Organization with GTD

Second in a series

In the first post in this series on Organization on Your Mac, I discussed using the out of the box solution – iCal. So what should you consider if this doesn’t seem to totally meet your needs for organization. One popular organizational method is Getting Things Done or GTD as it is commonly referred. If you are new to GTD then let’s take a look at the concepts before we talk about using them with a program on your Mac.

What is GTD?

Getting Things Done is an organizational method that was explained in a book of the same name. It was written by David Allen in 2002 and has grown increasingly popular. David has written subsequent books Ready for Anything in 2004 and Making It All Work in 2008. I think the best place to start is still the original book which does an excellent job of explaining the concepts. If you prefer, it is also available as an audiobook from or iTunes. These are links to the abridged audiobook version but there is an unabridged version available.

I highly recommend you pick up a copy of the first book in either print or audiobook version. If you like the concepts and want to build on the original book consider the other books. Check out David Allen’s web site where you can find additional resources including the free blog.

Another great resource is the site 43Folders by Merlin Mann who is well regarded as a writer and presenter. I enjoy his informal writing style that is always interesting and informative. As a strong proponent of GTD there are many great posts on his site regarding GTD.

GTD Concepts

The Getting Things Done workflow breaks down into five stages which you continually work through. Let’s take a brief look at each of these stages.


The collection stage is where you begin. Where do you collect all of the things you need to do? You likely have a combination of e-mail, calendars, to-do lists, sticky notes and – your head. David contends that you need a trusted system to get things out of your head. Have you ever had that moment where something pops in your head to remind you of something when you least expect it? Having a trusted system where you collect all these things outside of your head will help prevent those moments.

The goal is to collect everything outside of your head. Whether it is for work, home, school, church or any other area, you need a way to get it collected outside of your head. Keeping it in your head means you will spend time thinking about things you don’t want to forget rather than focusing on what you want to do. You need to trust your system and put everything into it or you’ll find things popping up unexpectedly in your head again.


OK, now you’ve collected all of these things you need to do. The next step is to determine what to do with them. David asks you to determine if there is an action that you need to do.

Take processing your e-mail as an example. There is a lot of e-mail that is just junk. Throw it in the trash. Some e-mail will be information you want to reference in the future. File it away. Some e-mail will require you to do something. If you don’t plan on doing it soon then put it in what David calls Someday/Maybe. This keeps it around for review in the future but it won’t be in the spotlight. If it is an item that you need to work on then determine the next action. If the action requires less than 2 minutes, do it right away. If it is going to take longer than 2 minutes, then write down the next actions or delegate it to someone else. Use these same steps to look at all of the things you have collected.

The goal in this stage is to get all of the important things you collected processed with a clear idea of what will be the next actions. If you don’t determine your next actions, your head will once again be reminding you at odd times that you need to do something.


After collecting and eliminating the chaff, storing items for reference, doing the quick items, and delegating you will be left with a number of things to do with their next actions. The organize stage is where you consider how to go forward and accomplish the goals you have in mind.

David recommends making projects with a list of actions. His definition of a project is not likely your traditional definition. A project under GTD is something that has more than one action. You will find many things are projects under this definition. A project may have actions that can happen in any order or actions that require a prior action to be done. A project may have due dates for certain actions. You may not be able to start an action until a certain time because you are waiting for someone else to do their part. All of these things are defined in the organize stage.

The goal of this stage is to organize actions into projects and fill out the projects with the steps involved to accomplish your goals.


Getting everything organized is great but you need to review your projects on a regular basis. Things that you are working on may require daily reviews. It is recommended to review through all of your projects including your someday/maybe items to see if anything has changed. David recommends doing this as a weekly review. If something is missing, add it in and make it complete.

The goal of this stage is keep all of your projects reviewed and current which will create trust in your system. Without reviewing your projects on a regular basis your mind will lose trust and things will start popping randomly into your head.


So now you have a way to collect, process and organize all that you need to do and you are continually reviewing the list to keep it current. Perhaps the most important part now is to actually do something. The other stages cleared your head of all the interruptions that your mind creates when there are too many things to keep to track of.

When you do things, certain requirements are needed to do an action. This is where context can help us determine what you can do next. For example, an action may require a phone or your computer to do them. You may need to be at home or at work or maybe you need to be out doing errands. By looking at both the context and the possible next actions you can focus on what you could accomplish at this moment.

The goal of this stage is to be more efficient by focusing on what can be done at any time without relying on your mind to remember it all.


The Getting Things Done concepts can be a powerful way to improve your organization and to accomplish your goals more efficiently. How you implement them can be accomplished through paper and folders, computer software or smart phones.

As you can see, GTD will expand upon what you can do in iCal alone. I’d like to tell you that I do all of these concepts completely at all times but that wouldn’t be true. I believe my desk might give me away. I can tell you that the more I use the concepts, the more I can accomplish without feeling stressed.

In the third post in this series I’ll take a look at my favorite choice for implementing GTD on the Mac – OmniFocus. This product comes from The Omni Group which has a number of well regarded Mac software products. OmniFocus is also available for the iPhone/iPod Touch and the iPad.


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