keep track of and follow up.
  3. ‘Today’ list which shows any tasks with a reminder due today.

To this simple setup you can add a ‘Someday’ list for things of lower importance, and a ‘Next’ List for the most important tasks.

The Today list assumes you have a way of adding reminders to your tasks which ActiveInbox gives you in Gmail. You can also use a calendar for all task reminders. Though most task management apps give you reminders in one way or another, not many of them deliver reminders as a task list for the day.


It’s all about lists

GTD emphasizes that you should organize tasks in lists rather than trying to schedule them for specific times in your week ahead.

The reasoning is that tasks are not static – for instance, they change as you do them and realize there’s more work involved than you assumed, or they change because of an external factor like someone emailing you to include a new requirement. A task list ranked in order of priority can adapt easily to these changes. There are fewer assumptions made about what the task involves or how long it will take. But the key strength is that when new task come in they can be slotted in easily without complicated re-adjustments.

And lastly

Once a week (or more frequently), look through your core task lists and update them. This is critical to the success of a task list based system. There’s no point in keeping lists if things go stale on them and get forgotten because the list gets overloaded with too many things or out of date things.

That’s it.

There is a lot more to read about around GTD and many different recommendations and process refinements. But its important to get into a habit implementing the basics before moving forward with anything else.

Once you are ready for the next step

Once you start using your lists a lot you may find they get overloaded. A task list with 30 items on it is not good news as prioritizing becomes more difficult the more there is to contextualize and sift.

The way to deal with this volume is to start grouping tasks where there are lots of related tasks into projects. A project is a group of to-do items or waiting on items that have the same larger eventual goal – for instance writing a book. You can split this list into sub-projects also, for instance one for each chapter of the book.

This is where GTD can start to get complex and potentially clunky – it is a challenge to keep track of all the various lists in each project as well as your main lists for tasks not related to a single larger project. Reminders can become essential for unearthing tasks you may have otherwise overlooked.

It is also wise to try and keep the number of projects to an absolute minimum. Only create one if you have lots of task in your main list that can be grouped to together. Otherwise it is usually best to leave them on your main lists.


If a lot of your work revolves around email and you use Gmail, you can try a 2 week trial of ActiveInbox and get the process started now.

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This was written by Andy Mitchell