~How to Get Started with GTD

I was prompted to write this post by one of my blog readers, (so thank John from California if this post is helpful). He wanted to know exactly how I implement GTD with Nozbe, how I manage and document my activities throughout a normal day, and what I would recommend to someone who wanted to get started with GTD.

Three Simple Steps to Get Started

Let me start by providing some direction for those that have never implemented the GTD (Getting Things Done) task management system originated by David Allen, and documented in his book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

  1. Start by getting and reading David’s Book. OK, I know you may not want to wait until after reading the book, but please get the book and read it when you can. It will greatly help you understand GTD.
  2. Open a free Nozbe account. (Don’t purchase any of the premium plans until you have used and understand a bit about the system and how it will work for you.)
  3. View the Nozbe 10-Step Simply Get Things Done Course with Nozbe! training videos. (Remember to do step #2 first, so you can pause the videos and experience what is being taught as you progress through the training.)

These three simple steps will move you forward in discovering a whole new way to get things done that really works. As you may have read in my other posts, I was a very dedicated Covey and Daytimer user and trainer for more than a decade before finding GTD. And even though planning was nothing new to me, the combination of David’s GTD system and using Nozbe to implement GTD has made a tremendous difference in my business and personal productivity.

The Essence of GTD

If I had to nail down the essence of GTD and why it works for me, I would have to point to the mantra, “get everything into your trusted system”. This is the single most important difference I see in what I was doing with Covey, and what I’m now doing with GTD. I don’t worry about priorities, when or where it will be done, or with whom, I just get it into the system. The standard weekly review will take care of the details later. But I can rest easy knowing I won’t forget anything.

And that is where Nozbe really shines. You access your Nozbe system with a browser, so no matter what platform you’re on, Windows, OS X, Linux, you have a browser, right?. And it doesn’t matter what computer you’re on as long as it has a browser, your home machine, at work, your laptop, the library or a friends computer, they will all let you see and use your Nozbe GTD. And there are platforms for mobile devices too, Nozbe.mobi and iNozbe for your iPhone. And Nozbe supports Jott links so you can even call your tasks in to your Nozbe inbox.

Benefits to Going Online

Life is wonderful when you have an electronic system that maintains your mail (email), your calendar, and your GTD. In fact the benefits of an electronic system over the more physical system taught by David in his book include, 1) organization and simple reorganization, e.g. switching from a view of all tasks in a specific project, to looking at tasks in context (when and where you can get them done) to chronological order by due or other date, to a view of only the next tasks that need to be done to further each project. 2) easy to search, 3) as I’ve already mentioned, having your lists with you wherever you are, at work, at home and even on the go, and 4) sharing your lists with others – much easier to accomplish electronically.

The Missing Link – The Journal

One thing I quickly learned after moving everything to the “cloud”, is that while I can take my GTD with me wherever I go, it is not always convenient or appropriate to interact with it. Some examples include, while driving the car – you do know this don’t you? in a meeting (taking notes in a notepad or planner is accepted, while typing on a laptop, your Blackberry or iPhone is usually not), while talking at the coffee station or over lunch, you get the idea.

So while moving my calendar and todo list from my old Covey system to their electronic equivelents, I retained one essential element – the journal. I carry a portfolio with my daily journal on the right, with the previous work week of journal pages underneath, along with some blank journal pages and business cards on the left side. That’s it, no calendar, no todo list, just the journal. Remember, I have my email, calendar and GTD with me for reference on my iPhone.

The Journal accomplishes several important things.

  1. In a minimum of 15 minute increments document what you did throughout the day. So it might start out, 0730-0800 Lab Prep, 0800-0815 voice mail and email, 0815-0900 Prep for meeting with DBA, etc. This will provide evidence to yourself that you did or did not do something productive throughout your day.
  2. Document your activities throughout the day, who you spoke with, when and about what.
  3. Document your meetings right on the journal page, for later reference.
  4. Write down what you agree to do, in a meeting, on a phone call, or even an idea you come up with when not convenient to put it directly into your system.Here is a great tip – place a checkbox beside anything that needs to be entered as a task in your GTD. When you get back on the computer, enter each task and check the box indicating that you’ve got it in you’re trusted system.

Here is a blank page from my journal that you can download and use. (For best results, right-click and download this pdf file and then open it with Adobe Reader or Acrobat.)

[Update 10/4/08 – Learn more about the Daily Journal in this new post.]

The Weekly Review

This is crucial. Whenever I’m reading a blog post about a failed GTD system, the first question that comes to mind is, were you doing a consistent weekly review? This step is a deal breaker for GTD. Without a weekly review GTD doesn’t work, period.

During a weekly review, you set aside time to go through every project and look at each task in the project to determine if the task is still relevant and actionable (if not delete it), is the context still accurate, and should it be moved to the next action list. This is also the time to close projects that are completed or put those projects on hold that contain tasks that are not actionable at this time.

I know this was a very long post. Thanks for spending the time to read through it, and leave a reply if you have questions, or if you found the post helpful. John.

13 thoughts on “~How to Get Started with GTD

  1. Thank you for this post. I found it through GTD Times. I didn’t think it was too long at all. In fact, would love for even more about your take on GTD.

    Although I too am digital and love macs and the iphone, I agree with the journal bit. It helps me tremendously to have a print out of my calendar. Then, as I go through the day, I can track/add to it in writing. I like looking back on it and have learned it helps to have some physical parts to my system.

    Great post!

  2. This is a great post, and very practical. I have not heard of Nozbe and will have a look. I started with the paper system and have had to use experiene and trust to get myself more fully into online management through a set of action folders. However, I still keep my on-paper action lists and agendas as I find that my job keeps me in meetings, and on planes, trains, and with a lot of non-technologically mediated down-time that I can use (and I don’t have an I-Phone yet). I think that as long as things are processed and captured and ready to do, that is the bulk of this process. Where you write it down might be personal. However I am willing to experiment and innovate on this!. Thanks for this post- I wish everyone would share their personal knowledge management systems in such detail

  3. I think you’re absolutely right Gillian. The most important benefits from GTD are realized when one can get all of their tasks into their system no matter what it is. Because I am moving about frequently as well, the iPhone and iNozbe keep everything at my fingertips. Of course as you’ve read, I still keep a journal on paper, so I am not completely electronic. Thanks for reading and for your comments. John

  4. Hi John,

    Thanks for the great post. My greatest take back was maintaining of the journal. I always wanted to do it, but didn’t clearly see how till I saw the step by step process in your post. I have a few questions/requests, would be grateful if they can be looked in to:

    – John, you’ve shown a sample of a blank page of your journal, could we also see a page or two of how your completed journal page looks like? (If it’s nothing too private).

    – John, did you buy a journal from the market that fits the sample page you had shown or do you take printouts of the pdf page and use a file folder of some sort. If you use a file-folder, what type is it?

    – Suppose there are some meeting notes in your journal which you would like to file as reference. Do you tear out those pages and file it away, in your GTD filing system?

    – Are All previous journal entries retained in your journal, or as each day/week passes you purge your journal to have a blank slate?

    sorry for the several questions. Thanks for your help!

    Ps. I think it was Peter Drucker who said that one of the most productive things you can do, is to keep a log of where you spend your time and then see where it’s being spent. Thank you for spelling out a system how that can be done. Much appreciated!

  5. Arif – thanks for your comments and qreat questions. While I believe you have determined my next post by your questions, let me provide some quick answers in this reply.

    – I will place a completed journal page in the next post that I dedicate to the Daily Journal, since there has been a great deal of interest in this particular topic.

    – I created the pdf file by scanning some lined paper from my previous planner pages, and then edited it with the information you see at the top and bottom of the page, including the column headings. I simply print copies of the pdf to use in my portfolio, though my pages have some additional identifiers that I will explain in the coming post.

    – The folder I use has a spring clip on one side to hold my active journal pages and a flap on the left side to store additional journal pages and business cards. I’ll provide a picture in the coming article.

    – If the meeting notes in the journal apply to a project for which I maintain a physical folder, when I return to my office, I make a copy of that page, draw a diagonal line through any unrelated material on that page and place it in the project folder. I always leave my journal pages in tact for later reference.

    – I maintain only the current and past week’s journal pages in the portfolio for reference. As I remove a week’s pages, they are placed in a three ring binder in chronological order with tabs for each month. That way, I can go back to the pages if needed. I have all journal pages stored this way, one notebook per year, back to 2002.

    Keep an eye out for a post that will most likely appear by this weekend with more detailed coverage of the Daily Journal. Again, thanks for reading and contributing to http://johnkendrickonline.com

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