My Own Getting Things Done System

I wanted to talk a little about the system I use for (trying) to get things done.  I say trying because I’m aware that my system isn’t perfect.  Well, actually, the system could be totally fine.  The problem is probably me!  I feel that this topic isn’t covered very often in relation to SEO, one of my previous similar posts went down quite well so I wanted to (finally) do a more tip focused follow up.

I get distracted easily which probably doesn’t help me get things done no matter what system I use.  However, since I started using this system and adopted GTD principles in general, I’ve noticed a change in my productivity and general happiness at work.  I have always loved my work, but now when I walk away from it, I feel much more in control of my projects.  I think the following is true and key to all of us –

I’m in control of my projects – they’re not in control of me.

I wanted to share my system to try and help others and also to get feedback on this one.  I’m always looking to improve it so any thoughts are welcome.  This system is heavily based on the principles outlined by David Allen in Making It All Work, I’d highly recommend you getting a copy of it as well as David’s original book Getting Things Done.

There are basically 3 stages to my system

  • Get Clear
  • Get Current
  • Get Creative

I run through this system every Friday afternoon, I actually block out the time in my calendar so no one can book meetings during this time.  This helps me make sure I actually do it.

Get Clear

This involves making sure you’re caught up on everything you need to be and that you are aware of the big picture.  Only when you know you have everything you need to do in one place can you decide what to do next.

Step 1) Inbox=0

If you are unfamiliar with the concept of Inbox=0, take a look at this presentation that Merlin Mann gave to Google on the topic.  I’ll also briefly explain the principles below.

For now, I’ll give you the fundamental principles and benefits of getting into the Inbox=0 mentality.

  • Your inbox should NEVER be your to-do list
  • If you can reply to an email within 2 minutes, do it straight away
  • If a reply will take longer than 2 minutes, it is a task and should go onto your to-do lists, then archive the email
  • You shouldn’t be distracted by emails in your inbox also known as “stuff”
  • Getting to Inbox=0 gives you a sense of calm which strangely makes you feel more in control

I’ll eventually get around to writing a post all about Inbox=0, but for now the points above will do and of course you have the video from Merlin to take a look at.  You should also take a look at the series of blog posts he wrote:

inbox zero
So this fits into my process right at the start.  I clear out all my emails in one swoop.  I’m usually pretty good at keeping my inbox under control throughout the week, so this task shouldn’t take that long.  Every email is either replied to, or put onto my to-do list.

Step 2) Go through all my notes from the last week

Like many of you, I use a notebook to capture meeting notes, random thoughts, as well as my daily tasks.  I actually undervalued the power of a good notebook.  At the start of last year I started using a Molskine notebook and it makes it a pleasure to take notes.  I’m going to go into more detail about good note taking in another post.

So I go through all my notes and make sure that any actions have been moved onto my to-do list.

Step 3) Get everything onto your to-do list(s)

To-do lists is a whole other topic, again which I’ll cover another time.

I’ve recently changed my to-do list management and have started using Trello.  I used to use Remember the Milk which is simple and has lots of cool features if you need them including an iPhone App.  I changed mainly because I was getting a bit bored and wanted a change, not because of any issues with Remember the Milk.

Update: I’ve written a blog post on Using Trello to Manage SEO Projects

I have a few different to-do lists for different projects that I work on, each project then has different lists which are usually along the lines of “to-do”, “doing”, “done”, and “waiting for”.

At this point I should have absolutely every task on my to-do list.

Step 4) Review past weeks calendar for outstanding actions

Ideally, you should have captured any actions from meetings etc in your notebook.  But sometimes this won’t capture everything, such as a meeting that got cancelled and needs to be rearranged.  So its best to review your past meetings to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything.

Step 5) Review next weeks calendar for actions to be taken

If you have meetings coming up, there may be some actions to be taken in order to prepare for those meetings.  These are easily forgotten about.  The last thing you want is to be preparing 5 minutes before a meeting starts – although we’ve all been there!

So if you have actions, these should be moved onto your to-do list.

Get Current

This involves organising your tasks and upcoming events so that you know exactly what needs to be done next and when.

Step 1) Review ALL to-do lists and capture tasks for the next week

At this stage you want to go through all of your tasks and pick out the ones that need to be done over the next week.  This can be tricky but you need to learn to prioritise.

Step 2) Decide my to-do list for Monday

As I do this on a Friday, I make a to-do list for the following Monday.  There is a lot of value in deciding your to-do list before the day.  It helps you a lot to keep things clear in your head.  I’d highly recommend getting into this habit, arriving into work and having your tasks already written out is a great feeling and much more efficient.

So I go through my tasks and choose 5 that I want to get done on Monday.  I write these into my notebook.

3) Review ALL projects I’m responsible for – make sure each one has an action next to it

This is more of a good project management tip rather than strictly GTD.  But it is still good practice for this time.  I have a wall in the Distilled office with all my teams projects and I keep this up to date with cards which are the next actions for each.

4) Review tasks that I’ve delegated to others

I also have a list of tasks that I’ve delegated to other people.  It is good to review this list and see if you need to check in with any of the people you’ve delegated to and check the status of the tasks.

Get Creative

This allows you to have some fun and get creative with your projects.

1) Review ambition list

I have a list which I call my ambition list.  This isn’t necessarily related to work, it can be just about anything you want.  Reviewing this list doesn’t mean you’re going to take any actions, but it helps to keep your long term goals in perspective and in your mind.  But the key is that it shouldn’t matter if you don’t take action, you should rest assured that you will get to this someday and you should trust yourself that you will.

2) Go through your projects – what cool, creative ideas can you add to them?

Here I can add any new or creative ideas to each of my projects.  This is good because in the course of my day-to-day work, I may not have time to do this.  But at this time when I review projects, I have the perfect chance to pull out these ideas and add them to my lists.  It doesn’t mean I’m going to action them immediately, but it does mean that creative and different ideas do get onto your list and you can review them at the right time.


I know this seems very long winded, but its not.  It takes me 20-30 minutes to do this, the main time is taken on getting to inbox=0.  If my inbox is already empty, this whole process takes 15 minutes or so.

I’d love to hear how you guys approach getting stuff done, particularly managing multiple client projects at the same time which is always a challenge.

6 thoughts on “My Own Getting Things Done System”

  1. Nice list mate.
    I personally do a lot of what you do, I do however have a to do list everywhere I go and traffic light them (in and out of work).

    I think each person has their own ways of dealing with things, the fear is being scared of creating a list or reading emails. Most people forget you don’t have to reply to every email.

    My suggestion to people is to “limit” communications down.
    Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Email, text, IM’s etc, limit them down.
    Lastly, limit projects and break down into simple sections (that you will know what you actually mean) thats the easiest way if not find a tool to do the heavy lifting 😉

  2. Hey Paddy, good post. I kind of touched upon some of the tools I use for managing myself on my last blog post at, but didn’t go through any of the methodology behind it.

    I mostly use a task management tool called Toodledo for managing my to do lists (everything goes on to here), set priorities and deadlines based on those. Every action I need to perform, big or small goes in here, and I update this on the fly as and when new tasks come in via email.

    I review this towards the end of each day, and rearrange items that I know need completion more urgently for the next day, or look to defer some of those tasks to other days when it appears there could be more capacity to get things done.

    I usually have very little in my inbox – I don’t always archive items until I’ve actually replied though, so getting to inbox 0 is fairly rare, unless I actually get on top of what I’m doing in terms of email replies.

    For note taking, I do have a pad, but its just a cheap A4 notepad. I have thought about getting a better one, but when I recently switched jobs, I wanted to move a lot of what I need to “the cloud”. As a result, I’ve started to use Evernote extensively for my note-taking, so that I can access those notes anywhere I have a connected device (i.e. on my phone, ipad, either desktop I work from, or even the web app if necessary).

    Similarly, I am using dropbox to be able to access any of the files I am working on, from any given location.

    I’ve found my cloud based system to be working really well for me at the moment – I am frequently jumping between locations for working, and have a tendency to forget to put my notepad in my bag etc – but nearly always have phone or ipad wherever I go, and can therefore access everything I need, from everywhere.

  3. Hey Paddy,

    Nice list I have been thinking about arranging my tasks online and Trello looks pretty good.

    I agree having a jobs list organised the day before is great for productivity but it is something I have slipped out of lately but I will be getting back on it from today 🙂

    Good shout on the books too, I will check them out.


    Do you think you will be speaking at linklove in March?

  4. I like your approach a lot, particularly your thoughts about inbox=0 – will definitely need to read more about that as I’m always getting distracted by emails 😛

    We often use a system called the Pomodoro technique ( which is really useful to help break down tasks into manageable chunks and also to help from getting distracted. Although it’s hard to maintain in an office environment, it’s pretty simple to implement and can be very effective in the right setting.

  5. Greetings Paddy,

    Thank you for the winded, but not winded article. I appreciate your input on the inbox=0 method and 100% agree. I have seen how a stacked inbox can cause great stress for a person. I also strive to keep my inbox at 0 and if there are some emails that have turned into a task item, I’ve filed them away into a folder in my email called, **Working Items. The two asterisks keep the folder at the very top and once I’ve replied and completed the items in that folder, then I can file them away in their appropriate places.

    I also enjoy using Trello. It is a very flexible tool which flows logically. There really are no limitations to how a person could use Trello, and for me, it has been a wonderful tool to be able to manage multiple currently running programs and their sub-projects; especially with a team in a collaborative manner.

    Thanks again for your thoughts on getting things done. I will definitely be looking into those books you referenced and some of the web resources others have posted.

    Warm Regards

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