GTD in 15 minutes – A Pragmatic Guide to Getting Things Done
          Table of contents
            * What is “GTD”?
            * The “in” list
            * Processing the “in” list
            * The “next actions” list
            * The “waiting for” list
            * Projects
            * Contexts
                * Agenda contexts
            * The “some day/maybe” list
            * Calendar
            * Weekly review
                * Trigger lists
            * Getting it to work
            * Tools
                * Read/review folder
                * Tickler file
            * About this guide
          What is “GTD”?
          GTD—or “Getting things done”—is a framework for organizing and
          tracking your tasks and projects. Its aim is a bit higher than just
          “getting things done”, though. (It should have been called “Getting
          things done in a much better way than just letting things happen,
          which often turns out not to be very cool at all”.) Its aim is to make
          you have 100% trust in a system for collecting tasks, ideas, and
          projects—both vague things like “invent greatest thing ever” and
          concrete things like “call Ada 25 August to discuss conference
          schedule”. Everything!
          Sound like all other run-of-the-mill to-do list systems, you say? Well
          in many ways it is, but there is more to it, and it’s really simple.
          Promise! So please read on.
          One of the basic assumptions of GTD is that you are dumb—or, rather,
          that your subconsciousness is quite dumb when it comes to thinking
          about things you should do. For example knowing you need to get your
          watch repaired, but instead of reminding you when you actually bike
          past the watch store, it implants an incessant feeling of “I need to
          remember … something” in your brain.
          [1]Jessica Kerr put it perfectly:
            Pretend your brain is a white board. Is it covered with to-do
            lists and “DO NOT ERASE”? Is there space for drawing and combining
          A great part of the “magic” is to convert both tasks and whims into
          physical and visible actions as you soon will see.
          What GTD gives you—when understood and implemented properly—is a
          foolproof system for keeping track of what you need to do, should do,
          or should consider to do. When your system and your trust in your
          system is in place, your subconsciousness will stop keeping track of
          all the things you need to do and stop constantly reminding you. This
          reduces stress and frees up precious brain time to more productive
          thinking—maybe it even saves real time so that you have more time for
          ballet lessons, painting classes, and roller-blading.
          lists! Awesome! So how does it actually work? It works by using
          special yoga techniques and daily mental exercises. No, haha! Just
          kidding. It works by simply maintaining lists, which every kid with
          paper and a pencil can do. Even computers can maintain lists these
          You will have to make the following lists:
            1. In
            2. Next actions (probably several – more on that later)
            3. Waiting for
            4. Projects
            5. Some day/maybe
          These lists will be reviewed regularly and form the backbone of the
          GTD system. Their workings are described below. In addition to the
          lists you will need a calendar which lets you write down date and time
          sensitive tasks and events.
          The “in” list
          The in list is where you capture ideas and tasks as they occur to you.
          This can be your boss telling you to bake her a carrot cake, or seeing
          a poster for a circus you want to see. The barrier for adding
          something to your in list should be as low as possible—jot it down in
          a notebook or press the right buttons on your smartphone. While I have
          called it the in list, it is no problem to have more than one. Maybe
          an app for when you are in front of a computer and a notebook for when
          you loiter outside the mall? The important thing is that you are able
          to write down things as they occur to you. We want to offload work
          from the brain, remember?
          When you first start to use GTD you should take an hour to write down
          all things you want to—or have to—do. These so-called open loops
          include all things that aren’t as they should be, where they should
          be, and so on. Do you need to replace your toothbrush? Return the tea
          cup you borrowed from your aunt? Should you repaint your bed in
          another colour? All these things should go on your in list.
          Processing the “in” list
          If you have just started to use GTD and collected tonnes of items in
          your in list during the initial “brain-emptying”, processing can take
          a while. From now on the in list will be processed continuously.
          The items on your in list should be processed one by one in the order
          they appear on your list. When processing an item in your in list the
          first question you need to ask is: is it actionable?—in other words,
          do you need to do something? If the answer is NO, you either throw it
          away if you no longer need it, keep it as reference material (“I will
          probably need this article again some day…”), add it to a some
          day/maybe list (for things like “learn Indonesian”), or incubate it.
          Wait, what‽ Sit on it? Yes, sort of. If it’s something that you want
          to remind yourself about later (“I really didn’t understand this
          article, I should have a look at it again in two weeks”) it should go
          into your calendar or your tickler file which will soon be explained.
          (Yes, even the weird name.)
          Now, if the item you’re currently processing is actionable—in other
          words: something should be done about it—you should ask the question “what
          is the next action?” The next action needs to be a physical and
          visible action. In other words, not “plan cake lottery”, but “e-mail
          Arthur and Camille and remind them to bake their cakes”.
          This very thing—that a next action should be the next physical,
          visible action to move the project closer to its goal—is perhaps the
          most important “rule” in GTD. By using a few extra seconds to come up
          with what physically needs to be done, you make sure that your “next
          action” lists will only contain the things you can choose to do at any
          moment. The “pre-processing” has already been done (the actions
          themselves may very well be planning tasks, though) and this greatly
          lowers the resistance to do the things.
          When you have determined the next action, you should consider if it
          takes less than two minutes to do it. If this is the case: do it.
          Right away. (Things like “e-mail funny cat video to grandma”.) The
          reason for this is simple: if the action takes two minutes or less,
          the overhead of tracking it will be large compared to how long it
          takes to just do it. If it does take more than two minutes you should
          delegate it if appropriate—noting what was delegated, and when, on a
          waiting for list—or add it to your own next actions list of things you
          want to do as soon as you have the time and energy. Unless your secret
          superpower is delegation, next actions is probably where most things
          will end up. If the open loop will take more than one action to close,
          the overall goal should also be noted on a projects list which will be
          explained in a few sections.
          To summarize, when processing your in list(s), you should follow this
          The GTD workflow: open loops are collected in the in list, processed,
          and—if it’s an action—it’s done immediately, deferred, or delegated.
          If the item being processed require more than one action it’s recorded
          in the projects list as well.
          The “next actions” list
          So what’s the next actions list? Well, uh… a list of your next
          actions, obviously. Another name for these actions is
          “as-soon-as-possible actions”—it is simply those things from which you
          will pick what to work on when you are not watching funny cat videos
          on YouTube or playing Candy Crush Saga.
          The “waiting for” list
          When you delegate work to others, send an e-mail you expect (or need)
          a reply to, order something, or have a task that is “blocked” because
          you are waiting for someone else to do something, it should be written
          down on your waiting for list. These items should always be marked
          with the current date so that you’ll be able to e-mail your co-worker
          Marvin and say “I’m still waiting for the WTF report you said you’d
          finish within a month. That was 32 days ago!”.
          If you’re still with me you might be worried about the fact that a
          “research artificial intelligence textbooks” action on your next
          actions list is all that is written down about your plan to take over
          the world. Wouldn’t it be easy to lose track once that action is done
          and erased from your list? Yes, it kinda would. That’s where the
          projects list comes in.
          GTD’s definition of a project is very broad. It defines any objective
          that requires more than one action to complete as a project. These
          projects should go on your projects list. This list is simply a list
          of project titles and—if you like—descriptions and intended outcomes
          of the projects. When reviewing the projects list, you will make sure
          that there is always at least one action on your next actions list for
          each project, thus making sure that your projects make progress and
          aren’t forgotten.
          computer! Contexts are “tags” you put on the items on your next
          actions lists saying where the action can be done, or what equipment
          you need to perform it. An action can be “tagged” with a context in
          several ways; the easiest is probably to simply have different next
          actions lists—one for each context. If you use a newfangled electronic
          list manager you can often have a “smart” lists for each tag—yielding
          the same result. (With so-called smartphones it’s probably even
          possible to use its location awareness to only present actions whose
          context match your current location. If so: that is amazing! We live
          in the future!)
          It is common to prefix contexts with an ‘@’ which makes sense when the
          context is a location, but should just be thought of as a notation in
          other cases. Examples of contexts are @ home, @ computer, and @ office.
          Examples of actions and their contexts
          Buy more rainbow-coloured dog food
          @ city or @ store
          @ computer or @ the world wide webs
          Smile to a stranger
          @ everywhere
          How many contexts you need depend on how many next actions you will
          have and how your work day looks like. The important thing is to be
          able to assess—at a glance—what your possible actions are depending on
          where you physically are and what equipment you have available. It can
          also be a good idea to make an “everywhere” context for things you can
          do no matter where you are (“Call mum to discuss Iceland trip”).
          Agenda contexts
          If you have regular meetings with people, it can be beneficial to have
          “agenda contexts”—one for each person—where you note down the things
          you want to talk about during the next meeting as you think of them.
          For example, if you have a weekly meeting with Foobert, you might
          consider having a “@ Foobert Agenda” context. These contexts will of
          course change as your team/managers/supervisors, etc. change.
          The “some day/maybe” list
          You don’t want to lose your million-dollar idea of making a “jump to
          conclusions” mat, but since this is a project you want to realize when
          you have more time, you don’t want to have it “pollute” your next
          actions lists or your list of projects either. (Remember that the next
          actions only contains the things that should be done as soon as
          possible and that your projects list will be reviewed regularly to
          make sure that all projects have at least one next action.)
          This is where the some day/maybe list comes it. This list simply
          contains ideas and projects you might want to realize at some time in
          the future. This is where both “replace ugly painting in bedroom” and
          “start a cult” should go. (Assuming—of course—that you don’t want to
          do either of those things right now.) This list should be reviewed
          weekly along with the rest of the system as described in the weekly
          review section below.
          calendar! The calendar is for things you have to do on a certain date
          or at a certain time—and nothing else! That’s right; no putting
          “install Bonzibudddy” on your calendar for next Wednesday if you just
          think you want to have it done then.
          But… why‽
          By only having items that really are time and date sensitive on your
          calendar it will be more useful, since it will actually tell you the
          things you have to do a certain day without being “diluted” with other
          items. The thing you want to do, but that doesn’t need to be done at a
          certain time will be on your next actions list anyway, so you will be
          reminded about it and have the chance to do it.
          Weekly review
          David Allen’s book on GTD calls the weekly review a “critical factor
          for success” and he is not joking. If you start using the GTD
          framework and you are not a robot, things will start to slip. You will
          complete the next action of a project and forget to add a new “next
          action” for that project. You will forget to remove next actions that
          you—if you really thought about it—know that you won’t do in the near
          future after all, and so on.
          The weekly review should be done—you guessed it—once per week. It will
          take a while, so you should ideally set off some time (probably at
          least 30 minutes) in advance, for example Friday or Sunday afternoons.
          When doing the weekly review you should at least do the following:
            * Make sure each project has at least one next action.
            * Make sure that each action on your next actions list is actually
              something you want or need to do if you have the time during the
              coming week. If not, move it (and/or the project it belongs to) to
              your someday/maybe list or—if you don’t think you will ever do
              it—remove it completely. (Be honest with yourself.)
            * Look through your someday/maybe list and see if some
              projects/actions should be moved to the list of current
              projects/the next actions list. (If you’re adding a new project on
              your projects list, make sure to figure out its next physical,
              visible action and put it on the next actions list as well.)
          Trigger lists
          When doing the weekly review it can be a good idea to work through a
          “trigger list”. A trigger list is simply a list of key words to
          “trigger” your brain to remember any open loops you still haven’t
          captured in your system. A trigger list could look like the following:
            * Boss
            * Co-workers
            * Projects started, not completed
            * Projects that need to be started
            * People I need to get back to
            * …
          When working through your trigger list, put anything that you remember
          in your in list to be processed afterwards.
          An example of a trigger list can be seen at [2]Lifehacker’s trigger
          list for students. You probably want to customize your own list as you
          get more experience and learn what works best for you.
          Getting it to work
          To actually get your GTD system to work there are some important “best
          practices” you are advised to follow. As you start getting comfortable
          with using GTD you can be a bit more lenient if you believe that it
          would be better.
            * It is important that you have hard edges between your lists. If
              you often find yourself wondering which context a next action
              belongs to you might want to reconsider your contexts.
            * Your tools should be fun to use—but not too fun(!). If you have a
              slow and complicated tool for managing your lists you will
              subconsciously resist collecting small tasks, and if your tool is
              too fun to use you will end up over-using it and spend time
              playing with its amazing features. Find something that works for
          The read/review folder and tickler file are two tools which—while they
          aren’t directly part of the GTD method—may be beneficial to use
          together with GTD.
          Read/review folder
          You will probably have quite a few “read [some document]” actions on
          your next actions list. A read/review folder is simply a folder
          (physical or digital) that contains the papers, documents, and
          anything else you want to read. The idea is to have this material
          available whenever you have a few minutes to kill. In the dentist’s
          waiting room? Waiting for your food at a café? Both are perfect
          opportunities to peruse the paper on Periophthalmus modestus phylogeny
          or pretend to read the memo from your boss!
          It is really important to have “sharp edges” here, too. Only the
          things you actually want to read when you have the time should be put
          in this folder so that you actually will pick it up during those
          little windows of free time that show up during the day.
          Tickler file
          Tickle! This strangely-named concept is simply a collection of 43
          (physical) file folders. Why 43? Because that means that you can have
          one for each of the 31 days of a month plus one for each of the 12
          months of the year. If you’re reaching for your calculator now—just
          trust me on the number 43.
          So what are these folders used for? The idea is that you can place
          physical items you will need on a specific day (tickets for the
          concert), reminders of things you possibly want do on a specific date
          (remember, the calendar is only for things that have to be done on a
          specific date/time), or the notes from the lecture you didn’t really
          understand (“I will want to review these in a week when my
          subconsciousness has chewed on it for a while”).
          Every day when you get up, you open the folder with the current date.
          You then pocket your concert tickets, decide that you do want to take
          the dog to the dog hairdresser today, but push the lecture notes back
          three days since you don’t have time right now. Having emptied the
          folder, you place it in the back, bringing tomorrow’s folder to the
          front. At the end of each month, you open the folder for the new month
          and deal with its contents—like putting items in the correct day
          The tickler file thus provides a way to send yourself reminders in the
          future—tickling your memory. A-ha!
          About this guide
          This guide was written to serve as a simple, pragmatic guide to the
          “getting things done” method. This run-through of the GTD method is
          meant to be brief. It’s written from one person’s perspective and
          other people would probably assess the importance of different aspects
          of GTD differently.
          If you want a complete overview of GTD you would be wise to read David
          Allen’s book which formalized the method he developed: “Getting Things
          Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” ([3]Amazonimage, [4]Kindle
          Storeimage, [5]Bookdepository, [6]Google Books, [7]Wikipedia).
          The guide’s visual style was inspired by Miran Lipovača’s excellent
          guide to the Haskell programming language “[8]Learn You a Haskell for
          Great Good!”.
          The guide is written in [9]Markdown and I use [10]pandoc to generate
          HTML. To get in touch with me, send me an email to erlendα