This week a long article, with many tips. Why? Because I want you to get things done the next week. How does your desk look like? Many papers, a lot of things to file? How many tasks do you have in your head?

In this article I give you some tips how to tackle it this week.  Does your desk look like this? Then read on.


Is this your desk full of stuff?

Is this your desk?


What is Getting Things Done and What can you do with it?


If you are a professional, policy advisor, projectmanager or business person, you probably have many tasks, projects and deadlines to accomplish.


In this article I will give you an overview a method called Getting Things Done, by David Allen. I have been using this system to manage my tasks for many years, and recently have implemented this system in an online project management software I use.

What is GTD?

Getting Things Done is a system to manage your information, tasks and workflow in your private and business life. Its goal is to give you more energy to accomplish what you need to do, make you relax about all your todos and let you achieve more in less time. Since I use this system I feel I’m in control of my tasks and projects.


What does it look like?


There are some steps:


1. Gather the stuff around you

In this step you collect all the information and tasks which suround you. Have you looked at your desk lately? How does it look like? Collect all the piles of folders, post-its and projects. Collect all the notes and tasks you have around you, in your computer, in your mobile device. No matter if they are private or business. You collect them all and put them in one box: Your Stuff inbox.


When I started with the system, I collected everything around me. Each item, represents “stuff” around you. Just collect the stuff right now.


The next place to look for stuff is in your head. Yes, If you are like me, busy, with many projects for many stakeholders and clients, your head is full of tasks. The Getting Things Done system tells you that to be at ease and get into control of your business and life you need to put this “stuff” in your head in a system. Your mind is like the memory of a computer, if you keep stuff in your head, you cannot think clearly. The computer will ultimately jam.


To get the stuff out of your head follow this process. Take a pile of blank paper. Take about 25 minutes of time and go to a place where you are alone. Fold the papers in two and cut them. You have a pile of papers.


Write everything down on a piece of paper (each item, 1 piece of paper). Continue until you can’t think of anything else.

Think about the following areas of your life:


– Tasks in your business. Write them done.


– Projects in your business. Continue writing them down.


– Things you promised your spouse. Write them down.


-Things you promised your kids if you have any. Continue to write.


– Things you always wanted to do. Yes write your wishes down.


– Things you need to do for clients. Write them down.


– For friends.


– For yourself.


Put all the pieces of paper in your Stuff inbox.


The box is full. Do you feel a little bit relaxed? The first time I did this, I felt like I was born again. No worries in my head anymore. Now every time I feel like I’m getting out of control and something is bothering me, I do this process.

2. Process the Stuff


Here you take all the items out of your Stuff inbox. You need to take one item at a time. There is one rule: you are not allowed to put the item back in the Stuff inbox. You need to process it. So next to the pile of paper you had, with all the stuff you gathered in the first step you have many items. This could take a little more time, maybe a day before you process everything.


1. Ask yourself: what is this? Do I need to do something with this item now?

Here you have some options:




If it is no, either you

A. Put the item in the basket. Done, out of your life. Or


B Maybe/Later. You need to do something but maybe/later sometime in your life. Put the item on a list called Maybe /later list. This list can be just a piece of paper for now. But when you have set the system in your online project management tool it will be a list in your tool so you won’t need a piece of paper any more.


C. No, but you need to archive the item. You don’t need to do anything with the item, just keep it for records later. Put the item in your Archive system.


The answer could be Yes. I need to do something with this item.


If Yes, you need to do something with the item.


Then you ask yourself what is the next action for this item? And can that next action be done in less than 2 minutes?


A. Yes. Then do it immeadiately. Done. You see how it works.


B. Not within 2 minutes. If the next action cannot be done in less than two minutes you need to put the item in your system.


You have two options if the item takes more than 2 minutes:


B.1. Someone else needs to do this item. Write the item down and put it on your Waiting For list. I will also explain to you how you set up this list in an online project management tool I use.


B.2. If the item needs to be done at a certain time or day: Put this item in your Agenda on that date and time.


B.3 If you need to do the item yourself. Determine what is the next action and put it on your Next action list.


After you empty your inbox you have an empty Stuff Inbox and the following lists:


– Your Maybe/later list. Things you want to do, but not right now but somewhere in the future.


– Your Waiting For list. This is the list of things you delegated to others. Put the name of the persons behind the item. If you are a manager, your Waiting For list should be full. If you are a manager and your Waiting For list is not full, you either have a great team, your team is not doing enough for you or you are doing all the stuff yourself. ; o ). What is your next action?


– Your Next action list. This is the list of actions you are going to work on during the next week. No priorities. They all have the same priorities. You need to accomplish the whole list. You are commited to yourself to accomplish this list.


– An agenda with items which need to take place on a certain date and time.


3. Organize your stuff


The only thing you need are these lists. Apart from this you need the Stuff Inbox, which is a box where you write down all the things in your head or the stuff you collect and gather in the first step. With the next mobile version of my online project management tool on my Iphone, I expect I can get this list with me all the time. That would be great! Every time something pops up, I will be able to put it down in my Stuff inbox right away. Next you need some folders for archiving stuff. The stuff you archive are stuff you don’t need any action. These are for instance pictures you collect, movies, or maybe project folders of past projects.


The next step to organize your stuff is to look at the next action list. In what context of your do you need to complete these next actions? Put a context to each action on the next action list. The contexts are:


– @Computer. These are things you can do when you are behind the computer.


– @Shopping. These are things you can do next week, when you are in the supermarket


– @Home. These are things you can do when you are at home.


-@Car. These are things you can do when you are in your car. Ok drive safely. But when you are in your car you could listen to an audio mp3 player with inspirational thoughts for example. Or you could just go to your parents and stop by for a chat.


-@Read. These are things you need to read.


-@Write. These are things you need to write.


-@Call. These are calls you need to make.


So now you have an organized list of next action items, with all the right contexts. I even have a context called @Partner. This is the most important context I often look at. ; o )


4. Do it


You have your lists and your Next action list is broken down into several contexts of your life. Each idea becomes reality through actions. Without your actions, your lists will keep growing and growing. So now you need to just do it. How do you do it?


Doing things depend on:


The situation


Where are you? In your car? Look at the Next action list and select the context @Car. Now you can do those actions. Are you in the supermarket? Take your Next action list with you (in your mobile device) and filter the @Shopping context. There you have it: you have your shopping list. Can you only read? Like me when I’m going to the beach here on Curacao? Take your reading list with you by looking at your Next action list and selecting the context @Read. I’m currently at the airport. So I can read something. I just look at my @Read list.


The time you have


If you only have 10 minutes in between two meetings, you might be able to make 2 calls so select the items you can do. For instance the items with context @Calls on your Next Action list. If you have more time, say 1 hour, you complete more actions. For instance the actions @Computer.


The energy you have


Depending your energy level you can decide to pick some items on your Next Action list. I try to mix the items during the day. First some actions @Computer. Then do some shopping @Shopping. Then some reading and writing etc. Looking at your work load like this might be fun, you pick the context. You can also have a @Computer day or @Reading day, where you focus on one particular type of tasks.


The priority


I myself give all the items on the Next action list with the same priority. If it is on the Next action list, it must be completed. If I can’t promise myself to complete this action by next week, it will go to my Maybe later list. But you might want to perform one of the actions first. The Getting Things Done system does not use priorities. All the items on your Next Action list need to be performed the next week. If you have an action which needs to be done on a certain day or time, you don’t put it on any list, but you put it in your agenda. When the item pops up, you just do it.


5. Maintain your system


Your system is working. Your head is empty of tasks and you are in control of your actions, your business and life. Now, new stuff will keep coming into your life. If you don’t maintain your system you will end up with a lot of stuff around you eventually. Therefore you need to maintain your system.


Some tips to maintain your GTD system:


Tip # 1. Have a regular meeting with yourself where you gather new stuff and put it in the Stuff inbox.


I do this every Friday at around 14:00. During this 1 hour meeting, I put every task which I have in my mind in my system.


Tip # 2. Look at your agenda regularly.


Each day I start by looking at my agenda. Are there any actions or meetings I need to accomplish or have today or this week? By doing this, I know how many time I have for my Next action list actions. Between the meetings, I do my Next action list items.


Tip # 3. Look at the Next action list


Your Next action list is the most important list. This is your commitment to yourself or to your team. If you don’t believe in your Next action list, you think you can’t make it, you better drop some items from this list. You put it on the Maybe/Later list. I used to work with software development teams and they call their Next Action list, the Next Sprint. This must be completed by next week.


Tip # 4. Make sure your system is the truth.

By putting all the tasks in the system, you stay in control of your tasks. As soon as you feel some tasks are asking for your attention: Put them down in the Stuff inbox.


How to do this? I will make a series of three articles on this blog how to set up my blog about how to set up a Getting Things Done system. Either in a spreadsheet (online for instance Google Docs) or in an online Project Management system. If you would want to set this up, follow the instructions in these articles and you will be ready within one hour. After the three articles you are ready to implement the system I have described above and reap the results in your business and your life. My brother on Aruba, asked me how he should begin with Getting Things Done. If you want to set up this system in a Spreadsheet from scratch, I will write an article in the future about how to manage your tasks in a spreadsheet. I will explain step by step how to set up this system in Excel or an online spreadsheet like Google Docs.


Now you know how to do it. Will you get things done this week? If you have any questions or observations just use the contact form on this site and let me know. I’m also interested in the challenges or problems you have with getting things done. So also let me know.


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