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GTD in 15 Minutes – A Pragmatic Guide to Getting Things Done (hamberg.no)
214 points by ingve on Nov 21, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 73 comments

Similar to GTD, I use a technique called "Bullet Journaling" [1] and it's been transformative. It's less opinionated than GTD and I find it flows a bit more readily.

I find it ironic that as a tech CTO I'm connected to my phone and computer probably 80% of my day and love playing with productivity and organizational tools -- yet I've still never found anything better than putting pen to paper!

I keep a small pocket-sized moleskine in my back pocket with me, and it travels with me basically wherever I go. I leave it open on my desk during the work day, and I find I "respect" the notebook more than I respect Asana or Todoist or any other digital app. I guess it's because it's in my own handwriting.

I spend about 10 minutes in the morning going through the notebook and another 10 in the evening looking forward to tomorrow. Strongly recommend this approach if you're looking for a slightly more flexible approach than GTD.

[1] http://bulletjournal.com/

I feel the same. I always have my notebook with me. Tried various apps but I get back to my notebook everytime. Will definitely try "Bullet Journaling". Thanks

The tiny amount of syntax is lovely. I could see this added to org-mode

This is great, thanks.

Emacs Org-Mode, along with its org-capture mode and the ability to clock in/out, is a perfect tool to implement this, btw.



Org-Mode can work, but it's not for everybody. I tried using it for GTD for more than a year, but ended up gradually abandoning it. It was too much friction when I least need it.

One problem is that it encourages to put both to-dos and reference material in the same place. I found this makes things a mess more often than not.

Also, it forced me to learn Emacs way more than I otherwise needed, instead of focusing on work.

I did enjoy some aspects of it though. All my to-do history from that time is still searchable. And I didn't have to upload my work and personal data to some random SaaS provider.

I actually ended up building a desktop GTD tool [1] based on those needs. It looks good, is low-friction and pleasant to use, runs on Linux, stores data in a local Sqlite DB. No subscription. But it's on Electron. I know HN seems to hate Electron apps.

[1] https://everdo.net/

I love org-mode but I don't use Emacs. Here is (almost complete) vim equivalent: https://github.com/jceb/vim-orgmode

With vim-orgmode I can quickly edit stuff in familiar editor.

I have tried various other formats, including taskpaper and various to-do lists but org-mode stands out by far.

Another great vim option is vimwiki: https://github.com/vimwiki/vimwiki

At a glance it supports all of the features provided by vim-orgmode, but it will probably never be as fully featured as emacs' orgmode

I was always curious about trying this, but has always been put off by the Emacs part of it. How much Emacs do you need to know to use this comfortably?

Apart from the actual set up to include org-capture in it, not much.

Shortcuts to open a file (C-x C-f), close it (C-x k), and closing emacs (C-x C-c) would be the emacs shortcuts you'd need to learn. The rest would be org-mode shortcuts, like setting something as done (C-c C-t d) etc.

You will have to get used to being in Emacs though, that's for sure :)

Take a look at Checkvist. No emacs knowledge necessary, just heirarchal notes where you can set due dates and whatnot.

Not much. I hardly know emacs (would love to learn more though...) and am using sublime as my editor, but have learnt just a few shortcuts to be productive in orgmode. Currently I run emacs just for my orgmode tasks and org-agenda which is fantastic.

Maybe the Spacemacs distribution of emacs is more accessible for emacs beginners. But beware: it is really opinionated.

+1 for org-mode and GTD. But then, I'm an Emacs Everywhere person also. I spend all day in org-mode. It's both a task-management _and_ a knowledge-management system, my exocortex. Couldn't survive without it.

GTD does work but to be almost any system that is used with habit like fervor will work.

General productivity of contacting people and writing up things is pretty easy to manage and in large part most of it is just getting it out of your head so that you can focus on other perhaps cerebral things.

But that is the problem. Systems like these aren't at the surface terribly helpful with creativity. However I do believe they can be used to help boost creative output its not terrible clear how.

I have tried to be systematic with brain storming and coming up with ideas to execute and its not been very successful. In some cases it even feels like it stifles creativity.

Anyway I like James Clear's blog on this kind of stuff. He has some great ideas.

David Allen's has the statement, "You can't manage projects; you can only manage actions related to projects." This paradigm reduces the anxiety of projects, which really does effect my creativity.

Yes I totally agree.

I guess in some ways I'm asking for the impossible (well for now)... I want a a system that comes up with ideas and just does everything for me :)

Look into Cal Newport @ calnewport.com

Basically he says the trick is something called deep work. Where you set aside as big a contiguous block of time as possible to sitting around and thinking about something. Make sure you have no distractions, don't have a phone or computer. Just maybe a pen paper and white board. If you need to do any research try to do as much as possible before and after these session of "deep work".

Basically the fountain of creativity is long stretches of boredom.

Yes, that precisely what I wanted to say. For newbies, I would recommend to read this fantastic book on Deep work [1]

[1]: https://www.amazon.com/Deep-Work-Focused-Success-Distracted/...

The biggest benefit of GTD for creativity is eliminating the cognitive load of everything else. By capturing everything in a trusted system, you don't have it all bouncing around in your head when you are trying to have some creative output. "Mind like water"

Creativity rarely happens on a schedule. Therefore, to plan for optimal creativity means to plan for the ability to engage it whenever it happens.

Practically speaking, this means a few things:

- You need enough slack in your to-do list to allow you to delay or put off tasks if you suddenly get an idea that you want to explore.

- You need a way to capture and explore ideas at any time. This is why a lot of people carry little notebooks in their pocket. I prefer to use my mobile phone.

- You need a way to reference previous ideas, as creativity often takes the form of updates, modifications, or combinations of previous thoughts. Again, the notebook or mobile phone can do this for you.

- You need a way to take action on ideas--to start making them real. A lot of creative ideas sound great at first but fall apart when you try to actually build them.

To the extent GTD can help you do those things, it can help you be creative. But there is nothing inherently creative about a particular system of organization.

I know some people simply need spontaneity to be creative, but I think most people are fine being creative on a schedule. One of the most powerful quotes from Stephen King's book "On Writing":

"There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer. He lives in the ground. He’s a basement kind of guy. You have to descend to his level, and once you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live in. You have to do all the grunt labor, in other words, while the muse sits and smokes cigars and admires his bowling trophies and pretends to ignore you. Do you think it’s fair? I think it’s fair. He may not be much to look at, that muse-guy, and he may not be much of a conversationalist, but he’s got inspiration. It’s right that you should do all the work and burn all the mid-night oil, because the guy with the cigar and the little wings has got a bag of magic. There’s stuff in there that can change your life. Believe me, I know."

I think most on Hacker News would agree with this sentiment. If you aren't putting in the work how can you expect the muse to give you inspiration? You must lay the framework of creativity in your mind in order for it to strike. It is like the medium of an agar plate you use to grow critters in a lab, only in your mind you must create this medium by hard work and laying the framework. Sure inspiration strikes at times with or without this work, but (for me) it reliably strikes when I put in the work.

GTD is almost meta to this. It is just a system to keep your plate free to do your important work and prioritize your important work. It eliminates the mental clutter so you can focus on what is important. Many other productivity and self help systems all go down that same path. But it doesn't get at the core discipline of being regular and scheduled that is almost a requirement as a professional.

True; to me the value of these articles is to somehow reify some implicit ideas about management into explicit concepts/names so I can realize their existence and structure my mind.

I've tried to implement GTD a couple of times before but I always fail when I end up with organised but huge lists of things to do, along with things that become irrelevant over time (time-contextual "could-do's") and getting snowed under by day-to-day maintenance chores. Has anyone had success implementing it, and if so, was there any trick or technique that helped it "click" for you? I also realise I might just be doing it wrong, but I was following the capture loop as I understood it.

I started with this: https://trello.com/b/2f37iYzy/sample-gtd-board

Then I made some alterations to fit my lifestyle.

For one, there's a giant "Homework" list with all of my assignments for the semester and due dates. This helps me make sure that on any given day, I know whether an assignment is coming up. I sync this Trello list with my Google calendar, which sends me an email reminder the day before something is due.

I have a "Now" list that keeps track of my current task and my next few immediate tasks (so like, "fix this bug," "do flashcards," and "call Doc to make apt.") Sometimes I couple this with Pomello (http://www.pomelloapp.com/) which helps prevent me avoid going down various rabbit holes when working on a specific task.

There's also a "Dragons" list which is where I put important big tasks that I've been procrastinating.

I removed the project lists. My GTD board is strictly a sophisticated to-do list. Projects get their own separate trello boards.

EDIT: here's a skeleton example of what my GTD board looks like: https://trello.com/b/Y5wBPXLH/kendalls-gtd

Nice! Thanks for sharing. I really liked your background. Funny, I've been using the NYC landscape as my bg for years, but didn't realize until now it makes me feel a bit anxious, while yours conveys calmness and organization. The power of subliminal messages, uh?

+1 to getting rid of project-specific lists. I now create a separate Trello board for anything that requires more than 3-4 tasks.

I also think Trello is a great solution for GTD. But I've always felt the need to have a clear overview of all projects (boards) so I've made this little tool https://workflow.pm Basically it brings all your cards from all boards in a single dashboard.

thanks for posting this - it's always useful to see how other people adapt these systems as I believe they can be too constrained in their proscription of how to use them. I think that's one of the main things that caused me headaches in GTD - it's such a systemic process that it's hard to adopt gradually or partially.

Have you read the book? I just finished for the second time and couldn't recommend it more. It helps to not only understand the whole system, but David Allen's reasoning behind it. Ultimately, like many others have noted on threads like this one, GTD may fall short of a comprehensive personal organisation system that adequately keeps creative juices flowing; however, it's a hell of a starting point. I am starting to deviate from the system after more than a year of pretty religious practice, but I only feel comfortable doing so after getting my head around the methodology and its motivating philosophy.

I haven't read the book, but I've read a few articles that lay out GTD's motivation and process. I'll add it to my kindle list.

The secret, IMO, is just taking the bits of it which address an actual need you have. The full system can indeed be a maintenance nightmare, but if you can pull out a few bits and work them into your daily habits, you'll get more out of it.

I use a wiki page (in my personal Gitlab space of our company Gitlab instance):

- one wiki page per week

- every Monday, I copy over the wiki page to a new one

- I split sections between time-based, and "priority backlog" vs "low-priority backlog" (stuff that might get done in 2 months).

- I also keep a short list of general reminders at the bottom completely.

- I like using [x] to mark things done. Easy to review at the end of the week. Even sometimes ~~ to strike-trough, for extra satisfaction.

- If I had something not planned, I add it to the list, so that I don't despair at the end of the week, if I didn't do half of the things I should have.

- I pin the tab at the top of my tab list in Firefox, for quick access.

I like using Gitlab's wiki for this, since I can copy-paste the URL to an issue or specific project, and it automatically converts to something nicer. And while I could use the wiki history, instead of a new page, I find it easier to go back in time this way.

While only a small part, I kept a list on paper.

Each day, you have to copy our yesterday's list, and copy our the list afresh. While doing that, you can reorder, just do so you don't have to copy, or dump if it isn't going to get done (either into a long term text file, or just the bin).

I found that actively having to copy stopped my list accumulating things I know I should do, but probably never will.

I've been doing something similar to this, with my own version of a Bullet Journal - it's working well for short-term task management but for long term things that I might not notice day-to-day but know I need to get done (the drain needs unblocking, for example) I tend to forget or not make time for in amongst the mountain of day-to-days.

I use http://pocketmod.com/

I have my own pdf and I just print it out.

Bullet Journal solves this pretty well for my purposes. After bumping the same task still undone day after day = move it to “future log” pg. And I try not to migrate much from month to month.

I have been honing in on my own personal adaptation of GTD with Evernote for about four years. It has absolutely made a positive difference in my life, productivity, and stress levels. I tried two or three times before this and it never stuck.

I think the system works well for people who are already inclined to the general mindset and other systems likely work better for different types of people. For me, it is a slow process to reach a perfection of the system.

I am currently going through my fourth major overhaul of my system and I think when I come out the other side I will be about 80% of the way to where I want to be. I think I am about 60% now, but even when I was only 20% in the beginning it was an improvement over zero.

The last large overhaul I did shifted me from David Allen's notion of contextual based lists to lists based on criticality. Contextual was largely irrelevant to me since nearly everything I do can be done on my phone and otherwise computer, which is where I spend most of my working day.

I have 4 next action lists for the tasks in my personal life. Critical - Nothing sits in here for more than a day or two. The struggle for me is being honest about only putting items in here that I truly cannot let go past a day or two, not items that I wish I would do in a day or two.

Priority - This holds items that absolutely need to be completed at some point in the near future (within a week or two), but not necessarily today. It is reviewed every few days and actions are taken care of, shuffled up to critical, or shuffled down to Important, or elsewhere.

Important - This exists so that I don't fill up Priority with junk, but still feel like I have place I will review regularly so that these items don't fall through the cracks and end up as last minute fires to be put out.

Remember - Along the same lines, this exists so that Important isn't full of junk that I am just temporarily attached to. Most of 'remember' ends up being filed to a project, deleted, or placed into incubate. This folder was a key addition to remove the stress of what to do with ideas I felt were important in the moment, but knew they couldn't possibly take precedence over anything that had a real timeline.

I am returning to running my own business at the first of the year and so the new overhaul is all about managing separate clients and the related projects/tasks. From previous experience, I know how hard it is for me to comfortably step in and out of work, especially at home. I am developing a series of forms, note tags, and procedures to dump my mental operating RAM into Evernote at the end of a work session and then reload that project/task specific data into my mind whenever I return.

Like GTD in general, so much of the value for me is in having the confidence to say, "you can forget completely about that for now, it has been documented and filed in such a way that you need have no fear of not remembering and accessing it later in the moment when it is needed."

Great summary. For me what made GTD "click" was understanding the core psychological premise that humans are pretty bad at remembering things.

I implement GTD in a OneNote which is really helpful because when I'm creating tasks I can attach links, files, etc. so that context switching is as fast as possible and I don't have to dig stuff up every time I switch tasks.

It works really well for literature review: I create a note for a paper I want to read and attach the PDF, then make notes right in the task as I read it, and then move it to a reference section when I'm done.

I keep a printed list in outline form, edited and annotated as I make progress throughout the day. My list contains items as diverse as building mind maps and writing blog posts for re:Invent, flattening out some boxes in my recycling pile, updating my will, and adding final screen shots to those blog posts. So far so good.

The key to productivity for me is to make the actual act of checking something off of the list a cause for a tiny internal celebration. As I make that checkmark I make sure that I feel a sense of accomplishment. This might sound trivial, but it works!

I love GTD...in theory. It is rational, and it should work. In practice, it ended up being demoralizing to realize how little of what I should do and would like to do I actually have time for. It was "stress free" in the sense that I was missing fewer urgent (Covey) things for sure. It was very stressful in that it set a mood of "never enough...never enough". I think everyone should try it though and obviously, ymmv. [EDIT: oh, and if you do want to try it, this is really useful write up].

I struggle with the "never enough" side effect a lot. I am hopeful that continuing to hone the system will allow me to reach David Allen's stress free notion of "I can only do one thing at a time, and this is what I am choosing to do." Applying the 10K foot goals helps me with the larger life balance, but I still feel overwhelmed much more than is healthy.

I tried GTD way back when in the heady Merlin Mann days, but never got a capture-anywhere method that I liked. Hipster PDAs were out due to me writing with pens isn't exactly enjoyable/readable, and I get tired easily by my slow mobile typing speed, too. And voice notes while among other people? I'm a German introvert, goshdarnit...

On the computer, there's a plethora of possibilities (org, notational velocity, "quake terminal" with editor), of course.

If on iOS, the app Drafts[1] is a good option for your bottom row. It doesn't take care of typing speed, but it is optimized for time-to-cursor. That combined with the Siri phrase "Remind me to/about ___________ [at [time]|when I get [place]]" is as good as I've managed to get for mobile capture. It does still take discipline to clean these boxes out and get the info into an integrated system


On the voice notes: Google's voice recognition has improved markedly in recent years. Now it can even understand my German-accented English rather well.

I don't mind typing the notes once I'm in front of a real computer, I just don't want to do the "note to myself" while in public. And otherwise, I haven't found anything that gets me to capture things like "note: buy eggs" or "note: consider PEGs for the query builder optimization" fast enough. (Opening an app and laboriously using the mobile keyboard don't do it for me in the long run and just cause me to drop GTD again).

Maybe I should get one of those wearable chord keyboards from the late 90s and connect it to an always-on note-taking applicance...

I found opening the Google Keep app on my phone to be fairly painless to quickly jot something down. I really like the location based reminders that Google introduced across the board.

This is going to sound crazy to GTD'ers but I don't maintain a task list of any sort. I used to be crazy about Franklin Covey, then GTD, and it was all stress and anxiety. If something is important it will bubble up to the forefront and I'll take care of it. Otherwise I just let it go. You'd be amazed how few things you actually have to get done to enjoy a happy life and to be successful in your work.

I use GTD and handle the thing you're talking about in the classification process. Everything I think I might want to do goes into my OmniFocus inbox. Everything. This gets it out of my mind and I can stop thinking about it.

Then, unless it's time-sensitive, I let it sit there for a couple of days at least. When I sit down to sweep through my inbox, I toss out the stuff that doesn't hold up. "Check the van's mileage for an oil change"? Keep. "Buy that dog t-shirt for my wife for Christmas"? Yeah, she'll still like that. "Turn the lawn chair into a pilotable drone"? That sounded like a great idea at the moment but I'll never actually do it: delete.

I also have a weekly review where I'm pretty ruthless about pruning stuff. "I've been thinking about doing X for the last year, but if I was actually going to do it, I'd have done it by now. Goodbye!"

At the end of this, I have a very manageable set of actions that I actually intend to follow through on. Knowing that I don't have to remember each of them is hugely liberating to me.

Agreed. You could also strongly filter the input going into the inbox and only manage the critical items like taxes and hard appointments. no low priority or maybe/someday stuff. Best of both worlds.

I liked GTD, but in my opinion the system laid out in "Total Workday Control Using Microsoft Outlook" is much better: https://www.amazon.com/Total-Workday-Control-Microsoft-Outlo...

I was not a fan of Outlook before I came across this book, but the way the author configures Outlook and the workflows he lays out works really, really well. My inbox is near zero throughout the day, actionable items are captured easily, and tasks don't get lost over time.

I highly recommend it.

I have been attempting to create a todo tracker for myself, but my problem have been finding a suitable interface.

Currently i combine vimwikis diary function and taskwiki to integrate todo filtering and have taskwarrior as the backend. The way it works is that i have a template with a list of viewports from taskwiki. These gets initialized everyday and clears out any done todos. I can still retrieve todos, and i can see the history and context when todos was done when visiting old diaries generated by vimwiki.

I hope this solves my problem of remembering todos, i have yet to notice any difference.

Here’s a todo app idea:

1. Take a standard notebook and a regular pen (or pencil, if you prefer). 2. Write down things you have to do. You can even organize them by date: 3. Actually do the things instead of yak-shaving solutions to making basic lists. 4. Cross each thing off after you do it.

> 1. Take a standard notebook and a regular pen (or pencil, if you prefer).

Good call. But... I mean... if I'm gonna have these with me all the time I'd better make sure they're good ones. You know, durable, pleasant to use. burns 400 hours researching and buying notebooks and pens, never gets around to actually using them.

> 2. Write down things you have to do. You can even organize them by date

Sweet. But you know, I bet this could be more efficient if I color-coded. I wonder if I could mix a calendar in, too? What about things that aren't exactly things to do, but I want to record? What about appointments? Hm, I wonder if someone else has figure this out. wastes 400 hours looking at instagrams of other people's bullet journals, never actually bullet journals for more than a day or two

> 3. Actually do the things instead of yak-shaving solutions to making basic lists.

Oh man, I'm on it, I've been so productive! Crossing off researching-task-management-tools tasks all day long!

You sir are doing God's work. Actually get things done instead of making fake work under the pretense of being busy - more people could do well by following this principle.

The idea of breaking projects down into each logical step. Almost like a program, you should be thinking of every single thing that may be necessary. Gather a list of items that will be used, create lookup table, etc. Every time I may want to look at twitter for 30 minutes, now I think to gather very small things I need to accomplish my larger tasks. The greatest benefit obviously comes from being able to stay with it all the time, but I am working on it.

I've been using Typora to make my todo lists. It's a markdown editor. Super simple to type, and you can really got some professional looking layout, with headings and titles quickly too. Recently they built in a file browser. Open one file in a directory, and it will show you all the files in side panel. Which in my case are just todo lists for day of the week. But it could be any type of notes. Highly recommend it.

I wrote an app for that a few years ago :)

Not a full GTD work-flow, but what I found most useful at that time. It has served me well.


Not worrying about remembering everything, all of the time, reduce stress and increase what I can actually achieve.

The description in the blog rehashes the Eisenhower method. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_management The image feels more convoluted than the four squares.

Here's my comment from last week related to this:


This is a great summary. I have always liked the idea of GTD, it is just that it can be a bit overwhelming at times :(

Is there a GTD lite or something for beginners ?


Capture everything in your head. Who you need to contact and about what, upcoming trips, list the projects you're working on.

Clarify what all this means. Why am I trying to juggle this information in my head when I can put it into a proper notes app or notebook (it's information, record it, reference it later). If it's a project, add more detail (actions). If it's action, you're good.

Organize it. Put things with deadlines into your calendar. Determine the context of actions (I have to do this on the way home, I have to do this in the lab at facility X on my next trip there). Put things into lists [0] that make sense. Make a shopping list. Have an agenda for your meeting with Bob. Have a plan for your next weekly sprint.

Review everything. We canceled this project, or we shipped that one. Actions that are left open are put on hold or discarded. I missed a deadline, or I finished this but forgot to mark it finished and so those are removed. This is actually dependent on this other thing that I haven't written down yet, so I write it down.

Engage. This is the purpose, this is your life (personal and professional). This is you getting things done and where most of your time should be spent.

[0] Lists is a broad concept. My grocery list is a list, I should fill it out and put it in my car or have it in my pocket notebook so it's accessible when I'm near the grocery store. My projects' plans are a list, but it may be in a MS Project file or an emacs org file, or even both. I have "Fix PR-123" in the main project calendar. But once I get to it, it's in emacs for me and looks more like "figure out this module and that module; update them; update documentation and tests; get it peer reviewed".

Thank you so much for the link. Really appreciate it.

I started with just GT. But getting things turned out to be severely addictive. Now I can't se how to be done with it.

I usually point people at Zen to Done, it takes an incremental approach to setting up the system instead of throwing the whole thing at you.


Thank you. Seems like a nice approach.

I have a dozen of GTD tabs opened. Irony

but this article is more than a 15 minute read...

People who feel no impediments in getting things done are those who feel no need to share their plans, interests or self-perceived successes. They can actually remember more than two things at a time, and prioritize them using their brains.

Good luck with this. At some point, you're going to want to record what you're doing or intending to do. If not for yourself, then for the team you're working with or managing.

One of the main purposes of GTD is to acknowledge the fact that minds are limited. If you waste too many brain cycles trying to keep your grocery list in your head, you won't be able to remember it or you won't be able to focus on the board meeting. It's a deliberate method (as opposed to an ad hoc method) to help you expand what you're able to accomplish in any period of time.

Since you're a programmer, I will ask: Do you also eschew structured programming because you can keep an arbitrarily complex flow in your head? Or do you accept that modern programming languages are better for designing (at least) programs than straight assembler or machine code?

Here we go with the lazy analogies born out of frustration. Using my brain "wastes cycles" and "is like assembler language vs. GTD's high level design structures". This is just another excuse not to trust your thinking organ, making it lazier and lazier with no bound in sight.

No, grocery lists don't occupy my mind and stop me from thinking and remembering other things. Here's how I handle groceries which may be too crude for your high level manager mind: What is needed is my need. First, I own the need and imagine each subject in my mind, amplifying their absence. That helps your remember things like your keys and your glasses as well. Try it some time.

No, minor details don't go away or open you new possibilities when you put them in a list or somehow believe that you measured their impact and are not akin to coding in assembler. Not even sure how that analogy works.

Now for any person who lifts their head from the feast and wonders for a moment; Do train your brain, don't go lazy. Because the next person who does is better than you.

I don't consider this, human brain is just an amazing organ, we haven't even used 20% of our brain potential, and we want to take load of it.

When you really want to do or you are really interested in something, then you can't forget that.


There's no evidence that we don't use all of our brain.

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