Do you need a better way to prioritize your classwork and get things done?

Overwhelmed with things to do? Can't seem to finish a project or assignment? Mind racing with too many ideas?

A student flipping their desk. Discover the Getting Things Done method (GTD) of....well...getting things done!

The 5 steps of GTD can assist with task management and help you bring order to chaos!

1. Capture

Get started by clearing your mind of tasks.

Your mind is like water, when it is agitated it becomes difficult to see but when you let it settle the answer becomes clear.

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  • Log or list EVERYTHING on your mind "to-do" - big, small, mediocre

    • Anything that needs action : projects, household things, meetings, classwork, etc.

    • Use a trigger list to help you

  • Use a physical or digital method for listing

  • Add new tasks as they come up

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Capture is important!

Hoarding information in your mind leads to overwhelm, stress, and anxiety. Capturing frees your mind from task-related thoughts.

The GTD method refers to this step as the "inbox" — like the inbox in an email — where all tasks land.

As new tasks come to mind, add them to the inbox.

Capturing can be done on any medium — physically writing or using an app. Todoist recommends using an app or some digital device so it will always be handy.


Which of the following items needs to be captured? Select all that apply.

2. Clarify

Lilly Singh waving her arms saying priorities Now it's time to prioritize!

Prioritize each captured "to-do" into action steps. Use these headings as guides:

  • Takes less than two minutes to complete

    • Complete these tasks right away!

  • Can be delegated

  • Has a specific date or deadline

  • Involves multiple steps

  • Will need for future reference

  • No longer needed or has been completed

Use this video guide to help you prioritize!

Image & video by Wendy McMillian, voice over by Amazon Polly Text-to-Speech


Write out the specifics of each task you've listed to minimize wondering later.


Images by Wendy McMillian

Bad to-do list: Appointment, Call Professor, Write Letter.

  • Has no details and leaves you to wonder what you meant

Better todo list: Dr.'s appointment at 3 on 6/6; Call Professor at 1 about essay; Write letter to admissions office on 6/12

  • Has specifics to tell you what you need to do and when


Which items in this list are clarified?

3. Organize

A person filing boxes with papers.

Next, organize your list using headings for easy retrieval.

A place for everything, and everything in its place!

— Benjamin Franklin, American inventor

Some heading ideas are:

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  • Classify tasks that have more than one step as projects (ex/ building a display)

    • Break projects into sub-categories (ex/ materials, tools)

Flaticon Icon One-Off Tasks

  • Tasks taking more than 2 minutes but having only one step (ex/ replying to an email)

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  • Tasks that are your life domains or goals (ex/ building a blog site, learning piano)

    • Break these into 2 categories: "school" and "personal"

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  • Tasks that you'll complete as soon as is convenient (ex/ return a phone call)

    • Use keywords for quick searches later

Flaticon Icon Due Date Tasks

  • Tasks with deadlines or completion dates (ex/ term paper due)

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  • Tasks to be talked over with others (ex/ group projects)

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  • Anything you want to save for later (ex/ documents, reading materials, etc.)

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  • Tasks waiting for a response from someone (ex/ getting feedback on a project)


"Term paper deadline: Wed 10pm" would go under which category?

4. Engage

Man pointing upward saying Engage

This is where you answer the question, "What is my current task?" Here, you'll decide what you'll do next based on:

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Without context, you can't take action!

  • Are you in the right place?

  • Do you have the needed tools?

  • Do you have access to the right people?

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Choose tasks that fit your usable time.

  • Is your time limited?

  • Will the action take more time than you have?

Flaticon Icon Energy Level (Resources):

Energy is crucial for performance.

  • Do you have the energy needed to complete the task?

  • Are you mentally or physically exhausted?

  • Do you have energy to spare?

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Consider GTD's Horizons of Focus, which includes task purpose, driving force, destination, primary concern, actions, and timeframe.


You have 10 minutes to spare. Which task do you choose?

5. Reflect

Woman sitting at a desk writing in a book and looking at a phone

Reflecting allows you to scan your lists, projects, and to-dos. It's a way of looking ahead for the week or month.

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As you look at your GTD tasks, ask yourself...

  • What errands do I need to run today?

  • What does my week look like?

  • Do I have any deadlines to meet?

  • Do I have any appointments or other commitments?

  • Are there any lists, projects, or to-dos I can cross off?

  • Are there any projects I'm committed to?

  • Do I need to rearrange or reorganize any tasks?

  • Am I on track with my goals?

Take Action

Organizing GTD takes initial time and energy investment for setup, but the benefits will save you time in the future!

Several note pages with notes being written on them.


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