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the essence of GTD

June 21, 2016

Ana inquired yesterday about GTD, since I have mentioned it a lot lately.  I plan on doing an organizing series featuring my current iteration of the system, but here’s a list-style run down for anyone else mildly curious:

1) GTD stands for “Getting Things Done”.  It is an organizing/life management system developed by David Allen.

2) The GTD method was published in a book (Allen calls it a “manual”) back in 2001, but rewritten in 2015.  It is not particularly trendy, I don’t think, but people who love it seem to really love it.

3) The essence of GTD is to get everything off of your mind and into some kind of system.  In my case, that’s largely paper, but this is 2016, so of course there are electronic components too.

4) The system consists of 5 steps:

  • capture – collect everything you have going on, in a consistent and systematic way
  • clarify – define your collected items specifically.  If it’s trash, trash it.  If it’s reference, file it.  If it’s actionable, ask the important questions: What exactly needs to get done?  When (is it a calendar-specific item)?  Who should do it (is it a task to delegate)? 
  • organize – put the actionable items on the right lists
  • reflect – look over your lists as often as you need to in order to feel comfortable and in control.  Also, conduct formal reviews (weekly, monthly, etc) to make sure everything is current
  • engage – use your lists to attack appropriate actions with confidence!

5) The whole point is that you are not supposed to be worried about the things you are not doing when you are not doing them.  (This is actually the #1 reason why I love it).

6) Allen goes into great detail about tools he recommends, including some old-school ones.  Much to my delight, I now own a label-maker.

7) There is flexibility too.  Many people make their systems largely electronic.  I am using my Hobonichi planner + a small supplemental notebook that tucks into the cover.

8) Once I started implementing GTD, I emptied my email inboxes to 0.  I love my empty inboxes!

9) One of my favorite GTD rules is the Two Minute Rule, which directs you to complete any task that should take under 2 minutes right when you see it.

10) I do think GTD meshes well with clinical medicine, with its endless parade of small tasks and loose ends that can drive you crazy if you let it!  But it’s also incredibly versatile and I can’t really think of a situation where it wouldn’t be at least somewhat helpful.

Barre3 time!


  • Reply DVStudent March 10, 2019 at 7:10 pm

    Sounds like something I could use for grad school 🙂

  • Reply Brittnie March 10, 2019 at 7:10 pm

    Just watched an interview with David Allen! Very interesting and yes, love the idea that once an item has a "place," we can move forward without worry.

  • Reply nicoleandmaggie March 10, 2019 at 7:10 pm

    His chapter on meetings is invaluable.

  • Reply Melissa March 10, 2019 at 7:10 pm

    Hi Sarah, I am an OB resident that almost never comments (I did once back while choosing a medical school 6+ years ago which you gave me good advice!), and I LOVE your blog. You’re children are beautiful, and I really admire your approach to medicine and life. I was wondering if there are diagrams etc in the actual book that would make it more valuable to have than an audiobook. I’ve listened to the 7 habits of highly effective people (almost) twice now and thought that you might really enjoy the perspective in it (thinking back, it could have been something you wrote that inspired me to read it).

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