Getting Things Done (GTD)

Systematize the clutter in your brain and get things done

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    Do you ever feel like you spend more time thinking about doing your tasks than, well…actually doing them? Worrying about everything on your to-do list can be exhausting, especially when the list doesn’t seem to get any smaller. When information piles up in your head, you feel stressed, overwhelmed, and uncertain.

    Getting Things Done — or GTD for short — is a popular task management system created by productivity consultant David Allen based on a simple truth: the more information you have bouncing around inside your head, the harder it is to decide what to do first.

    Allen observed that our brains are much better at processing information than storing it ("your head's a crappy office"). The GTD method lays out a workflow where you can dump all this mental clutter into an external system and organize it so you can confidently answer “What should I be working on?” at any given moment without worrying you might forget something important you need to do later.

    Try GTD if you...

    • Worry about forgetting small details

    • Wear lots of hats in your job and life

    • Get stressed by an unorganized workload

    • Start lots of projects but have trouble finishing them

    • Feel overwhelmed by the amount of things you need to keep track of

    • Seek a sense of control over personal and professional commitments

    • Have never GTD'd before (everyone should GTD at least once in their lives 😉)

    In this guide, you’ll learn the art of Getting Things Done from principles to workflows along with the most intuitive way to implement them. We’ll focus on how to GTD with Todoist, a powerful duo if you’re ready to simplify your life, but the same principles apply no matter what app you use.

    Prefer watching over reading? We've got you covered with a companion video for Getting Things Done. Check out the video below. Or, if you enjoy the quiet solitude of reading, keep going for a deeper dive.

    What is Getting Things Done (GTD)?

    The Getting Things Done method is a system developed by productivity consultant David Allen in which you capture tasks and ideas in an external system to declutter your brain, allowing you to concentrate on the execution rather than remembering everything.

    We love the GTD methodology because it:

    • Supports stress-free productivity

    • Increases a sense of control

    • Encourages planning

    • Provides a structured approach to managing tasks

    • Manages daily routines and long-term goals

    But how do you get things done?

    This method includes five simple practices to systematize the clutter in your brain. Here’s a Getting Things Done overview with a simple step-by-step guide:

    1. Capture tasks and ideas: Capture anything that crosses your mind. Nothing is too big or small! These items go directly into your inboxes.

    2. Clarify actions: Process what you’ve captured into clear and concrete action steps. Decide if an item is a project, next action, or reference.

    3. Organize and schedule: Put everything in its place. Schedule your tasks on your calendar, delegate projects to others, file away reference material, and sort your to-do list.

    4. Review your system: Frequently look over, update, and review your lists for improvement opportunities.

    5. Engage in today’s tasks: Focus on the tasks you’ve scheduled for today and get to work on the important stuff.

    GTD doesn’t require a specific tool, app, or product. Allen doesn’t even make a case for digital over analog systems. Rather, the key to any lasting productivity system is to keep it as simple as possible and to use it as often as possible.

    Your tool should be versatile enough to handle your most complex projects yet simple enough to maintain when you’re low on energy.

    Now, let’s break down the five GTD steps in more detail.

    1. Capture

    Capture anything that crosses your mind — tasks, events, ideas, book recommendations, etc. — and store it outside your brain in an inbox. In the Get Things Done method, an inbox can be any physical or digital space where you collect the chaos in your head (your to-dos and thoughts) to organize them later.

    Quick GTD tips to capture information:

    • Don’t worry about organizing the information, just free your mind first.

    • Use a visual system to understand your tasks and projects at a glance.

    • Stick to one reliable tool to avoid scattering information across too many places.

    • Don’t limit yourself to tasks — capture ideas, reminders, references, or commitments.

    • Have your notebook, Todoist app ready to capture ideas anytime, anywhere.

    In Todoist, your inbox will be the default place for all your tasks and ideas until you can organize them.

    To add a new task to your inbox in the web or desktop app, click the “+ Add Task” button in the left corner or simply press the “q” key on your keyboard. Todoist will add your task to the inbox by default unless you specify a project.

    If you're having trouble identifying tasks or the things you need to do, start with the following steps.

    Do an initial mind sweep

    Start with a full mind sweep of all the "open loops" you can think of — anything you might need to take action on in the future. This includes personal projects, work tasks, commitments, or things you want to do someday.

    Add these tasks to your Todoist Inbox as soon as they come to mind. If you struggle to think of more tasks after adding a few, spend a week taking notes of the tasks or commitments you generally do — both work-related and personal. Consult the GTD trigger list to help jog your memory for commitments you may have forgotten.

    Capture new tasks right away

    Whenever a new task comes to mind, make it a habit to immediately add it to your Inbox and organize it later. To capture tasks as quickly as possible wherever you are, we recommend installing Todoist or your app of choice:

    • As an app on your computer

    • As an app on your phone

    • As an extension for the web browser you use (for adding websites as tasks)

    • As a plugin for the email client you use (for adding emails as tasks)

    Todoist syncs across platforms — computer, phone, web browser, email client, smartwatch, or smart home assistant — so you can enter tasks anytime, from anywhere.

    Consolidate your inboxes

    If you have multiple inboxes like your email, a messaging tool for work, or apps to keep notes on reference materials, you can use Todoist to consolidate them in one place.

    Remember: The goal is to keep your GTD system as simple as possible. Having your tasks or thoughts in multiple inboxes can lead to a lot of context-switching, which adds clutter instead of taking it away.

    Integrate Todoist with email and messaging tools:

    • Use Todoist's plugins for Gmail and Outlook to quickly add emails as tasks

    • Forward emails directly to your Todoist inbox using your project forwarding address.

    • Turn messages into tasks from your team messaging tools like Twist or Slack.

    Capture reading & reference material:

    • Take photos of business cards or event reminders and attach them to the relevant task’s comments.

    • Attach files from Dropbox, Google Drive, or your computer to any task to read or work on later.

    • Connect a reading app like Pocket with Todoist via our IFTTT integration and have a Todoist task automatically created every time you add an article to Pocket.

    • Download Todoist for Chrome, Safari, or Firefox to save any URL to access later.

    • Use the Todoist share extensions on Android or iOS to share pages from mobile apps as tasks.

    Attach reference materials – photos, documents, links, notes, or even audio files – to the relevant tasks.

    2. Clarify

    Clarify everything you captured into concrete actionable steps. Now, that your inbox is full of tasks, ideas, notes, commitments, etc., it’s time to go through each item refine it, and add as much information as you need to prevent having to puzzle over it later.

    For example instead of:

    • “Call mom,” type “Call mom to discuss birthday dinner” and attach a list of ingredients to go over with her.

    • “Taxes,” type “Discuss tax documents with Mary” and attach Mary’s contact number.

    • “Project Ryan,” type “Email Ryan with project updates and next steps” and include pointers to cover in the email.

    Make your tasks as specific and actionable as possible.

    In Todoist, you can enter a task name, provide a detailed description, set reminders, assign priority, add labels, set a due date, attach files, specify a location for commitments, and assign the task to someone.

    3. Organize

    Organize your tasks by category, set priorities and due dates, and sort them into the appropriate place. In reality, the steps to Clarify and Organize can happen in tandem as you clean your inbox, but it's helpful to think about them as separate actions.

    To organize your tasks, do one of the following (will go into specifics on how to do each step next):

    • Use the two-minute rule, when a task takes less than two minutes, complete it right away.

    • Delegate tasks to someone else, if possible.

    • Delete tasks that are no longer actionable.

    • Assign a due date to items that need to be done at a specific date and/or time.

    • Create a project for tasks that require more than one step to house all of its sub-tasks. Then identify the next action you can take to move the project forward.

    • File away non-actionable reference items (e.g., a file, document, article, contact information, etc.) in a separate reference project or attach them to the comments of the relevant task or project.

    You can use our Getting Things Done flowchart to aid you in deciding what to do with actionable tasks and whether to delegate, defer, or do them immediately.

    There are many different ways to organize your tasks with the Getting Things Done methodology, but we recommend using a combination of projects and labels.

    One-off tasks

    These are tasks that take longer than 2 minutes but only require one step. For example, "reply to Josh's email about project pricing" or "renew car tabs." You don't want them cluttering up your inbox, but they also don't belong in any other project.

    To handle one-off tasks in Todoist, create a new project called One-Off Tasks and move them from your inbox to there.

    Create a new Todoist project for one-off tasks

    To move tasks from your Inbox or from one project to another in Todoist, you can:

    • Drag and drop your task from the inbox to the project by clicking on the grey "handle" to the left of the task name and dragging it to the project name in the left-hand menu.

    • Type "#" into the task name field to pull up a list of all your projects. Then, select your project from the list or type the project name to narrow down the results.

    Use the # shortcut to select a project


    You’ll find that many of the tasks you wrote down are actually projects. In the GTD philosophy, projects are any item that requires more than one step to complete. For example, "Paint the bedroom" is a project because it includes other tasks like getting paint samples, picking a color, buying supplies, prepping walls, etc.

    Here's how to handle projects in Todoist:

    • Create a new project for each multi-step item you identified as you were clarifying your tasks.

    • Move the associated tasks from your Inbox to the appropriate project.

    • If you think of other steps, add them as new tasks inside the projects.

    Create a project for any item that takes 2 or more steps to complete

    Areas of focus

    In GTD, areas of focus are groups of projects based on multiple areas of responsibility in your life. But you may just want to separate your projects between "Work" and "Personal." If a task doesn’t fit within the scope of any of your areas of focus, it may be time to reassess if it's something you want to spend your time on.

    Here’s how to group your projects based on areas of focus using sub-projects in Todoist:

    1. Create a project for each area of focus. This project won’t have any tasks in it; it’s just for visual organization.

    2. Drag and indent your projects underneath the high-level “Folders” you just created to turn them into sub-projects.

    3. (Optional) To create even more visual separation between your areas of focus, assign a different project color for each area.

    Keep your project list clean by collapsing your sub-projects underneath the parent project. For example, while you're at work, you can keep your work projects in view while your personal projects are hidden and vice versa.

    To keep things simple, finish setting up your GTD system before creating any sub-projects. This will give you a sense of your workflow so you can come back and organize your projects into broader categories later.

    Next actions

    These are tasks with a clear, concrete action you’ll do at the next opportunity (e.g., "Email James the budget for the office party"). Next actions are separate from future actions — steps you'll take eventually but do not need your focus right now.

    Identify the next action for each project by tagging it with the label "@next."  To add a label, simply type "@" into the task field and start typing the task name.

    To see an overview of all your next actions, go to "Filters & Labels" in the left-hand menu and click on the “@next” label to view all of your items.

    Tasks with a due date and/or time

    Tasks that must be completed at a specific date or time. When you have a task with a specific due date or time, schedule it. But don't overdo it. The GTD method suggests not relying too much on due dates. It's easy to get overly optimistic about what you can achieve and end up overwhelmed by missing deadlines.

    Stick to assigning due dates only for tasks that absolutely need them. For everything else, trust your next actions list and do a weekly review of all your tasks to keep things manageable.

    To add a due date on Todoist, you can:

    • Click on the Schedule field and select a date and time from the calendar.

    • Type the due date and/or time into the task field using natural language. For example, you can type "next Monday at 8 am" and Todoist's Smart Date Recognition feature will automatically recognize and highlight the due date. You can even type in recurring due dates, like “every other Wednesday”, for tasks that repeat.

    You can move items with due dates from the inbox to the relevant project or to the One-Off Tasks project if they aren't associated with a multi-step project.

    Todoist Tip

    Sync your Todoist with Google Calendar so that calendar events appear in Todoist as tasks and scheduled Todoist tasks appear in your Google Calendar as events.

    See your Todoist tasks in your Google Calendar and your Google Calendar events in Todoist.


    Some of the items you capture in your inbox will be reminders of things you want to bring up with someone else rather than next actions. To keep track of these agenda items:

    • Create a new project called Agendas.

    • Create a new sub-project underneath Agendas for each person you need to touch base with on a regular basis. For example, your boss and any direct reports. You may also want to create sub-projects for each regular team or project meeting you have, like Marketing Weekly.

    • Add the items you need to bring up as tasks in the relevant agenda sub-project.

    • When you meet with that person or come to the meeting, pull up the relevant project to see a list of all of the items you need to cover.

    • (Optional) Share your agenda projects with the relevant people so everyone can see, add, and even assign items to discuss.

    Create sub-projects underneath a master Agendas project for each regular meeting you have

    Reference materials

    Reference materials are non-actionable items that you need to save (e.g., tax documents, reading material, spreadsheets, Word docs, phone numbers, etc.). While they aren't tasks themselves, they’re often needed to complete a task later.

    You can organize these kinds of supporting reference materials in Todoist by attaching them to the relevant task or project in the comments:

    • Task-specific reference materials can be attached to the relevant task's comments.

    Attach task-specific reference materials to task comments.

    • Higher-level project materials (design specs, drafts, shared folders) can be attached or linked to in the project comments.

    Save project-level reference materials in project comments

    When you're ready to start the task or project, you'll have all of the information you need close at hand.

    You'll likely also have reference materials not associated with a specific task or project. For example, an article you saved from the web for later, a file with important information, or a gift idea for your partner's next birthday.

    You can keep track of these in Todoist. Here's how:

    • Create a new Reference project.

    • Create new sub-projects underneath the Reference project for each type of reference list. For example, Gift Ideas, Birthdays, Contact Information, Recipes, etc.

    • Move your reference material tasks to the appropriate project by dragging and dropping them from your Inbox or typing "#" into the task name field followed by the project name.

    • To collapse your reference sub-projects, click on the grey arrow to the left of your Reference parent project. This helps remove visual clutter from your list.

    Create new projects for different types of reference materials

    Waiting for

    These are items that have been delegated or are awaiting action by someone else. For example, if you need to finish writing a blog post but are waiting on your editor to get you feedback on your last draft.

    Identify these tasks by tagging them with the label "@waiting_for." Keep @waiting_for tasks organized inside the projects they're related to or inside the One-Off Tasks project if they're unrelated to other tasks.

    Label tasks your waiting on something to complete with an @waiting_for label


    These items are ideas for things you want to do in the future but don't have the bandwidth to work on now (e.g., places you may want to travel, books to read, new projects you may want to try, ideas for blog posts, etc.).

    You want to be able to review these tasks later, but you don't want them gumming up your system now. Here’s how to organize the someday/maybe tasks:

    • Create a new Someday/Maybe project.

    • Add all of the tasks and/or things you want to do in the future but aren't actively working on.

    • (Optional) Add sub-projects for specific types of "Someday/Maybe" tasks. For example, you may want to separate Someday/Maybe — Personal and Someday/Maybe — Work projects

    • Review your someday/maybe projects when time and energy open up to take on new work

    Create a Someday/Maybe project to house your ideas for the future

    Tasks that can be delegated

    If you can delegate a task to free up your own time and energy, you should. In Todoist, you can share projects with people, assign them tasks with due dates, and collaborate in comments.

    Share projects and assign tasks to the people you collaborate with

    Your sharing setup will be different depending on your circumstances. Here are 3 ways you could set it up:

    • Create a separate shared project for each person you collaborate with (you could even reuse your Agendas sub-projects for this purpose).

    • Create a workspace dedicated to your team.

    • Share existing projects that involve heavy collaboration ad hoc.

    Or you could use a combination of all three approaches.

    Quick Tip: You can search for all of the tasks you've delegated using the query "assigned by: me". It's a handy list to reference during your weekly review.


    Contexts allow you to focus on what you can actually get completed, given your current circumstances. If you’re at your office, you don’t want to waste time sorting out all the next actions you have at home. With contexts, you can identify tools, places, or people required to complete a given task.

    Following the project approach we laid out above, the easiest way to add contexts is with labels. GTD recommends the following contexts:

    • Computer/internet

    • Home

    • Office

    • Errands

    • Calls

    • Anywhere

    You can also add others to help you quickly sort your tasks based on your current context. Some people like to add an Email context to take care of all their emails at once. Others add labels for the amount of time a task might take.

    For example, if you have just 15 minutes before your next meeting, it's helpful to be able to identify all the tasks you could do quickly with a @15_min label. For most people, it's more useful to create an "Offline" label rather than an "Internet" one for tasks you can do when you don't have an Internet connection.

    Create labels for each context

    Quick Tip: Don’t go overboard and start creating labels for everything. For your GTD system to work, you need to build a simple system that allows you to add the correct labels to each task. The fewer labels you have, the easier this will be.

    4. Engage

    Here is where all that time spent clarifying and organizing your tasks pays off. Your Getting Things Done system is now fully complete with actionable items organized into logical categories, ready for you to jump in!

    When it’s time to engage with work, you have fewer decisions to make and fewer reference materials to find. To see what needs to get done you can see upcoming tasks with due dates, sort tasks by label, or create filters to see your next actions based on context.

    Next, let’s explore some ways you can check what needs to get done in Todoist, based on your preferred sorting method.

    Today and Upcoming views

    When you're ready to sit down to work, click on Today in the left-hand navigation menu to see any tasks that you must complete today. Open Upcoming to see what's coming down the pipeline this week and any week in the future.

    See which tasks you need to get done today

    Use Upcoming view to visualize and plan the week ahead.

    View Next Actions and Contexts via labels

    To view a full list of next actions across all your projects, type "@next" into the Search bar at the top of your Todoist app.

    Search for a label to view all of the associated tasks

    See all your next actions filtered by area of responsibility

    You can sort your tasks by context by doing the same. For example, if you search for @errands, you'll see a list of tasks with the @errands label that can be completed while you're already out and about.

    Alternatively, you can go to “Filters & Labels” and select the label you want to check to see all the associated tasks.

    Create more custom task views with filters

    The real GTD magic happens when you create your own custom task views in Todoist using filters. Filters are essentially saved searches that sort your list with one click. You can use filters to search for tasks based on:

    • Due date

    • Label

    • Priority

    • Project

    • Date a task was created

    • Assignee

    • Keywords

    • Or a combination of some or all of the above

    Set up custom filters to view your next actions by Area of Focus

    See all your next actions filtered by area of responsibility

    For GTD, the most relevant labels will likely combine "@next_action" with an area of focus or a context. For example, to set up a filter for all the next actions you can do at work, use the query "##Work & @next_action." This filter shows all tasks in your Work project and associated sub-projects with the @next_action label.

    The most useful task views will depend on your specific needs, but these are some of the most common useful ones:

    Filter QueryShows you a list of:

    @next_actions & today

    All next actions and all tasks due today across all of your projects

    @next_actions & ##Work

    All next actions in your Work project and all of your work sub-projects

    @next_actions & @Home

    All your next actions you can do at home across all of your projects


    All tasks you're waiting on something to complete across all your projects


    All tasks that involve emailing someone so you can complete them all at once and minimize the time you spend in your email

    To keep your most important task views easily accessible, add them to your favorites so they appear at the top of your navigation menu above your Projects list. Go to “Filters & Labels,” and click the heart-shaped icon next to the filter you want to add. This will place the filter in your navigation panel for quick access.

    5. Review

    Each week, set aside time to review your lists, organize your tasks, and keep your system running smoothly. The review helps you adapt to changes, refocus your attention, identify next actions, and reflect on your workflow.

    David Allen has called this weekly review a "critical factor for success" because frequent review of your system ensures you aren’t just doing things, but that you’re doing the right things.

    To get started, import Todoist’s GTD Weekly Review template into your projects list. This template includes all the steps you need to complete your review each week. Customize the template by adding sub-tasks or task comments to hold the lists of all your inboxes and your current areas of focus or to track reflections on your week.

    Import the GTD Weekly Review template into your Todoist

    Schedule your weekly review by setting up a recurring date in any task field. Simply enter your date in natural language, like “every Sunday at 5pm,” and Todoist will automatically recognize and schedule it when you save the task.

    There's a reason why millions of people around the world swear that Getting Things Done has changed their lives. This system not only helps you check off tasks from your to-do list but also enables you to plan effectively for the future.

    Having a reliable system in place that you can count on to guide you through your tasks can significantly reduce your mental load. It frees your mind from constantly thinking about what needs to be done, allowing you to focus on actually doing those things.

    While strict GTD isn't for everyone, you're bound to pick up a habit or two that will help you worry less and do more. Everyone interested in having control over work and personal commitments should try it at least once.

    Give it a shot and see which aspects of GTD work for you!

    Laura Scroggs

    Laura is a freelance writer, PhD candidate, and pug mom living in Minneapolis, MN.

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