David Allen's GTD killer app can be created using OmniFocus and Shortcuts

GTD’ers who attended the GTD Summit in Amsterdam know it . During the Summit @DavidAllen unveiled some of his sketches of the killer GTD app user interface and later he send it to the GTD community.

I was able to (copy) build the setup as indicated in the drawings of David Allen at the GTD summit and I do think it comes close to the concept of David Allen. It is working on iPhone, iPad and Mac (the first two with Shortcuts and the latter with Keyboard Maestro). It shows how powerful the OmniFocus product is but also the power / impact the OmniFocus community has by sharing your automations here in this forum.

I am now working for a couple of weeks with this setup and I am very satisfied with the project it brought me back “to the roots” and made my system and daily work process much more simple. One of the general ideas of a GTD system is to keep it simple but somewhere I lost this concept. However the view and use is simple, setting it up is more complex.

I am opening this threat in the hope that you users will share your setup/ automations also so I can continuous improve my setup with your ideas and suggestions.

I have drafted a document about the setup, which can be found here: https://bertkruisdijk.wordpress.com/2019/07/24/david-allens-killer-gtd-app-system-brought-into-practice/

The structure is that I start with the screen print of David Allen, then show how I implemented this and share some links and screen prints for “the building blocks”. With many thanks to David Sparks, Tim Stringer, Rosemary Orchard any many others for sharing their ideas. Yes, I used the concept of “copy, improve and paste” many times and I want to give tributes to those who helped and or inspired me.



The striking thing about that configuration is the absolute foregrounding of the passive inbox element, in focal position at top left of the icon grid.

Meanwhile, the slightly half-hearted concession to any notion at all of destination, (the ‘goals’ icon), is buried in the least focal position in the whole grid (neither first, last nor centered, either by row, or by column.

Expressive I think – the Allen model encodes a very subaltern type of working relationship – essentially that of the junior cubicle worker whose own sense of quality, value, direction is cut or pushed right out of focus, and whose role is essentially to receive the tasks of others through an inbox, and dutifully process them.

Not a good match for anyone who really needs to think ahead, and steer a course towards a destination.

Worth remembering that even people doing fairly technical work, like Donald Knuth, and the late Stephen Jay Gould, have owed their productivity not to elevated skills in the super-efficient clearing of email, but to the simple refusal to even have an email account.

Inboxes lead nowhere – not good things to build a cult around.


That’s an interesting perspective, as Allen writes the book from the perspective of someone self-employed, and a lot of his examples are about coaching C-Suite execs.

What do you think is behind that disconnect between what’s in the book and this focus-on-inbox that you’re perceiving?

Allen’s framework is all about being in control of your life and achieving your aspirations, whatever your roles are. In his book he writes at length about how to choose your own priorities and plan your projects (which involve defining purpose, principles, vision, and goals). The opposite of subordination.
The inbox is simply the tool for all new items, thought of by you or received from others.


No obvious disconnect at all between the life described in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Allen_(author) up to the point where he gets the corporate training gig with Lockheed, and the central pitch around which the practicalities of collection, buckets, and next actions are built:

Getting current on, and in control of, what’s in your in-tray and on your mind right now … will provide the best means of broadening your horizons. A creative buoyant energy will be unleashed, which …

Two things are being brought to market here:

  1. A focus on in-tray diligence,
  2. a promise of attendant psychological or spiritual benefits.

The first is not without value in junior contexts, and most of us are in junior work – that’s the biggest market, and it’s a kind of work that he has rich experience of.

The second is charming, will certainly have helped the initial marketing, and may draw on his involvement with https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Movement_of_Spiritual_Inner_Awareness

There’s value here, but like any instrument, it’s better suited to some contexts than to others.

Nothing in his trajectory up to corporate training work will have provided him with much experience of identifying longer term destinations, and charting or managing organisational courses towards them, and nothing in the focus on in-tray collection, bucket allocation, or ‘bottom up perspectives’, is really well suited to roles which require a pro-active, rather than reactive, set of skills and responsibilities.

  1. I don’t really see how your comments are particularly relevant to the topic of this thread.
  2. David Allen has always said that anyone interested should try GTD and see what works. It has helped a lot of people.
  3. I don’t think the people who paid David Allen for 2 days of personal coaching were junior people in cubicles.
  4. Gould died in 2002 and Knuth is 81, so the relevance to today is not clear. Plato didn’t use email either.
  5. Feel free to start a new thread explaining how successful you are using some method other than GTD.

“The killer app” design is only “a mean” to achieve a certain state of mind by having a trusted system. The position of an icon on a grid is not saying that it is the most important item, that is a misunderstanding.

Last weeks I have experienced that I spend on average around 10 minutes per day in the Inbox and all the other time in working in my area’s of responsibilities achieving the goals I have set by moving forward initiatives, programs and projects and tasks. Most important having a review process in place to achieve Plan Do Check Act cycle. Getting “basic flow” and having “standard work” process.

I personally do not believe that it is possible to build a or one perfect system, you can not make “the killer app” because it needs to be tailored to your own needs. The good thing about the current state of technology is that you have the building blocks “at hand” to do so. In my case Omnifocus, Shortcuts, Drafts, Keyboard Maestro and Applescript and the wonderful community (also here at discourse.omnigroup.com) to share these with others. You do not need to be programmer to accomplish this.

@draft8, can I ask you to share your GTD setup so we can learn from your point of view?

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Not sure that I have one of those – I would rather get somewhere than ‘get things done’ – and I’m also not convinced that there are really transferable ‘answers’ to these things – There is never any shortcut alternative to a concrete analysis of a particular context, and contexts vary – but there may be transferable questions, and the central ones might be:

  • Where are you ?
  • Where are you trying to get to (and why) ?
  • and what steps will that take ?

It takes a lot of time and work (weeks or months rather than days) to build usably clear answers to those questions, and in the meanwhile, focus on the current in-tray will distract more than it helps.

Once you really do know you where you are going, and have a workably clear idea of how to get there, you will need to be utterly ruthless with your inbox. Discarding is much more important than collecting, and forgetting will often be much more useful than remembering.

There are no limits at all to how much others can put in your in-tray, and no guarantees whatsoever that any of it will help you get to your destination.

If you are going to keep your wits about you, and your eyes on the road, the main bucket you will need is the trash can.


I am not disagreeing with your point of view. “Getting somewhere” is a journey, GTD practiced in the correct way helps me to make the journey. Distractions for that journey are indeed in the Inbox items (or mail or meetings for that matter).

Inbox processing the right way
One essential step in “Inbox” processing is to delete or delegate the distractions in your inbox, like in your email. Always think if this particular inbox item is contributing to your goal. If you have to put the item on ”several items list“ or create a new project for it, strong signal that this could be a distraction from your journey. I can easily state that if you assess your Inbox this way you would achieve your destination earlier, more efficiënt and more effectively.

Getting somewhere
The general idea about “getting somewhere” is that you will have a couple of phases and I was thinking about the McKinsey methodology “Beyond Performance”, which I am trained in and often use in my line of work:

  1. Aspire - what is my ambition
  2. Asses - what do I need to do on the hard and soft side
  3. Architect - how will i do this
  4. Action - do it
  5. Advance - continuous improvement

That is the way how I build up my planning horizon and review. Which is creating the context of “am I really achieving what I aspire”. This is my review process build into OmniFocus with some Shortcuts.

Future leaders
By the way one remark from your previous post. I do think everybody started “in a cubical” his career. Most talents, who could become our future leaders are capable, at least of managing their own workload and are learning from every training and events they visit. Any method for achieving this is OK as long they can develop their productivity and impact for the company. There is one advantage for them, they have better and more technology to their disposable than I had 15 years ago. Let they learn from our mistakes and that is why I value your comments on this topic.

Thanks for your insight and thoughts. Helps me to sharpen the mind.

Thanks for sharing, i am currently reviewing your blog post and i find it very interesting.

I presume you are not talking from the perspective of someone who is self employed?

My inbox consists of tasks my clients send me (amongst other things) these tasks are things I am contracted to do under maintenance agreements and completing them means I get paid and my family eat, and my business continues.

“Getting somewhere” or planning to (the best laid plans of mice and men etc) relies on the here and now being stable, and unless your processing your inbox in whatever format it is it never will be.

Planning for the future is a luxury that some in modern society have access to, many in life are just living to day to day,

Plus there is nothing wrong with being the junior worker in the cubicle you describe we are all different and want different things, to say there is is both condescending and arrogant.

Somebody said there was ?

My point is very different – that the Allen model is specialised to a particular type of work, and is poorly adapted to roles which need to be more proactive than passive.

Like you, I also have incoming client communications. I personally wouldn’t, however, want to use that as an excuse for putting the inbox in a position of central focus, or delegating strategy, direction and execution to it.

In my context, (as, I suspect, in many) adopting an inbox-focused approach would be as irresponsible to my clients as it would be to those I work with.

Perhaps, in some other contexts, inbox-driven work may be slightly less inappropriate and dysfunctional, or may simply be enforced, or found to produce a pleasingly ‘zen-like state’. It is necessarily bound, however, to dictate a course which takes the form of brownian motion, or a random walk, when viewed from the outside. (Not unlike Allen’s own career path up to the Lockheed gig, if the Wikipedia entry is to be relied on).

As you know, there is a research literature on the impact of email on productivity. It’s not encouraging.

I will try and reply in English and use one word instead of ten…

I completely see how failing to deal with clients work in an inbox is doing them a disservice, it’s what I and it sounds like you are paid to do?

What is productivity anyway? It is a term that has been hijacked by grand theorists many of whom I suspect have never had to earn their own living in anything that equates to the real world. Being productive is getting done what needs to be done at that time, like many things related to tech and research (and much else in this pampered and spoilt society we live in) blue sky planning is a luxury of living at the top of the heap. If your paid to process email then that can be seen as productive, it is all relative.

Tell a slum kid foraging waste piles for food he needs to be more productive in his planning and long term goals or to read some esoteric research document on zen states. Perhaps if the world concentrated on their plight instead of what is pretty trivial stuff the world would be a lot better?

As I said the future can only be reached for when our present is sorted.

In this, as in many fields, work that is strong on inspiration and ministry (for which there is a place, if it makes alienated work more bearable) often has a fairly slight technical kernel, based more on well-presented assertion from the pulpit than on research or extensive experience.

The GTD book provided welcome food for thought, and a promise of redemption, at a particular stage, when it was becoming clear that software itself was bringing no measurable improvements in productivity.

Things have moved on a bit since then, and the organisational and individual costs of addiction to incoming data streams have become clearer.

For more research-based (and more contemporary) food for thought, I would personally recommend Cal Newport on Deep Work (and the follow-up on digital minimalism).

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Sorry but I refuse to buy into all these buzzwords and trendily named theories which from what I can see are largely rehashed common sense designed to just sell the “proponent”, get speaking gigs and sell books. For example, “Deep Work” = Concentration, something that people have been doing for years.

What the hell is "alienated work"anyway! if you don’t like your job/career change it, quite simple. If you’re stuck in a “golden handcuffs” (another stupid buzz phrase from the past) situation that’s your choice, it was not forced on you.

Work, which basically is what we all do to survive at its most primal level, involves doing what needs to be done to survive and eat, which in the modern world we have translated into earn money. The GTD philosophy is basically common sense, do what needs to be done, defer or get rid of the rest, it’s a system that has worked throughout history, really nothing new, it’s just a codification of how it can be done.

Getting back to the point of this thread looking at the screenshot I see a logical flow, start top left work through, and if it works for the proponent great, no amount of long words, esoteric arguments about cognitive flow or other buzzwords really matter.

Maybe we need a new acronym WWFY “What Works For You” as we are all different, luckily.


but now, as you know, less and less …

(Goals and clarity elbowed aside, pushed into obscurity, as in the layout above, by strident, and even portable, incoming streams of data )

‘Whatever works’ is right, but this, as all investigation of productivity is repeatedly showing, simply doesn’t.

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Sorry you can not say that, if it works for the individual fine (and you have no way of knowing if it does or does not) and THAT is what matters.

Lets just move on…

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Thanks for sharing this, @bkruisdijk. You clearly put a lot of work and thought into it. And we benefit from your efforts. I was intrigued by David Allen’s concept and I’m curious to study how your implementation works.


I would disagree with that concept and say it comes from someone who has not read the various books or really tried to understand the whole methodology.

I am self employed, and work in 2 vastly different areas, one is farming, where in many ways my life is controlled by weather, sheep attitudes and other things I cannot control. The other is computer programming where I am both the end user and the primary programmer of a rather large system. In between are the other areas of my life, things like hobbies, community activism, ongoing learning etc.

In all of those areas GTD is the only system that allows me to keep on top of incoming issues, whether self generated or from external sources, and to actually accomplish the things I have decided are important for my reason for being on the planet, my overall purpose.

I generate between 10-100 new items a day on my own. I get email as part of organizations, causes and clients I care about or are working for. I receive paper inputs from mail and other sources. All of these things go into my inboxes for processing. Processing the inboxes is not the goal, getting clear on what those items represent to me and what I have to do about them is the goal.

I can’t speak for Mr. Allen’s trajectory but I can tell you that until the lower levels are clear, and you are no longer running as fast as you can just to stay in place you don’t have the time or energy to even consider the higher levels of your purpose, what your major goals are, how you can complete projects that matter to you or anything else that is pro-active. You are stuck dealing with the stuff you’ve forgotten or left undecided or left incomplete to the detriment of doing good work.

I’ve got 5, 10, 50 and 100 year goals written down for our farm. Clearly I am unlikely to even be around and alive for anything but the 5 and 10 year ones but I’ve thought about it, written those thoughts down and made sure that the heirs can see them and the whys about them when I am gone. That is a longer term set of skills and plans that is only possible because I have a very good grasp of what I can do now and what I am doing that will put things in the place and condition they need to be in to accomplish those really long term goals.

Actually I don’t disagree with the assessment that it does take time to get to the understanding of the big questions. But without a system that works to handle the stuff thrown at you or you generate you will never get the space to do that.

My argument is that until you can effectively manage the inputs you cannot control your outputs at all.

Yes, saying no, trashing stuff etc is an important part of that but not the only thing. Part of the GTD system I’ve implemented means a quarterly review in depth of the things I have said no to and what Iv’e said yes to and making sure those actions, taken daily and weekly, align with my longer term goals and aspirations.


i went to read your article, but it’s black text on a very dark grey background. am i doing something wrong when i visit the site?