An Overview of Getting Things Done, or GTD

Art & GTD Part 1 of 5

Getting Things Done Book Cover I know, I know. Artists aren’t typically the organized types. They often take pride in how scattershot they are, finding inspiration everywhere. But as we’ve discussed elsewhere and will definitely touch on again, it’s so easy to forget all those wonderful ideas we have. It’s easy to forget what that thing was we were going to paint that we were so excited about when the idea came to us. The Getting Things Done system lets us capture all those thoughts and successfully deploy them into productive work.

Getting things Done (aka GTD) is a personal productivity system outlined in a book of the same name by David Allen. The idea is to capture what needs to be done so that it’s out of your head and off your mind so you don’t stress out about it. You put all your “stuff” into a logical system so that you can deal with it appropriately. It helps you be disciplined in such a way that you can quickly make decisions regarding whatever comes up so that you can have a plan in place to immediately act on everything that comes your way, or otherwise safely renegotiate them. What happens is you end up avoiding getting things lost in the shuffle, so you become a more effective manager of your time. Is your head spinning yet? Don’t worry — we’ll clear some things up.

Two Main Questions

GTD is primarily concerned with two main questions: What’s the context? is the first one, and What’s the next action? is the next one, perhaps the most important of the two. Clearly answering these questions will guide you to efficiency. Context is how much time you have available, where you physically are at the moment, and how much energy you have at the moment. When you are fully aware of what your context is, you are better able to answer the question of “What’s the next physical action?”. You can use this to plan ahead to do certain things in certain situations (contexts). You probably already have a list of errands to run the next time you are out and about, and a list of supplies to get the next time you are at the art store. How about a list of things you can tackle the next time you feel really energetic? That way you can harness all that creative energy when you find yourself in that situation, instead of forcing yourself to do something you don’t have the energy for. Luck, as they say, favors the prepared.

The Getting Things Done Workflow, Summarized

There are a lot of excellent resources for getting a handle on the GTD workflow, including a variety of free downloadable PDFs at David Allen’s website. (My favorite is the WorkFlow Diagram - Advanced, since it lays it all out in a nice, graphical way that visually-oriented people can understand.) The six basic steps are:

  1. Collect
  2. Process
  3. Do
  4. Delegate
  5. Defer
  6. Delete

Collecting refers to gathering all of your “stuff,” putting everything in one place, rather than having it scattered all over your house, office, and car. It all goes in ONE inbox. Processing is where you deal with each item in your inbox and decide if it’s something that can be acted upon or not. If you can do it in two minutes or less, go ahead and Do it and get it off your mind. If you’re not the right person to do it or you don’t have the time, energy, or resources for it, Delegate that task to someone else. (Just remember to put a note on your calendar or in your tickler file to follow up with that person later.) If you want to do it at some future date, you can Defer it and put it on your calendar to look into it or act on it later. Finally, if what you have collected in your inbox is not actionable and it’s not some sort of reference material, you Delete it.


3 Comments. Add your own below.

  1. […] Brad Blackman at Mysterious Flame has taken David Allen’s book Getting Things Done (which I always recommend) and applied it to the creative process in five separate posts. Since  GTD is mostly about office productivity and making art is rarely so structured, it’s an interesting look. […]


  2. As a self-described “Artist with a Day Job,” I have finally found a way to adapt GTD principles in a creative way that works for me. I believe that work/life balance is pretty much BS. Work is nothing more than a sub-set of our lives, but it often gets way too much attention. I think that the GTD approach embraces the entire person and all of the “stuff” that goes along with living a full and balanced life.


  3. Thanks, Rebecca! I agree, work is a subset of activities in your life that gets way too much attention. I think the trick is to devote the proper amount of time and attention to the different areas in your life in such a way that you aren’t stressed out over it. What looks like balance to you may not be balanced for me.


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