What Is Getting Things Done? – GTD – The Art of Stress Free Productivit

There are numerous management techniques for professionals to aid them in organization and work ethics. They tend to come and go like the latest diet craze. But occasionally a management technique comes along that people swear by. One of the more popular ones today is Getting Things Done. Getting Things Done (or GTD) is a type of stress-free management technique created by author and consultant David Allen. The system is laid out and described in a book bearing the same name. It is designed to help people who are overworked and overloaded with tasks to be able to operate at a stress-free level. The system was developed by David Allen over a course of several years. The basics of the principle is to organize and create an inventory of all of your commitments, listing them externally. It is a very simple and flexible technique that hopefully will help to make you more productive. So how does it work? How does one go about implementing it in their daily work routine? Let’s take a look at how GTD is set up to help.

How Does “Getting Things Done” Work

The main point about GTD is dealing with “stuff”. Stuff is all of those things that float around in your head taking up space, and clogging the mental gears. Stuff is distracting and can pile up. In the most basic of terms, the first method of dealing with all this stuff is to identify it. Next, you want to get rid of all the stuff that isn’t yours. Basically, if it isn’t your problem, don’t worry about it. There are other things to take up you time. Also, if it is stuff you don’t need right now, get rid of it, too. After that you want to create a place that is appropriate for your working style to put all of this stuff. Once you have it all organized, you can take care of each item of stuff in a way that is time efficient for you.

Our Reminder System


According to David Allen, our mental “reminder system” is not efficient enough to keep up with all of our different tasks. When there are too many items crowding out head, our mental reminder system seldom reminds us of items in a timely fashion. Thus, by creating an external list of all of our tasks, it frees up our minds and makes it easier to keep track of everything.

Three Models for Success

David Allen does not stress priorities in GTD. Instead, he focuses more on control and perspective. According to the system, there are three models to use to go about gaining control and perspective in your work. You can create a workflow process, a framework that six different levels of focus, and have a natural planning method.

The workflow process consists of five different principles: collect, process, organize, review, and do. In the collect phase, you want to get, or collect, some of the stuff that is floating in your head and record it physically somehow. You can do this by writing down in a notebook, putting it in your email, leaving a note on the refrigerator, or whatever works for you. Allen refers to this physical place as your bucket. Once you have it recorded somewhere, you can act on it and keep track of it. Every week, you should empty your bucket of all tasks that you have completed.

The process phase refers to how you deal with your bucket. According to GTD, you start at the top of the list and work your way down. You deal with the items one at a time and never put an item back in the bucket once you take it out to deal with it. The system uses a “two-minute rule” which means that if a task only takes two minutes to complete, you should do it immediately.

The organize phase deals with exactly what it sounds like: organization. For every task that you complete, you need to organize a follow-up task. Other tasks can be broken down into ongoing projects, waiting for tasks that have been delegated to others, and then the tasks that are to be completed someday but not immediately.

The review phase is all about reviewing your list of tasks every day to evaluate your process. By reviewing your list of tasks, you can keep up with anything new that comes up and track those items that you have delegated to others or are otherwise waiting on.

The do phase is very simple. It means, don’t just spend your time organizing and reviewing. Do it. Get to work and get the tasks completed.

Besides the five methods above, Allen’s GTD also uses focus to gain control and perspective in one’s work. There are six levels of focus that are implemented. These levels of focus help to keep your eye on the big picture, so to speak. The levels of focus are Current Actions, Current Projects, Areas of Responsibility, Yearly goals, 5 Year Vision, and Life Goals.

The last model that GTD stresses to retain control and perspective is planning. Most of the time, the first two models are sufficient enough to do the job. Sometimes, though, when there is a particularly difficult task, you need to plan. The planning method has five different stages:

  1. Defining the purpose and principles
  2. Envisioning the outcome
  3. Brainstorming
  4. Organizing
  5. Identifying the next actions to take

Use of Folders

Allen also mentions the use of the 43 Folders method. This is the use of 12 folders for each month of the year. From there, you use one folder for each day of the month. Thus, 43 folders in all. You can easily keep track of tasks by placing them in appropriate folders that you can check on a daily and monthly basis. This is just one more method to help you keep track of your externalist.

Reviewing Your Work

GTD stresses daily and weekly reviews of your work. You should review your work from all angles, both horizontal (which is side to side scanning of all new tasks) and vertical (to-do list from top to bottom). This is to make sure that your levels of work are all acting in concert and you are not neglecting any tasks.

Software Support

You don’t have to keep an external list recorded on paper somewhere. With the popularity of the Getting Things Done system, there has been a large number of supportive software appear on the market that can be used with the system. This software handles stuff from project planning, brainstorming, list managers, and task outlining. There are also web sites that offer services dealing with GTD.

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