5 Steps to Begin Learning GTD – A Guaranteed way to Save Hours from your Workday.

Creative Commons License photo credit: gideonstrauss
Me and Ali have written a lot about GTD in earlier blog posts. We’ve covered a bit of what GTD is all about, How GTD is made my traveling easier thanks to a Travel Checklist, How a Tickler file is used in GTD and also about a spiritual aspect of GTD. In this post I’ll cover how you can start learning about GTD and then eventually in a phase like manner begin implementing it. You will not know all about GTD by the end, but you can use this post to guide you to the various resources that would cover the basics of GTD enough to get you up and running.

So how does GTD Work?
The whole concept of GTD, revolves around the fact that we are most productive, most efficient, when we are relaxed. Similarly we are least productive, least efficient, when we are stressed. Look back at your life. When were you able to conduct a successful negotiation of a purchase of vegetables, your salary, or the buying of piece of property. Was it when you were frustrated and bothered or was it when you were Mr. Cool. It’s the same for every thing that we attempt to do. We get the most done, when we are calm, relaxed and focussed. Athletes call it ‘the zone’ and time disappears when in the zone. Being relaxed doesn’t being in-attentive, infact you’re super alert, in total control, and simultaneously not-stressed about a single thing. The question is how to get back to that state once you’ve fallen off? Well, that’s where GTD comes in.

1. Tell me where does it hurt
Well first of all identify a pain area in your life. What is it that’s not working for you at work and/or personal life. And then see if GTD has a remedy for that. For eg. I had a pain area of filing. I would get totally stressed when it came to filing. Your pain area could be that you’re just not able to handle all the emails that you get. They bother you too much. Or it could be that you may be super organised at Work, but it’s stuff at home you could use help with for eg. You might be missing to pay the bills, or your personal health is not getting enough attention etc. GTD is the ultimate time-management and stress-management system. If you have issues on focussing your work, procrastination, organising home/work space, identifying priorities and helping you find what’s your purpose on this planet, GTD can help you with it. It’s the true swiss-army knife set of skills that will have you the most prepared no matter what situation you are in.

But if the pain is not that great it’s kinda bearable, then it just may be that you would not be motivated enough to implement GTD to it’s fullest. So identify the pain area, picture it with complete clarity, feel it in all it’s agony and then go looking for a solution in GTD.

2. Various GTD resources for Beginners
I have been critiqued of having too many links in my Blog posts and I truly do wish I could run through all the basics here, but as easy as it is, GTD is just not that simple. However I’ve scoured the internet and the below would be top resources which would give you a good working knowledge of GTD.
1.Ofcourse, nothing beats the Book. Want to learn about GTD, learn it from the master himself by getting the book Getting Things Done by David Allen. Having that said, I had implemented GTD to quite an extent by learning from the various material available on the internet, before picking up the book. So if you’re trip to the bookstore will not happen till next month, the below links has more than enough info to get you going.

2. Chapter-wise Summary of the GTD Book: This is probably the next best thing to the book. The nice folks at Black Belt Productivity have beautifully summarised the essence of each of the 10 chapters of the book as individual blog posts. It’s bit of reading and once again it would not compare to the book, but would still give you a good overall idea.
3. Wired Magazine: This is a good one page summary of GTD.
4. This is a REALLY good one page summary of the various GTD Models. It would be more useful to visit this page once you’ve begun implementations and would like to go back for reference.
5. Finally, here an official GTD instructor from David Allen Co lists 10 habits of that beginners take-on to adopt GTD, which would quite useful reading when first learning GTD.

3. Set up your GTD System
Once you learnt all there is about GTD, before you actually go about emptying your head and making lists, you first need to set up your GTD system. Below are some general guidelines to help you:

i Carry a Pocket Notepad and pen with you always.

ii Set up your A-Z Filing System. If you’re dealing with lot of Paper, it will feel very rewarding to do this first before continuing the the implementation of GTD. Also it immensely helps having a filing system at home too.

iii Have an intray, at office as well as at home.

iv You’ll need a system for lists, it can be paper, digital or a combination of both. I use my Blackberry and Microsoft Outlook running on a Mac. This is the Engine of your system. Your success of implementing GTD is directly proportional to how motivated you are to enter stuff into your lists and refer to it multiple times a day. So although you don’t need to spend too much time, but do give it some thought what system you would like. Just take care that whatever system you adopt that it’s fast and it’s portable. So if you need to enter something in there, then to whip it out, look at it, put it back should take no more than 10 to 30 seconds.

Here are some links that can help you set up your list GTD system:
– Paper Based GTD system:
David Allen’s recommendation on how to set up a Paper Based System. (Note: This site requires you to register before downloading).
The Hipster PDA. A Paper Based System using 3”x5” Index Cards
Another Paper Based GTD system using Index Cards

– GTD System Using Outlook:

Official David Allen WhitePaper on setting up a GTD system using Outlook, (this costs $10.00 and it’s so Worth it!)
I’ve googled quite a bit and can’t find a free-version of really detailed note on how to setup your Outlook for GTD. But to put it simply, you put all your Next Actions and Projects in your Tasks, while having separate categories For each Next Action and Project.

– Online Systems for GTD:
If you are online most of the time during the day. You may consider an online GTD system. The few popular ones are:
Remember The Milk

So which GTD System should you go for?
Well only if you can type say 40 to 50 words per minute, it’s then that I would recommend to go for a Tech GTD System like Outlook or any of the Online Systems listed above. If you write faster then you type, start with a paper based system. If the above Paper based systems sound a little difficult to setup, then all you need is a notebook with Dividers, some post it flags and you’re ready!

4. Ready, Steady, Go!
Okey dokey. You know your pain area, you’ve learnt about GTD, you’ve got your system all set up, now you can finally start cracking. That would mean you can begin on the first stage of the Five Stage process of Getting Control which is Collect. You would have already learnt about the “Collect” Stage when learning about GTD in the above links, but if you want a referesher, below are certain links that cover the Five Stage Process of Getting Control:
– You can refer to the David Allen Article on this here.
Another one page summary of the 5 stages here.

5. Keep on Learning
It took me two years of studying & implementing of GTD till I feel I got a really good hang of it. So if this is the first time you would be studying GTD, give it time. The good news is that not only is it really easy, the results are very immediate and tangible. You actually can feel and quantify the difference in the quantity and quality of your work and life. It’s this immediate gratification that I got every time which propelled me to continue learning more and more tips & tricks of GTD, till I got to a stage where I believe I’ve got a pretty darn good GTD system.

Wish you all the best folks. Do feel free to post any questions you have in the comments and I’d more than happy to answer them.


  1. Very nice post, guys. You have written a good outline for beginners to GTD to get start down the road to being more productive. Thanks for linking back to our GTD Primer. That was the first project we embarked on when we started BBP. I am glad to see that it is still paying dividend 2 years later!

  2. Good overview. I also recommend Tim Kwiatkowski’s review of the Total, Relaxed Organization approach to GTD principles, which simplifies while enhancing the system. He said: “For the GTD newbie, this approach is invaluable.” As a TRO coach I constantly see it put people in control in one day (really) and keep them that way–their email inboxes go to zero regularly, weekly reviews are short and sweet, etc. Seasoned GTDers know that’s quite an accomplishment.

    Also, some GTD software specifically reinforces GTD principles, which can help you establish good habits. See our resource list of 107+ GTD apps for more ideas:

    GTD Software Comparison Table

  3. Why, hello Michael. Thank you very much for your kind words. And thank you also for making the GTD Primer. Clearly quite a bit of quality time has gone towards creating it.

    Take care!

  4. wow….i have read this article so its interesting.GTD is too good so in this article told about how its work.it revolves around the fact that we are most productive, most efficient, when we are relaxed. Similarly we are least productive, least efficient, when we are stressed.so various GTD resources for Beginners so thanks for making the GTD primer.its good overview of this GTD primer.i would like to appreciate to your efforts.

  5. I’ve been made kind of GTD tool the name is LifeManager.
    It’s famous in South Korea.
    Recently I made it newly in international version.
    but I don’t know how to advertise this free tool.
    Please try this GTD tools if possible.
    You can review ‘LifeManager2’ at http://lifemanager.me

    Also, it’s Free at this moment.
    i’m Sorry if you inconvenience with this comment and you can delete it if you want. tks.

  6. Thank you so much for this, good sir. Today, I was brainstorming about how to become more productive and organized with all my different tasks with different timelines, urgency and different aspects of life, and then I was researching a good app and system I could be using. Then I stumbled across the term “GTD”, and I was blown away by the fact that this is EXACTLY the system I had in mind. Then I found your blog here. Your well-written introductory blog is the starting point of my GTD life, and I will always remember this page. Thank you again.

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