The 5 Tools You Need to Implement GTD at Work
Updated: Sep 25, 2021
GTD Steps: All
To have the success you deserve, it's not enough to be smart. You have to do high quality work and get it done on time...consistently.
But managing it all is challenging. You may have 20-30 things needing your attention at any given moment. It's up to you to figure out how to get it all done.
That's why the Getting Things Done (GTD) method is so popular. It offers a step-by-step system for managing your work. It teaches you how to capture, clarify and organize your workload so you can focus on the right things.
When you consistently deliver high quality work on time, people notice. You build a reputation as someone who is capable and organized. You're seen as a high performer.
The 5 Step System
The Getting Things Done system is made up of five steps:
Capture - record things you need to do in a tool to get them out of your head
Clarify - determine what each captured item is and whether it requires any actions
Organize - put action reminders on lists based on when you want to see them again
Reflect - decide where to focus your attention given everything you need to get done
Engage - actually complete the tasks
These steps take practice, but become habit over time.
The key to being consistent while building the habits is good tools. Good tools make the steps easier, and the easier they are, the more likely you are to do them consistently.
There are lots of GTD apps on the market. But if you work for a corporation, you may not be permitted to use them at work.
This article will teach you how to implement a terrific GTD system using only Microsoft Office applications (Outlook, OneNote, Explorer and Excel).
For the steps that use Excel, you can develop your own tool or use Ultimate To-Do List, a task management tool built in Excel to help you follow the GTD method at work.
This step is about getting all your to-do's out of your head and into a tool you trust until you're ready to process them.
Once you capture a to-do, your mind is able to let it go and relax.
Outlook Tasks, OneNote, and Excel are all good capture tools when at work. The important thing thing is to have a dedicated place to capture things.
The picture below shows the Inbox tab of the Ultimate To-Do List.
Away from work
Work-related thoughts can come to you anyplace, not just at work. So you also need a place to capture them when you're not at your computer.
Sending an email to your work inbox is a great way to capture items when not at work. They'll be waiting for you to process when you get back to work.
Automation apps for iOS and Android make sending an email to your work inbox easy. Just click a button to open a new email, type what you want to capture, and click Send.
Once you've captured an item, the next step is to clarify it.
Clarifying involves answering two questions:
What is it?
This sounds basic but is important. You need to look at or think about something long enough to know what it's about.
The key is to spend enough time thinking about it to be able to answer the next question.
Is it actionable?
In other words, is there something you need to do? The answer will either be Yes or No
No action required - If the answer is No there are two possibilities:
You don't need it (trash/delete)
You may need it later (reference information)
Actionable - If the answer is Yes, determine two things:
What outcome ("project") have you committed to?
What's the next action required?
Once you've answered each of these questions, you're ready to move to Step #3.
The purpose in organizing you're to-do's is so you see them again at the right time, but not before so they don't clutter your list.
There are three types of things you need to organize: reference information, projects and action reminders (tasks).
Organizing Reference Info
Your goal when organizing reference information is to be able to find it quickly and easily when you need them in the future.
Most likely you have a file cabinet or file drawers at work. These are for organizing physical papers. But the concept of filing cabinets can be used to organize digital reference information too.
The following three "file cabinets" will give you a dedicated place to organize any reference information you encounter at work:
Physical filing cabinet - for papers
Windows Explorer - for electronic files such as Word, PowerPoint, pdf, etc. The picture below shows how it can be organized like a file cabinet.
3. OneNote - for any other type of digital reference information. The picture below shows how it can be organized like a file cabinet.
Thinking of Windows Explorer and OneNote as file cabinets brings consistency to how you organize reference information.
The same principles apply when filing an item in any of your file cabinets; physical or digital.
Create a new folder whenever needed - When none of your existing folders seems appropriate for an item you need to file, don’t hesitate to create a new folder.
Go only one level deep (two at most) - When creating new folders, try to keep them all at the first level. Avoid creating subfolders and sub-subfolders when possible. It’s much better to go wide than deep when it comes to folders.
Use prefixes when labeling folders - For grouping folders related to a particular topic, use a common prefix. This will ensure the files are next to each when sorted alphabetically. For example: "Team - Mike" and "Team - Ann".
Organizing Actionable Stuff
Once you've identified a specific action during the Clarify step, you can either do it immediately, or create a reminder to do it later.
Two minute rule - if you can complete an action in less than 2 minutes, do it now, otherwise. Otherwise, put a reminder of it in your task management tool to do later.
If you're going to do an action later, you need to create a reminder so you don't forget about it.
The Getting Things Done approach is to segment your action reminders onto lists based on when you want to see them again.
Reminders of actions to do as soon as possible go on one list, those you want to be reminded of on a future date go on another, and those you want to see before you next meet with a particular person go on another. You get the idea.
Get2Done Ultimate To-Do List
The Ultimate To-Do List provides dedicated lists for your action reminders so you only see them at the right time.
The following segment lists cover just about any timing scenario you'll encounter at work.
An action is a physical activity you can complete in one sitting. Reminders of them go on one of several lists based on when you want to be reminded.
Next Actions - reminders of tasks you want to complete as soon as possible.
Tickler - reminders of actions you want to see again on a specific date.
On the date indicated, a dashboard alert will appear on the Next Actions tab to remind you of the action.
Agendas - reminders of actions you want to see before you next meet with a particular person or group.
Whenever you think of something to discuss with your boss, team member, or at the next committee meeting; add it to this list. Then before you meet with them, review the list to see your reminders.
Delegated - reminders of projects you assigned to others but want to keep tabs on.
Add the date you next want to check in on the delegated project and a dashboard alert will let you know when it's time.
For GTD purposes, a project is any desired outcome that will take more than one action to achieve.
Project List - reminders of projects not yet complete. This reminds you there are still actions to be done.
Project Plan - a list of specific actions needed to achieve the desired outcome of the project.
Flag the next action in the next action column and the action reminder will automatically be copied to your Next Actions list.
This step is about cleaning up your system and then taking a step back. It’s when you look at everything you need to do from the 10,000-foot level and make conscious decisions about where to focus your time and attention in the coming week.
The Weekly Review is a time set aside each week to determine your priorities for the week. This is what enables you to confidently choose which tasks to focus on each day.
Before you can confidently make decisions about your priorities for the week, you need to have a clear picture of everything you need to get done. For that reason start your Weekly Review by cleaning up your GTD system.
Cleaning up means:
Process (Capture, Clarify, Organize) any items that haven't yet made it into your system
Review each of your lists to delete completed items and move items that now belong on a different list.
Once your system is clean and up-to-date, you are in a position to step back and make decisions about where to focus your time and energy over the next week.
Creating a checklist of steps to complete during your weekly review will make it faster and easier. You won't have to think about what steps to do or in what order, just pull out your checklist and work through the steps.
Up to this point you have been capturing, clarifying, organizing, and prioritizing all your to-do's with the goal of being able to focus your attention on the right things at the right time.
Engaging means to actually get stuff done.
Every year the National Basketball Association (NBA) holds a 3-point-shooting competition. In this contest, each participant gets a turn to make as many 3-point baskets as possible in 60 seconds.
To enable participants to take as many shots as possible, balls are placed on knee-high racks. Setting the balls on racks allows shooters to quickly pick up the next ball after each shot. This makes it possible for participants to take far more shots.
A daily plan is the workplace equivalent of a ball rack. Just as the ball rack allows the shooters to take far more shots, your daily plan will allow you to complete far more tasks.
Having a daily plan enables you to move directly from one task to the next without losing time figuring out what to do next. It also keeps you focused on your priorities throughout the day as other things try to pull you away from them.
A daily plan is a schedule for your day. It shows when you have meetings or blocked time and when you have time available to work on tasks. The difference between the daily plan and a prioritized to-do list is that in a daily plan tasks are scheduled into specific time slots.
Here's an example of a daily plan. Meetings are blocked out and open time is allocated to completing specific tasks.
When you schedule an activity into a specific timeslot, you give yourself a deadline for completing it which provides motivation to work quickly.
If you're willing to put in the time and effort to learn the GTD system and invest in the right tools, Getting Things Done will transform the way you work. You'll get more done and feel more relaxed and confident in your work than ever before. You'll be able to focus on one thing at a time and do your best work...consistently.
Those with whom you work will come to view you as capable and organized. You'll get more opportunities and feel more confident in your abilities. You'll be able to perform at the level you're capable while feeling relaxed and in control. You'll be a high performer.