An unorganized work space. Photo by Wonderlane on Unsplash

Do you write reminders or tasks on sticky notes, in your phone, planner, or calendar? Do you then feel overwhelmed with the amount of information in different places?

Woman working on a laptop, biting a pencil, and looking stressed. Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

The Getting Things Done method (GTD) uses a 5-step strategy that will help you become more productive and organized.

Getting Things Done Method (GTD) Overview

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Capture all potential meaningful things, clarify what you will do about them exactly, organize the results in functional categories, which you reflect on. Then engage.

— David Allen, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

Getting Things Done (GTD) in 5 Steps

  1. Capture: write down what is on your mind.

  2. Clarify: make your capture list specific and actionable.

  3. Organize: Put it in the correct category.

  4. Engage: Complete items.

  5. Reflect: Review your list frequently. 

Step 1: Capture

You can't organize what's incoming — you can only capture it and process it.

— David Allen

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Record what is on your mind using paper or technology.

Items to capture can be personal or professional:

  • tasks, meetings, and projects

  • events and errands 

  • ideas

  • health needs

  • book, music, or movie recommendations 

Person writing down list in a notebook. Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Steps 2 & 3: Clarify & Organize

The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small, manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.

— Mark Twain, author

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Previously, you captured your list, and you most likely wrote short points. When clarifying you want to create specificand actionable items.


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Do make your list specific and actionable with details, like this:

  • Complete W2 paperwork and submit it to ABC company

  • Clean out the bedroom, wash walls, and prep to paint

  • Call Landon about fixing the leak in the kitchen


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Don't make your list short, like this:

  • W2

  • Paint bedroom

  • Call Landon


Now is the time to organize your “inbox”.

Place each item into one of the following categories:

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Projects: Any task that has more than one step. Make sure to list out ALL the steps it will take to complete the project. You can separate projects into different categories, such as work or personal. 

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Someday/Maybe: Items that you want to complete in the future. These can be projects, shows to watch, places to go, ect…

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Next Actions: Complete these task(s) the next chance you have.

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Delegation: Items you can give to someone else to complete.

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One-off Tasks: Items that only have one step, but may take longer than 2 minutes.

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Task(s) with a Due Date: If there is a specific deadline, schedule the task. If the item doesn't need a specific deadline, put it into the Next Actions category. 

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Agendas: Items that you need to bring attention to. This could be for work or personal purposes, and it could include items to bring to someone. 

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Reference Materials: Items that don't have an action, but need to be filed. For example, phone number, email address, website, documents, etc.

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Waiting For: Items someone else is currently completing.

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2-Minute Rule: If it takes less than 2 minutes, get it done and over with.


Which item(s) would make a specific and actionable item for your list?

Step 4: Engage

A woman at a type writer completing a stack of papers.

Now it's time to complete your task(s)! Use the following to help you decide what task to complete. 

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Priority: What has to get done today? Anything with a due date? Complete the highest priority items first. 

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Context: Complete similar items around the same time. Don't try to multitask.

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Time Available: Do you have 5 minutes, 15 minutes, or an hour? Choose a task you can complete in the time you have available. 

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Energy Available: What is your energy level? Do you have high energy or low energy? If your energy is high, stick to a high priority task. If your energy is low, stick to a low priority task.

Help Clay decide what tasks to complete!

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Today is 3/23. Clay has to attend a planning meeting at 10:30 AM. He has the following items in his inbox:

A. Call Vanessa about the edits on project B by 3/27 (60 minutes) 

B. Send e-mail to Felix about scheduling his performance review by 3/24 (2 minutes) 

C. Write up financial proposal for Client X by 4/6 (90 minutes)

D. Send out XYZ file by 3/23 (2 minutes)

E. Complete videos 1-5 on Training ABC by by 3/24 (30 minutes)


It is 9 a.m. and Clay needs to decide what tasks to complete to maximize his time before his 10:30a.m. meeting. What tasks should he complete and in what order?

Step 5: Reflect

A man sorting sticky notes into different categories. Photo by UX Indonesia on Unsplash

Use your mind to think about things, rather than think of them. You want to be adding value as you think about projects and people, not simply reminding yourself they exist.

— David Allen, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

It's important to review and reflect on the items you've placed in your categories. Reflecting will help you stay on top of your new organization system.

Once a week you should reflect by…

  • Reviewing your categories and tasks

  • Updating and organizing any task that needs to be moved

  • Deleting task(s) that are no longer actionable

A smiling woman bringing her hand from her forehead down to her chest showing peace and relaxation.


Once a task is assigned a category, it can only move out of that category once the task is completed.

Take Action

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Get started on the Getting Things Done method!


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