Starting Fresh – Back on the GTD Wagon


Photo courtesy of Raphs

Photo courtesy of Raphs

One of my habits to change in 2009 was to become more organized, especially when it comes to managing my time.  Like most people, I am juggling a dozen or more projects, am constantly inundated with phone calls/emails/people who want a piece of my time, and have a task list a mile long.  

Those if you who know me well, know that I am Getting Things Done (GTD) advocate.  I picked up the book almost 2 years ago to the day, after a cross-country trek in a moving truck.  It has helped me in countless ways by reducing stress, bringing focus to my work, and allowing me the freedom to enjoy the things I love.

Like most GTDers, including David Allen himself, every so often you “fall of the wagon.”  For me, it was about 3 months ago.  I stopped using my trusted system to keep track of things, I tried to remember all my tasks in my head, and stopped reviewing my tasks for the week.  The end result…productivity suffered and stress went up.  

This would be my 3rd time off the wagon, and I expect it will happen again.  However, the beauty of the system is that you can quickly pick back up where you left off as long as you keep in mind the basic concepts: collect you stuff, process your stuff to empty, review your process to keep it current, and trust the system to be sure you are doing the right things.

So with this in mind, last Friday and Monday I got back on the wagon.  To start with, I took most of Friday doing a “braindump” of everything on my mind to do (and yes, you need a whole, meeting free day, in most cases to do this.)  I used this handy trigger list to write down everything I had to do.  It includes projects, emails to send, errands to run…anything that I have to do (or in a lot of cases to delegate.)  End result…an excel spreadsheet with about 300 items on it (ouch!) 

Secondly, I cleared out the email and voicemail inboxes, some 350 items that accumulated while I was on vacation for nearly 3 weeks.  Another 50 or so tasks came from that work (any email that needed an action less then 2 minutes, I went ahead and did.)

Finally, I spent most of Monday sorting through all of this data.  In most cases I either:

  • Added it to my task list and in the case of project added a task for the very next physical action that I needed to take to move it forward.  
  • Delegated the task to someone else.
  • Filed it away as something to look at it the future (ex. some family vacations I am looking to take later the year.)
  • Trashed the task if, after looking it, the task was either undefined or I decided I no longer wanted to perform that task.

Even if you are not a GTD fan, getting all of your “stuff” out of your head onto a piece of paper can be very liberating.  We all feel busy, but do you really know all the things which you have to do?  Give it a try, and drop me a line on how it went!


2 Responses to “Starting Fresh – Back on the GTD Wagon”

  1. 1 Dave Huff January 20, 2009 at 4:51 pm


    Honestly, trying-out the GTD apps (Omnifocus and Things) have kept me from buying into the system. Those apps seem needlessly complex and, in some ways, counterintuitive. Maybe if I actually read Allen’s book, I’d feel differently. In any case I ordered “The Power of Less” from Amazon based on your recommendation and should be receiving it this week.


  2. 2 Greg Syferd January 20, 2009 at 5:04 pm


    I would recommend getting the book, if you feel it is something that will help. If you have a system that works for you, by all means keep up with it! Both of the tools do make more sense if you have read the book.

    I have used a bevy of tools for GTD, including the two you mentioned. I have been using Things for about a year now and it works well for me. I agree with your assessment re: the complexity of Omnifocus.

    However, I recommend anyone getting into GTD to start simple. Too many people fail because they first jump into a tool and then find that the tool doesn’t meet their needs. When starting GTD, follow David’s advise and start with pen, paper, and notecards.

    I am so glad I started there because when I was ready to digitize, I looked for tools that met my needs and not for tools that forced me into a process I didn’t like.

    Let me know what you think about the The Power of Less!

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My name is Greg Syferd. Here I share my thoughts, ideas, and random stuff I come across. For work, I am a Systems Manager at the Columbus Metropolitan Library. When unplugged I'm a husband/father, read books, and aspire to be a photographer.
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