GTD Methods

Latest Update: Just correcting a few links. If you don't already know what GTD is, you may want to have a look at our GTD Introduction explaining it. This article is just a look at a few of the different…

Latest Update: Just correcting a few links.

If you don’t already know what GTD is, you may want to have a look at our GTD Introduction explaining it. This article is just a look at a few of the different ways that GTD can be implemented. It’s not very in-depth on any method, and is only really intended to give you some ideas before I cover the method I use – GTD – The PigPog Method.

GTD is all based on David Allen’s excellent books. You’ll get far more from reading the books than from any web site.


As I mentioned in our GTD Introduction, one of the unusual things about GTD is that it presents you with a complete workflow for managing all the stuff you have to do, so it might seem like there’s not a lot of scope for different ways for implementing it. However, there’s a surprising range of ways people have found, some following the GTD system exactly, some varying from it in a few ways. In this article, We’ll cover a few different ways, just to give you some idea of the variation that’s out there. It’s not going to be comprehensive – I’m probably only even aware of a fraction of the ways out there. My article is about how I implement the GTD system, so it seems like a good idea to cover a bit of the variety out there first – the way I do it isn’t the only way.

It’s also worth mentioning here that, although the very existence of this article claims the opposite, the truth is that the method used really doesn’t matter. It’s not important how you do it, just that you get things done.

Some Methods

Anyway, here’s a few ways people do GTD, in no particular order…

Paper and Pen

Even now, a lot of people get on just fine with paper and pen. The GTD system was originally designed to be run with paper and pen, in fact. Even the paper and pen fans have their ‘in-fights’, though – some will use any old bits of paper, and whatever pen or pencil comes to hand, some feel unhappy with anything but a blue-lined yellow legal pad. Some will use nothing but an expensive Filofax and a Mont Blanc fountain pen. GTD is all about making lists, and keeping track of what you have to do, so paper and pen will do the job just fine.

Personally, I just don’t get on that well with paper and pen. My handwriting is terrible. Although I don’t often find the need to search, searching by rummaging through a stack of paper is really annoyingly slow compared to a quick search on a computer. There’s also problems with capacity for carrying. With my iPaq, I can carry pretty much every bit of data I could want, whereas with paper, I’d have to cut down, and keep only a limited amount with me. Oh, and backups are really slow, too 😉


Outlook is a very flexible product, and you can use it to implement GTD in many different ways. Using too many of the more complex features, like linking items, can cause problems if you need to sync with a PDA. If you want to use Microsoft Outlook more fully, but still want to sync with a Palm device, you can do so with either KeySuite or Beyond Contacts, both of which replace the built in palm apps with an alternative that more closely mimics Outlook’s functionality. For Windows Mobile, Pocket Informant will give you a lot of extra features, and looks and acts much more like Outlook than the built in apps do.

Palm ‘Plain Vanilla’

Using just the built in Palm apps. This is what David uses himself. David just implements the same lists he describes in the book using the Palm ToDo application (or Tasks on the newest PalmOne machines).


Lots of people find that GTD lacks a way of tying what you’re doing now with the ‘higher levels’ – your goals and focus areas. David only ties these together in the weekly review, but some people do find it easier to put everything into an outliner, where they can break things down by focus area. This forces you to think more about why you’re doing things, and gives you a good overview of what areas you’re actually working on. On the Palm, the main outliners used are ShadowPlan and Bonsai. Both are very good, and have very similar features. Until recently, ShadowPlan was somewhat lacking on the desktop, but the newest release (4.0) has a much improved desktop, and it’s Palm program has always been strong. Both products will also link items to todo items. Of the two, personally, I got on slightly better with ShadowPlan, but it’s worth trying both, and seeing which you get on best with.

On Windows Mobile machines, again, Pocket Informant can do outlines with its Heirarchical Tasks function, but these won’t show up on the desktop.

Life Balance

Although Life Balance (For Palm, Windows, and Mac) is centered around an outliner, it deserves a separate mention, as its way of working is a bit different. Using it really rules out several parts of GTD, but it certainly has its good points. You enter all the things you are working on into an outline, and for each item tell it how important it is, how much effort it will take, and where you need to be. Life Balance then decides what you should do, and it tells you. You just have to do as it says. It’s very clever, and although it’s a bit expensive, it’s worth a go if you like the idea of your Palm bossing you around 😉


Created by Jaques Turbé, CyberPoche (=CyberPocket) is a system for keeping everything in memo pad in the Palm (or any other text based system, really), and using keywords to make things pop up when needed. It’s explained fully in a page written by Jaques, and collated by Teri Pitman.

Projects with Codes

By just putting a code in front of all of your projects, and putting the same code on tasks relating to that project, you can easily find all the related tasks with a search. It’s a simple trick, but it can be quite effective, and save quite a bit of time at the weekly review. I tried this out for a while, using a five letter code for every project.

Dated Tasks

This is another system I used for a while. In GTD, David specifies that actions shouldn’t have dates unless they are ‘hard landscape’ – i.e. must be done that day. This system breaks that rule, but the dates aren’t for when you plan to do the action – they are for the earliest you might need to think of it again. This works very well on the Palm with Datebk5, as it integrates today’s tasks with the Calendar / Datebook view very well. The main problems with it that I found were spending time every day moving forward all the things that hadn’t got done that day, and finding things that I’d pushed forward, but then changed my mind and wanted to do sooner. On the plus side, though, the thought of keeping on moving an item forward one day at a time for a couple of weeks forced me to think a little more about whether I really wanted to do something soon, and if something would only take a few minutes to do, it soon became easier to do it than keep rescheduling it.


OK, so this is really the whole point of this article. Put together with the help of a lot of other people on the GtD_Palm Yahoo Group, the method I use is what became known as the PigPog Method.

MarkTAW’s Cascading Next Actions

Mark has come up with a similar system to PigPog that works better on paper – Cascading Next Actions.

One comment

  1. […] article covers how I implement the GTD system – there’s quite a few other ways, which you may want to look at before reading this […]

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