I shared the following post on Instagram a few months ago when I was challenged by a team at work to read the book Getting Things Done by David Allen.
Well, I finished the book and it was life-changing!
In this post, I’ll share a little about what I learned and how I’ve maximized the GTD methodology with the Todoist app. In addition to this post, you may want to check out my Todoist Year in Review that I shared recently so you can see how much I’ve been able to accomplish with this powerful combination.
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In Getting Things Done, David Allen teaches that you must capture everything. Then clarify. Then organize.
Here is the Getting Things Done Workflow Diagram that is discussed throughout the book:
Prior to reading Getting Things Done, I was guilty of:
- jotting things down on Post-It notes as well as whatever paper I had lying around,
- setting reminders for some things in my phone,
- taking meeting notes (with to-do items) in whatever program was readily available when the meeting started,
- setting reminders in Slack for to-do items that come up,
- leaving emails in my inbox if I knew I needed to do something with it (leading to an inbox full of dozens if not hundreds of emails to be dealt with),
- and probably a number of other GTD sins.
How many of those things are you guilty of as well?
How to capture your to-do items effectively
Capturing to-do items in all of these places (not to mention leaving many items rolling around in my head rather than jotting them down anywhere) can lead you to forget, lose track of, and fail to complete important tasks. It can also leave you feeling scattered and not on top of what you need to be doing.
It can take a while to figure out the best system for capturing ALL of those items in one place, but once you figure out the system that works for you (and you commit to sticking to that system), it is be a game changer!
I use Todoist for this. I start every day with 10-15 minutes of processing my email. There’s a little more to know about the processing of email/to-do items as you can see in the diagram above, but I’ll keep this part simple here. If the email is junk or no action is needed, I delete it. If something needs to be done and it will take less than two minutes, I do it right away. If something needs to be done that will take more than two minutes, I forward it to my Todoist inbox. With this method, I typically achieve Inbox Zero every morning before 8 am.
Throughout my workday, if a to-do item comes up for me during a meeting, I enter it into my Todoist inbox immediately. If I find myself jotting down notes on a piece of paper, I transfer those into my Todoist inbox at the end of the day or when I have a free moment. I’ve trained myself to enter absolutely everything into Todoist so that my to-dos are centralized and under control. If I need a reminder at a certain time, I can set that up in Todoist so I don’t need to use a separate reminder function in my phone.
Once a day (typically after I’ve processed my email), I go into my Todoist inbox and clear that as well–assigning each task to a project, adding labels (as appropriate), and assigning a priority. I have a number of filters set up in Todoist which then help me prioritize my work. I’ll go into these in more detail in another post, but here’s a quick snapshot:
How to organize your lists in Todoist:
- “To Do” list – I manage my to dos in different levels:
- Priority 1 — must happen on the date entered in the to-do item. Set up a filter to show these items in a separate list. Example: (overdue|tod) & p1
- Priority 2 — “next actions”. Set up filter to show these items in a separate list. Example: p2 & (overdue|tod|no date) & !(@Waiting💤)
- Priority 3 — should get done at some point. Set up a filter to show these items in a separate list (exclude anything you don’t want to see on that list, i.e. !(@Waiting💤)
- Priority 4 — Informational (reading/podcasts/videos), set up a filter to show these items in a separate list (exclude anything you don’t want to see on that list, i.e. !(@Waiting💤)
UPDATE: I’ve published a follow-up post going deeper into the set up of the above filters based on reader responses: Setting Up Filters in Todoist for GTD Workflow
- “Project” list — You can create projects in Todoist. (If a project has not been assigned, the item will live in your Inbox so be sure to specify a project for every to do item.)
- “Waiting on Others” list — Create an @Waiting label. (You can set rules in your filters to exclude items with this label if you want to review them separately.)
- “Someday/Maybe” list — Create a @Someday/Maybe label. Then create a filter for that label and favorite it.
Additional Tips for Todoist:
I recommend setting up daily checklists for items you want to be sure to tackle every day (or week or certain days). Example: “Clear Outlook Inbox”, “Read 30 min”, etc.
I also recommend setting up filters for timing/location-specific items. Examples:
- Personal items show up in my “Lunch Break” list so when I take a break from work mid-day, I check to see what I can get done during that time (i.e., pay a bill or call and make an appointment).
- My “At Night” list contains non-urgent (usually personal) items that I can tackle while I’m sitting on the couch at night.
- My “Traveling” list contains the items like articles to read, videos to watch, and other things I can do while traveling.
The GTD Guided Mind Sweep
In addition to systemizing my daily workflow and prioritization, I’ve found it super helpful to listen to the GTD Guided Mind Sweep (podcast episode #3):
I do this every month or two and every single time I do it I end up with at least 25 things to add to my to-do list–things that are filling up space in my mind when I don’t even realize it. When you listen, be prepared with a piece of paper and a pen. Write down everything that comes to your mind as he talks. Then when you’re done, transfer all of those items into your central to-do list organizer.
How to get started
If you’d like to start getting more organized, increase your productivity, and feel overall on top of your game, I highly recommend purchasing a copy of Getting Things Done and giving Todoist a try! (You can sign up for Todoist for free. If you want to upgrade to the Premium plan, it starts at just $3/month!)