Efficient Time Management with the Getting-Things-Done Method (GTD)

Annalena Simonis, Tuesday 03 August 2021 | Reading time: 7 min.

To-do lists are a popular way to keep track of short-term tasks. But as a long-term planning tool, a simple list quickly becomes cluttered. With the Getting-Things-Done method, you can take your task management to a new level.

Do you know this situation? You have a thousand things to do, your email inbox is full, several chat messages are waiting to be answered and in that moment the phone is ringing? How are you supposed to manage this huge amount of work? As well as doing it stress-free and efficiently at the same time? Whether at work or in private life, from time to time everyone loses track of their to-dos. At this point good time management is needed. But how and where to start? We present you a method to get all tasks under control and to free your mind for the important things. In this article you will learn everything you need to know about the Getting Things Done (GTD) method.




What is the GTD method?

Getting Things Done is a self-management method developed by the American author David Allen. The principle of the method is to record all tasks of professional and private life in to-do lists. With the help of a comprehensive list and schedule system and various workflows, you can manage all your tasks more intelligently. The goal of the GTD method write all your tasks down and to organize them so that you can be sure not to forget anything. After that you will have a clearer mind and will be able to work through each task in a concentrated manner. Reason for this is that if the short-term memory is emptied regularly, it increases the ability to concentrate.


Grafik: Getting-Things-Done Workflow


The 5 steps of the GTD method

Step 1: Capture

Collect all tasks, appointments and ideas in so-called "inboxes". Try to determine as few places as possible where you collect the incoming tasks in order to get an overview and already a feeling for the upcoming to-dos. "Inboxes" can work both digitally (email inbox) and analog (filing basket on the desk).

Step 2: Clarify

In the second step, you review all inboxes. The pending tasks are sorted according to the Getting-Things-Done system. First and foremost, three key questions are asked:

  • What kind of task is it?
  • Is there anything I can currently do?
  • What is the next step?

If you can't or don't need to handle the task yourself, you can choose one of the three options:

  • Dispose
  • Archive as reference material
  • Put on "someday/maybe" list

Step 3: Organize

All other tasks that require action are sorted onto four different lists for further processing. As a general rule, tasks that take less than two minutes to complete should be done directly instead of being placed on further lists. Also, be sure to break larger tasks (projects) into smaller subtasks or steps of action. When working through the inboxes, tasks are sorted into the following four lists:


Put all upcoming appointments on your calendar. Tasks that need to be completed go on the "Next Steps" list or are entered as a project and broken down into subtasks. Then define next steps for your project and create fixed dates in the calendar.


Tasks that cannot be completed in a single action are considered projects, according to David Allen. All projects are collected in the project list and reviewed regularly. A reminder list helps you keep track of tasks that you have delegated to other coworkers.

Next steps:

In addition to the project list, you should also keep a list of non-project tasks. Depending on the scope of your tasks, you can also split the "Next Steps" list into contextual lists. For example, for personal, work, phone calls or similar.

“Wait For”:

Outside of projects, you may also find yourself delegating tasks. Here, too, it is useful to prepare a reminder list. Create appointments in your calendar, on which you coordinate with the appropriate people about the work progress.

Step 4: Reflect

The GTD is a well-organized system, but it only works with a lot of maintenance. Only then it is worth the effort and productivity can be increased. The system should be reviewed and updated regularly. Therefore, check your appointment calendar several times a day and your task list at least once a day.

Once a week, the weekly review is due. Here the following steps need to be worked through:

  • Empty your mind: at the end of the week, write down once again all the ideas that run through your head.
  • Inboxes: sort all new tasks, ideas and appointments into the GTD system.
  • Task list: Is the list up to date? Are all completed to-dos crossed off? What tasks are scheduled for the next few days?
  • Project lists: Are the lists up to date? What steps have you taken in the past week to move your project(s) forward?
  • "Maybe/Someday" list: Do you want to move tasks from this list to the project list to work on?
  • Appointment calendar: is the calendar up to date? Have you attended all appointments? Which appointments are coming up in the next days? Are all appointments entered?
  • " Wait for" list: What is the current status of delegated to-dos? Check with employees if necessary.

Step 5: Engage

Once you have distributed all the to-dos, you must now decide which tasks to start with first. The following four criteria will help you decide:


  • In which context are you at the moment? What do you have time for right now?
  • Tip: Divide your to-do list into contextual lists (work, family, hobby) to avoid confusing to-do lists.

Available time:

  • How much time do you have available right now?
  • Can you use a short car ride to make a phone call or is there enough time in the waiting room to answer a few emails?

Available energy:

  • What time of day do you have the most energy?
  • Are you an early riser or do you prefer to work when everyone else goes to bed?
  • Tip: Schedule your to-dos so that you complete more challenging tasks when you feel most energized.


  • Which task is most important or subject to the most time pressure?
  • Tip: If you find it difficult to identify the most important task, use different prioritization methods such as the 1-2-3 method or the Eisenhower matrix.



The Getting-Things-Done method has established itself as an efficient time management method. Numerous users report productive results in self-management, whether at work or in their private lives. However, the method has proven to be especially effective for people who are already very analytical and structured by nature. Those who are regularly confronted with different tasks get a better overview with the help of the system. For people with repetitive tasks and few projects, the method seems a bit oversized. Here it is usually enough to have a well-maintained calendar and to regularly clean up the e-mail inbox. If you are interested in the method we recommend the book "Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity" by the inventor himself.


Also read other articles on our blog about time management:

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