I drives me a little crazy when I see people don’t write down the stuff they need to do and the things they need to be at. They say they just hold everything in their brain. They use a mess of sticky notes to continuously remind them. And yeah, if it works, fine.

The problem occurs when it doesn’t. Or when your system (or lack thereof) prevents you from performing at your best.

This is what GTD (or Getting Things Done, an organizational system developed by David Allen in his book of the same name), gives you: the ability to organize all that stuff and stop worrying about it.

And despite what David Allen or others might tell you, you don’t have to go all in. If you can take just one of these steps, it would be an improvement, I think. Let me tell you just a bit about it and perhaps whet your appetite.

Capture Everything

Did you just have an idea or remember something you need to do or somewhere you need to be next week or next month or next year? Write it down. No don’t wait (well, unless you’re driving, but that’s what Siri’s for!); do it RIGHT NOW. Get one of those waterproof notebooks for the shower. Our heads are not for storing stuff, they’re for thinking of stuff and processing stuff. Mental RAM and HD space is fickle and unreliable. There’s no telling what’s going to get stored into long-term memory and what’s going to get replaced with lines from Jurassic Park. Just write it down; preferably gathered in one place (if you’re on iOS, I recommend Drafts).

Process Regularly

Remember how you wrote everything down? Chances are it’s getting out of hand now. It’s not exactly conducive to reminding you that you need to get it done, but it’s better than nothing. The next step is to put it where it belongs. Is it an event? Put it in your calendar (preferably something like Google Calendar so you can know your schedule wherever you go. Something that needs to get done? Put it in some kind of task list (Omnifocus, Things, Wunderlist, and Todoist are a couple of great apps, but even a spreadsheet would do). Something that’s not particularly “actionable” but you need to remember? Keep some kind of consolidated personal storage space for notes, like Evernote or Simplenote.

Go through this “inbox” of stuff at the end of every day and put everything in its proper place. If you just leave it lying around, stuff is going to pile up and it’s going to get confusing fast.

Organize Your To-Do List

So now you have a list of stuff to do. How do you find what you can do now? How do you find how tasks related to each other? Are there some things that need to be done before other things? This is where breaking things down and organizing them gets useful.

GTD recommends organizing by both “project” (a group of related tasks with an end goal (eg, term paper)) and “context”; that is, a tool, place, person, or state you need to be in to get that task done. For example, some stuff you can only do at home (eg, laundry). Some you can only do when you’re online (eg, ordering a book). Some tasks involve talking to someone to clarify something (eg, finding out how to do a certain report). These are pretty open to preference; you can get as granular as you want to make it more useful for you and let you get stuff done faster.

At this point you should also make sure all your tasks are actually tasks. A good rule of thumb is that they should start with a verb (eg, “Find,” “Look into,” “Write,” “Take notes on,” “Read,” “Watch,” “Kick,” “Fight,” “Take over,” “Destroy,” “Conque– what?).

You can also break tasks down into smaller tasks if you find them tough to get done.

Really though, just having your to-do list in one place and having some semblance of organization


Nike and Shia LeBeouf are right. At some point you’ve gotta stop futzing around with this and get to work. I’d say at least 90% of your time should be spent just working on whatever needs to get done. Don’t get caught up in the process. If you’re procrastinating, break it down, and remind yourself why it needs to get done, or what will happen if you don’t.


Review projects. Add anything you forgot. Review your calendar. Review your notes. At least give them a glance on a weekly basis. It doesn’t have to be that involved for it to bring you a bit of benefit.

That’s all there is to it! Well, that’s not quite true; if you read the book, you’ll find there can potentially be much more to it, but honestly I think if you take the time to get this set up, or even part of it set up, at first it might seem like a bit much, but give it a couple of weeks and you may find that you’re more in control and less stressed. Give it a shot.