Getting Things Done - GTD

The Ultimate Guide to GTD

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
tags Capture Clarify Engage Project Management Organize Reflect

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The Ultimate Guide to GTD

Updated and expanded in May 2024.

This article is a brief but comprehensive introduction to Getting Things Done (GTD), the personal productivity methodology.

It contains the 28 most relevant points of the methodology and 59 links to articles that delve more on the most important aspects.

Why GTD?

1. Today, for most of us, there are no clear boundaries between the actions and projects we need to carry out, both in the professional and personal spheres. We have a growing number of internal and external commitments, and we need new methods, technologies and work habits to deal with them efficiently.

How does it work?

2. To manage your commitments you have to: (1) capture everything you consider unfinished in a logical and trusted system, out of your head, (2) clarify what each commitment is and decide what you are going to do with it, and (3) keep organized reminders of them in a system you can review regularly.

3. To achieve a truly productive life you must rely on an efficient organizational structure.

“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything” — Shunryu Suzuki.

4. The basic workflow is to (1) capture all the stuff that catches your attention, (2) clarify what they mean and what you want to do with them, (3) organize the results on which you will (4) reflect to choose what to (5) engage with.

Projects in GTD

5. A project is any outcome for which you need more than one action step to achieve it. Actually, you cannot do projects, you can only do actions related to them.

6. The Natural Planning of Projects is a productive way to think about those projects that require some elaboration. It creates maximum value with minimal effort and expenditure of time, and involves (1) defining the purpose—why?—and principles—values​-​-of the project, (2) visualizing the desired outcome—what?—, (3) brainstorming—how?—, (4) organizing the ideas and (5) identifying the next actions steps.


7. Capturing is about collecting anything that catches your attention in a trusted place, outside of your head.

8. For your mind to work freely, you must know that you have captured everything that might represent something you have to do, and that sometime soon you will process and review everything you captured.

“You can only feel good about what you are not doing when you know what you are not doing.” — David Allen.

9. You must capture all the things you consider incomplete in your universe; personal or professional, big or small, urgent or not.

10. To make the collection phase work you must capture 100% of your open loops, use the minimum possible amount of inboxes and empty them regularly.


11. When you let something come in your life or in your work, you make it a commitment with which you have to deal. Clarifying is the act of defining what the stuff in your inbox means, one by one, until it is empty, and deciding what you are going to do with them.

Clarify = Define + Decide

12. If the stuff does not require any action, you can (1) trash it, if it is worthless, (2) incubate it in the Someday/Maybe list or the Tickler File, if you think you might need to do something in the future or (3) keep it as Reference Material, if it is potentially useful information.

13. If the stuff does require doing something, you have to define exactly what the next action should be and (1) do it, if the action takes less than two minutes, (2) delegate it, if you are not the right person to do it or (3) defer it in order to do it at the right time.

14. If you need more than one action to get the desired result, you must add this result to the Project List, so you can be reminded that there are still things to be done.


15. To organize things that are actionable, you need a Projects List, a place to store the material support for these projects, a Calendar, a list of reminders to your Next Actions and a list of reminders to things you are Waiting For (delegated actions).

Organizing is putting everything in its place.

16. When you defer an action, you either put it on your Calendar, if it has to happen on a specific day or time, or on your Next Actions list, if it should be done as soon as possible.

17. The best way to organize your Next Actions is assigning them the context in which they must be done (office, home, laptop, etc.), so you can always know what actions can be done when you are in a certain situation.

18. The Calendar is sacred territory. If you put something there, it is because it has to be done on the date indicated.

19. To organize things that are not actionable, you need a Trash, a Someday/Maybe list, a Tickler File and a Reference Material list. To manage these lists properly, it is advisable to divide them in categories, since they tend to grow over time.

20. The Tickler File is a smart way to manage “suspended” or “future” actions, on which you want to act at a specific date, later, in the future.


21. Every organizational system must be dynamic. To be able to correctly choose your actions, you need to keep the system current. You need to review the whole picture of your life and your work at regular intervals and at the appropriate levels.

22. Every day, you will need to review your Calendar and Next Actions list organized by contexts.

23. Every week, you must review the remaining lists to keep your system clean, clear, complete and updated. The purpose of the Weekly Review is that your mind gets empty again.

24. Every so often you should review the big picture; clarifying your long-term goals and visions and principles that ultimately determine how you make your decisions.


25. The purpose of all this management and workflow is to facilitate the decision of what you should be doing at any time.

Engage = Choose

26. To choose your next action, you (1) filter the next actions you can do in the context in which you are, (2) consider the time required for every action and the time you have available, (3) consider the energy required for every action and your current energy, and (4) trust your intuition to choose the action that, under your context and your available time and energy, can produce a higher profit.

What are your priorities?

27. Priorities are not found in your tasks but in yourself. It’s about understanding what is really important at each moment to know where you should put your attention now.

28. Your priorities are set by a hierarchy of six levels of perspective, from top down: (1) your life purpose, (2) your vision of yourself in the future, (3) your medium-term goals, (4) your areas of responsibility, (5) your current projects and (6) the actions you need to do every day.

So now what?

Here you have a selection of articles that will help you better understand GTD and its philosophy:

You can also read the book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen, which led to the GTD personal productivity methodology.

To enjoy the benefits of GTD you do not need to have all this information in your mind and worry about every detail. You can try a free trial of our GTD application, in which this whole workflow is embedded in a natural way.

Francisco Sáez

Francisco is the founder and CEO of FacileThings. He is also a Software Engineer who is passionate about personal productivity and the GTD philosophy as a means to a better life.

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