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GTD: Two Years On

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  • GTD: Two Years On

    I joined this board two years ago. I had been working with GTD for a couple of months before I joined the board.

    Everyone has a different set of experiences and habits prior to learning about GTD. What follows is a description of the aspects of GTD that helped me the most. This is a very subjective account. I am not arguing that what follows are the most important aspects of GTD. For someone else, having a good alphabetical filing system might be the best thing they learned from GTD. I had one before I knew of GTD, so that had little impact on my productivity.

    1. Get it out of your head.

    Create a list and put every (nonroutine) commitment you have on it. This was the key learning for me. This remains the fundamental idea of GTD in my eyes. It is no exaggeration to say that all the rest is secondary.

    GTD is about being prepared for surprises. The way to be prepared for surprises is to minimize surprises. The way to minimize surprises is to be fully aware of everything you have already committed to. Ironically, you maintain this awareness by getting your commitments onto a list that is external to your head. You maintain this awareness by looking at the list at least once a week. Then, when something unexpected pops up, you are aware of what you are already committed to, so you can deal rationally with the new unexpected event.

    2. Get an inbox.

    Tens of millions of people had inboxes without ever having heard of David Allen or GTD. I was not one of them. I had an email inbox but no physical inbox at work or at home. So I had too many informal collection points.

    Like I said above, we all are at different levels when we come to GTD. I sure came to it in a highly undeveloped state.

    3. Get your inbox to empty.

    This took me more than a year to understand. The GTD Fast audio tracks helped me to grasp this in a way that the GTD book did not.

    I used to think, “empty desk, empty mind,” where “empty mind” meant imbecile.

    Then I got my inbox and started GTD. But for more than a year I still resisted getting my inbox to empty. Finally, I set myself the goal of getting my inboxes to empty twice a week. And I track my performance on a spreadsheet. Use whatever trick works for you to develop a new habit. David Allen says that you want to treat your inbox the way you treat your teeth. Every day, whether you feel like it or not, you remove bacterial coating that has accumulated on your teeth. You don’t debate about whether you ought to do it or not. You just do it. Start treating your inbox the way you treat your teeth.

    Emptying the inbox on a regular basis is hard. Very hard. But it is one of those situations where short-term frustration pays off big-time with long-term rewards.


    GTD works so beautifully because it gets you to put all your commitments onto a list. Get the commitments out of your head and onto a list. Get the commitments off your desk and out of your inbox and onto a list. Review and maintain your list periodically.

  • #2
    What a great, clear, synopsis. I'm actually going to use it to explain GTD to new folks. Thanks, moises.


    • #3
      But, why empty.....?

      I guess the thing I want to add to this synposis is why it is so critical to get your InBox empty.

      The reason it is so important to regularly get your InBox empty is so that your InBoxes (or your piles) do not become your cue regarding what work needs to be done. Your Projects and Next Actions list can only become a functional "dashboard" or reference point when they have 'everything' in them. This allows you to overview your lists regularly so you can inform your untuition.

      If a bunch of unprocessed stuff is sitting in your InBox, then your lists are not complete. If your lists are not complete, you cannot really trust them to inform your intuition properly, and your brain cannot relax. David says that you need to get your InBox to zero about every 24 to 48 hours, with only occasional exceptions. This is the only way to build a trusted system.

      On the FAST CD's David tells as story about an executive who had an "epiphany" when he finally eliminated those last few emails. This was the reason why things 'had' to get to empty. It subtly alters your reference point for determining what needs to be done. I found this particular insight extremely valuable.

      And, thanks Moises...



      • #4
        Thanks for sharing

        Thanks for sharing what has been most useful to you. I can use this when explaning GTD to newbies.