Is GTD (Getting Things Done) Still Relevant?
In an era where productivity tools emerge at the speed of thought, and AI is turning the tables on how much individuals can accomplish, Getting Things Done (GTD), a time-tested methodology devised by David Allen, stands as a beacon of organized efficiency.
But is GTD still relevant in a high-velocity business environment, especially within high-growth startups?
GTD was one of the first productivity books I read, and it was transformational in how individuals and teams can manage tasks, define goals, and tie everything together along the way.
But a lot has changed since I read it back in 2014, and definitely since its original publishing in 2001.
GTD’s Five Core Principles Revisited
We (1) capture what has our attention;
(2) clarify what each item means and what to do about it;
(3) organize the results, which presents the options we
(4) reflect on, which we then choose to
(5) engage with.
– David Allen
If you haven’t read Getting Things Done (or you’re a little rusty), here’s a little refresher. There are five core principles covered in the book:
Capture: Collecting What Has Your Attention
Ever come across an interesting article in your feed, only to forget where it was moments later?
The GTD principle of “Capture” ensures that every idea and task is accounted for, freeing the mind to focus on task execution rather than recall.
The Capture principle is about collecting every task, idea, and project that comes to your mind or across your desk. It’s the act of externalizing everything that demands your attention into a trusted system outside of your head.
This process clears the mind, reducing mental clutter, so you can concentrate on the tasks at hand without the nagging fear of forgetting something. Think of how clearing off your desk helps reduce distraction — it’s the same concept.
In today’s information-overload environment, the human brain can become quickly overwhelmed with the sheer volume of tasks and ideas encountered daily. The ability to capture these systematically is crucial for productivity and mental well-being.
But beware! Capturing every idea, note, link, or email that you want to revisit can quickly lead to an endless list of items, and can get overwhelming when it’s time to revisit or organize these items. Allen also goes into detail about how, among other things, you can clean up your capture system on a weekly basis.
Clarify: Processing What It Means
Clarification in GTD goes beyond mere to-do lists; it involves an in-depth understanding of the outcomes and actions required.
Once you’ve captured everything, it’s critical to ask:
Is this actionable?
What needs to be done?
How does it fit into my larger goals?
If they are, you determine the next actions and outcomes you’re committed to. This could mean deciding if an item is a project, goal, note, or even an area of your life.
Excited to take on a big project but have no idea where to start? This is probably due to lack of clarity on actionable steps to take.
Clarification turns ambiguous tasks into actionable steps. It avoids procrastination that comes from not knowing what to do next and ensures that tasks are approachable and clear.
New tools (yes, like Notion 😁) that allow for customized lists — think sub-items, or tasks in calendar view — allow you to not only break down projects into small steps, but decide when to do them, and what’s needed to complete them.
More than ever, we’re wearing multiple hats at work, and taking on various projects at once. Whether you’re a solopreneur or part of an early-stage startup, speed is always a priority, often leading to less attention to detail.
Being able to quickly clarify intentions and actions is critical for staying agile and responsive.
Organize: Putting Things Where They Belong
We have ALL been there.
You remember an article or note, but spend forever trying to locate it. Was it a Kindle highlight? Did I save the quote to Readwise? Is it on a post-it in my drawer somewhere?
This GTD principle ensures that every piece of information is where you expect it to be, directly impacting efficiency and reducing time spent searching for information.
Organizing involves placing all the tasks and information you’ve captured and clarified into categories and locations where they can be easily accessed when needed. This includes prioritizing tasks and setting deadlines.
I love that GTD doesn’t prescribe how to categorize items. The fact is, organization for a marketer looks very different than that of a software developer.
This principle ensures that you have a system in place that allows you to see what you need to do and when. It minimizes downtime spent wondering what to work on next and keeps you moving through your tasks systematically.
With the rise of remote work and digital collaboration, being organized is more critical than ever. It helps in managing multiple streams of information and ensures that nothing important is lost or overlooked.
This has been where Notion has been the most valuable for remote teams. Neatly curated dashboards, consistent usage of projects and tasks databases, and clear expectations on information management takes all the confusion or ambiguity out of remote work, which leads to better retention, and more focused teams. It’s a win-win for both employees and organizations.
Reflect: Reviewing Frequently
All of your Projects, active project plans, and Next Actions, Agendas, Waiting For, and even Someday/Maybe lists should be reviewed once a week.
– David Allen
Regular reviews, a cornerstone of GTD, ensure that nothing falls through the cracks.
Reflection in GTD is about regularly reviewing your lists and systems to ensure that everything is up-to-date and that you’re engaged with the right tasks at the right time.
Nothing slows teams down more than sifting through projects or tasks that are no longer active.
If and when I get preachy with clients, it’s usually on the need to curate information.
Being able to customize Notion databases with unlimited properties is addicting, but it can also lead to slow, clunky databases, and ultimately a net-negative for teams.
When in doubt, start with tracking as little information as possible, and add on only when it’s absolutely essential.
Regular reviews keep your system from becoming out-of-date or irrelevant. They help you stay on top of changes and reprioritize as necessary, ensuring that you’re always working on the most important tasks.
In a fast-paced work environment, priorities can shift quickly. A regular review process helps to accommodate these shifts and maintain a focus on the company’s goals.
Engage: Simply Doing
For us productivity nerds, we can get hypnotized by the pleasure of organizing information, often at the expense of…doing the work.
The most important thing about productivity system is this: they need to make work easier.
It’s also important to remember that systems can and should adapt over time, which can only happen once the doing starts.
The final step of GTD, ‘Engage,’ is about doing the tasks with clarity and focus.
With a clear system of organized and prioritized tasks, you can choose what to work on with confidence, knowing that you’re working on what’s most important.
This principle is where the rubber meets the road. By engaging with your tasks in a focused manner, you maximize productivity and ensure that work gets done.
Distractions are more prevalent than ever in today’s work environment. Having a clear system for engagement means that you can more easily tune out distractions and focus on the work that matters.
So is GTD Still Relevant?
Yes, more than ever.
The growth of productivity tools, powerful automations, and user-friendly AI’s can all potentially increase productivity, but can also lead to more noise and less focus.
Having systems in place — whether based on GTD or otherwise–protects against the many possible scenarios of teams veering off track because of hot new tools or resources.
Automations Can Supercharge GTD Systems
Zapier or Make weren’t around in 2001 (at least I don’t think so?).
And perhaps the most valid criticism of GTD is the amount of time needed to maintain, organize, and curate information. I’d argue that more time is lost from disorganization than from maintaining systems, but there’s a way to have the best of both worlds:
Automations can dramatically speed up GTD workflows by decreasing the amount of manual data entry.
In Notion, this can take the form of auto-archiving completed projects, marking tasks as done when they hit their due date, or automatically creating a weekly review page with all active projects and tasks visible.
Tools like Notion, Coda and ClickUp also allow for a high degree of customization, meaning GTD can be tailored to fit the specific needs of an individual or team. Moreover, integration with other apps and services ensures that the GTD system can operate within a larger ecosystem of productivity tools, becoming a seamless part of the workflow.
GTD in Team Dynamics
GTD’s principles can be scaled to enhance team collaboration. By having a common system for organizing and prioritizing tasks, teams can ensure that everyone is on the same page and that tasks are evenly distributed according to each member’s workload and expertise.
This is huge, especially for new hires, as clear expectations are set for each team member. There’s nothing more frustrating than misaligning on goals, projects or tasks, due to a lack of communication.
Implementing GTD in teams increases transparency as team members can see the status of various tasks and projects. This visibility helps in holding members accountable and ensures that responsibilities are clearly defined and tracked.
GTD can also streamline team meetings and communications. With a clear agenda and priorities, meetings become more focused and productive, with less time wasted on deciding what needs to be discussed.
Some GTD Challenges
GTD is not without its challenges. David Allen purposefully avoids detail or specificity when it comes to how to implement GTD, which sometimes leads to teams creating half-baked systems that cause more problems than they solve.
One of the challenges with GTD is its seemingly simple framework, which can be deceptively complex to maintain. To overcome this, it’s crucial to integrate the GTD habits into daily and weekly routines gradually, making sure that the system remains as user-friendly as possible.
Another common hurdle is resistance to change, especially in adopting a new system. Regular training sessions and highlighting the benefits of GTD can facilitate a smoother transition and greater buy-in from team members.
Lastly, consistency in using the GTD system is key to its long-term success. This can be maintained through regular check-ins and support from team leaders or productivity coaches who can provide guidance and motivation.
GTD & AI
2023 has been a whirlwind year for AI, and the general expectation amongst startup teams is that every employee needs to be leveraging AI to supercharge their work.
AI-driven teams can use GTD principles to manage tasks and workflow while leveraging AI for data analysis, predictive modeling, and automating routine tasks. This allows team members to focus on higher-level strategic work, where human insight is invaluable.
AI can personalize the GTD experience, learning from user behavior to suggest task prioritization, optimal times for deep work, and even predict future tasks based on recurring patterns.
AI can assist in the ‘Clarify’ and ‘Organize’ stages of GTD by providing data-driven insights, recommendations or summaries, helping to streamline decision-making processes.
In an AI-driven work environment, GTD’s principles remain relevant as a framework for human action and decision-making, while AI tools handle the increasing complexity and volume of data that needs to be processed, allowing teams to maintain productivity in the face of rapid change and growth.
The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small, manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.
– David Allen
As you put these components into practice, it’s important to retain perspective on what your system should do.
A productivity system should give you back more than what you put in.
And it bears repeating: start small. You may have a workflow that looks vastly different than the GTD framework. If so, identify what areas you haven’t addressed. Perhaps, you focus heavily on tasks but not on their broader impact. Or you dream big but struggle with the individual steps to achieve them. For many, there are likely one or two aspects of GTD that are worth developing further.
Ultimately, actions and projects exist to fulfill a larger purpose. Actions without projects don’t work toward a goal. Projects without objectives don’t lead to meaningful progress.
GTD has stood the test of time, evolving alongside the very businesses it aims to streamline. As high-growth startups strive for peak productivity, GTD’s principles — supported by modern tools and an understanding of team dynamics — offer a roadmap to maximum clarity.
If you’re new here, Hey! 👋🏼
I’m Dave (aka The Notion Coach), a Certified Notion Consultant. I build high performance Notion workspaces for teams. I’ve helped launch over 30 workspaces for creators, startups and 500+ person companies.
Does your team need help maximizing Notion? I’m here to help. Schedule a quick discovery call to see if your company is a good fit.