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Thursday, 7th February 2013 Please login top-right to be able to star items

By Jo Alcock


David Allen's Getting Things Done (GTD) productivity system can help you clear your mind, organise incoming information, and decide what to focus on at any given time. Jo Alcock provides an overview of the GTD system and recommends tools to help you improve your productivity.


We all have to manage incoming information from various different sources: physical, virtual, and verbal. Some information requires further action, some needs to be stored for future reference, some isn’t relevant to us at all. Managing all this information and working out what we need to do with it all (and when) can be difficult. David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) productivity system aims to help with this process, leaving us with a clear mind and enabling us to focus on the right things at the right time to gain maximum productivity.

The system has five different stages:

  1. Collect: bringing together information from all different sources into one collection place (physical or virtual)
  2. Process: weeding out any rubbish, reference information, and things to consider for future
  3. Organise: sorting actions to delegate where appropriate, and further refining own tasks
  4. Review: ensuring the system stays relevant and accurate
  5. Do: focusing our efforts on the right thing at the right time.

The organise stage of the process is the stage where 'to do list' software can help. After completing any tasks that would take less than two minutes, and delegating where appropriate, remaining tasks will need to be organised according to different attributes - to assist decision-making in what to work on when. The following attributes are recommended as part of the GTD system:

  • Context (location/tools needed to complete the task e.g. office, home, errands, email, phone)
  • Project (enables at-a-glance view of what else needs to be done to complete a project)
  • Priority (level of important or urgency)
  • Time (estimated time necessary to complete task)
  • Energy level (energy required to complete task).

The attributes used will depend on personal circumstances and situation. Many will need a combination of these though, and this is where 'to do list' systems can help by enabling organisation of tasks in a number of different ways.

OmniFocus, Nirvana, Remember The Milk, Nozbe, and Toodledo all support multiple attributes, though may take some initial customisation. Other things to consider when finding the right 'to do list' tool for you include being able to access it from other devices (e.g. mobile devices), being able to schedule future tasks (i.e. having a start date), and supporting repeating tasks (i.e. those you need to do each week or month). There are also free alternatives such as Wunderlist, though these often lack the functionality to organise tasks by multiple attributes.

Since implementing GTD into my workflow, I feel much more able to decide what task to work on in any given situation. I’d recommend trying these tools out and implementing the GTD system to see if it helps you.

FreePint subscribers can read more about Getting Things Done. Log in to view Decimate Your 'To Do List': Get Things Done.


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Jo Alcock is a chartered information professional with a background in academic and public libraries. She is currently a researcher supporting library and information services across the sectors, including projects on social media, mobile technologies, and using data to support evidence-based decisions.

As her work is entirely project-based and no two days are the same, she has become accustomed to juggling many different types of tasks and varying timescales. She has experimented with a number of different productivity systems, tools and techniques to support this, and shares advice on this topic through presentations, workshops, articles, and a bi-monthly column in CILIP Update.

Jo blogs as Joeyanne Libraryanne and tweets as @joeyanne.

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