My implementation of GTD

I started using David Allen’s Getting Things Done system to keep me organised over 7 months ago. I have tried many different implementations, regularly fiddling when it hasn’t felt right. My current system seems to be working well for me and I haven’t felt the need to tweak it for a few weeks.

Although in the book David Allen mainly talks about keeping lists on paper I love technology and liked the idea of keeping lists on my Mac. Having tried almost every GTD application available, both web-based and desktop, I have settled on Things from Cultured Code.

My current implementation of GTD is based mostly on the book but also takes inspiration from Zen Habits, Patrick Rhone, The Weekly Review, 43 Folders and Organize IT, amongst others.


I have four buckets in which to collect “stuff”. I have a basket on my desk at home into which I put physical items that need dealt with, such as post and receipts.

Email comes into Apple Mail.

If I’m at my computer I put tasks straight into Things, either directly or more often using the quick entry dialogue box which I have mapped to F2.

When not at the computer I use a Moleskine pocket notebook to capture thoughts and tasks. For a long time I used disposable Pilot V fountain pens. They are convenient but over time the cost fairly mounts up. I’m now writing with a Pilot Prera fountain pen (£25 from Cyberpens). It’s lovely to write with and has a nice narrow nib.

Process and Organise

I usually sit down mid-afternoon with a cup of tea and empty my buckets. First I sort out my basket. Anything that can be done in under two minutes I just do. If it’s to be deferred to another time a to-do is added to Things. Anything that needs to be kept for reference is scanned or filed.

Currently I have Mail to check for emails every hour and tend to deal with email as it arrives. I use Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero method. An email is never left in the inbox once read. It is either deleted, moved to “archive” or moved to “action”. Action emails are anything I don’t intend to deal with immediately. Any emails still in my action mailbox come mid-afternoon are dragged into Things and turned into a to-do.

Then I go through my Moleskine transferring items to the computer.

Finally I deal with any unprocessed to-dos in Things. They are given tags (and therefore contexts) and dragged into the appropriate list. (A more detailed description of my Things implementation is coming soon.)

It doesn’t take long to do this. It’s almost always finished before I’ve finished my tea and Hobnobs!


Every morning, before everyone is up and the house is quiet, I sit down with a cup of tea (yes, I do drink a lot of tea!) and plan my day. I review my Today and Next lists and write down my goals or tasks for the day in my Moleskine.

I do a weekly review on a Sunday morning. I empty my buckets first as they’re usually filling up. (I have a computer-free day every Saturday – meaning nothing has been processed into Things since Friday evening.) Then I go through my lists and check everything is up-to-date, ticking tasks that have been completed and noting anything that has an imminent due date. I also check my calendar (iCal) for the upcoming week and month. I find my weekly review is a convenient time to plan my week, deciding on goals and assigning tasks (housework mostly) to particular days.


The hard part! It’s all very well to spend time cataloguing and organising your tasks but this is only of value if you actually do them. I’ve found setting myself short-term goals (see my last post) has been very motivating. Assigning daily tasks has been particularly effective.

So there we have it. I wouldn’t say the system is perfect but it’s working pretty well for me at the moment. I’m sure it will continue to evolve, particularly when Cultured Code release their iPhone version of Things. I’m currently evaluating Evernote – as a way to access documents at work as well as home, but I can see it could be useful for GTD also. (By the way, I have lots of invites to Evernote if anyone wants one.) But for now the tweaking has stopped (thank goodness) and I can concentrate on actually Getting Things Done.


10 Responses to “My implementation of GTD”

  1. teapotmonk Says:

    Thanks for the insight into your implementation of gtd – many others have complicated the productivity approach and I believe it is quickly becoming a source of stress as to how, when and why to use one program over another.
    Particulary liked the reference to tea.

  2. Rachel Murphy Says:

    @ teapotmonk: Tea is an essential element of my system!

    Your blog looks great – do you have it as an RSS feed?

  3. Patrick Rhone Says:

    Thanks for sharing this. Always nice to see how others are “working the system”

  4. Michael Says:

    Excellent write up of your system. It is so simple. This is the kind of system that everyone should strive to use. Most folks, myself included sometimes, try to add too many ‘tools’ to GTD, when in reality, we need to be stripping tools outs to make ourselves more productive. I will be visiting your blog (actually, your RSS) a lot more often now!

  5. Amykate Says:

    I agree 100% There is no point trying to do this GTD lark without a cup of tea to hand.

    Tea makes the world go round

    Good simple implementation, I havn’t quite got to the stage when I process my moleskin enough – I’ve tried variouse lists but none of them do what I want, maybe I need a portable deivce like an iphone 😉

  6. Rachel Murphy Says:

    Thanks for the comments everyone.

    @Amykate: My husband is under the impression GTD stands for Getting Tea Done – as you can imagine, he is not a productivity nut like me! Your blog looks good. I’ve just subscribed. (That’s 2 added today now – and I’m trying to cut down!)

    @Michael and @Patrick Rhone: I’m already subscribing to your blogs – keep up the good work!

  7. Dan Says:

    Hi Rachel,

    For implementing GTD you might try out this web-based application:

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
    A mobile version is available too.

    As with the last update, now you can add or invite Contacts, and share your Projects and Contexts with them.

    Hope you like it.

  8. teapotmonk Says:

    Hi Rachel – already grabbed yours – my rss is
    tea is obligatory though – its presence if not the consumption

  9. James @ Organize IT Says:

    Thanks for sharing your system and mentioning Organize IT. It’s good to see you’re becoming settled with your system, though make sure you keep evolving it to suit your needs! A good cup of tea is the only way to get in the right mood for work 🙂

  10. Rachel Murphy Says:

    @James: The current system is going well but it will without a doubt evolve over time. Needs change and new exciting tools appear that are just asking to be tested…

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