If you don’t know GTD and you are an attorney, you ought to. GTD stands for Getting Things Done, a method founded by David Allen to handle task management. The premise of his method might be described as “out of sight, out of mind,” that is to get information and ideas out of your head quickly and into a reliable system to alleviate stress and facilitate a clear focus on the present. In the age of uber connectedness and remote possibilities, multitasking is more than just tempting, but it’s not productive. Indeed, studies even suggest against it. GTD aims to prevent that urge to multitask.
I highly recommend GTD; a method that can be applied almost anywhere, using any system. What’s important is that you create a system that works for you. It doesn’t need to mirror the traditional GTD system as proposed by Mr. Allen in his 2002 publication, but the core concepts should be present: collect, process, organize, review, and do.
With electronic task management systems now aplenty, many systems are well suited to accommodate GTD. I’ve chosen to address just one in particular: Wunderlist. I’ve written previously on how to use the tool, which you can read here. In this post, I will describe how I use Wunderlist for GTD. Of course, I don’t purport to suggest that this is the only method or that it is the right way to use Wunderlist with GTD—only that it has worked for me. My hope is that by exploring my techniques, you can further develop and refine your own methods.
Let’s talk first about organization. It took me a few tries to get the organization right. Here is what I ended up with, and I’ll explain why in a bit. I chose to display two Wunderlist default groups: “Inbox” and “Starred.” Those lists reside at the top of my Wunderlist. Then, I have “Next,” “Later,” “Someday/Maybe,” and “Reoccurring” lists. Thereafter are my lists for specific projects. Below is a sample screenshot.
Now, let’s apply David Allen’s five core concepts to my system.
Collect. As soon as I know I have something I need to do that cannot be delegated or done immediately, I put it in my “Inbox.” Typically, I’ll add an entry to my Inbox from my iPhone or iPad, or I’ll forward an email to my Wunderlist email address.
Process. I make it a habit to check my “Inbox” first thing in the morning to process my tasks. I then decide what to do with those tasks. First, I need to convert the “Inbox” tasks into actionable items. That is particularly true if I’ve forwarded myself an email, say, for example, regarding an article I agreed to write. I need to break that up into actionable items, such as research, outline, draft, and finalize.
Organize. This is where the rubber meets the road. After I’ve defined my actionable tasks, I need to sort them into the right groups. There are a few options here. A task might go directly into my “Next” group, if I know that I want to tackle it next. Or, if it can wait, I’ll drop it into “Later.” If it’s not something I’m interested in addressing anytime soon—or ever—I’ll move it to “Someday/Maybe.” If it is associated with a specific project, then it goes into that group. Here is a visual of my workflow.
When handling projects, Wunderlist helps me organize the tasks associated with that project, but I don’t find that it is robust enough to act as a full project management tool. For that, I use Evernote. For each of my Wunderlist project lists, one of the items is a link to my Evernote notebook for that particular project.
Here is a sample project list in Wunderlist that follows the foregoing protocols:
Do. Now, if you’ve been following closely, you’ll notice that I don’t have a grouping for tasks that need to be handled today. For those items, I use Wunderlist’s flag feature. This relies heavily on my daily review (more on that below). After I’ve finished processing my “Inbox,” I’ll move to my “Starred” list. That’s what I work from on a daily basis. It is essentially my daily to-do list. If I’ve sorted properly, the flagged items will be sorted by project or action. All flagged items (with one exception mentioned below) should come directly from my “Next” list or a project list.
Now, there are a few unique items that I need to deal with, which include reoccurring actions and those with due dates. For reoccurring items, I place them all into my “Reoccurring” list. I set the due date to repeat and then set a reminder. The reminder notifies me to work on this task. When I receive that reminder, I then flag the task. When I finish with the task, I’ll check it off, unflag it, and then reset the reminder for the next week, month, or whatever time period it may require. Because the due date is set to repeat, the task doesn’t disappear when I check it off as complete for that time period.
For tasks that have a specific due date, I add the due date and then set a reminder for when I want to be notified to start work on the task. When I receive the reminder, I then flag the task so that it appears in my “Starred” list.
Review. This entire system is dependent upon regular reviews. Each day I begin by processing and organizing my “Inbox.” After that, I conduct my daily review. My daily review consists of a look through my “Starred” and “Next” lists. If I trust the system, I should have everything I need for that day in those two lists (and will be notified via reminder of anything else time sensitive).
Weekly reviews are also essential to the process. This is where I review not only my “Starred” and “Next” lists, but also my project lists. I might flag a certain task within a project to start work on it next week or I might decide to set a reminder for a project task. This process helps ensure that nothing falls through the cracks. Typically, I’ll also take a quick glance at my “Later” and “Someday/Maybe” lists and decide whether any of those tasks can be moved up to “Next” or deleted altogether.
I like to set a reoccurring task for my weekly review. That way, I don’t forget to do it.
A Final Note
For those who follow GTD, you’ll notice that I have drastically modified David Allen’s traditional method. I would argue that the GTD provides basic task management concepts that can—and should—be altered to fit your work and the tools that you use to manage, organize, and complete your work. It took me several attempts to develop my GTD system with Wunderlist, and I’m constantly redefining it.
Wunderlist has additional features that I have experimented with and may integrate into my system overtime. The way I have described above is, to me, a simple and usable system. I’m interested in hearing from you with thoughts on my method and about your own GTD methods.
Please provide comments in the space below.
(Image Credit: ShutterStock)