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In 1996 I sold my Magic the Gathering collection for $7,000 and bought shares of the Vanguard S&P 500 Index Fund (today worth $28,516). But that wasn’t best investment I ever made. What was? Reading David Allen’s Getting Things Done as a college grad and learning his GTD method for productivity. (And yes, two decades later GTD still holds up.) I recently implemented GTD into my Notion workspace and will take you through a step-by-step demonstration of setting up Inboxes, Contexts, Quick Capture, Weekly Reviews and Next Actions using the Notion app. (And stay until the end of the post, we’ve got a free template.)
A Getting Things Done (GTD) Refresher
Getting Things Done is a 5-step method to capture, triage and organize the various tasks activities in your life. GTD is a system (as opposed to a tool) that can be implemented via analog (pen and paper), dedicated apps (Omnifocus, Things 3 or Todoist) and no-code apps (Notion, Coda and Airtable). The five steps are as follows:
While Allen is very specific about the actions and data that accompany each step, in my 19+ years of using GTD, I’ve come to believe that the two most critical parts steps are: Capture and Reflect.
Our Notion GTD template consists of the following components:
- One Master Task Table (called GTD_Tasks)
- A series of tasks (each a Page within GTD_Tasks)
- Each page having a series of Attributes (complete, flag, tags, due date, etc)
- A series of Views (to emulate perspectives)
Watch a full demonstration on the pillars and implementation of GTD in Notion:
Step 1: Capture
On the Tim Ferriss podcast Allen famously said:
“Your mind is made for having ideas, not holding them.”
Yet I know you probably leave the shower with 5 fresh new ideas and 3 new people you need to call. Not having a standard place to put them becomes an inevitable source of anxiety.
He recommends you pick one place, to capture these thoughts and tasks, such as:
- The native task app on your phone
- Emailing yourself (yes, that’s ok if it’s the ONLY place you capture tasks)
- A notebook or post-it note
- A blank OneNote/Evernote/Notion note
A dedicated capture inbox will give you the confidence that nothing will fall through the cracks.
In our Notion GTD template, you’ll be able to input tasks in two places from within your GTD_Tasks.
A few words about quick capture
Now hardcore GTD fanatics will obsess about a phrase called Quick Capture. They’re referring to the amount of time it takes an idea to travel from their heads to their digital screens. And if that time exceeds 1 second, for this group of productivity fanatics (and I’m one of them) it becomes too slow.
This isn’t an issue for 99% of the population, but still worth acknowledging. In the post Why Superhuman and Notion reduced my productivity and focus, Fletcher Richman calls out the number of taps to “add and complete a task” as well as Notion’s poor performance on mobile. Earlier this year, Notion re-architected their infrastructure to improve page load times by 50%.
Step 2: Clarify
The clarify step involves accurately defining tasks. People often make the following mistakes:
- The task isn’t well defined (“Mom”)
- The task is actually a series of tasks (“Taxes”)
You can get improve the accuracy of your tasks with two best practices. First, start each task with a verb. So “Mom” would become “Call Mom” and “Photos” would become “Organize Photos.” Next, you can apply the S.M.A.R.T. goals approach, which consists of:
In practice, this means that as you move through your day, you’re Capturing (Step 1) tasks into your Notion Inbox. At the end of the day, you review this Inbox and decide if your tasks are well-defined and still relevant. During this step, GTD would also recommend that if you can complete a task in under two minutes, than you should (The two-minute rule.)
Step 3: Organize
The next step is to add additional information (known as meta-data) to each task. Project is the only metadata is required and the full list consists of:
- Due Date
- Repeat Frequency
The only required meta-data is Project, which will “clear” a task from your Inbox. Here’s the list of options (assigned to a specific Property Type) in our Notion database.
A word about Due Dates and Contexts
GTD is very strict in its treatment of due dates. It’s anti-due dates with one exception. If failing to do a task by a certain date has serious repercussions then it should have a due date. Otherwise, it shouldn’t. The following tasks should have due dates:
- Paying your rent
- Buying a gift for your son’s birthday
- Finishing a client presentation
These tasks should not have due dates:
- Taking your son to the museum
- Reading Thinking Fast and Slow
- Flossing before bed
This is possible thanks to Step 4 (the weekly Review) which we’ll address shortly.
GTD also loves to layer on meta-data to each task, known as Contexts. An easy way to think of contexts is as tags (and in Notion-speak, multi-select fields). Contexts can be many of the following:
- Person (Spouse, direct report, parents, kid’s teacher)
- Place (Home, office, grocery store, parents’ home, church)
- Thing (iPhone, notebook, desktop)
- State of mind (High energy, Low energy)
The beauty of Contexts is that they can span all the tasks in your life. Here are a few examples:
- Call my accountant (Phone, Low Energy)
- Review homework packet (Home, Child, High Energy)
- Return Webcam to Amazon (Home, Desktop, Low Energy)
Step 4: Reflect
The fourth step of GTD is the most critical: Reflect. It can also be known as the Weekly Review. Put simply, it requires you to examine all of your projects on a schedule, then determine the following:
- Is the task still relevant?
- Does the task need new meta-data?
- Does the project need to be re-prioritized?
In our frenetic world of “do, do, do” we often miss the forest from the trees. We’re obsessed with getting things done (no pun intended), without asking are we working on the right things? The review is here to bring intentionality back into your workflow.
A well-designed review process will resurface projects with different frequencies. You may have the project Manage Direct Reports which deserves a weekly review; however, My Bucket List might only require a semi-annual review.
Notion is the perfect candidate for variable review frequencies, but it requires using Related Tables (an advanced topic taught in Supercharge Your Productivity).
In our template (given the constraints of downloadable templates), we’ll have to “hack” the review process to the task level and pre-set it to 7 days.
Step 5: Engage
The last step is actually the most straightforward one. Get it done! In our template we’ve added additional views using Boards (view By Status) and Calendar (view By Due Date).
Now your Notion Workspace is set up to implement the GTD methodology. Use this setup in combination with our 13 tips for getting more things done today to supercharge your workflow.
The next stop in our tutorial is PARA using Notion. Or jump ahead and learn how to use Notion to run your entire business.