Getting Things Done: how I’m using it

I put a stake in the ground October 6th and started using Getting Things Done [quick overview of GTD] to manage my activities. I moved things out of my email inbox into the appropriate places (I "processed" my inbox, in GTDspeak).

Having that clean slate is proving tremendously helpful to keeping me focused and motivated. I am much less stressed since the change and finally making headway on a lot of old tasks.

Since I’m a software product manager and the go-to person in the company for my products, I am both working on detail-heavy, rapidly iterating projects and very, very frequently interrupted with questions, some of which need immediate response and some of which are more theoretical "wonder if we could make the software do this?" ones. GTD is proving very helpful for me in keeping these details from being lost, staying focused on what needs to be done now, putting the energy and resources I have to work on the actions which I’m best able to be productive with at the moment, and keeping my sanity.

Here’s how I’m configuring things:

My email inbox in Thunderbird represents incoming information and the tasks I want to work on today:
— I use a red label for URGENT/DO NEXT items. (I assign labels as part of my processing step).
— an orange label is a 10 minute task (should be able to move this task forward or even finish it with a quick burst of action)
— a green label is a 30 minute task (needs a longer chunk of focus)
— an olive label is a project which needs its next 10 or 30 minute action identified (I find these just sit around not moving forward until they get a clear next action that can be done quickly)
— a purple label is waiting for someone (but expecting either that it will come back to me today or that I want to remember to nudge that someone on if I haven’t heard more by end of day)

– I have placed a physical inbox on my desk for incoming papers, in-slips (see below) and physical things to deal with today.

– I also have a dedicated "inbox" pocket in my laptop bag which is used for taking inbox items for work from home and vice versa.

– I have "@waiting on someone" folders in both Thunderbird and on desk for "waiting, not expecting action today"

– I have a tickler folder in Thunderbird containing 43 folders, emptied into the inbox each morning

– I use iCal for "hard landscape" appointments like meetings and conference calls and recurring tasks (e.g. every week send a business development activities update to the person who combines everyone’s into one update for the executives)

– KGTD for management of projects, somedaymaybe, and to some degree a quick way to see the status of things

– folders in Thunderbird for reference (e.g. by customer code, by release & within that line item code, plus some "other people’s products" and "other departments" folders)

– physical folders for reference (these are only made as needed: for each release & within that for each line item we have meetings on or for which I have other physical notes, a handful of non-release-specific projects which have physical notes, and the general year folder. The general year folder receives all other physical notes or event agendas, which are added in in chronological order with the latest in the front. I guess this is Noguchi method without the shuffling based on last use (since I think it’s harder to remember last use date than creation date)).

I have a whole lot of little yellow slips of paper close at hand at all times. In fact, I have a big stack by my inbox, a small stack with a pen right under the front edge of my monitor, some in my wallet and some on the little table next to my couch at home. When something pops into mind "Oh, I should call Hepsibah about the status of the Foo project", I write it down and put it  in my inbox. I don’t do it or add it to KGTD or anything, I just get the idea collected and get on with the action I’m actually trying to do when my brain veered off.

Note that this is for all kinds of ideas from "print the directions to the party" to "write a book about Discardia". It doesn’t matter, just capture the idea – if it’s a lot of stuff, do a quick mind map on a bigger piece of paper – and then I decide what to do about it later when processing the inbox.


I think there’s still some overlap between what gets tracked where; I’m definitely in the stage where this is all shaking down still. I was using iCal to mark out time to do things, but it made me look completely overbooked all the time and meant a lot of scooting things along. Ticklers work better. I’m moving "soft landscape stuff out of iCal and into KGTD as part of my collection process. The next step will be to only use Thunderbird for things where I need the email information as reference or it’s a less than 10 minute task so it isn’t worth logging in KGTD. I’ve just started using the start date in KGTD and will probably give that a tickler role (rather than writing a one sentence email draft and filing it in a tickler folder).

As Merlin said in at least one 43 Folders post, it’s not the details of the system, it’s the act of thinking about what you want to do and then deciding what to do right now. So far this is sure working better for me than anything else I’ve tried. I mean a LOT better.

Mmm, this GTD Koolaid is super tasty.

Published by

Dinah from Kabalor

Author. Discardian. GM. Current project: creating an inclusive indie fantasy ttrpg

8 thoughts on “Getting Things Done: how I’m using it”

  1. I just recently started to grok life hacking and 43 folders style organization. I easily spend most of my 8 hour work day [and most of the rest, truth be told] dealing with things in Thunderbird, and the remainder in Firefox and handling paper. Your suggestions according to GTD are a great solution.
    I have some great electronic calendar organization methods, and I was unknowingly doing the Hipster PDA, but I just didn’t use a clip or color code it until recently. Thanks to your post, I’ve just learned about GTD, and I am looking forward to gaining the benefits of that system. It all seems to be melding well.
    Thanks very much for sharing. I’m just about to post and trackback this article.


  2. Glad it was useful, John.
    I do recommend getting the book Getting Things Done or at least borrowing it from the library. David Allen is really the best at explaining GTD.
    To be honest, you might as well buy a copy because you’ll probably be evangelizing it so much that in between the occasional re-reads (from which, I hear from old time GTDers, you often gain new insight), you’ll probably be constantly lending it out.


  3. I’m really glad a friend of mine sent me your blog site, and that I got a chance to read this entry. I use Thunderbird myself, and had never known what the labels feature was until I read this, then the links attached to your article. Because I’m a consultant and on the road most of the time, I’m often sending myself emails back and forth, sometimes more than once, and eventually I have no idea what any of the titles mean. So now I’m going to start using this, and I’m thinking about setting up new folders to move these messages into. Great information!


  4. I’ve actually just implemented a system in Thunderbird that fully involves GTD, context folders, etc.. etc… Wrote a blog entry about it, actually. (No HTML posting? Okay, no worries. It’s readily accessible on my site.)
    Okay, okay, so it’s really only useful for people who are right __there__ at their computer, all the time. Still, it’s a decent expansion on yours. Ironically, I’ve yet to discover the joys of a colorized inbox.
    Merlin Mann was correct. It’s not the system, it’s the doing. Since I even started thinking about this, boom, production increased dramatically.


  5. I started using Gmail because of the labels and the powerful search feature. It’s worked really well for the way my creative mind works. I love the “star” feature that allows me to flag something so I don’t forget it.
    I just started using Thunderbird for personal email though and will look into your considerations.


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