GTD Method Summary: What Is GTD System & the 5 GTD Steps?

Date:Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Have you ever felt overwhelmed with a never-ending to do list? Do you need help keeping track of all your tasks and ideas? Well, we’ve got something super helpful to share with you - the Getting Things Done framework!

In this article, we’ll dive deep into the popular GTD method, which stands for “Getting Things Done,” and we think you’ll love it! It’s a game-changer for staying organized and getting stuff done without the stress.

We’ll break it down for you in the simplest way possible, with easy-to-follow steps and practical tips. That being said, let’s learn how GTD can make your life easier and master the art of stress-free productivity!


GTD Method Overview: What is GTD Methodology Used for?

Getting Things Done meaning: So, you know how sometimes life gets super busy, and we have a lot of tasks and stuff to do? The GTD methodology, which stands for “Getting Things Done,” is a way to help us manage all that and get things done.

In other words, it helps us complete our tasks and projects without feeling overwhelmed. The GTD system is like a productivity tool designed by David Allen. It’s all about staying organized and reducing stress by following steps.

Here’s a GTD overview:

Step 1: Capture – Whenever you have an idea, task, or commitment, write it down or record it somewhere so you don’t forget.

Step 2: Clarify – The next step is looking at everything you’ve captured and figuring out what they mean and what you need to do about them. If something takes less than two minutes, complete the task immediately; otherwise, decide on your next step.

Step 3: Organize – Identify the nature of your tasks and sort them into categories like “Next Actions” for stuff you can do now, “Projects” for bigger tasks, “Waiting For” for things you need others to do first, and “Someday/Maybe” for tasks you want to do later.

Step 4: Reflect – Regularly review your lists to keep things up to date and ensure you’re on track.

Step 5: Engage – When you’re ready to work, look at your lists and pick what to focus on based on your energy and situation.

In simple terms, GTD is a way to keep our minds clear, decide what to do next, and stay focused on what’s important.

It’s used for organizing and managing tasks, projects, and commitments to be more productive and less stressed in our work and personal lives.

The best part? You can adapt the productivity system to fit your style and needs!

Who’s Behind the GTD Method?

David Allen, a productivity expert, created the “Getting Things Done,” or GTD method for short. His idea was to help people manage their tasks and be less stressed.

You know how sometimes we have so many things to do, and it’s hard to keep track of everything? Well, that’s what David noticed too!

He realized that our brains have many powers but aren’t great at remembering all the stuff we need to do. So, he wanted to find a way to get all that information out of our heads and into a system so we could focus better and get things done more easily.

David wrote a book, “Getting Things Done,” explaining his method in detail.

He said we should write down all our tasks and ideas, whether big or small. Then, we should organize them into categories and decide what to do about each task.

By doing this, we won’t forget anything, and our minds can be free to concentrate on what’s important at the moment.

David Allen’s book on GTD became popular because it helped many people be more productive and less stressed.

People loved David’s simple steps to organize tasks and stay on top. And the best part is that you can adapt the GTD method to your style and use it with different tools or apps.

So, yeah, David Allen accomplished his goal with the book.

He gave us a practical and effective way to manage our tasks and be more in control of our lives.

If you ever feel overwhelmed with all your to-dos, you might want to read “Getting Things Done” and see how it can help you too!


Getting Things Done Method Advantages and Disadvantages

The GTD method has many benefits but isn’t perfect. That being said, let’s discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the GTD productivity system.


The GTD method can improve your personal and professional life in many ways, such as the following:

Comprehensive Organization

First, it’s super organized because it gives you a single system for all your projects, whether they’re personal or work-related. This helps you stay focused and not lose track of what needs to be done.

Better Time Management

GTD is also great for getting things done on time because it breaks everything down into organizing, reflecting, and engaging steps. This way, big projects become easier to handle because they’re broken into smaller tasks.

Clear Structure

Another cool thing is that it gives you a clear structure with lots of lists and guiding questions. This helps you use your free time wisely and prevents you from jumping back and forth between tasks, which can hurt your productivity.


Plus, GTD gives you the freedom to decide what to do next. It doesn’t force you into a strict schedule, so you can choose what task to tackle next.

Some people find this motivating, but others might see it as a weakness.


Now, let’s talk about the reliability of the GTD method. Being reliable means keeping your promises and being on top of your appointments. With GTD, you stop trying to remember everything in your head and rely on tools and habits to stay organized and on track. This makes it easier to be reliable, even when you have much on your plate.

Improves Your Focus

One of the awesome perks of using GTD is that it helps improve your focus. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, it helps you prioritize and organize your tasks so that you can tackle them one at a time. This focus can lead to more creativity, which is pretty cool!


As mentioned, the GTD method isn’t flawless. Here’s a breakdown of some of the key downsides of the GTD method:

No Help Prioritizing and No Weekly or Daily Structure

GTD also has some weaknesses. For one, it doesn’t specifically help you prioritize tasks, so you might need to use other methods for that. Also, it doesn’t offer a daily or weekly structure, so if you struggle with setting goals or structuring your day, you might need to look for other tools.

Too Many New Habits to Learn

The GTD method can be complex and might take some time to learn and practice. It involves forming new habits like emptying your inboxes regularly, reviewing your lists, and keeping context lists.

For some people, all these adjustments might feel overwhelming, so they should find a good organizational technique that suits their personality.

So, that’s the lowdown on the strengths and weaknesses of the GTD method. It’s a great system for staying organized and getting things done, but it might not be the perfect fit for everyone.

If you like the idea, you can try it and see how it works!


GTD System Guide: The 5 GTD Steps

The Getting Things Done system consists of several stages. Let us walk you through each of the Getting Things Done steps so you can better understand what it’s all about. Here are the GTD 5 steps:

Step 1: Capture Everything

Write down or record all your tasks, ideas, and commitments. That’s the first step! No matter how big or small, jot them down in a reliable place like a notebook, digital app, or to do list tool.

This helps you free up your mind and ensures you won’t forget anything important.

Tips for Better Results:

  • Create different capture points, such as an inbox in your email, a physical inbox on your desk, or a voice recording app on your phone. This helps gather information from various sources in one place.

  • Make it a habit to check and process your capture points. Review your notes, emails, or recordings, and transfer important tasks and ideas to your central task management system.

Step 2: Clarify

Now that you’ve captured everything take some time to review each item. Clarify each task or idea and the desired outcome or next action. Ask yourself: Is it a single action I can do right away? Is it part of a bigger project? Should I delegate it to someone else? This step helps you clearly understand what you need to do.

Tips for Better Results:

  • Be specific and break tasks into actionable steps. If a task requires multiple actions, create a project for it.

  • Use the two-minute rule: If a task can be done in two minutes or less, do it immediately. This prevents small tasks from accumulating and becoming overwhelming.

  • If a task is not actionable right now, decide what to do with it. Can you delegate it to someone else? Do you need more information before taking action? Move it to the appropriate category or list.

  • Consider using a “Waiting For” list for pending tasks on someone else’s action. This way, you can follow up and stay on top of tasks you’re waiting for others to complete.

Step 3: Organize

Once you’ve clarified your tasks, it’s time to organize them into categories.

Create physical or digital lists like “Next Actions” for tasks you can do immediately, “Projects” for bigger tasks with multiple steps, “Waiting For” for tasks waiting on others, and “Someday/Maybe” for ideas or tasks you might want to do in the future but not right now.

Add additional categories as needed to suit your specific needs. This way, you’ll have everything sorted and easily accessible.

Tips for Better Results:

  • Set up a reliable task management system to organize your captured items. This can be a physical planner, a digital to do list app, or a combination.

  • Use context lists to group tasks based on where and when they can be done. For example, have lists of tasks that can only be done at home, at the office, or while running errands.

  • Assign due dates or deadlines to time-sensitive tasks and schedule them on your calendar. This helps you prioritize and allocate your time effectively.

Step 4: Reflect

Regularly review and update your lists as needed.

This step is essential to stay on top of your commitments and priorities. Daily or weekly, review your lists, check your progress, and make necessary adjustments.

It keeps you focused and ensures you’re working on the right things.

Tips for Better Results:

  • During your review, ask yourself, “Are there any new tasks or projects I need to add?” and “Are there tasks that are no longer relevant or can be removed?”

  • Reflect on your goals and long-term objectives. Ensure that your tasks and projects align with your larger vision and priorities.

  • Take time to celebrate completed tasks and acknowledge your progress. This boosts motivation and provides a sense of accomplishment.

Step 5: Engage

When it’s time to work on tasks, consult your organized lists and choose what to do based on your context and energy level.

This step helps you confidently answer “What should I be working on?” at any given moment without feeling overwhelmed. It helps you stay productive and in control and execute one task at a time without wasting all your time and energy.

Tips for Better Results:

  • Focus on one task at a time and minimize distractions. Use time blocking or the Pomodoro Technique to improve focus and productivity.

  • As you complete tasks, mark them as done in your task management system. This creates a sense of closure and allows you to track your progress.

  • Be flexible and adjust your plan as needed. Life is unpredictable, and new tasks or priorities may emerge. Adapt to changes while staying committed to your long-term goals.

That’s it! That was your guide to Getting Things Done.

Following these steps will help you stay organized, reduce stress, and get things done efficiently. Remember, you can adapt the GTD system to fit your style and needs.

So, give it a try, and we hope it brings you success and a sense of accomplishment!


Setting Up Getting Things Done Folders and Lists

Now that we’ve gone through the five steps of the Getting Things Done file system, let’s talk about the GTD folder structure and setting up our GTD lists and folders.

This is where we organize all our tasks and keep things running smoothly.

So, when we talk about GTD to do lists, we mean the different categories of tasks and projects we have. And the getting things done file system is just a fancy way of saying how we arrange these lists and folders to stay organized.

If you’re looking for tips on setting up GTD folders and lists, keep reading!

NOTE: Many GTD apps can help you organize tasks and increase productivity. So, if you need help staying organized, choose the best GTD app to make your life easier.

GTD Folder Structure

Think of folders as the big containers where we’ll keep our lists. You can set this up digitally in apps like Todoist or Trello or use physical folders if you prefer pen and paper.

Create a main “GTD” folder containing everything related to your GTD system.

Inside the main folder, create subfolders like “Projects,” “Next Actions,” “Waiting For,” and “Someday/Maybe.” These will be the backbone of your organization.

Projects List

In the “Projects” folder, list all the projects you’re working on (bigger tasks with multiple steps).

Examples include: “Plan a birthday party,” “Complete report for work,” or “Renovate the kitchen.”

Next Actions List

You’ll write down all your tasks in the “Next Actions” list. These are specific actions you can take to move each project forward.

For example, under the project “Plan a birthday party,” you might have tasks like “Choose a theme,” “Send out invitations,” or “Buy decorations.”

Waiting For List

In the “Waiting For” list, note down tasks you’re waiting for someone else to complete before moving forward.

For instance, if you’re waiting for your friend to send you their party RSVP, you’d jot it down in this list.

Someday/Maybe List

The “Someday/Maybe” list is for ideas or tasks you want to do in the future but not now. It’s like a bucket list for potential future projects.

You could add things like “Learn a new language,” “Start a blog,” or “Take a cooking class” to this list.

Using software or apps can be super helpful in managing all these lists and folders. They make it easy to move tasks around, set due dates, and get reminders.

So, that’s how you set up GTD lists and folders. Organizing it might take a little time, but once you do, it’ll make managing your tasks a breeze!


GTD Lists Example

Imagine we have a project at work to organize a team-building event. Here’s how the GTD categories can help us manage it:

GTD Folder Structure

Create a folder named “Team-Building Event” to keep all the tasks and information related to organizing this event at work.

Projects List

Under the “Projects” folder, we make a “Team-Building Event” list to break down all the tasks and steps needed to plan the event successfully.

Next Actions List

In the “Next Actions” list, we write down specific tasks that need to be done to move forward with the event:

  • “Discuss event theme and activities with the team.”

  • “Research potential venues for the event.”

  • “Get quotes from catering services.”

  • “Send out invitations to team members.”

We must take these actionable steps to make the team-building event successful.

Waiting For List

In the “Waiting For” list, we note down tasks that depend on others’ actions before we can proceed:

  • “Wait for venue availability confirmation.”

  • “Wait for catering service response on menu options.”

These tasks stay on the “Waiting For” list until we get the necessary information from others.

Someday/Maybe List

In the “Someday/Maybe” list, we can add ideas for future team-building events or potential improvements for next year’s event:

  • “Consider a team-building retreat for the next event.”

  • “Explore team-building workshops for enhancing communication skills.”

These ideas might sound exciting, but we should focus on the current event first.

Using the GTD lists for our work-related project, we have a structured approach to manage the team-building event efficiently.

The lists help us stay organized, prioritize tasks, and ensure nothing gets overlooked.


GTD Process in Action: An Example of a Getting Things Done Workflow

Below, you will find a simple example of a GTD workflow. We’ve also included a helpful Getting Things Done cheat sheet to help you incorporate this method into your daily life.

Step 1: Capture Everything

Imagine you’re at work, and various tasks and ideas pop into your head throughout the day. Instead of trying to remember them all, you grab a notepad or open a digital app and jot them down during your work day.

This way, you’re capturing everything that needs your attention.

Step 2: Clarify

During your break, you review your notepad or app and clarify each item.

For instance, you have tasks like “Prepare monthly report,” “Email client regarding the project,” and “Buy groceries after work.” You break them down further and define the next actions for each task.

Step 3: Organize

Next, you categorize your tasks into lists based on the GTD principles.

“Prepare monthly report” goes into your “Next Action” list, as it’s something you can do immediately.

“Email client regarding the project” goes into“Waiting For,” as you need to wait for their response before proceeding. “Buy groceries after work” also stays on the “Next Action” list.

Step 4: Reflect

You look at your lists and update them toward the end of the day or during a designated review time. You check off completed tasks, update progress on ongoing projects, and add new items if needed.

This reflection helps you stay organized and focused.

Step 5: Engage

Now, it’s time to engage and execute!

You consult your “Next Action” list and start working on the tasks individually. Since you have clarity on what needs to be done, you can tackle them efficiently and avoid feeling overwhelmed.

By following this GTD workflow, you ensure nothing slips through the cracks, stay organized, and focus on what matters most. It’s a simple and effective way to manage your tasks and responsibilities, whether at work or in your personal life.

GTD Cheat Sheet

As promised, here’s a cheat sheet you can use:

1. Capture Everything:

Write down tasks, ideas, and commitments in a notepad or digital app. Don’t rely on memory; jot it down immediately.

2. Clarify:

  • Define the next action for each task.

  • Break tasks into smaller steps or categorize them as projects.

3. Organize:

Create lists for different categories:

  • Next Actions: Really important tasks to be done.

  • Projects: Tasks with multiple steps.

  • Waiting For: Tasks dependent on others.

  • Someday/Maybe: Future ideas.

The next step is adding tasks to the lists. Once you’re done, reflecting comes into play.

4. Reflect:

  • Keep your lists up-to-date.

  • Prioritize tasks and mark completed items.

5. Engage:

  • Focus on one task at a time from the “Next Actions” list.

  • Avoid multitasking and stay focused.

Remember, this cheat sheet is a quick reference material to help you implement the GTD principles daily.

Customize it per your preferences, and enjoy the benefits of a more organized and stress-free approach to getting things done!


Key Takeaways on the GTD Framework

We’ve reached the end of our GTD (Getting Things Done) journey, and we hope you’ve found it as exciting and valuable as we did!

The Getting Things Done methodology is all about organizing your tasks and ideas to make life easier and more productive. It helps you capture and identify all your tasks and thoughts so no important thing slips through the cracks.

By breaking tasks into smaller steps and organizing them, you know exactly what needs to be done and when.

It also helps clarify your mind and keep everything in order, reducing stress. Lastly, GTD boosts productivity by helping you prioritize and tackle tasks one by one. And it’s really flexible! You can customize it as you wish!

However, the GTD principles aren’t for everyone. Some people might get overwhelmed by this productivity system.

If you feel you can’t learn many new rules, you probably need to get organized using a simpler productivity system. Therefore, decide the route you want to take, assess your intended outcomes, and make a smart decision.

One of the main downsides of the GTD method is that it doesn’t prioritize tasks for you, so you might need to use additional methods. If that’s a deal-breaker for you, consider GTD alternatives.

It’s important to find what works for you to help you achieve everything you might not be able to do alone.

Still, it’s a game-changer if you often feel overwhelmed and struggle to keep track of important information.