6 Core Components of Getting Things Done

A couple of months ago I wrote a post called “1 Simple Graph is the Secret to Success in Getting Things Done,” and I must admit… I wasn’t entirely honest with you. That one graph is not the only secret to success in GTD. Unfortunately; it’s a bit more complicated.

The graph explains what to do when “things” happen, but in order to really milk that GTD-thing you have to have these 6 core components in place.

1. Projects File

In today’s world we all have hundreds of projects to take care of. And I don’t only mean “projects” in a sense your boss understands this term. In GTD projects have a much wider definition.

A project is everything that requires more than one action to complete.

Some examples: getting your car fixed, buying a house, painting walls – these are all projects.

A projects file is a place where you can store all of your projects. Each project should consist of a list of actions that need to be taken in order to finish the project.

Let’s expand the first example – getting your car fixed. The list of actions for this project could look something like this: (1) grab the Yellow Pages and search for the nearest garage in the neighborhood, (2) call the mechanic and make an appointment, (3) get the car to the garage.

A quick rule of thumb:  Whenever you encounter something that needs more than one action to complete, put it into your projects file.

2. “As Soon As Possible” List

The name is pretty self-explanatory – it’s a list containing all the things that need to be done as soon as possible.

What’s important is that it’s not just a list of random stuff. Here’s how you create it.

Take one thing from EVERY project – one nearest possible action – and put it on your ASAP list. Each project should be represented by just one task on your ASAP list. What happens when you finish a task? Just replace it with another one from the same project. Do so until the whole project is finished.

You can also put other tasks on your ASAP list, but only tasks that are single-action tasks. For example, your friend sends you a text message asking you to call him. You know that it’ll probably take more than 10 minutes so you don’t want to do it now, but you don’t want to forget about it either. Just put it on your ASAP list.

ASAP list is the central element of GTD. This is one of those things you’re going to use every day. Whenever you have some spare time and want to do something useful grab your ASAP list and take action.

3. Calendar

Calendar is sacred. Treat is as such.

Here’s what I mean. If you put something into your calendar it means that that “something” needs to be done on that specific date and time OR NEVER.

Don’t get into habit of putting something into your calendar just because you think you should, will, or can do it on Thursday (for example). Let me say that again because it’s really important: If you decide to schedule something for a specific day, it means that you absolutely have to do it on that day OR NEVER.

So what can you put into your calendar?

  • Things that need to be done at some specific date and time. For example: picking up your sister from the airport; a doctor’s appointment.
  • Things that need to be done on a specific day. For example: your boss wants that memo sent on Thursday; a big project’s end date.
  • Everything you need to obtain by some specific date. For example: you are the boss, and it was you who ordered someone to send you that memo on Thursday.

Picking up your sister from the airport is a great example of a perfect task to put into a calendar. You can either do it on that specific moment in time or never.

4. Waiting-for List

Everything which you’re waiting for (inputs from other people, other external events, etc.).

You can be waiting for someone to give you your money back (a classic example), or you can be waiting for the release date of new David Allen book to be announced.

But the most common situation happens when you’re waiting for someone to return your email or call. You need that response in order to plan some further actions, or for whatever other reason.

Put in into your waiting-for list, and, well, wait for it.

5. Someday-Maybe List

You’re sitting in your chair drinking hot latte. Suddenly, an idea, a phone call, an e-mail, a carrier pigeon, a whatever; the “thing” sounds nice/important (and is actionable) but you neither want, have the time, nor have to do anything with it now. And you don’t want to start a new project for it either. What to do?

Put this “thing” into your someday-maybe list. Get back to it once you have the time or vein.

The essence of GTD is not to use your mind to remember about things, but to think about things. Someday-maybe list is a prime example of such an approach.

6. Reference File

A place for all things that are not actionable. Let me quote myself from my previous article:

[…] your reference file – the place where you keep all of your valuable materials that may come in handy during work. To give you an example, the thing that would be perfect to put into your reference file, would be an email from a friend in which he describes the basics of HTML. You don’t have to do anything with such an email, but it’s better to save it somewhere because it might come in handy someday […]

Your reference file can be and should be organized thematically; marketing, recipies, guitar tabs, etc. placed in separate folders. And so on… you get the point.

Use it wisely

Get these core components in place and use them in your everyday crusade of getting things done.

Tune in next time for a quick word on the main GTD scheme/loop and the importance of systematic reviews.

What is the main, central element of your own GTD implementation? Mine is, without a doubt, the ASAP list… it’s sitting here in front of me as I’m writing this post.

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  3. GTD is so broad and it covers a lot of areas of your life. I am not a firm believer that one, especially a newbie in a world of productivity can assimilate all of these new habits at once.

    Leo Balbuta from ZenHabits.net has his own book, called “Zen to Done”. I like his approach better…

  4. GTD is not a simple system, I agree. It takes some time to even be able to start implementing it. That being said, I’m really glad I’ve trusted it a number of years ago because for me it’s working great. 🙂

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