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What are the essential habits of GTD?

My GTD Workflow Assessment/Tips Checklist from a few weeks ago got me thinking about the specific set of behaviors that make up David Allen's Getting Things Done methodology. So for fun I examined each tip, asked "Why should I do this?," and attempted to collect and name the underlying habits. Note that I found it fairly difficult to reduce these down so that there's no overlap, yet still find enough to get more detail beyond Allen's wonderful end-of-book summary:
  • "keep everything out of your head;
  • decide actions and outcomes when things first emerge on your radar, instead of later; and
  • regularly review and update the complete inventory of open loops of your life and work."
Overall I found the exercise stimulating, but the results are very preliminary. That said, I'll offer the habits I came up with in hopes that they'll stimulate some thoughts.

For each one, read "The habit of ____":
  • 100%_CAPTURE

    • Commitments, projects, anxieties.
    • Tracking things that matter or have your attention.
    • Needs to be 100% complete to be effective.


    • Putting things where they belong, rather than leaving them out and doing it later.
    • Includes physical items (e.g., files, supplies) and action reminders into your inventory (e.g., putting information and appointments into your calendar).
    • Central to this habit: Don't wait - put things in their places right away if possible.
    • Leads to efficient access.
    • Dealt with in detail in Julie Morgenstern's Organizing from the Inside Out.


    • regular processing and emptying of a small number of collection points that everybody (including you) uses
    • Should account for all channels of "stuff" flowing into your life.


    • Identifying projects (a desired outcome requiring more than one action).
    • Breaking every project down into at least one next action, then putting the result into your inventory.


    • Deciding about action when things first appear in your life, not later.
    • Deciding as early as possible with as much clarity and boldness as possible (e.g., saying 'no' rather than 'let me think about it').
    • Recall Hemphill's insight that clutter is the result of postponed decisions.


    • Working from your inventory (calendar then next actions) when time is available, instead of your head, interruptions, etc.
    • May choose to accept interruptions anyway, but based on knowing what you're not doing as a result.


    • Emptying your collection points every 1-2 days, as well as keeping your physical and mental spaces clear.
    • Keeping up with the daily flow.
    • Supports focus, which needs open space to thrive.


    • The habit of clarifying the next action on stuff entering your life.
    • Asking the question "What's the next action?"


    • Visualize the desired ending situation for both actions and projects.
    • Asking the question "What's the successful outcome?"


    • Maintaining your inventory as often as necessary, i.e., the care and feeding to keep them current.
    • Whether we're doing the right things (vs. doing things right)?


    • Consciously choosing most important thing to do in the moment.
    • Awareness of your time choices (how much a task needs, how much you have at the moment, what kind is necessary), of Next Action needs (how urgent), and of yourself (how much energy you have, what your priorities are).
    • Relates to interruptions, e.g., whether to allow or not.
    • Not using multitasking as a strategy.
    • Which workflow phase I want to be in at the moment. (See my post A GTD WorkFlow tool: The five stages on a business card cube.)

I do agree with Allen that these all reduce down to managing focus effectively, i.e., attention management - the mature use of our attention in the face of many "bidders," including clutter (both physical and mental), and a slew of modern-day inputs (including information, interruptions, meetings, etc.) And I guess the ultimate point of all this is choice - how me manage ourselves, and how we choose to act in each moment.

Put another way, methods like GTD try to help us ask (and answer) the question: "Do your time/action choices match your goals and purpose in life?" which seems like the ultimate measure. And I guess that's why habits like those encouraged by methodologies like GTD are so interesting to me.

As usual, comments always welcome!

Reader Comments (3)

I've never heard of "Allen's processing diagram." but he must be an idiot. The diagram is free and downloadable, but I have to add it to a basket before I can download it? And then I have to follow a link sent to my email address? And, WTF, I have to fill out a billing address to check out, and create a username and password? The whole idea of making people jump through hoops like this is like a caricature of the person who "gets things done", but all of those things are pointless and stupid. Hilarious.

July 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Thanks for writing this up, came here via [ nuancelabs.com | http://blog.nuancelabs.com/2007/01/26/the-basics-of-getting-things-done/ ]

August 7, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

FYI fwade has a follow-up here: [ The Essentials of GTD | http://2time.wordpress.com/2008/02/07/the-essentials-of-gtd/ ]

February 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

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