Getting Things Done, commonly abbreviated as GTD, is an action management method, and the title of a book by David Allen.

GTD rests on the principle that a person needs to move tasks out of their mind and get them recorded somewhere. That way, the mind is freed from the job of remembering everything that needs to be done, and can concentrate fully on actually performing those tasks.

What GTD is aboutEdit

Unlike other time management experts, Allen does not start his emphasis on setting priorities. Instead he advocates creating lists of tasks that are specific to a context, for example, having a list of telephone calls to make or errands to do downtown. He also suggests that any new task which can be completed in less than two minutes should be done immediately.

The psychology of GTD is based on making it easy and fun to store, track and retrieve all the information related to the things you need to get done. Allen suggests that many of the mental blocks we encounter in regard to doing certain activities are caused by insufficient 'front-end' planning (i.e. for any project we need to clarify what is to be achieved and what specific actions are needed to achieve it). It is most practical, according to Allen, to do this thinking in advance, generating a series of actions which we can later undertake without any further planning.

Allen also contends that our mental 'reminder system' is rather inefficient and seldom reminds us what we need to do at the time and place that we can do it. Consequently, the 'next actions' stored by context in the 'trusted system' act as an external support which ensures that we are presented with the right reminders at the right time. There are many associated personal management tips and tricks detailed in Getting Things Done which can be useful for implementing the workflow described by Allen.

A capsule description of GTD from Allen's book Ready for Anything:

“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.”


The core principles of GTD are as follows:


Capture everything that you need to track or remember or act on in what Allen calls a 'bucket': either a physical inbox, email inbox, tape recorder, notebook, or any combination of these. Get everything out of your head and into your collection device, ready for processing. All buckets should be processed to empty at least once per day.


When you process your inbox, follow a strict workflow:

  • Start at the top.
  • Deal with one item at a time.
  • Never put anything back into 'in'.
  • If an item requires action:
  • do it (if it takes less than two minutes),
  • delegate it, or
  • defer it.
  • If not,
  • file it for reference,
  • throw it away, or
  • incubate it for possible action later.

The 2-minute Rule: If it would take less than 2 minutes to do something, just do it right away. Two minutes is a guideline, roughly the time it would take to formally defer the action.


Allen describes a suggested set of lists which you can use to keep track of items awaiting attention:

  • Next actions - For every item requiring your attention, decide what is the next action that you can physically take on it. For example, if the item is 'Write project report', the next action might be 'Email Fred for meeting minutes', or 'Call Jim to ask about report requirements', or something similar. Though there may be many steps and actions required to complete the item, there will always be something that you need to do first, and this should be recorded in the next actions list. Preferably, these are organized by the context in which they can be done, such as 'in the office', 'by the phone', or 'at the store'.
  • Projects - every 'open loop' in your life or work which requires more than one physical action to achieve becomes a 'project'. These are tracked and periodically reviewed to make sure that every project has a next action associated with it and can thus be moved forward.
  • Waiting for - when you have delegated an action to someone else or are waiting for some external event before you can move a project forward, this must be tracked in your system and periodically checked to see if action is due or a reminder needs to be sent.
  • Someday/Maybe - things that you want to do at some point, but not right now. Examples might be 'learn Chinese', or 'take diving holiday'.

A calendar is also important for keeping track of your appointments and commitments; however, Allen specifically recommends that the calendar be reserved for what he terms the 'hard landscape': things which absolutely have to be done by a particular deadline, or meetings and appointments which are fixed in time and place. 'To-do' items should be reserved for the next action lists.

A final key organizing component of GTD is the filing system. Getting Things Done says that a filing system, if it is to be used, must be easy, simple and fun. Even a single piece of paper, if you need it for reference, should get its own file if it doesn't belong in a folder you already have. Allen's suggestion is that you keep a single, alphabetically organized filing system, in order to make it as quick and easy as possible to store and retrieve the information you need.

Users of Google's Gmail online email service can also use labels to create 'To-Do' lists and projects as explained in Bryan Murdaugh "Getting Things Done with Gmail" [1] whitepaper. It keeps many of the same concepts of GTD but implements them into online email.


The lists of actions and reminders will be of little use if you don't review them at least daily, or whenever you have time available. Given the time, energy and resources that you have at that particular moment, decide what is the most important thing for you to be doing right now, and do it.

At least weekly, the discipline of GTD requires that you review all your outstanding actions, projects and 'waiting for' items, making sure that any new tasks or forthcoming events are entered into your system, and that everything is up to date. Allen suggests the creation of a tickler file in order to help refresh your memory each week with your outstanding tasks and projects.


Any organizational system is no good if you spend all your time organizing your tasks instead of actually doing them! David Allen's contention is that if you can make it simple, easy and fun to take the actions that you need to take, you will be less inclined to procrastinate or become overwhelmed with too many 'open loops'.

Tools and techniquesEdit

One device that Allen suggests is the tickler file for organising your paperwork (also known as the '43 folders'). Twelve folders are used to represent each month and an additional 31 folders are used to represent each day. The folders are arranged to help remind you of activities to be done that day. Each day you open to the numbered folder representing today's date. You take all the items out of the folder and put the empty folder into the next month. This sort of management allows you to file hardcopy reminders to yourself. For instance, if you had a concert on the 12th of the month, you would store the tickets in the 12th folder, and when the 12th came around, they would be there waiting for you.

The cult of GTDEdit

Since the original publication of Getting Things Done in 2001, Allen's ideas have been popularized through the Internet, especially via blogs, and achieved something of a cult status particularly among IT workers. Some followers of GTD advocate a 'back-to-basics' approach to personal management, and a rejection of over-engineered, high-tech solutions in favor of simple, inexpensive tools such as the Hipster PDA or even the Moleskine paper pad. However, David Allen himself is a happy user of a Palm PDA. In his FAQ he says he uses the software it came with and records "events of the day" on paper to be processed later.


External linksEdit

Excerpts from Getting Things Done (Business Week): Edit
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