Get Your GTD On! (Getting Things Done 2023 Version)

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Two Easy Reminders

TRAF” (Toss, Refer, Act, File) and the
Four Ds” (Delete, Do, Delegate, Defer).

GTD – 43 Folders (Merlin Mann) Version

  1. identify all the stuff in your life that isn’t in the right place (close all open loops)
  2. get rid of the stuff that isn’t yours or you don’t need right now
  3. create a right place that you trust and that supports your working style and values
  4. put your stuff in the right place, consistently
  5. do your stuff in a way that honors your time, your energy, and the context of any given moment
  6. iterate and refactor mercilessly

The Longer Outline About GTD

The System

Get everything out of your head. Make decisions about actions required on stuff when it shows up—not when it blows up. Organize reminders of your projects and the next actions on them in appropriate categories. Keep your system current, complete, and reviewed sufficiently to trust your intuitive choices about what you’re doing (and not doing) at any time.


Capture everything that you need to concern yourself with in what Allen calls “buckets”: a physical inbox, an email inbox, a notebook you take with you, a little tape recorder, etc. Don’t try and remember everything!

When you first start: get a big inbox.

You can put the thing you need to act on itself in your inbox (a bill, an assignment) or write a note on a single sheet of paper (“change oil in the car”). When you first start, or when you feel like there are lots of things on your mind, sit down and do a “mind sweep” of everything you are concerned about.


Now it’s time to empty all those “buckets.” Start at the top of the in-box, pick up each item, ask yourself “is there an action I need to take about this item?”

If there is no action you need to take, either throw the thing away, file it for reference, or make a note on your “Someday/Maybe” list. (critical path decision time)

If there is an action you need to take, can you do it in two minutes or less? If so, do it now! If not, decide what that next action is, and enter it on your “Next Action” list. If one action won’t finish this off, enter the overall goal on your “Project” list.


Obviously, the cornerstone of this system is lists. Like with your collection buckets, you want enough lists to keep everything straight, but not so many that you are never sure what list to use. Here are the basics of organization:

Next Action: what is the very next thing you need to do to get your thing done? (E.g., “read chapter 4 and take notes,” or “email a copy of my report to Anne for review”

Projects: chances are, many of your things will need more than one action to accomplish. Keep track of those multi-action things here. (E.g., “class presentation on Dante,” or “write report for boss”)

Waiting: often we depend on others to help get things done. If you are waiting on something, write it down here, so you don’t forget. (E.g. “get revised version of website from Anne”)

Someday/Maybe: for when you have a great idea or long-term goal that you just can’t make time to work on now. You don’t want to forget about it, but you don’t want it to clutter up your Projects list.
Context-sensitive lists: e.g., “Phone calls,” “Errands,” etc.

Calendar: try and use your calendar just for appointments and other things that have to happen on a particular day/time.

Filing: keep a simple, easy-to-update filing system. Don’t let files pile up in a slush pile. Get comfortable with putting a single piece of paper in a folder, labeling it, and filing it away.

If you don’t look at those lists, they won’t do you much good now, will they? You’ll have to review your Next Action list and your calendar every day (and probably several times a day). Set up an appointment with yourself to do a weekly review, where you process all your in-boxes down to empty, and review all lists to be sure you are on top of things.

GTD tends to leave it up to you as to how to decide what needs to be done right now-Allen seems to believe if you have everything laid out in front of you, it will be obvious what needs to be done at any given moment based on your circumstances (deadlines, how much time you have available, what tools are nearby, how much energy you have, etc.)

Lifehacker talks to Merlin Mann says,

“I think people tend not to do the math on how much of themselves they’ve promised to other people, and that disconnect often leads to stress, unnecessary misunderstandings, and beads of existential flop sweat. Getting a handle on your commitments — and only accepting a reasonable and do-able amount of work at any given time — is one of the best habits you can pick up, whether you call it GTD, common sense, or what have you.”

ADT– Attention Deficit Trait
It’s sort of like the normal version of attention deficit disorder. But it’s a condition induced by modern life, in which you’ve become so busy attending to so many inputs and outputs that you become increasingly distracted, irritable, impulsive, restless, and over the long term, underachieving.

No one really multitasks. You just spend less time on any one thing.

No one really multitasks. You just spend less time on any one thing. (again for emphasis)

When it looks like you’re multitasking-you’re looking at one TV screen and another TV screen and you’re talking on the telephone-your attention has to shift from one to the other. You’re brain literally can’t multitask. You can’t pay attention to two things simultaneously. You’re switching back and forth between the two. So you’re paying less concerted attention to either one.

I think in general, why some people can do well at what they call multitasking is because the effort to do it is so stimulating. You get adrenaline pumping that helps focus your mind. What you’re really doing is focusing better at brief spurts on each stimulus. So you don’t get bored with either one.

My favorite GTD Posts of all time:

John McElhenney — let’s connect online
@jmacofearth & Facebook & LinkedIn & The Whole Parent