How to implement the GTD system in a paper planner

by Suzanne
9th mai 2017
Comments 4

The GTD method, or Getting Things Done, is an organisation system that will cover all the areas of your life. It’s an awesome concept and it can be adapted to your own needs and life circumstances, which makes it a powerful tool!

Basically, it relies on the big picture: what do you want out of life? What are the best ways to achieve your personal and professional goals? That’s how you can start organizing yourself! You can use any too you like to implement it, I’m using a Filofax but an app like Asana or simple index cards can be your thing.

There’s a book and a website with a podcast and lots of informative documents, and you’ll also find looots of posts on the internet. Here’s a complete guide to GTD, here’s a great system based on evernote, and here are two blog posts (one, two) about GTD in a philofax.

This article will be a short introduction to the system, but feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comments!

So, how does GTD work?

Here’s a flowchat (this one looks really good, I keep it at the front of my planner)

GTD flowchart

You start with « stuff ». This can be tickets for a game, notes from a phone call or a meeting, a piece of paper with an ID number on it, an appointment at the dentist. Then, you follow the chart.

Do you need to do something about your stuff? If not, you can either trash it, put it in your files for future reference, or add it to your « someday/maybe » list.

If there is something you have to do about it, if it takes less than 2 minutes, do it straight away. If not, you have several solutions. You either delegate it: someone else will take care of it (then it probably goes onto your « waiting for » list), or defer it. If it’s a one-step action, you write it on one of your « next actions » list, if it’s time sensitive (the dentist appointment) you schedule it and it will go onto your calendar, and if it’s a multistep project, well you guessed it… It goes on your projects list!

In order for your projects to get worked on, you have to make sure there’s always one task per project on your « next action » lists. Once a task is done, review your project and decide on the next little task in order to get moving.

How do I get started with GTD?

The first thing to do is to have a massive braindump. Empty it all: what is your mind right now? Do you have to get new tires? Are you waiting for a confirmation email for a sale? Do you think you should start working on your blog?

Write down all the tasks and projects you can think of. Then it’s time to use the flowchart seen above. Be careful to not misplace a project for a task : get new tires is a projet. Your tasks include looking up prices, calling the place, getting someone to drive you back…

It’s really important to get it all out in order to get a good start!
Now it’s time to get your planner ready for the system…

What you will need in your planner

Let’s get nerdy… Here are the most common sections used in a GTD Filofax!

  • an inbox/notes section. This is where you put stuff and ideas as they come to you.
  • a diary. Yearly inserts, monthlies, weeklies, dailies… You’ll only write time-sensitive tasks on these pages (and appointments, of course!)
  • a lists sections. This is where you’ll keep all the lists that help running your life smoothly. This is also where you’ll keep your daily/weekly/monthly routines, and trigger lists for braindumping (you’ll understand in a minute).
  • a projects section. Everything that requires more than one action is a project. This is where you plan your project: what’s the desired outcome? When is it due? When should you start working on it? For how long each day?
  • a someday/maybe section. This will house all the projects you’d like to take care of one day.
  • a « next actions » section, divided in contexts, which are actually places or objects that make it possible to do the tasks on the list. For me, these contexts are « School », « Home », « Computer », « To grade », « Phone », « Errands », « Agendas », and « Waiting For ». For exemple, if I have to copy 30 exam papers, it will go on my « school » list because that’s where I’ll have to do it. If I have to talk to a colleague about a student before taking a decision, it will go on « agendas ». You will have to select your contexts based on your habits. I personnaly use a sheet of paper per context.
  • a reference sections, to put important information you might need at any time. Bank account numbers, contacts, …

To recap

Remember, there are five important steps to the method:

GTD methodology
Getting Things Done

If you really commit to make it work, I promise you’ll see results in no time.

Some people prefer using apps such as Asana, Trello or Evernote rather than a planner. You’ll find multiple tutorials on how to implement GTD with these systems. There are no wrong ways to use the GTD method: make it yours and make it work for you!

If you’re a GTD-er, I’d love to hear about your system. Let me know in the comments!

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