Three weeks after implementing a simplified version of the workflow management system in David Allen’s book Getting Things Done, I’m finding it works extremely well: I’m better organized, waste less time, have less stress, and don’t miss any deadlines. I’ve streamlined my one-and-only GTD List even further by doing the following:

  • eliminating the project # and action # and just using the project and action names (although my eight Pet Projects still have numbers 01 through 08, in my priority order, so I can make sure they don’t fall too far down the list);
  • combining the columns for Project Outcome/Name and Next Action Name, as reader Michael J. suggested; I put the next few Actions of each Project first, in date order one below the other in a single row of the table, followed by, at the end, in boldface, the Project name, with the estimated total time needed to complete the rest of the (as yet unlisted) actions;
  • eliminating Allen’s separate Someday list, and opening a Project file for everything that was on that list.

So my GTD List, which now sits permanently on my computer ‘desktop’, looks like this:

Bucket Action Name /
Waiting For /
Project Outcome
Deadline /
Schedule Time
Tickle Date

Project 1 action 1 description
Project 1 action 2 description
Project 1 Outcome/Name



Next action description

Waiting for (person’s name)

Appointment/Meeting description
2004-12-23 14:30

Next action description


Project 2 action 1 description
Project 2 Outcome/Name




Each evening I re-sort the table by column 3, so all the tasks that I’ve scheduled for the next day rise to the top of the table, with appointments scheduled for a specific time standing out in column 3. As additional ‘stuff’ comes into various ‘inboxes’ during the day I use the GTD chart above to process it, dispensing immediately with the unactionable items (putting them in reference folders or tossing them as appropriate) and the items that can be done in 5 minutes or less (I use 5 minutes instead of 2 as the cutoff point for ‘Just Do It’ activities). The remaining items are identified as multi-step Projects  (P), ‘Waiting For’ items (W), Next Actions (N), or Appointments for the Calendar (A), and are added in at the bottom of the table, and scheduled and described as shown in the examples on the sample table above. I use the Context, Hours required, Energy required, and Priority to decide when to schedule each item, as Allen suggests.

I’m getting much better at budgeting time for each item, after initially under-budgeting by 30% and getting frustrated because I wasn’t getting through the tasks I’d set for the day. I still schedule 8 hours of work each day, and even with an extra 2-3 hours’ unscheduled work coming in each day I’m finding that I’m getting just about everything done on schedule.

I still keep my three paper lists (ideas to blog, books to buy, other shopping), which are updated daily, but otherwise I have no paper at all in my office except bills to pay and books to read. I appreciate that this is a rare luxury — most people have a lot more paper to handle, whether they like it or not.

In my case, considerable credit for the success of this process also goes to the ‘7 steps for handling anything effectively‘ that Cyndy and I co-developed: Sense, Self-control, Understand, Question, Imagine, Offer, Collaborate. I now use it as I begin each Action in the day’s schedule, and during the ‘What Is It’ assessment in the GTD process. Your frame of mind in approaching your work is every bit as important as the discipline of your workflow management process, in getting things done effectively as well as quickly.

The only obstacle I have encountered so far has been my tendency to procrastinate. Using GTD has made me so much more productive that I am sometimes tempted to reward myself by deferring tasks I really don’t want to do, or which are high-energy (intellectual concentration or creativity) tasks. This is a dangerous habit, since they tend to pile up and come back to haunt you. Instead, I’m learning to use some classical wisdom on how to deal with jobs you hate, or which make you tired just thinking about them: Break the job down into many sequential steps (Next Actions), each short and manageable in a sprint (in my case, an hour or less), and then pace yourself, doing just one or two of them a day, and rewarding yourself as each step is completed.

Example: One of the jobs I had scheduled for yesterday I had already put off three times. When I broke it down into steps, I realized that the cause of my reticence to tackle it was that it required me to write a  letter that would take considerable energy to compose, and would need to be customized to each of a dozen recipients, and that I would need to dig through my huge Address Book to find the appropriate recipients. My Address Book is a shambles. So I broke the project down as follows:

  • yesterday’s task was drafting the letter, with several alternative paragraphs,
  • today’s task was cleaning up my Address Book, identifying the recipients and their e-mail addresses in the process, and
  • tomorrow’s task will be actually sending out the dozen e-mails.

So one job that, when looked at as a single task, appeared intellectually imposing, tedious and repetitious, became much easier to handle when it was broken into three tasks, with a break and reward after each.

So now my Address Book is all cleaned up, and I know exactly who my letters tomorrow will go to. I’m off to reward myself with some fresh-baked shortbread cookies.

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  1. Thanks for writing about GTD. Others have not been able to put such detailed examples in front of me.I’m intrigued by your noticing the accuracy of time estimation and will have to notice that myself (besides just knowing that I’m going to run 4 minutes over on a good day and 12 on a rushed day).Your example of a job that needed to be broken into steps was very close to the sort of job that I frequently face, so that was a precise fit for me.Thanks.

  2. David Jones says:

    I read somewhere a long time ago that the average manager picks up an item from his/her desk an average 5 times before doing somethign with it…..if anythiung gets done even then. No wonder taxes are high and cars cost as much as houses.

  3. Anthony Baker says:

    Dave, You’re familiar with Merlin Mann’s 43 Folders site, yes? He’s been blogging specifically about GTD and, in particular, Mac-related software and tools to support implementation of it. Has a great 43 Folders Google Group going as well, to whom I just pointed your post.Thanks for showing how you’ve implemented GTD. Am sure others on the 43F list will enjoy it as well.Keep up the great writing — your weblog is one of my favorites.

  4. Denis says:

    Hello. I’m a student, and this entry matches exactly my needs — getting more efficient in the area of time management, reducing stress, tackling work that looks imposing and scary and hude. Thanks for the advice !

  5. Scott says:

    Dave,I just looked at this post today for the first time. After 2 years, how has this become a habit for you? Are you still doing it?

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