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How to use the GTD System for maximum productivity

How to use the GTD System for maximum productivity

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The Team at Ultiself

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How to use the GTD System for maximum productivity

Table of contents


In today's society, our brain is constantly bombarded with tons of information every single minute. The more information stuck inside your mind, the more divided your attention becomes. This results in more time spent thinking about the tasks than actually doing them.

When information piles up in your mind, it is easy to be disengaged and not to be fully present. This results in unnecessary stress and overwhelm, leading to loss of productivity and mismanagement.

Best-selling author and productivity consultant David Allen said, "your mind is for having ideas and not for holding them". In his book, Getting Things Done, David develops the GTD method, a systematic way to unload the mental clutter in your head so you can be 100% mentally present any time you want. 

When you successfully implement the GTD in your life, you'll be able to focus your undivided attention on the task at hand. Here are the steps on how to use the GTD system for maximum productivity.

1. Capture

The mind is like a messy office. Every floating thought can clutter your mental space. 

Each unresolved item that crosses your mind can cause stress and anxiety because part of your brain keeps thinking of them subconsciously.

It's like opening multiple programs on your computer and running them in the background. Over time, as more programs pile up, your system starts to slow down until it eventually stops responding.

According to GTD, you can relieve the brain of the anxiety of unresolved items by creating an external inbox that you can rely upon. Your inbox can either be physical or digital as long as you can use it to immediately capture your thoughts and ideas, even if they are not fully formed.

Working man

By capturing each thought in its rawest form, you can relieve your mind of the pressure of holding on to your thoughts and free up mental processing power so you can be fully engaged with your tasks.

Your external inbox could be:

  • Notebook
  • Phone applications
  • Voice recordings
  • Email 

2. Process

The next step is processing everything you captured and converting them into actionable steps daily. According to David Allen, most organizing systems haven't worked for most people because they fail to transform their unresolved items into actionable steps. 


Set an appointment each day where you can sort and clarify the things you wrote in your external inbox. Go through each item and make them as specific and actionable as possible. The more details you add, the less time you'll spend puzzling over it later.

For example:

  • Mom - "Call mom to discuss the upcoming dinner celebration."
  • Hair - "Call Salon @ 656-7762 and schedule an appointment to get hair done for Chris' party." 
  • Study - "Read 2 chapters of Neurobiology to prepare for the upcoming test on Thursday"
  • Tax - “Call John @ 552-3252 to discuss tax documents” 


Once you've transformed each item into actionable steps, you need to organize them so you can avoid spending time on non-essential tasks. A great way to do this is to categorize them so you can prioritize tasks that need your immediate attention.


Many of the tasks you wrote down are projects. According to GTD, projects are items that require more than two steps to accomplish. For example, "set up a store" is a project that needs a few other steps like finding a suitable location, choosing winning products, buying supplies, etc.

  • Project lists: Add items that require several steps to accomplish. Be sure to update each project and cross out steps as you go along. Finding new things to add to your project lists is normal.

Non-actionable items can either be crossed out, stored in a reference folder or someday/maybe folder.

  • Someday/maybe folder: Add captured ideas you want to do in the future. This will allow you to review them later and analyze if you have the time and resources to work on them someday. (e.g., books to read, blogs to write, company ideas, projects, etc.)
  • Reference folder: Reference materials are non-actionable items but often necessary to complete a task later. (e.g., reading materials, docs, links, phone numbers, etc.)

If you can do an item in less than 2 minutes, do it immediately. If not, you can delegate them to someone else, put them in a calendar, or place them on the next actions list.

  • Follow-up list: this list contains tasks that you delegated to someone else.
  • Calendar: items that must be completed at a specific date and time must be scheduled.
  • Next actions list: these are items that need to be done immediately.
Working space

The goal is to be in control of your tasks so that your tasks don't have control over your mind. Interestingly, when you organize your ideas into lists and folders, you are proactively acting on your thoughts instead of simply reacting to them.


Set a time each week to evaluate your lists. The review helps you refocus your attention and identify your next actions.

Start by identifying your long-term goals and find out which of the items on your list are critical to achieving your vision. Based on that, you must reorganize your lists, update your calendar and clean out old items.

Your weekly review builds your trust in your GTD system by keeping everything updated and aligned with your goals. This ensures that everything you do is part of a bigger goal and prevents you from wasting time on aimless things.



The GTD system is designed to help us unload mental clutter and free up mental space to give room for creative ideas. This gives us quality time to do meaningful tasks and experience stress-free productivity.

By having a trusted external system holding your thoughts and ideas, you are minimizing your reliance on your memory and reducing the stress of information overload.

More importantly, consistent application of GTD promotes a clear sense of purpose, regular feedback and unrestrained advancement towards your goals.

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 Happiness  Productivity  Focus  Memory  Sharpness  Motivation
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