A Beginner’s Guide to Getting Things Done (GTD)

Getting Things Done, or GTD, was developed by David Allen in the 1980s. After years of research and practice, David Allen came up with the GTD methodology which is based on a simple truth: the more information you store inside your head, the harder it is to decide what requires prioritization. As a result, you end up spending more time thinking about your ever-growing task list than accomplishing items on it. When the information piles up in your head, it leads to a collection of banal and stressful tasks.

Allen observed that human brains are better at processing information than storing it. The GTD method allows you to dump all your mental clutter into an external system that you can refer to from time to time.

Getting Things Done method GTD technique David Allen productivity

David Allen, one of the world’s most influential thinkers on productivity, observed that humans are much better at processing information than storing it.

The GTD method follows a pretty simple methodology to help you declutter your brain and get things done:


Capture anything that crosses your mind. Your to-dos, your ideas, your recommendations, your tasks, and everything. Write it down in a notebook, a planner, a to-do app, or whatever you prefer to use to stay organized.

Clarify things you have to do in clear steps. Don’t just write things down. Break your list into actionable steps so there’s no room for procrastination. If there is anything you can do right away and have time to do, just do it. If there is anything you can delegate, delegate it right away.

Organize actionable items by category and priority. Assign a due date to each task, and set a reminder so you follow up on it. Pay special attention to each item on the priority list.

Review items on your to-do list. This is where the second step ‘clarify’ payoffs as you should be able to pick something you have the time for and do it right away. Give the to-do list a review periodically to see where you need to adjust your priorities, and determine how well the GTD method is working for you.

Engage and get work done. Choose your next plan of action. You should know by now what to work on and when. Each item on your to-do list will be broken into manageable, biteable chunks that are easy to start. It’s time to get your hands dirty.

The GTD method helps one set up their workflow, down to the tee. At any moment you should know the answer to “what should I set my hands on now?” without worrying that you might forget to do something later.

If you find you’re not getting enough work done because you forget what you have planned for the day – or you’re wasting time looking at your to-do list over and over again – try the Get Things Done technique. You might be surprised at how much you can get things done with David Allen’s Get Things Done method.

If making to-do lists isn’t your cup of tea, you can also try the Pomodoro technique which is about breaking down your tasks into 25-minute slots. After every 4 slots, you give yourself a 15-20 minute break.

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Priyansha Mistry
Currently editor at The HR Digest Magazine. She helps HR professionals identify issues with their talent management and employment law. | Priyansha tweets at @PriyanshaMistry

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