Best Laid Plans

Ep #114: GTD Deep Dive!

October 3, 2022

But First:

Planner Peace from Tara, who has found a way to bring color + sparkle to her Hobonichi!

rainbow tabs + gold glitter!
Tara’s cover

Routine & Things Planner

Ashley Brown has been on BLP before and most recently she was on BOBW – listen here! I love her work on all things routine, and she just released a planner which launches this week! Perfect if you want to make 2023 the year you really dive into your routines. OR, start sooner – it’s undated so totally flexible.

GTD Deep Dive!

Here we go! I’ve wanted to do this topic for a while, and since I just finished reading Making it All Work, the time seemed right!

Getting Things Done is (per their website!) “five clear steps that bring order to chaos”. I discuss the steps in detail and put my own spin on them. They are:

STEP 1: CAPTURE – Collect what has your attention. Yes, everything! Then gather it all together into one cohesive pile. This includes going through every potential inbox, from email to physical mail to your 15 school/activity WhatsApp threads.

STEP 2: CLARIFY – Process each item and decide what it means to you. Pay specific attention to whether it is actionable, and if so, identify the next action OR project (multi-action item). If it’s not actionable, decide whether it is trash, reference, or something to incubate for the future.

My “future” trick is to put a reminder on my planner on a future week or day! That way I know I will look at it when I need to. (This trick ONLY works if you know you will *always* look at that planner or tool!)

STEP 3: ORGANIZE – Put things where they belong. Sort the actions into lists by context. This is where my methods definitely depart from GTD — I instead group my tasks/goals by time horizon and category. I also make consistent use of routines for repetitive tasks to pare down my lists!

STEP 4: REFLECT – Review frequently. Agree wholeheartedly, though I think it’s very important to craft different types of reviews to fit your life. I have my own reviews for each time horizon (year, quintile, month, week, and day!).

STEP 5: ENGAGE – “Simply do”, says the GTD website. “Use your trusted system to make action decisions with confidence and clarity.”

For me, I don’t find it quite that simple. In order to make sure I “simply do” what actually needs to get done each day (rather than what I feel like doing, which is lie in bed and read the rest of American Royals 3), I would add:

  • decide what your priorities are for the day and match to time available, and then actually map out a rough lift of what you plan do with the next 24 hours
  • make sure you have a plan to control your inputs
  • make sure you are including FUN. Key point!! Life should not be a slog, or what is all of this planning for anyway?

I hope you enjoyed this episode as much as I enjoyed thinking about it and recording it. I’m putting together a Q&A ep for this Monday so get your questions in if you have them!


  • Reply MK October 3, 2022 at 6:11 am

    I am so happy you covered GTD in your episode today!

    Systems like David Allen’s GTD, as well as Michael Hyatt’s Full Focus System, always sound so logical but the tripping point for me has always been how to incorporate my whole life (work, self, kids, house, stuff). Most systems designed by men, where maybe they don’t wear as many hats of life, were missing the routines element for me. It took hearing about your weekly review (alllll the way back in the early days of BLP) for me to have the epiphany that boom — meal planning can be part of the weekly review! Along with whatever other maintenance items nag for my attention!

    All this to say, thank you for sharing how you make it all work in your own way and open up the minds of others!

    Also, if you can’t secure THE David Allen for your podcast, some of his podcast partners like Meg Edwards might be a nice addition… someone who lives and breathes GTD but also has to plan summer camp 🙂

  • Reply Kim Cohn October 3, 2022 at 7:23 am

    Busy mom who can only do 1-2 activities/appts a day! So I need a super simple a5 or larger full year planner with a monthly calendar to track these items and a page a day to write my priorities for the day. Monthly calendar would look something like the calendar in the cultivate what matters planner. Dated (2023) preferred! I want the planner to be as minimalist as possible, ie no templates for the day designed by someone else. Have been googling with no luck so far!

    • Reply Coree October 4, 2022 at 6:05 am

      The GRID planner, maybe?

    • Reply Amanda October 4, 2022 at 1:19 pm

      Have you tried Plum Paper’s Daily?

  • Reply Abigail October 4, 2022 at 4:39 am

    Question for next week – when do you start setting up your next year’s planner and what is your process for that? Do you wait until you are planning the first quintile of the year for example?
    And – how are you thinking you will record your annual goals for 2023? I have a Hobonichi stack awaiting, so I am starting to think through the process to use them all.

  • Reply Allee October 4, 2022 at 10:04 am

    I always love the idea of GTD but get stuck when I don’t really have a place in the organize step that I feel confident I will go back to. Also, I am terrible at actually taking action because I either want to do mindless tasks that are easily checked off or to figure out the most efficient way to check all of the tasks off. #enneagram3

  • Reply Alyce October 6, 2022 at 2:33 pm

    I really needed to hear this this week. I don’t remember when I read first read GTD, but re-reading it has been on the back of my mind for the last couple of weeks. After nearly three years of focusing on emergencies at home and at work, I’m finally feeling capable of tackling bigger goals. And even though I have renewed energy, I’ve been feeling so frazzled precisely because everything I need to work on has been so fragmented. For me, the capture part of GTD is essential. I’m always shocked by how less stressed out I feel simply from capturing everything. And thinking of to do items in terms of projects with individual action items is so helpful in keeping the to do item in perspective and feeling like I’m making progress, and as a result, feeling way less stressed about it all. I used to keep a moleskine notebook where I would routinely capture everything, and I’m thinking I need to go back to that. I tried using a digital version (todoist), but it’s just not my jam. All of the extra steps like categorizing, sorting, etc. feel like so much unnecessary friction.

    Anyways, this week’s episode pushed me to make an impromptu decision to take a lot of hours off of work this week (I did not cancel meetings, but I’m not tending my inbox or working outside of meetings) in order to focus on the capture part of things and tackling some of the low hanging items and long lingering action items so that I can feel more on top of my life.

  • Reply Lee October 7, 2022 at 12:18 pm

    I love the capture element and Someday-Maybe. My problem with GTD is that, if I don’t schedule tasks (enter them in my calendar), they won’t happen.

  • Reply Stephanie A October 11, 2022 at 3:31 pm

    Hi Sarah! This is my first time commenting but felt compelled to after your overview of GTD. Full disclosure that I’ve never read the book, but I tend to take a gendered perspective on most things and was struck by the fact that pretty well all the areas you took issue with or diverged from can be linked back to the fact that (most) men writing these things don’t have the types of care tasks and invisible emotional/mental labour that women shoulder, things that are sometimes hard to compartmentalize or check off (my hunch is that fun and leisure aren’t mentioned b/c they are a given for them, where women often struggle to prioritize/protect fun for ourselves). And why sometimes these systems designed by men leave me feeling like I’m failing. I happened to listen to this episode the same day the latest Dr Becky podcast with KC Davis and while on the surface it’s only kinda related to planning, it feels very relevant. I can’t recommend it enough. She talks about care work, and functional vs ‘done’ and the importance of rest not being ‘earned.’. Anyway, this has turned into a novel, but wanted to share! Thanks for your podcast – I’m a mediocre planner (Hobonichi fan!) but find your show soothing and uplifting :).

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger October 12, 2022 at 5:46 am

      Just listened – yes it was a great ep! Thank you for the rec and the comment!

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