GTD Best Practices: Organize (Part 3 of 5)

Organize, by far, is one of the most talked about parts of GTD.  And why not? It’s all about cool gear!  With GTD, choosing your tools is up to you and there’s incredible freedom in that.  David Allen is not telling you what tools to use, but how to use your tools.  So let’s dive in to look at what’s helpful to know about this phase.


Organizing identifies the various placeholders or “buckets” where actions and support material are stored that you’ve processed. David Allen has also described organizing as simply “things are stored based on what they mean to you.”  The four primary action lists are:

  • Projects
  • Next Actions (with optional subcategories by context such as Calls, Computer, Office, Home, Errands, Agendas (people and meetings) and Anywhere)
  • Waiting For
  • Calendar (for time-specific actions, day-specific actions, and day-specific information only)

Organizing also includes setting up your workspace, a reference system for non-actionable information, and incubation systems (Someday Maybe and Tickler Systems) for possible later actions.


  • Are there any tools already in place that you plan/need to still use? Like a corporate calendar?
  • Where is your email?  Not required, but certainly helps to have your email and lists near each other.
  • Who else needs to see your data?   Does it need to be on a shared server or would local be fine if you go digital?
  • What do you tend to be drawn to–paper or digital?
  • Is security a concern? Are you okay with your information being in the cloud?
  • How would you back it up, if needed?
  • What are you willing to carry around?
  • What tools are you already familiar with?
  • Would you trust putting almost anything into it?
  • Is it scalable?
  • Can you easily learn how to use it?
  • What are you willing to pay for it?
  • What does it need to sync to?


  • A good rule of thumb when choosing tools (especially your Calendar, Waiting For and Next Action lists which will get the heaviest traffic) is “can I maintain this easily if I am sick in bed with the flu?” That will tell you whether you’ve overbuilt it or not.  Don’t build your system at the height of your creativity and complex thinking.  It’s too risky that you won’t be there all the time and won’t be able to easily work your system when you need to.
  • Settle on something as a list manager.  Yup. This isn’t marriage. It’s just a list manager. Let go of the idea that the perfect list manager is out there, if it’s holding you back from picking something that will be good enough at least to try. You can always change it later if you really need to.
  • If you’re still on a learning curve with GTD, you may not want to add to that learning curve by picking tools you’re not familiar with. Instead, start with something you already know, like a paper planner.

Now, I know I haven’t mentioned specific tools.  There are a rare few that David Allen has personally vetted for GTD. That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of tools that will be a fantastic support for you though. And there are loads of suggestions from your fellow GTD fans on this blog and in our Forums. Bottom line? Pick tools you’ll be more attracted to than repelled by.  Trust your lists for holding your reminders more than holding them in your mind, or your mind will fire you and take the job back.


Just joining this series? Read part one on Collect and part two on Process or part four on Review.


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


Join the Conversation


  1. Good article, thank you.

    You should include a video that shows clearly an entire system in action. I never see that and know for me and others learning the system it could greatly help to clear up many levels of confusion about how the operation of GTD system all comes together in a real work situation.

    For example, what does a list look like if it has 150 – 200 typical projects on it with all relevant next actions etc.? Are all those in a little notepad (which must take up 10 pages)? What does that kind of list look like and in a typical busy day, how does the user engage and use that list without getting bogged down with managing the list. Show don’t tell — show a typical 3 minute scenario where everything is being captured as it happens.For some reason GTD is never presented that way and there’s always that gap of understanding hanging over a typical newbie.

  2. Good article. Agreed with Dick, visual information is more effective than telling. Some sort of DA’s video about managing distraction at workstation will do. Please do for the rest. How can you make a 5 years old understand GTD?

  3. Got it. Thanks for the suggestions!

    There are some really good videos on GTD Connect that show GTD in action that you may find useful.

  4. The videos on GTD Connect might be useful, but it requires a subscription to view them. And I’m quite suspect that they will actually present in simple terms what I’ve always soiught — which is a simple real life in action scenario that shows how all the GTD pieces come together and work.

    Do you receive an affiliate commission for pushing your viewers towards GTD Connect? If yes, you should probably mention that so it all doesn’t come across as a big framework for extracting monies from confused viewers. I’m sure there are good intentions all around, but it’s always baffled me that the only way to figure out GTD in earnest is to keep paying for books, seminars, supplies, tapes etc. Maybe you can arrange to have one of those GTD Connect videos posted on this website?

  5. Hi Dick,

    Here’s a great one that we took from the GTD Connect library for Times readers:

    We’ll see what else we can make available to the public.

    GTD Times and GTD Connect are all in the David Allen family, so no affiliate relationship there at all. Just wanted to point you to what could be a helpful resource. 🙂

    One thing David Allen has always said about GTD is that he didn’t hold anything back from the book–it’s all in there. I love that. You could read the book and have it all! And we’re happy to put a ton of other things out too to help people learn new tips, tricks and nuances with the methodology.

    Hopefully this series I’m doing on Times gives people some new ways to learn how to make their systems even better.

    All the best,


  6. Hi Kelly,

    I really enjoy your series about GTD. I even think I will give GTD a second try. The first time I thought it wouldn’t work for me, but this might be wrong.

    Capturing is what already works for me. I have trouble with processing vs. organizing. If you had to put it in one sentence, what’s the main differnce between “Process” and “Organize”?
    I think both can be done in one step but I always think there’s something wrong if I do so. Thank you for your help and your great articles.

    Best wishes

  7. Hi Carsten,

    I’d say…
    Processing is deciding and organizing is putting that decision somewhere until you are ready to take action.

    They are two separate steps, but done so closely together that they seem like one step.

    Glad you’re getting value from the series!


  8. Hi Kelly,

    I believe I could benefit from having those different lists. I use Mindjet MindManager for all my planning, thinking, note taking, projects and to-dos. So I would just have to add those lists to my dashboard.

    I read the GTD book a few years ago, but for some reason I never got to implementing it. Today is a good day to start! 😉

    Thanks for the post,

    Best regards,


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