Simplifying Getting Things Done

by Mike Shea on 22 May 2011

30 Second Summary

A good "Getting Things Done" system, like a good user interface, can only get better when there is less of it. Getting Things Done captures so many people because it is a relatively easy system to incorporate once you get going but it's up to us to customize it around our corner of the world. GTD has aspects that are really required: inbox, next action lists, project lists, and the weekly review. Other components like tickler folders, project support folders, the massive file reference, and even the beloved Someday Maybe list can often be eliminated to keep our personal project management system nice and clean. In each of your weekly reviews (you're doing weekly reviews, right?) ask yourself what elements of the system you can simplify or eliminate to make the whole thing just a little bit smaller.

What's required for GTD?

There are some aspects of GTD that can never be eliminated. You always need a place to capture random stuff that enters your life, stuff you can't yet fully process into next actions, projects, calendar items, or trash.

After spending almost five years with Getting Things Done, I can safely say that the following elements are absolutely required in my own system:

Things I don't need

Over the past five years there are a few things I no longer really need. Some of these might be considered crutches, important to have early in when using GTD but no longer required once you feel like you have a handle on your life. Here are a few of mine:

Simplify, a lifelong goal

Simplifying my life is a constant drive for me. I'm always looking to remove elements of my life that don't make me happy. I'm always looking for ways to get rid of physical stuff. I'm always looking to use one less application than I need. My GTD system is no different. Anything I can do to make my system more efficient, smaller, and faster is a goal worth seeking. So, what element of your own system is generating more work than it's worth?

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