Getting Things Done (GTD)

“Effectively doing while you are delightfully being” 

David Allen

This GTD approach will free your mind to be creative. At the very same time it will also help you to do the things that must be done to become a Free Creative.

This approach will marry your vision of what you want to achieve with actions in your day-to-day life. And energize you to break through the barriers along the way towards making your dream a reality.

Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

The following lesson is based upon the book: “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity” by David Allen, Penguin, 2015. [To purchase the book].

Needed for this lesson: 60 minutes; notebook; pencil; eraser; calendar; an in-tray; Trello (optional) [To download Trello].

This lesson will include 6 short exercises and 1 short break to move the body and rest the mind.

Setting up Trello

Exercise 1: Will take 5 minutes

Trello is an excellent organisational tool that is free to use. It gives you information at a glance, where you can drop and drag items as you work through your to do list.

You don’t have to use Trello if you don’t want to. You can do the rest of the lesson without it—using your own productivity system.

Set up a board in Trello called “Freedom”. Then build the following lists:

  • In Tray: To capture things as they come to mind
  • Next Actions: The things you will work on next
  • Waiting For: For things that you are waiting for others to proceed
  • Someday Maybe: For things that you would love to do but not yet
  • Reference: For things that you want to remember, but are not actionable
  • Done: For things that you have completed

Mind Sweep

Exercise 2: Will take 5 minutes

Put a stop watch on and spend 5 minutes dumping every single thing that is on your mind at the moment into your notebook.

You can use a MIND MAP if that helps but the important thing is to be fast. Don’t worry about making connections between things just list them. If you run out of space turn to another page and continue. Get it all out.

What is Your Dearest Dream?

What is your heart’s desire in life? What would life look like if you achieved it? Let’s get that down quickly. Off the top of your head. Write it in your notebook.

Processing Items on the Mind Sweep

Exercise 3: Will take 5 minutes

Download: GTD Workflow Diagram
[You can purchase a really cool version from the GTD website.]

Let’s pick things from the Mind Sweep list to process using the GTD workflow Diagram.

For each item ask What is it?

Is it actionable? (something you can do something about, as opposed to something that is just occupying your mind, etc). If it is actionable, add it to your In Tray. [If you are using Trello, make a card for each item in the Trello In Tray list.]

If it is not actionable, but you would like to remember it—put it in your Reference list. Anything else can be literally torn up and thrown in the bin. Get’s it off your mind.

If you haven’t processed the whole Mind Sweep list by the end of 5 minutes, come back and continue later till you are done—which is a very cathartic experience.

Processing Items in Your In Tray

Exercise 4: Will take 5 minutes

Now it is time to decide what is the next action for items in your In Tray.

Start by selecting things that are most important to you. By asking: “How does this relate to my Dearest Dream?”

If it is not important or related to your Dearest Dream, set it aside for later. [In Trello, move it to your Someday Maybe list].

What is the Next Action?

This is the most critical question in the entire GTD process.

If you answer this question appropriately you’ll have the key substantive thing to organize.

The “next action” is the next physical, visible activity that needs to be engaged in, in order to move the current reality of this thing towards completion.

Here we want to turn undefined, vague words into clear action statements. What we would see you doing as you work on and complete this action.

For example: A vague word like “de-clutter” becomes “empty my sock drawer of old socks.”

The action statement must be specific, concise and doable.

The Next Action Decision Standard is a process of working backwards to find the absolute next action and forwards to connect this with your Dearest Dream. Back and forth between the two until you have a precise next action statement.

Thinking backwards: Often people start further down the track when they identify an action to start with. It often helps to ask yourself “is there anything else, no matter how trivial, that must occur before I can do this action?”

It also helps to ask: “what am I trying to achieve by getting this action done?” This is a big picture question. A high level, quality of life question.

Thinking forwards, make sure that getting this thing done is going to be worth the effort it will take and result in moving you closer to realizing your Dearest Dream. 

What does done look like?

Lastly, as you drag this item into your Next Action list, you have to consider what getting it done looks like. How will you know if it is done? What will be produced? How will you feel? You can describe this outcome in the description section of a Trello card, if it helps keep your on track.

Waiting For…

Sometimes you start an action, then have to wait for someone else to complete their part before you can get it completely don. We park these items in the Waiting For list. It is important to check up on these regularly so they don’t slip off your radar.

Short Break

Get up, stretch, walk around the room, get a drink, go to the loo, come back in 3 minutes.


Exercise 5: Will take 5 minutes

A project is any action or series of actions that will take more than 2 minutes and no longer than 1 year to perform. 

Best practice: Knock off the stuff that takes 2 minutes or less while you are processing your In Tray.

For any action that will take more than two minutes to complete; you may have to break it down into doable chunks. If you are finding that you Next Actions list is too long, you can start creating lists that group related actions under a project name.

For example: “Prepare to move house” Is a project that may take weeks to complete. You would create a list with this heading and start to identify doable chunks of work such as “Empty sock drawer of old socks“.

Go through your Next Action list and arranged your items into appropriate project listings.


  • Projects should tie directly into your Dearest Dream: especially how they help to make you a Free Creative.
  • Project list headings can describe what done looks like. For example: a vague word like “new house” becomes “Set up in new house.”
  • Organize projects in order of priority:
    • Park a project into Someday Maybe if it is not of the highest priority and you have high priority things to get on with.
    • Always be willing to cancel projects and actions. Just because you thought of them and wrote them down does not mean you have to do them, right?
    • Only move an action item from Projects into Next Actions when you are imminently ready to work on it to get it done.
  • Don’t spend time thinking too far ahead listing potential actions for a project, this just clutters up your lists.

Add action items when they come to mind—via the In Tray.

Outcome Focus

Exercise 6: Will take 5 minutes

In the Getting Things Done universe there is a concept called Horizon Scanning. The idea is to set your big picture visions and dreams, then work backwards from that distant horizon, through five closer horizons, to arrive at the current actions that need to be taken to progress your dream.

Five horizons to scan when making your plans

We suggest you spend a few minutes considering your big picture. As someone on the path to creative freedom, your scan might look like this, (working backwards from your higher purpose):

  • Horizon 5: Purpose and principles: Be a Free Creative (Dearest Dream).
  • Horizon 4: Longer term vision (3-5 years): Become a master of my art.
  • Horizon 3: Goals (next 1 to 2 years): Have an exhibition of my work.
  • Horizon 2: Areas of focus and accountability: Paint 50 pictures for my exhibition.
  • Horizon 1: Current projects: Working on my latest painting.
  • Ground: Current actions: Block in the under-painting for my latest painting.

Putting GTD into practice

From now on everything that occupies your attention should be put into this GTD system. Straight into the In Tray, then processed on a daily basis.

Daily Practice:

You will need to set aside time each day to get your Next Actions done.

If they cannot be done quickly, move them back into Projects or Someday Maybe.

Weekly Review:

Once a week you will need to set aside time to:

  • Get your In Tray to empty (another cathartic experience)
  • Review the Next Action list: mark things as done (the fun part)
  • Review your Calendar: add items that popped up here to your In Tray
  • Review the Waiting For list: check if you can progress these items
  • Review Projects: move items to Next Actions for the upcoming week

In a crisis use the Weekly Review to get back under control. Whenever you fall off the GTD wagon, it is easy to get back on—just perform another Mind Sweep and add it all to Trello.

Quarterly Planning Session:

Take the time once every 12 weeks to think about how you are progressing. Perform an in depth Horizon Scanning exercise. Look at your Projects—what is taking too long? Can you hurry it up?

Look at Some Day Maybe—what’s been sitting in there for too long. Shall we just cancel it now? Can we just tear it up and throw it in the bin. Get it off your mind?

Ultimately GTD is about writing your dreams down, defining real projects, then ensuring that next actions are decided on—until the finish line is crossed.

It takes about 6 months to form the habit and 2 years to master GTD.

Good luck. Enjoy.

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