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Analyzing and Breaking Down the GTD Process

Getting Things Done has exploded in popularity recently, and has become a term that almost every worker has heard, usually from one of their stress-free co-workers.  But why is Getting Things Done so effective?  GTD is not for everyone and many if not most people use a modified version of GTD as their personal system. Modifying it is fine, but it is important to understand how and why Getting Things Done as a process works.


Lets take a look at what we are trying to accomplish from GTD.  In its most simplistic form, we are trying to start with a thought, idea, or task, and end with us completing the required action or series of actions.

Item (idea, task, thought)        >    Task Completion

Now let us look at the actual GTD process.  Personally, I believe that there are 5 major steps in this process. For each step, I will try to list a couple useful tools to help you achieve this step.  You may notice that the first and last steps  in the process are exactly what your started with. However the other three steps are what defines GTD, and makes it truly unique.

Item (idea, task, thought)    >    Recorded into temporary storage    >    Transferred to and Archived in Central System    >    Item is effectively recovered when needed    >    Task is Completed


Item (idea, task, thought)

This is pretty self-explanatory. Any idea, task, etc, that requires action in the future. The end of the cycle is completing action on this item.

Tip: See 20 Sure-Fire Ways to Come Up With Great Ideas.


Recorded to temporary storage

David Allen talks a lot about how we should always have an empty mind, and to achieve this by recording all your thoughts and other items onto pieces of paper. These recorded items are then placed in the inbox, for later processing.

Tip: Carry around a pocket notebook, PDA to record your ideas on the go. You could even use your cell phone with Jott, Twitter, or any other technique listed here.



Archived in Central System

Take the items from your inbox, or portable inbox such as a notepad, and file it into your to-do system. Basically, GTD involves filing into Actions, Waiting For, Someday Ticklers, and Reference. GTD is much more complex than this, and one of the reasons is the next step.

Tip: Buy a good stackable inbox/outbox type of paper handler. Use this as your central GTD inbox, where you put everything which you want to process. 


Item Recovered when Needed

After you have successfully filed all of your thoughts and tasks, you will want to easily summon tasks to be done. This is one of the major areas that GTD excels in. The complicated filing based on context, etc in the last step ensures that you can find relevant tasks effectively.

Tip: Paper and pencil is fine, but if you want a web-based GTD system, try Vitalist. I have spent hours searching for the best electronic system, and Vitalist is by far the best I have encountered.  


Task Completed

This step is mostly reliant on your will power and (hopefully) low levels or procrastination.  GTD has helped you thus far, but the only one who can choose whether you do it or not is you.


GTD is an amazing organization system, but it is not holy. Instead of worshipping it, understand it so that you can use it more effectively, and modify it to suit your unique needs.

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