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The Only 5 Tools You Need to Implement GTD

The Only 5 Tools You Need to Implement GTD

    If you visit Lifehack regularly then I’m sure you’ve noticed the Getting Things Done series that’s been featured here lately. In recent weeks I’ve been discussing the methodology itself, and how to use it in your everyday efforts (both work and personal projects).

    What I didn’t do, however, is point you towards specific tools you can use to make your GTD life easier. Well, that is exactly what I’m going to do today.

    Let me just remind you that there are 7 main elements of GTD: Projects List, Next Tasks List, Future/Maybe List, Calendar, “Waiting for” List, Resource Files, and the intangible element – trust.

    Each of these can be handled using the simplest tools possible – pen and paper. But since we live in the 21st century, then it’s probably not the most effective way around for some people.

    What follows is a list of great tools that are either GTD-friendly right from the get-go, or can be easily adjusted to fit the GTD way of working.

    Your Inbox

    As I said in one of the posts in the GTD series (Your Daily Graph of Activity), most people usually start their work in their inboxes.

    These inboxes don’t have to be actual inboxes (email or traditional mailboxes). As defined in GTD an inbox is “simply the place where all the incoming things land”. This gives us many possibilities regarding the actual tools or software we want to use for our inboxes.

    Some tools and software that tend to work best are:

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    1. Every email software

    This is obvious, but the simplest solutions are often the best. Your email software (no matter what you use) is set up perfectly well to be used as an inbox for some incoming things because…well, it simply has an inbox in it — and every email you get is waiting there for you to read it.

    One important thing to remember, however, is that when dealing with new emails is you should take action on them immediately.

    But what to do when you encounter a new request that hasn’t been sent via email? This is where other tools come into play.

    2. Remember The Milk

    Remember The Milk (or RTM) is a great tool and it has a lot more GTD applications than just acting like an inbox.

    First of all, RTM is essentially a to-do list application. It’s available online (for all operating systems), and also it has a lot of versions for other platforms (iPhone, iPad, Android).

    However, to actually call it simply a “to-do list application” is quite an understatement. It can be used for any kind of activity where lists of things come handy.

    For example, since there’s an iPhone version, you can use it as a grocery list when you’re shopping or as a simple notepad you can use on the go so no brilliant ideas escape your mind. Or you can use it as an additional inbox. Whenever you stumble upon a new request that hasn’t been sent via email you can put it into a separate list inside RTM (preferably one named “inbox”).

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    Going back to RTM itself. The tool is very easy to use. It supports multiple lists, four levels of priorities, tags, many keyboard shortcuts (they make working with RTM lightning-quick once you get a hang of them), RSS feeds, iCal feeds, reminders, and more.

    Projects List

    Often the Project List is quite an extensive piece of GTD real estate…so to speak. It needs to be perfectly organized so every project is easy to grasp and easy to work with.

    For me, there’s only one way of doing this properly – using mind maps.

    Just to remind you (courtesy of Wikipedia), a mind map is “a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items linked to and arranged around a central key word or idea”. Or in plain English – it’s the best way of giving your thoughts a physical form (in this case, creating a digital representation of your thoughts).

    Most projects are only semi-organized around many different thoughts that do make sense all together, but are hard to put into a traditional list or text document. Mind maps, however, can handle such a situation exceptionally well. This is why mind maps are perfect to handle your Projects List.

    3. FreeMind

    When it comes to mind mapping digitally (on a computer), there are many tools that can make it possible. Nevertheless, there’s one really worth checking out. It’s called FreeMind.

    The name gives quite a good hint that the tool is free — and that’s a good thing. But there’s more good news — there are versions available for most popular platforms and operating systems. Not only that, but you can also download “binaries” (FreeMind is a true open source project).

    But the best news of all is this: FreeMind is the easiest to use, quickest, and smallest (in terms of memory and disk space used) tool available. In essence, this is the best tool for mind mapping available.

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    (If you prefer online tools to dealing with local files on your computer you can check out MindMeister. It looks quite impressive too. It provides all the important functionality for mind mapping, and has a lot of additional stuff, like the ability to include attachments, images, PDFs and other files. But it’s not free. The less expensive plan available is $4.99 per month.)

    Next Tasks List, Future/Maybe List, “Waiting for” List

    Your lists, with the Next Tasks List leading the way, are where you spend most of your time when working with GTD. Therefore, they need to be easily accessible and easy to work with. Being able to access them online from every computer and operating system is a nice thing as well.

    This is where Remember The Milk comes into play yet again. I’ve described RTM in detail earlier in this post, so I’m sure you see its value when it comes to working with all kinds of lists.

    An additional benefit of using just one tool for all your lists is that you don’t have to play around with myriads of different login names and local files. The most effective way around is to always focus on a minimum number of tools and fit them into your work habits.

    Calendar

    This is simple, and I’m sure you can see it coming…

    4. Google Calendar

    I don’t think I have to convince you why Google Calendar is great. I’m sure you’ve already signed up for it (or for a similar tool/solution).

    The most important characteristics of a GTD-calendar tool are:

    • Available from any computer (with Internet access)
    • Supports reminders
    • Supports multiple calendars for a single user
    • Supports sharing events with other users
    • Supports ongoing events

    And Google Calendar has them all covered. Also, there are a lot of apps available for every mobile platform.

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    Resource/Reference Files

    The only difficulty with resource files is that they must be pretty well organized, accessible, and preferably available from any computer with Internet access.

    This can be done by implementing two things.

    1. First, create a directory/folder somewhere on your computer’s hard drive. This directory will contain all your resources – things that might come handy as a reference when working on your projects. It’s your job to organize this directory nicely, and make it as easy to grasp as possible.
    2. Next, connect it to Dropbox.

    5. Dropbox

    Dropbox is a tool that lets you synchronize your data between multiple devices you use, but it’s also great for accessing your content online directly through Dropbox’s website.

    All this makes it perfect for acting like a GTD Reference Files base. Not only can you synchronize your files on every machine you use, but you also get an online backup so you can stop worrying about your stuff disappearing overnight after a hard drive malfunction.

    If you’re just using Dropbox to store the most essential data you can go with their free plan (up to 2GB of disk space available, although you can get mire space by inviting others to the service). Later you can easily upgrade your account to “Pro 50”, where you get 50GB for a modest payment of $9.99 per month.

    Conclusion

    As you can see, you only need 5 tools to fully implement GTD into your life. (By the way, “every email software” counts as one.) And this is good because the less tools you use, the easier it is to keep your game together and make them work for you. If you start using too many tools they become a burden instead of an effectiveness and productivity booster.

    What tools do you use as part of your GTD approach? Please share them in the comments below.

    (Photo credit: Dirty Set of Hand Tools via Shutterstock)

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    Last Updated on August 16, 2018

    16 Productivity Secrets of Highly Successful People Revealed

    16 Productivity Secrets of Highly Successful People Revealed

    The same old motivational secrets don’t really motivate you after you’ve read them for the tenth time, do they?

    How about a unique spin on things?

    These 16 productivity secrets of successful people will make you reevaluate your approach to your home, work, and creative lives. Learn from these highly successful people, turn these little things they do into your daily habits and you’ll get closer to success.

    1. Empty your mind.

    It sounds counterproductive, doesn’t it?

    Emptying your mind when you have so much to remember seems like you’re just begging to forget something. Instead, this gives you a clean slate so you’re not still thinking about last week’s tasks.

    Clear your mind and then start thinking only about what you need to do immediately, and then today. Tasks that need to be accomplished later in the week can wait.

    Here’s a guide to help you empty your mind and think sharper:

    How to Declutter Your Mind to Sharpen Your Brain and Fall Asleep Faster

    2. Keep certain days clear.

    Some companies are scheduling “No Meeting Wednesdays,” which means, funnily enough, that no one can hold a meeting on a Wednesday. This gives workers a full day to work on their own tasks, without getting sidetracked by other duties or pointless meetings.

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    This can work in your personal life too, for example if you need to restrict Facebook access or limit phone calls.

    3. Prioritize your work.

    Don’t think every task is created equal! Some tasks aren’t as important as others, or might take less time.

    Try to sort your tasks every day and see what can be done quickly and efficiently. Get these out of the way so you have more free time and brain power to focus on what is more important.

    Lifehack’s CEO has a unique way to prioritize works, take a look at it here:

    How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

    4. Chop up your time.

    Many successful business leaders chop their time up into fifteen-minute intervals. This means they work on tasks for a quarter of an hour at a time, or schedule meetings for only fifteen minutes. It makes each hour seem four times as long, which leads to more productivity!

    5. Have a thinking position.

    Truman Capote claimed he couldn’t think unless he was laying down. Proust did this as well, while Stravinsky would stand on his head!

    What works for others may not work for you. Try to find a spot and position that is perfect for you to brainstorm or come up with ideas.

    6. Pick three to five things you must do that day.

    To Do lists can get overwhelming very quickly. Instead of making a never-ending list of everything you can think of that needs to be done, make daily lists that include just three to five things.

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    Make sure they’re things that need to be done that day, so you don’t keep putting them off.

    7. Don’t try to do too much.

    OK, so I just told you to work every day, and now I’m telling you to not do too much? It might sound like conflicting advice, but not doing too much means not biting off more than you can chew. Don’t say yes to every work project or social engagement and find yourself in way over your head.

    8. Have a daily action plan.

    Don’t limit yourself to a to-do list! Take ten minutes every morning to map out a daily action plan. It’s a place to not only write what needs to be done that day, but also to prioritize what will bring the biggest reward, what will take the longest, and what goals will be accomplished.

    Leave room for a “brain dump,” where you can scribble down anything else that’s on your mind.

    9. Do your most dreaded project first.

    Getting your most dreaded task over with first means you’ll have the rest of the day free for anything and everything else. This also means that you won’t be constantly putting off the worst of your projects, making it even harder to start on it later.

    10. Follow the “Two-Minute Rule.”

    The “Two-Minute Rule” was made famous by David Allen. It’s simple – if a new task comes in and it can be done in two minutes or less, do it right then. Putting it off just adds to your to-do list and will make the task seem more monumental later.

    11. Have a place devoted to work.

    If you work in an office, it’s no problem to say that your cubicle desk is where you work every day.

    But if you work from home, make sure you have a certain area specifically for work. You don’t want files spread out all over the dinner table, and you don’t want to feel like you’re not working just because you’re relaxing on the couch.

    Agatha Christie never wrote at her desk, she wrote wherever she could sit down. Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up. Thomas Wolfe, at 6’6″ tall, used the top of his refrigerator as a desk. Richard Wright wrote on a park bench, rain or shine.

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    Have a space where, when you go there, you know you’re going to work. Maybe it’s a cafe downstairs, the library, or a meeting room. Whenever and wherever works for you, do your works there.

    12. Find your golden hour.

    You don’t have to stick to a “typical” 9–5 schedule!

    Novelist Anne Rice slept during the day and wrote at night to avoid distractions. Writer Jerzy Kosinski slept eight hours a day, but never all at once. He’d wake in the morning, work, sleep four hours in the afternoon, then work more that evening.

    Your golden hour is the time when you’re at your peak. You’re alert, ready to be productive, and intent on crossing things off your to-do list.

    Once you find your best time, protect it with all your might. Make sure you’re always free to do your best uninterrupted work at this time.

    13. Pretend you’re on an airplane.

    It might not be possible to lock everyone out of your office to get some peace and quiet, but you can eliminate some distractions.

    By pretending you’re on an airplane, you can act like your internet access is limited, you’re not able to get something from your bookcase, and you can’t make countless phone calls.

    Eliminating these distractions will help you focus on your most important tasks and get them done without interruption.

    14. Never stop.

    Writers Anthony Trollope and Henry James started writing their next books as soon as they finished their current work in progress.

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    Stephen King writes every day of the year, and holds himself accountable for 2,000 words a day! Mark Twain wrote every day, and then read his day’s work aloud to his family to get their feedback.

    There’s something to be said about working nonstop, and putting out continuous work instead of taking a break. It’s just a momentum that will push you go further./

    15. Be in tune with your body.

    Your mind and body will get tired of a task after ninety minutes to two hours focused on it. Keep this in mind as you assign projects to yourself throughout the day, and take breaks to ensure that you won’t get burned out.

    16. Try different methods.

    Vladimir Nabokov wrote the first drafts of his novels on index cards. This made it easy to rearrange sentences, paragraphs, and chapters by shuffling the cards around.

    It does sound easier, and more fun, than copying and pasting in Word! Once Nabokov liked the arrangement, his wife typed them into a single manuscript.

    Same for you, don’t give up and think that it’s impossible for you to be productive when one method fails. Try different methods until you find what works perfectly for you.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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