10 Simple Tips to Start Getting Things DoneWhat to do if you don’t seem to be able to get a good start with Getting Things Done? And what to do if you simply don’t know how to jump on (and stay on!) the GTD bandwagon?

Read on for 10 simple but effective tips to get a headstart with GTD!

I have recently blogged about “GTD pitfalls” and “5 things you should realize about GTD“. These posts mention the dangers of leaving important elements out of your GTD process, like not actually doing next actions, or skipping your review sessions. They also mention how GTD is easy to learn but difficult to master and how GTD requires constant and relentless discipline and persistence.

That being said, I now feel compelled to write about some good, solid tips (from my own experience) to help you get a good start with Getting Things Done, or to help you make the decision to jump on the GTD bandwagon, or even to help you stay on the GTD bandwagon!



10 Simple Tips to Start Getting Things Done
(to be implemented in this particular order)

  1. Read “The Book” cover to cover… twice
    I’m not kidding either! Buy David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done” and reserve one or two whole days to read everything, and I mean everything in the book. Then read it again. The first read is used to get accustomed to the (new) principles and methods you will encounter. The second read is used to really grasp the whole concept and methodology. Fight the temptation to skip certain parts of the book or the urge to implement some of the principles right away. Believe me, every page in the book is worth reading and you need to read the entire book to correctly implement Getting Things Done.

  2. Buy good equipment… and plenty of supplies
    Soon you will be diving head first into GTD and there is nothing more frustrating than to be completely ready to follow The David’s guidelines only to find yourself in short supply of elementary things like paperclips, folders, notepads, and so on. So, go to your favorite office supplies store and buy everything you need to get things done – this probably includes: (tabbed) folders, notepads, index cards, label writer, label tape, trays, paperclips, pens, sticky notes, diary, stapler and file cabinets or boxes.

  3. Start low tech
    You don’t need much to start Getting Things Done, but -believe me- it is easy to get lost in all the tools and toys you may or may not want to incorporate into your GTD system. To get a quick and solid start with GTD it is best to start low tech, that is, just using pen and paper. Don’t waste time now by playing with the latest and greatest Web 2.0 GTD application, or by endlessly hacking expensive Moleskines to make them GTD compatible. Believe me, this phase will come soon enough anyway! ;)
    Don’t tweak and tune too much right now. The most important requirement is to set up a portable, easy and fun to use GTD system. I really suggest starting with nothing more than a pen and paper. Upgrading your low tech GTD system can be done later, if need be.

  4. Cheat in the initial collection phase (!)
    The initial phase of GTD -as described by David Allen- can be a daunting task. It requires you to collect all your “stuff” and put it in your in-basket… or most likely, on your “in-table” :)
    This tip is probably frowned upon by my peers in the GTD community, but I recommend cheating in the initial collection phase. Don’t put all your “stuff” in the in-basket, just put all your current “stuff” in your in-basket. Then put “placeholders” for all the remaining “stuff” in your in-basket (these will be put on your projects or someday/maybe list later). Putting your current “stuff” in your trusted GTD system first will give you a quick start with GTD and a way to test drive the system.


  5. Keep it simple, stupid!
    Like I said, start low tech, preferably by just using a pen, a notepad, a diary and some kind of reference system (bunch of folders). Don’t make GTD more complicated than it needs to be. Don’t be too detailed with your next action contexts. Six or seven contexts should suffice. Don’t create too many in-baskets (e.g. e-mail, wallet, voice mail, voice memo’s, laptop, PDA, bag, notepad, et cetera). Try to use only two or three in-baskets and use them consistently.

  6. Then make it even more simple
    Don’t make endless categories for your projects and someday/maybe list. Create simple (if possible, alphabetically ordered) lists. Don’t use multiple diaries. Optionally use a tickler file; or introduce it into your GTD system later on. Create only four main lists in your low tech GTD system, namely a list for your next actions (by context), a list for your “waiting for” items (by context), a list of projects and a list of someday/maybes. That’s it! If you want to experiment with a new, cool, home-grown notational system or indexing system, please do it later and not now!

  7. Process and organize your current “stuff”
    Execute the next two phases in the GTD process: process and organize all of your current “stuff” according to the guidelines in the book. Start populating your projects and someday/maybe lists. Start building your reference system (you did make sure to buy plenty of folders, didn’t you?). Keep in mind that you will end up with a trusted GTD system and a clear mind, knowing that everything that is “current” in your life will be safely processed and organized. All the other “stuff” that is not current (but needs to be processed and organized later!) will be safely placed on your projects list.

  8. Start cranking widgets
    Finally! This is what GTD is all about. You are now ready to actually start doing things from your GTD system, that is, your next action list. This is when you will feel the productivity buzz. Be sure to incorporate short daily reviews of your lists. Don’t skip your thorough weekly review. The couple of hours spent on your weekly review are undeniably a great investment for the coming week and, in fact, the rest of your life.

  9. Embark on a quest for knowledge
    You now have a basic but fully functioning GTD system going. Now is the time to reach out to other GTD enthusiasts and professionals. Read about other people’s experiences and GTD systems. Talks to GTD masters and learn from their mistakes. Experiment with the many GTD tools (digital or physical) out there. I suggest using the GTD Index as a starting point for your quest.

  10. Upgrade if necessary
    Get comfortable with your GTD system. Keep cranking those widgets. Keep experimenting and learning. Upgrade your low tech GTD system slowly and gradually, but only if necessary. A true GTD system is simple, effective and especially easy and fun to use! Keep in mind that migrating to a completely different set of GTD tools every few weeks is not the best way to actually get things done!

Good luck!

Feel free to leave a comment telling me how these 10 tips worked out for you, or tell me what your top tip is!