David Allen's Getting things done system has been a staple of the productivity space for over two decades now. However, as anyone that has attempted to implement his system can tell you, it's not the simplest system to start using. This guide provides a simpler and more straightforward version of his system that we think is a great alternative for anyone that has tried and failed to use the GTD method.
There are two main obstacles that hold a lot of people back from sticking to the system.
The first is that the GTD system requires you to develop and maintain several new habits in order to keep the system working. That's not an easy feat, especially for folks that are already having trouble getting organized.
Second, it's a complex system. Simply google 'GTD flowchart' to see for yourself. Getting things done is made up of many steps and requires you to make a lot of decisions in order for you to experience the benefit. For most people, that's simply too steep of a learning curve to get over.
That being said, the majority of the benefits of the GTD system can be achieved even if we strip down some of that complexity and streamline the process. That's what this guide aims to do.
GTD Lite is a pared down version of the full-fledged system that aims to give you 80% of the benefit for 20% of the effort. We also have a guide that much more closely sticks to the original system if you prefer. For everyone else, onward!
As we mentioned in the intro, the GTD method introduced some key ideas that we want to keep in our version of the system. Those ideas are:
These are the ideas that give us most of the benefit from the original system. What we'll do is take these and use a much simpler version than what the full GTD method prescribes. The idea is to reduce the number of new habits you'll have to build and keep only those parts that are absolutely essential.
Let's go over the parts that make up our GTD Lite system and then move on to how they work together in our template.
If you've used the GTD system before, this should be familiar. The inbox is the place we can dump all those things that we've got running around our minds. Those are usually tasks we need to do, important dates, and projects. Whenever you think of something you need to do, just drop it in your inbox.
The Tasks list
This is where most of our tasks and projects will live. Any item that you need to complete within the next 7 days goes here. New items will go from the inbox into our task list and any subtasks are then added. Items are tagged as the move from the inbox to the tasks list so they're ready to go when you're in "getting things done" mode.
The Scheduled list
Any project or item that has a due date goes in this section. Also, any item that you want to get to at some time in the future goes here. In this section we'll also add a date tag to the items so they'll show up when we filter our lists. If the item doesn't have a fixed due date, simply pick one. For example, if it's something that you want to get to in the next three months, tag it with the first day of the third month. Don't worry too much about specific dates for those items.
The Someday list
This list is for all those tasks or projects that you'd like to get to but you're really not sure if you ever will. In other words, this is the 'Nice to do but not necessary' list. Hobbies, holidays, activities, etc. There's no need to tag these items.
And that's it, those are all the main parts of the system, the flow we'll describe next is equally simple and straightforward.
Capture using your inbox
Anytime you think of something you need to do or should do, drop it into your inbox. The idea is to get it out of your head so you can stop thinking about it until it's useful to do so.
Clear your inbox
At the start of each day, you'll open up your inbox and do some quick sorting. The process is pretty simple. If any of the items in your inbox aren't tasks or projects or reminders, feel free to either delete them or move them to another part of your Workflowy for reference.
If the task is due within the next 7 days, go ahead and drop it in the 'tasks' section. If the item only has a single step, tag it with #next and that's it. If the item is a project with multiple steps, go ahead and add those now then tag the very first step with #next.
If the item has a due date or you know roughly when you want to get to it in the future, drop it in the 'schedule' section and tag it with the due date. You create a date tag by typing in a date and then hitting 'Tab' on your keyboard when the date widget pops up. If you need to do something before the due date arrives, also tag that item with #next. If it's a project that has a due date with subtasks you need to do before then, add those as subtasks and tag the very next thing you need to do with #next.
For items that you don't need to do soon and don't have a set date or even a rough idea of when to get to them, drop those in the 'someday' section.
Tag your next tasks
Scan your 'tasks' list for any project that have items without a #next tag and add the tag to the very next incomplete item.
Work on your next tasks
Once you've cleared out your inbox and marked the next tasks for ongoing projects, you then click the 'Next' link at the top of your system (we'll show you how to set this up). This will sort your lists and show you all the next items you should work on and any items with date tags for the current week.
As you complete tasks, you'll mark them off and move on to the next item marked with #next.
The weekly review
The last part of this process is the weekly review. This is where we'll step back and go through the different sections of the system to do a bit of cleaning and organizing. What day you decide to do this isn't as important as making sure you do it regularly.
We'll start from the top with the inbox and go down from there.
For the inbox section, simply take a moment to reflect on any items that you might have missed. Is there anything you've been meaning to do but forget to add to your system? How are things currently going in your life, do you need to add any projects or tasks to resolve any issues or improve anything?
Once you've added any pending items, you move on to the tasks section. Here you'll check that all your projects have the next incomplete item tagged with #next.
Next you'll check the 'scheduled' section and again make sure every project that has incomplete items has the next item tagged with #next.
And finally you'll check the 'someday' section to see if there are any items that you either want to schedule, add to your tasks list, or simple delete.
For this step, you'll want to save the GTD Lite template we've provided to your Workflowy account. We'll need to add just a couple of things to have it ready to go.
At the top of the template you should see the words 'Next' and 'Clear'. We're going to turn each of those into links so you can quickly filter your lists and also clear the filter.
Setting up the Clear filter link
Workflowy only searches at the current zoom level and further down, not above. So first just zoom in to where you're going to keep your GTD Lite system. In other words, click on the bullet that holds your GTD system. If you haven't changed the template's name, it should be 'GTD Lite'.
Go to the url bar and copy the current url. it should be something like 'workflowy.com/#/12a34b'.
Now, highlight the text at the top of your template that reads 'Clear' and select the 'Link' option. Here's you'll paste the url you just copied and click 'Apply'. This link will now take you to your GTD Lite section without any filters.
Setting up the Next link
Now we'll create the 'Next' filter.
Start by copying and pasting '#next OR this week' into the Workflowy search box. Then, without clearing the search, copy the current url. it should be something like 'workflowy.com/#/12a34b?q=%23next%20OR%20this%20week'.
Now, highlight the text in the template at the top that reads 'Next' and choose the link option. Here, you'll paste the url you just copied and click 'Apply'.
Clicking this link will apply two filters. It will show us only items that have the #next tag and any item that has a date tag that falls within this week. This is so items that are in your 'scheduled' section that are coming up will be surfaced a little ahead of time, even if they don't have a #next tag.
So now you should have two working links, one that filters your tasks and scheduled items, and another that clear the filter when you want to see everything.
Auto-hiding complete items
The last thing we want to do is turn off the 'Show completed' option so complete items are automatically hidden and don't show up when you use the filter.
In the top-right of the menu bar you should see an icon that looks like a checkmark. if you mouse over it you'll se a dropdown with a toggle that reads 'Show completed'. You want to click this checkmark icon to turn that option off. Now, when you complete an item, it'll automatically hide. You can unhide all these items by simply turning the option on again.
You should now have everything you need to get started using the GTD Lite method and getting things done! As you can see, our version borrows several important ideas from the original method while still keeping everything simple and streamlined.
We recommend you start with this version and only try the full GTD method if you feel like it's not enough to handle everything you're throwing at it. For most people however, this should be enough to give you most of the benefits without the steep learning curve.
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