A Quick Overview of Getting Things Done

I’ve been using the Getting Things Done (GTD) time management system for the past couple of years. It’s been a reliable technique for me in maintaining productivity and efficiency, as GTD boils down to essentially managing a to-do list. Better yet, it’s easy enough to just pick aspects of the methodology you agree with, without being bogged down in dogmatic process and consultant-delighting proper nouns1.

The big idea of GTD is to write things down, getting them away from forgetful short-term memory onto more permanent storage, either paper or software. The tasks should stay small, and for larger projects it’s sufficient to capture just the first steps of progress. Then it’s just a matter of organizing tasks into lists, and reviewing them regularly to either tackle chores or rearrange and prioritize.

That workflow should remind you of modern project management, with a hint of agile iterative development. Whereas agile falls flat when the entire team doesn’t completely buy into its methodologies2, GTD works because it only requires its single user to follow its processes. In particular, just capturing everyday information immediately to process later is a remarkably simple yet powerful tool: it enables “batch processing” of chores and avoids the trap of multitasking and succumbing to fallible human memory.

Of the software that enables GTD, I’ve been using Things for many years now across Macs and iPhones and iPads. I don’t really follow the full GTD framework, and I haven’t really found any software which models the full process either. To be honest though, any to-do list — digital or otherwise — is sufficient for tracking and task organization, and I just happen to like the Things interface and rock-solid syncing backend.

If you’ve ever felt that to-do lists can be useful but lack an instruction manual, give Getting Things Done a shot.

  1. I also had trouble getting into the creator’s book of the same name. It took me 3 tries to actually finish the thing, which speaks volumes about how exciting it is to read about a productivity technique.

  2. I have a draft post on the fallacies of agile development…

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