Get Things Done
Published February 2021
I’ve been using Things for years to manage tasks, projects, and just general things. The app is based loosely off the principles of Getting Things Done, a book that promotes a productivity framework of capturing, organizing, and acting on tasks and ideas. The high level ideas of Getting Things Done mesh well with how I naturally operate, but I find learning and sticking to every little part of the system is a sizable project in and of itself.
Instead, I work with a modification of the GTD system that is pared down to its basics with the goal of being simple enough to stick to, but just involved enough to be effective. My minimal framework was made specifically for use with Things, but you should be able to use most task management platforms (or even pencil and paper) to implement it.
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Start by forming the habit of collecting your tasks and ideas the moment you think of them. Toss them all into the Things Inbox and worry about triage and organization later. The Inbox functions as the unstructured collection of all new items that have yet to be taken through triage. Do whatever you can to minimize the friction of recording actionable tasks to the Inbox. A get things done system is no good if you can’t remember what you have to get done.
At least once a day, go through the Inbox and triage its contents based on the following questions:
- Is it an item that is actionable and can be completed?
- Will it take more than one action to complete?
- What broad Area does it belong to?
- When does it need to be done?
Is it an item that is actionable and can be completed?
You’ll notice a lot of this framework (and GTD as a whole) hinges on next action items. Next action items should be the immediate next physical, visible action that you can take to get closer to completing the task. This will help remove abstraction from tasks and projects, which I find tend to cause stress and procrastination.
So if your Inbox item being triaged is a clear action item itself, perfect. If not, either reframe the item as something actionable, discard it, or move it to your notes.
Will it take more than one action to complete?
If an item will take more than one action to complete, turn it into a project. The golden rule with a project is to make sure that it always contains a next action item. If you complete all of the tasks within the project, you’ve either completed the project, or there are more action items to add.
What broad Area does the task belong to?
Take a second during triage to move tasks to Things’ Areas as well. Areas serve to function as a means of high level organization. For example, I have Personal, Design, Website, and Work areas that hold all relevant projects and tasks. These areas can be fluid - create them and delete them as needed, but try and keep the number of areas down and their scope broad. If it takes you more than a split second to decide what Area something belongs in, your Areas probably aren't broad enough.
When does it need to be done?
It’s important not to overthink this one. If you don’t immediately know a specific day or date that the item has to be completed on, don’t assign it a date. Toss it in Things’ Today list if it needs to be done today, otherwise leave it in the default Anytime list.
After tasks are collected and sorted, it’s time to review them and get started on completing them. My system relies on two reviews - one every day, and one every week. I like to complete the daily review every morning as I’m starting my day and the weekly review every Sunday night before the start of the next work week, but you can do whatever works best for you. Neither of these should take more than a few minutes once you get the hang of it.
For the weekly review, focus on identifying things you want to get done this week. During this review you will sort both the Someday list and the Anytime list. Open up both lists and organize all of their contents by the following rules:
- If you need to get it done this week, move it to the Anytime list.
- If you do not need to get it done this week, move it to the Someday list.
That’s it. Simple enough, right? While doing this, I also like to double check that all projects and tasks are based on next actionable items just incase I missed something or was lazy during triage.
For the daily review, focus on identifying things you want to get done today. This is when you will further sort the Anytime list, and fill out the Today list. The rules for this review are very simple as well:
- If you need to get the item done today, move it to the Today list.
- Don’t overload the Today list.
Start with just a small number of tasks. If you complete everything on your Today list, you can always dive back into the Anytime list to grab more tasks, but having a seemingly endless list of tasks in the Today list is a good way to get stressed out and abandon Things altogether.
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That is the core of my minimal framework. It may sound like a lot while reading through it, but in reality the whole thing takes a few minutes a day to organize. There are more levels of detail you can go to with things like tags for items, but try not to go overboard. I have a
work tag that gets automatically assigned to every item in my Work area to allow for easy filtering while I’m working, but that’s it.
The simpler you can keep it, the easier it is to stick to it.