Getting Things Done: Current Tools, Practices, & Principles

Please note this is a “living post” and may be updated frequently as my system is developed and refined.

In David Allen’s classic book on personal productivity, Getting Things Done he describes an ideal state of mind:

Imagine throwing a pebble into a still pond. How does the water respond? The answer is, totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input; then it returns to calm. It doesn’t overreact or underreact.

So why do we care about this?

A mind like water is a disciplined mind, a mind focused on the right things, at the right times. David Allen places this in the context of personal productivity, getting the things you need to get done, done. David Allen’s Getting Things Done system can help you clear the clutter from your daily task list and help you order your life in a way that is consistent with your values.

I think there’s actually a spiritual component to this, if we’re open to it: the very biblical concepts of stewardship and working “as for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23).

It’s so easy in the digital-age of distraction to forget the sacred trust of time that we’ve been given. In midst of “important” emails, social media notifications, and activity-packed schedules, we miss the important because we’re too preoccupied with the urgent. I’ll be the first to admit that I have sometimes gone weeks and then wondered why I haven’t made progress on the stuff that really matters to me. When that happens I know I haven’t been disciplined in my approach to managing the many things that demand and deserve my attention.

It’s possible to be very busy, but still procrastinate and put off the most important things. This naturally leads to anxiety, restlessness, and stress even though it might seem like you’re workin hard on the surface. This is where a disciplined system can be a huge help. It can help remove some of the friction of starting and finishing those tasks and projects that we just don’t want do, by providing clarity on exactly what we need to do next.

How to get things done

In a nutshell, David Allen’s technique revolves around a 5 step process:
  • Capturing your  ideas into a trusted system
  • Clarifying what next action is needed on that idea,
  • Organizing ideas and next actions in a useful way
  • Reflecting on and reviewing your lists on a regular basis
  • Engaging (actually doing them).
Everyone will have a different way of doing this, of course. Some people keep everything in a three-ring binder notebook, others organize their world in Excel. Some people love high end notebooks, others make do with index cards and legal pads.

Your tools don’t matter that much, as long as they actually get used. Whenever I learn about a new productivity system or tool, it’s very tempting to tinker and experiment instead of actually making headway on my action list. I don’t think I’m alone in this.

An overview of my GTD system

Here’s a growing list of key areas and the tools I use to create a trusted system to get things done. I offer it not because you should necessarily do things the same way I do them, but so you can be (hopefully) inspired and maybe get some ideas out of it.

Current tools & techniques

  • Capturing
  • Clarifying 
    • GTD workflow
  • Organizing ideas and next actions in a useful way
    • Trello
    • OneNote
    • Google Calendar
    • Microsoft OneDrive (current/work files)
    • Google Drive (Personal archive)
    • Physical file cabinets at home and office
  • Reflecting
    • Weekly review checklists

Previous tools and techniques

  • Capture: Field Notes + Pilot G2 Mechanical Pencil (full write up)
  • List management: Trello (full write up)
  • Calendar: Google Calendar
  • Email: Archive + Trello
  • Physical Tickler
  • Files: Dropbox (church), Google Drive (personal), OneNote (research), Physical file cabinet (1 personal +  1 work)