GTD Best Practices: Process (Part 2 of 5)

We’re continuing our series on the best practices of GTD’s five phases of Mastering Workflow: Collect, Process, Organize, Review, and Do. Let’s look closer at the Process phase.


Processing is the core fundamental thinking that defines the meaning of each item collected. Outcomes and next actions are determined for actionable items, and the non-actionable items are identified as trash, something potentially actionable in the future, or reference material. This decision process transforms unclear stuff into defined work.

Download a free version of the GTD Workflow Map illustrating Collect, Process, and Organize or view the classic version on page 32 of the Getting Things Done book.


1. What is it?
2. Is it actionable?
3. What’s the desired outcome? If multi-step, write it on your Projects/Outcomes list.
4. What’s the next (physical/visible) action? Write it on the appropriate Next Actions list.


Give yourself enough processing time*. Most people need an hour to an hour and a half per day of total processing time to process new inputs. You can estimate how much time you need by factoring 30 seconds to process each input. For example, if you get 60 emails a day, you’ll need 1/2 hour of total time to process your email inbox to zero. By total time, we don’t necessarily mean in one block of uninterrupted time. It can also mean total time throughout the day.

Processing is not doing, it’s deciding. The only “doing” time recommended during processing are those items that will take less than 2 minutes to complete.

*processing is considered “defining work” time in GTD’s Threefold Nature of Work model described on page 50 of the Getting Things Done book.

Just joining this series? Read part one on Collect or part three on Organize.

Kelly Forrister is a senior coach & seminar presenter with the David Allen Company


Join the Conversation


  1. Hi Kelly

    I’ve been a long time follower of GTD and I think it works really well. However in recent times when I have had many requests and inputs coming in from a variety of sources I’ve been forced to ask myself questions like, in addition to the ones listed in your entry, ‘do I really need to do this?’, ‘will actioning this move me towards a greater goal?’ etc. Without asking these questions I tend to waste a lot of time not actually doing things that move me towards bigger goals like a promotion! I haven’t read the book for a while but how would you include this aspect in the GTD model?


  2. @Mike
    I’d say it’s already built into the process.

    The question “Is this actionable?” means “Do I need to take action about this now?” Your values and priorities play a part in your answer to that question.

    The most important and difficult decisions are often those that involve deciding what *not* to do or *stop* doing. If work is not going to add value then don’t commit to it at all. Toss it.

    If you are unsure or think it might in the future then tickle it (Tickler file, Someday/Maybe) for a later date. Review weekly and decide either to move on it now or feel good about not doing it.

    If you still have to get it done for compliance reasons (taxes, for example) then delegate it if possible. If not, manage it like anything else.

  3. Hi Mike,

    I would consider those under the “What is it?” question. There’s gold to be mined in that question and that’s where I’d be determining what it is, how it relates to my other priorities, and why it even landed in my world enough to determine if it’s actionable or not.


  4. thanks for your answers Luke and Kelly. I suppose with any model of workflow processing there’s discipline required in analysing what you’re doing at various levels before doing it.

    I guess what I’m wanting to do is raise my principle of being selective of the work I do in accordance to long term goals (rather than other people’s goals), higher or closer to my daily grind.


  5. Dear Kelly,
    can you help me pls with one big question in my paper GTD?
    Situation: I have some big project – i.e. painting the wall in the living room – which has some different steps = next actions.
    When I plan this project (have it on the list in my personal role), should I plan all the steps and write them on their lists – buy the color (errands), prepare living room for the painting (home), prepare all the tools (home), etc? Or I should write the only one next action – i.e. buy the colour and the rest of the project I should plan constantly step by step after finishing the previous action?
    I have the problem to do it on the paper because in Omnifocus I can do it at once and have all the steps on the specific lists but on the paper I do not know how to do it..

  6. Hello Jan,

    Fine to capture any project Next Actions you can do in parallel, as long as you want all of those choices on your lists at the same time. It does not need to be limited to just one.

    We do not recommend capturing sequential Next Actions though, as your Next Actions should only be reserved for actions you can choose now.

    Hope that helps!

  7. Hi Jan. I have been doing/tinkering with GTD for a while. I tend to do more things electronically. When I was doing a paper-based form of this (and in my work brainstorming) what i tend to do is use tiny post-it notes and save them in “old school” photo album pages. This way you can open the little static-cling type page, and rearrange everything. And you can fold it and not worry about it.

    A good middle ground would also consider using index cards with some sort of index card sorter from lavenger.

    I like to scratch things out on paper and then load them into the computer later. I tend to write the “next actions” in paper when doing the general planning/weekly review stuff. And I have an actual page for each project so i can ‘dump’ all the actions on that page.

    I use the GTD iphone app so i can work through my lists and load things into my inbox with incredible efficiency.

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