Let’s get started with GTD/ZTD – Part I

So, my first post on a real topic – and to start with even on a series of posts, that I want to post on this topic.

So to start with, I decided to give a small introduction on what this all is about. For this post I want to concentrate on GTD.

GTD is an abbreviation for Getting Things Done, and is a framework consisting of habits that should help you to get your work and life organized. There are lot of other Names for it, a common one is “Action Management” (as this is, what GTD is all about).

If you are one of that persons which always forgets dates, or thinks about things only in the wrong moments (e.g. while shopping you remember to tell your mother something, but when you are at home telephoning with her, you keep remembering other things, like doing the laundry, but not about what you wanted, to tell her, etc.), then this framework should be exactly what you need.

You may ask yourself now, what the magic behind this GTD-Stuff is, and what it is, that makes it different to other time-management methods (like those famous ones from Covey, the Eisenhower and Pareto principles, the ABC-Analysis, etc.)
Well David Allen (the father of GTD), did not invent anything totally new – in fact, he even uses all of these old, long known tools and just built the mentioned framework of processes around them.
The “new” thing about GTD is that Allan analyzed the way of how our brain works and tried to built up something that is brain-friendly.

The Basics
Generally speaking the main ideas behind GTD are the following:

  1. Our brain is one of the worst tools for memorizing things. It cannot differentiate between priorities – for the brain everything is treated equally; it cannot connect memories with dates – meaning you are remembered all the time and not only on that particular date; memories need to be refreshed cyclically in order to not forget them – that is why we are disrupted with thoughts, even when we would need our full concentration.
    All these are facts, why Allen suggests, that you use your brain for the purpose that it was made for: thinking, and only thinking. All memorizing should be done by something else – all these thought should be stored in a “trusted system”. And that is an important factor. To be able to forget those memories, you must be able to fully trust that system.
  2. Be disciplined enough to right away make a decision about every item that enters your life. Only by doing this is the system able to work without compromises (and therefore gains its trustworthiness).

These are the basics on which the whole GTD-System builds up.

The Tools

It consists of only four main tools (which themselves can be implemented as desired, and therefore even split up into many more tools).

For this post, I think it is enough if I just describe them, and give a small explanation of everything.


The first tool is the inbox. The idea behind this is to have only one channel which contains all of the information, tasks, thoughts, etc. that reach you during the day. To many inboxes makes it difficult to handle all the information and you easily oversee things, that might be of relevance. Of course in real life it is impossible to have only one inbox. A good setup would be to have 4 inboxes:

  • Work
  • Home
  • Online
  • Notebook, which is your Inbox for thoughts and ideas, and which goes into the Home-Inbox.


All items that are somehow related to a date go in the calendar, not more, and not less. Also there should be only one calendar containing everything.
Another good setup is to have a calendar together with a 43-folders-System.


The most important tool in GTD. The Lists contain everything that needs to be done – all the tasks that somehow get to you (in a functioning GTD-System this happens only through the inbox!) are in this List. There are many ways to keep this lists and to work with them, even about the number – the preferred way is to keep context-lists.


The archive contains everything, that reaches you, and that is actually not needed for any task – but contains useful information, or needs to be kept for any reason. The focus on the design of the archive should be set at “finding things”, not at “searching for them”. So the main goal is to have a system where you will find things easily. But at the same time it should also be timesaving. There is no sense in a archive, where you find everything at once but need hours to maintain it.

The Processes
So now, the last thing, that’s need to be added to make the magic work are the processes.
These connect the four Items mentioned above with each other.

  1. The first one is:
    Information –> Inbox.
    There is no other way for Information to flow. That is what happens with everything
  2. Then there is the Process of emptying the Inbox:
    Inbox –> Garbage
    or –> Delegate
    or –> Calendar
    or –> List
    or –>Archive
    That are the only ways there are. As you can see there is no way back to the inbox. That is essential. Everything that goes into your inbox has to be processed. There is no exception to this.
    There is another rule which should keep you from only doing what you like:
    The inbox has to be dealt with in the LIFO principle, which means there is no changing of the order or skipping, etc.
    The things that you would like to do, is get rid of the things you need to do. So always check whether needs to be done with that item. If not, throw it away.
    If yes, check whether it is need to be done by you. If not, delegate it.

    Afterwards you check whether it is just information –> archive, whether it is needed at a certain date –> calendar, or whether it is something that you can do whenever you want –> list.

  3. Now the third process is a routine again:
    Check your calendar, as often as needed. In it, you will find all stuff that you need to do at the current date.
    These tasks are the more important ones, as they need to be ready at a certain time.
  4. Fourth process:
    If the calendar is empty – take your lists. Work on those tasks on the list. The order is regardless – choose as you desire, or by rating the priorities with any system of your favor (Eisenhower, Pareto, ABC-Analysis, …).

And that is it.


Of course this is only a short overview, keeping everything as simple as possible but as long as needed to give you an idea on what I am talking about. If you have never heard of GTD before, I advice you to go on reading in the internet about it. David Allen wrote a book about it, with the title “Getting Things Done” (that is, where this system got it’s name from), and there are several web pages in the internet that are ten times bigger than this article is (and even they just give an abstract of what is in the book by Allen). I will add a bunch of links at the end of this post to give you a starting point. [Unfortunately, or fortunately for all German readers (which I guess will be the majority) mostly only in German]

In my opinion, GTD is a quiet interesting framework. The ideas behind the system are totally reasonable, they make sense and although it is so easy and so less (or maybe even because it is like this) it seems to be something that could work.
I must confess that I am a person who has problems organizing himself, I tend to procrastinate and more than once this led to quite a few major problems in my life.
Before hearing about GTD I tried a lot of other systems. And until now I did not have any success.

So this will be my next try, I have a lot of motivation, and I will use this blog to describe my experience with implementing the different steps – what worked for me, what did not work, what kind of tools do I need, etc.

So if this interests you, then stay tuned! 😉



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