8 Tips to Implement GTD

By Francisco Sáez • February 04, 2013

GTD is a personal productivity methodology easy to learn because everything it teaches is common sense, but difficult to practice, at least at the beginning. You must implement a series of habits, and creating habits you do not have yet can be tough. It is a bit like starting to exercise or quit smoking. It is easy to get started because we all understand the benefits for our health, and it is also easy to abandon after a while if we fail to establish the habit.

Here are some tips on how to implement GTD. I think they may be helpful both for those who are starting or want to start to use GTD and those who already use it and have the feeling that it does not work as well as it should:

1. You must have intentionality. As I said, to successfully implement GTD you will have to create or eliminate habits, and this takes work, time and discipline. Of course, the benefit will be directly proportional to your investment, but it is not free. Are you ready? Are you committed to do whatever you have to do to achieve your goal? If you are just trying, not intending, you will surely lose your time.

2. Read the book first… but read it well. Getting Things Done is the David Allen’s book that explains the GTD methodology. Do not read it like a novel, because you will not remember half of the lessons after the reading. It is a book to learn, so make it a productive reading. Highlight the most relevant sentences, make short summaries and outlines, and make lists of actions you should start to do, as you read.

3. Care about the method, not the technology. Many people recommend to get started with a low-tech approach, and buy good equipment and supplies (folders, inboxes, filing cabinets, etc.), which require a lot of space. It is not necessary, unless you particularly like that way of working. Of course, you will need some basic equipment (a physical inbox, a notebook and a pen, at least) but you do not need you to go back to the twentieth century. There are software applications that you can hook to your email and your working tools in the cloud, which, in combination with your computer, tablet and smartphone, will make things much easier. FacileThings is a great choice to start with GTD because, besides allowing you collect and organize all your tasks in one place, it will guide you to implement the method the right way.

“One of the best tricks for enhancing your personal productivity is having organizing tools that you love to use.” ~ David Allen

4. Make an initial capture. David Allen recommends an initial capture of 100% of the stuff you have outstanding, which may well require a couple of days. That is a pretty tough exercise and I do not think it is totally necessary. You can make an initial capture of everything that comes to your mind for, say, a couple hours and then capture the remainder incrementally, as they show up. If you do your Weekly Reviews properly, the initial capture will be corrected and before long you will have 100% of your stuff on your system without going through a process so stressful. The collecting stage is always the entry point to GTD. If you ever fall off the wagon, the way to jump on in is to collect all your current stuff again, emptying your mind.

5. Process and organize your initial capture. Take a break, because this will also take some time, but when you are done you will get your GTD system up and running. For each of the things you have collected, you should think about exactly what it is, write it clearly and place it in the appropriate list (or do it, if it can be done in less than two minutes).

6. Play with the five stages of the workflow. Collect, process, organize, review, do. In the early days of implementation, repeat as often as you can the whole workflow to assimilate it well, but above all, to feel the benefits of the methodology. Everything under control without stress.

7. Now that you have control, go for the perspective. After a few weeks in which you have mastered the control workflow and have achieved some stability, it is time to go a step further. Everything you do, your every day projects and tasks, should obey higher goals and give meaning to your life. It is what is called perspective or vertical focus in GTD. Now you can define your purpose, goals and areas of responsibility, and make sure your projects and actions are aligned with them. If not, you may be living the life others want you to live, and that is not cool.

8. Final advice: Make it simple. Do not try to be perfect. Too much analysis can lead to paralysis and even to loathe your organization. Use the minimum possible amount of tools, because the mental work you must do to keep a set of systems in equilibrium can be overwhelming. Reduce the number of inboxes to a minimum (ideally one), because if you have to visit several places to process all your stuff, you will get fed up soon. Use the minimum amount of contexts and categories for your classification to be useful, but not cumbersome.

About the author

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Francisco Sáez (@franciscojsaez) is the founder and CEO of FacileThings. He is also a web developer specializing in Ruby on Rails who is passionate about personal productivity and GTD as a means to a better life.

2 comments so far

Brain Cutlery
Commented over a year ago

Great summary! I would add that it helps to focus on the principles of GTD rather than to get every detailed trick embedded.

People think that GTD is strict and complicated, and it can be; but it's possible to pick and choose the bits that work for you if you've taken the time to absorb and understand Allen's fundamental principles.

I haven't managed to get down to one inbox, in fact I'll be posting this week about how I've come to have four, and how I make that work.

Francisco Sáez
Commented over a year ago

I totally agree with you, Brain. In fact, I've added to my Someday/Maybe list to blog about the GTD fundamental principles. Thanks!

Yeah, I also have several inboxes. There's no way to reduce them, but I've managed to redirect all the stuff to one place, where I do the processing. I look forward to reading your insights on this matter.

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