GTD and Me: a Confession, and a Plan

I have a confession to make. I think I’m one of the most disorganised, chaotic and un-disciplined people I know. Or at least I would be, given half an excuse.

The good news is, about eight years ago I acknowledged that I had a problem and decided to bloody well do something about it. And that something was to start using David Allen’s stress-free productivity system: GTD.

Here’s a short video of David at a TED Conference (I think 2005 or 2006), explaining the essential problem faced by most of us and outlining the basics of his solution: 

I bought a copy of David Allen‘s book Getting Things Done and I don’t think it’s too hyperbolic to say that it changed my life. I learned that said life didn’t have to be a maelstrom of mess and unfinished business, because now I had a systematic method with which to take control of my commitments, make effective decisions about priority actions and generally Get Things Done.

And yes, GTD really is incredibly liberating. It really does enable you to get a sense of perspective, take control of your life and find a way to move forwards. I suppose in that sense it’s similar to other recovery programmes designed to help people facing life-affecting problems.

Which brings me to another confession. Over the past eight years, I’ve fallen off the GTD wagon, several times. Oh, I’ve always known what I ought to be doing, and I’ve still always pad lip-service to the idea that I was a GTD’er. But the actual practice of GTD takes organisation, order and discipline to maintain on a regular basis. Just like anything else worthwhile, any other positive habit or lifestyle change that you want to effect, you have to stick with it. And I haven’t always done that.

So, here’s the plan: this week I’ve drawn a line in the sand. I’m going back to the start of the process, taking a fresh perspective and re-booting my personal GTD system. I’ve given myself permission to spend as much un-committed time this week as I need to going over the first principles of the GTD Workflow:

  1. Collect – Get everything I currently have on my mind out of my head and onto paper and into a physical or electronic collection system.
  2. Process – Identify the projects, outcomes and next actions for each actionable item in the inbox.
  3. Organise – Assign contexts to actionable items. Sort and file non-actionable items in a system I can rely on for future reference.
  4. Review – Assign time for a Weekly review of projects. Re-establish my ‘tickler file’ system and set reminders to check it daily.
  5. Do – Get Things Done.

I’ll be talking about the process involved and offering a progress report in a future post or two.

I may have fallen off the GTD wagon, but I’m getting back on it, and this time I aim to stay there. As David Allen says, at least I already have a wagon to clamber on to…

If you’re interested in taking a look at GTD, take a look at the or check out the GTD Times blog for short taster articles. You can thank me next time you see me.

(I’m not affiliated with David Allen, DavidCo or a GTD re-seller. I’m just someone who makes use of the system and uses it to prevent my head exploding on a regular basis.)

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Freelance Webguy at Darren Turpin Ltd
Darren is a freelance website content manager, online strategist and general-purpose Wordpress wrangler, based in Manchester, UK. In his spare time, when he's not on the allotment or down the pub, he keeps the Greater Manchester Ale News website topped up with news, What's On info and features.

2 comments to GTD and Me: a Confession, and a Plan

  • Mike

    Good luck on getting back on the wagon. GTD changed my life also. I was very disorganised which made my depression far worse.

    I use Evernote as my GTD app. I use tags to implement part of David’s system. Tags like @work, @home, @errands, @phone etc really help. It took a bit of fine-tuning to set up Evernote to work well with Evernote.

    My default notebook in Evernote is called ‘Collection Box’. This is where I forward any emails that are actions or information that needs storing.

    The other epiphany for me was when someone said that inboxes (email and SMS) should be emptied each night. I had tens of thousands of emails, now I have zero in my inbox. This is blissful. No email gets lost in the inbox now. If someone wants me to do something then email or text are the most reliable way to increase the likelihood of my reliability. I always tell people to email me if they want me to do something. From there it gets forwarded to my Evernote ‘Collection Box’. I then process the Collection Box, and it becomes a set of actionable ‘next actions’.

    Crazed simplicity at it’s best. David Allen said that his biggest driving force in ‘getting things done’ is the obsession to empty his inboxes. It’s like a bottom up way of driving things forward. I now totally ‘get’ this behaviour.

  • Darren

    Hi Mike, thank you very much for dropping by. Sound advice throughout there, much appreciated.

    I’m using Evernote myself and will be posting up my method at some point – perhaps we can compare notes, it would be very interesting to see how our methods mesh and where mine can be improved.

    And I do aim for Inbox Zero as a base target, but I like your suggestion that it should be an end-of-day target. That’s something I’m going to ramp up and work harder on.

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