GTD: The Five Phases of Workflow, Part I

The GTD productivity model is a clear model that anyone can implement. It may seem intimidating to jump all the way in to this system, but once you do, you’ll have a process that you can trust, freeing up your mind to actually complete tasks instead of just worrying about them.

In several posts, I’ll go over the five phases of workflow, or the process of dealing with all of your “stuff” as David Allen calls it. Although this is nothing new, the information should serve as a reminder of why Getting Things Done works for so many people. Today, I’ll talk about collecting and processing your stuff.


At first, the collection process will be daunting and time-consuming. David Allen recommends taking a whole weekend to be able to collect and process everything when you first start to use GTD. Finally solving the problem of finding all of your stuff and doing something about it will clear your mind and improve your focus. And once you’ve started using GTD, you have a system for gathering and keeping track of your stuff. Instead of leaving piles here and there at home and at the office, you’ll be able to collect items so you can trust you won’t lose anything.

You can collect both physical items and mental items; these mental items should be recorded on paper or in some other way to get them out of your head and to help you know you’ve already gathered them so your brain can move on. Be methodical in how you collect your stuff; keep an in-basket at work and place anything that comes across your desk in it, for example. Then when you have time, you can:


When you begin to process everything you’ve collected (remember, this is a long process at first, but as you integrate GTD into your life, it should become second-nature), you have several courses of action. If you don’t need it, trash it. If it can be delegated, hand it off. If it will take less than two minutes to complete, get it done. Whatever is left can be added to one of your to-do lists. The beauty of GTD processing is that you deal with anything that is considered clutter immediately. Nothing sits around your home or office without a purpose. You also never have to look at an item twice; once you’ve collected an item and processed it, you are done with it. It has an assignment that has either been completed (trashed, delegated, or done in less than two minutes) or labeled (on your to-do list).

The next phases help you organize what you have, and then maintain your control over your to-do lists. GTD is simple at its core, and it will improve your productivity if you choose to fully implement it into your life.

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