The Getting Things Done (GTD) Method

Capture, clarify, organize, reflect, engage.

Step 1: Capture

Collect all your tasks, appointments and ideas in inboxes. These don’t have to be physical in-trays. An inbox can be any organizational system that lets you capture things in writing. That means you can use both digital and analog inboxes, such as your email inbox, Evernote or OneNote, physical trays or vertical filing systems. This first step can take several days when you first start using the Getting Things Done method. After that, you simply add new tasks, appointments and ideas to your inboxes as they arise. This rarely takes more than a few minutes.

Step 2: Clarify

You need to review and process everything you’ve collected in your inboxes. This means you have to decide where things belong in the Getting Things Done system. Ask yourself the following questions for each item:

  • What kind of task is it?
  • Is it actionable?
  • What’s the next action?

When reviewing your inboxes, don’t put anything back in the inbox. Decide where each item belongs.

If no action is possible or necessary, choose one of three options:

  • Trash it
  • Put it on the ‘Maybe/Someday’ list
  • Archive it for reference
Detailed workflow of Getting Things Done
The GTD decision-making process helps you sort tasks by scope, importance and urgency so that you can complete each one at the right time.

Step 3: Organize

First, assign all actionable items to temporary trays or put them on lists and process them from there.


If you can complete a task in two minutes or less, do it right away and don’t add it to the Getting Things Done system.


Only enter appointments in your calendar. Add tasks to be done to the ‘Next Actions’ list or record them as a project and break them down into smaller actions.


Any task that requires more than one action is a project in David Allen’s GTD method. A project can be anything from renovating your home to a professional marketing campaign for a product. Put all of your projects on a project list that you review regularly. You then define next actions for your project and enter specific deadlines for it in your calendar. Also, keep a reminder list for all the tasks that you’ve delegated to others. This allows you to keep track of the tasks others are doing for you.

Next Actions

Keep a separate list of all the next actions that are not project-specific. Depending on the scope of your tasks, you can also keep multiple context-specific lists for personal tasks, work tasks, phone calls, errands, and so on.

Waiting For

Also keep a reminder list for all delegated tasks outside of projects. Set dates to follow up with others on how far they’ve progressed with a task.

Step 4: Reflect

You’ll gain clarity by organizing your tasks and appointments, but that alone won’t be enough to boost your productivity and ensure that you get everything done in the time allotted. To do that, you have to regularly review your lists.

You have to make sure that your system is up to date, otherwise you won’t be able to focus on the task in front of you without thinking about whether you might have missed an appointment.

Review your calendar several times a day and check your to-do lists at least once a day to select your next task. Empty your inboxes once a day.

In the GTD method, you do a weekly review once a week. This review consists of the following steps:

  • Empty your head: At the end of the week, write down all the ideas going through your mind.
  • Inboxes: Put new tasks, ideas and dates where they belong in the GTD system.
  • To-do list: Is the list up to date? Have you crossed off all completed to-dos? What are your upcoming actions for the next few days?
  • Project lists: Is the list up to date? Have you completed at least one next action in the past week to move your project(s) forward?
  • ‘Maybe/Someday’ lists Do you want to transfer some of the items on this list to the project list and process them now?
  • Calendar: Is your calendar up to date? Did you actually keep all your appointments? What are your upcoming appointments? Did you enter all your appointments?
  • ‘Waiting For’ list: What’s the current status of delegated actions? Follow up with coworkers if necessary.

Step 5: Engage

In the GTD method, you use four criteria to decide what to do next: Context, time available, energy available and priority.

GTD criteria for deciding what to do next
In the Getting Things Done system, you have to consider four factors to make an informed decision on which task to complete next.


You’ve created at least one to-do list in your Getting Things Done system. Since you usually have many different contexts in your life (work, family, hobbies), you should create different lists called context lists. That way you won’t have to work your way through a huge to-do list in order to decide on your next action. You can simply look at your short context lists.

Whenever you have free time that you want to use productively, ask yourself this first: What context am I in? What can I do right now? If you’re sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office and want to use your time wisely, you probably shouldn’t make confidential work phone calls. But you can definitely respond to a few short emails or send a message to friends.

Time Available

How much time do you have right now? If you’re in the car and you’re 15 minutes away from your destination, you shouldn’t start a phone call that you know will take an hour of your time. A better choice might be to stop at the supermarket to cross some things off your shopping list.

Energy Available

Your energy level fluctuates throughout the day. We all have slightly different biorhythms. Watch your energy level change throughout the day for a week to find out when you have energy highs and lows. In future, schedule tasks that require your full concentration and performance at times that suit your biorhythm, when you’re feeling energetic and up to the task. You might want to prepare an important presentation in the morning rather than during the middle of the day. Or, if you’re generally more productive in the afternoon and evening, reschedule your tasks for those times.


If you’ve narrowed down possible actions based on the three criteria and have different options, let the priority decide for you: Which task is most important? Start with this task.

Let’s say you’re in the office and you have an hour of unscheduled time before your performance review. You could cross a few phone calls off your list, write a report, or continue working on an idea for a workshop. Since the workshop will be held in three days and you haven’t prepared yet, you choose this task. It has priority. The report, on the other hand, is a routine report, and the phone calls can wait a few days.

David Allen