David Allen on the Best Software for GTD

Hi Folks,

This post is for any of you who have ever asked, “What’s the best software tool with which to do GTD?”

I’m still buzzing myself from the recent global GTD Summit in Amsterdam. So many people from around the world; so much positive, supportive energy from everyone to anyone engaged. Wow. Quite a unique experience for me, and from what I’ve heard from all involved.

One topic I wanted to address at the Summit was: “Where is the GTD app?” in terms of a software tool that really “did it” for me.

It hasn’t happened yet.

Ultimate GTD app

At the Summit I briefly shared a vision of the “ultimate GTD app” which consists of 19 pages of hand-drawn drafts of the screens I would want to use. I just said to myself, “Can I click F1 on my computer and get to a clear head?” I spent two days creating those screens. This was in 1994.

Since I drew these, we’ve invested in two serious attempts at producing a software product that would do it (or at least come close). Both ended in a “not yet” conclusion, after tremendous research in the tech and analysis of the market (one in the mid-1990s and the last in the mid-2010s.) Our partners in these enterprises were the best and brightest you could possibly gather to explore this. But the technology required to make some simple GTD practices happen, and the lack of awareness in the marketplace for such a tool, put a kibosh on both endeavors.

Download the screens I would want to use

So I promised our hundreds of people at the GTD Summit that I would make those screens available to the public. This was originally legally protected IP; but I decided to just make it “open source” now in case any of you out there could make it happen.

Here they are, below. Or download the PDF.

My CTO and great friend for many years, Eric Mack, came the closest to giving us something that built in some of the best practices. And he’s recently written about his experience and what it takes to build the ultimate GTD app.

He knows the methodology, in spades, and what has worked and not worked in trying to digitalize it. It required configuring the Lotus (IBM) Notes app we still use in our company, with some great features and abilities. (That’s still what I use to manage my action lists). Eric has said he’d be open to connect with any of you who want to know more about how this best-practice model can be digitalized. He’s at [email protected].

All the best, to all of you.

—David Allen

This essay appeared in David Allen’s Productive Living Newsletter. Subscribe for free here.

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15 Comments

  1. I really appreciate David Allen sharing this – I hope someone designs a tool for this. For me as a person with extensive software design experience and currently self learning and implementing GTD, these notes are a source of immense learning in implementing GTD using a combination of paper/pen and the digital tools I use. Thanks once again.

  2. There was a GTD plug in app that worked with Outlook that I used in the early 2000s. I believe David had something to do with it’s development. It was wonderful. Now I still use Outlook but set it up with the users guide recommendations. It works fine but is not integrated like the plug in was. Did anyone else use this tool? For the life of me, I can’t recall the name of the company that developed it.

    1. Hi Bart, the Outlook Add-In was developed and sold by NetCentrics. It was a great product. They stopped selling and supporting the software in summer 2015.

      1. why didn’t Netcentrics and David Allen release the software to the public domain (open source it). The community would’ve been able to keep the software alive, adapt to new Outlook changes and add new ideas…

        1. Hi Peter, that would have been up to NetCentrics. You could ask them if they considered that. I’m not sure if there is still anyone with the company who was involved with the Outlook Add-In, but there is contact information in the footer of their website. https://netcentrics.com/

  3. Dear all,
    I liked the PDF file, it’s a good source of inspiration. The strength of the GTD method is that it can be adapted to all environments. Therefore, finding software that meets such a wide range of different needs seems to be an impossible task. Finally, you must be able to use the GTD method with a blank notebook, pencil and telephone. I wish you all the best.
    Best regards
    Olivier

  4. Dear all,

    I was able to (copy) build the setup as indicated in the drawings of David Allen at the GTD summit and I do think it comes close to the concept of David Allen. It is working on iPhone, iPad and iMac (the first two with Shortcuts and the latter with Keyboard Maestro).

    I am now working for a couple of weeks with this setup and I am very satisfied with the project because it brought me back “to the roots” and made my system and daily work process much more simple. One of the general ideas of a GTD system is to keep it simple but somewhere I lost this concept. However the view and use is simple, setting it up is more complex.

    You can find a document here: https://bertkruisdijk.wordpress.com/2019/07/24/david-allens-killer-gtd-app-system-brought-into-practice/

    Enjoy reading.

    Bert

  5. I’ve been using OmniFocus from The Omni Group for several years to do GTD and it’s been working very well for me. They have a cool overview video about how GTD works in the context of OmniFocus here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZp0eHCOEJs It’s only on iOS and Mac, but they just released a reduced functionality web-based version to give people access on other platforms. I imagine that the web version will improve over time. I hope the people here have looked into it.
    Anyway, thanks for giving the world GTD, my life has changed because of it. I’m probably about 4 times as productive as I was before and I have more peace now. It’s awesome.

  6. I have just been experimenting with “The Brain” 10 and I think it will work out great as the tool for my project management.
    The depth of structure and data referencing is dynamite so far.
    Labels for each type like “Action Items, ” “Deferred”, and so-on. Can link to calendars, URLs, custom notes, etc.

  7. “I’m still buzzing myself from the recent global GTD Summit in Amsterdam.” I’m from Belgium, just a drive away from Amsterdam. I’m just getting my head arround all the principles but I would have loved to attend. Is there another GTD summit planned in Amsterdam in the near future?

  8. I read GTD about 15 years ago and was very inspired by the book and studied it and incorporated the ideas into my own systems. I recently caught David Allen on the art of manliness which was fascinating and inspired me to take a look at the website. The pdf of the GTD GUI are great! I think these days user inter faces are a bit different in how we do stuff, eg how you use your iPad or windows pc. From my own experience I think I’m doing most of that GUI using OneNote and outlook as they integrate closely together. I think you can go a long way with calendar, outlook reminders on emails to follow up, outlook due dates / start dates on onenote actions (creates at outlook task), onenote work/home landing pages with shortcuts to projects or themed projects etc. Onenote has all the flexibility of whatever paper based system you want to implement with a lot more in terms of search, tags, reminders, ties to outlook. I tend to use outlook inbox as my inbox for post it’s or whatever, I often email myself some random thought. Onenote is also perfect for organising your reference system. I have 1000s of pages in onenote on everything I’ve looked at both at home and for work. My passion karate has a huge reference section, but GTD project wise it’s very focused and most of the time I feel my head is clear like I’m mid kata! I think if you wanted you could show how to implement the GTD system in onenote/outlook mostly with some care as the pages are free form so you need to create the form / template rather than the originally envisaged form orientated interface. I don’t really see the point creating a custom app as most of the core functionality required already exists. I waited 20 years for onenote to come out! There are other good alternatives. Many thanks to David Allen for his excellent book. I also like how to live on 24 hours a day in the productivity genre.

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