GTD is so hard!

I’ve been trying to use the app now for a while. im really bad at this…

See, my brain can only work on 2 or 3 things at a time. I’m like a dog.
For instance if I know I’m going to the gym today that thought is bubbling in my head all day.
“I’m going to the gym. I’m going to the gym…”
like a dog with a ball “ohh! shiny! ohh! shiny ball!” I literally cant focus on too much tasks or I might explode.

So i got into the whole GTD thing. but i have not been implementing it well.

When should I be capturing things? all day? what if I capture something twice because i forgot its on one of my lists?
when do I process and organize? do i set a time for this because it hasnt been happening.
Im trying to use the flagged perspective as my today view.

How often do i review?

And where would daily stuff like do laundry or prepare lunch go? It got annoying to write eat lunch everyday and I just began to ignore it… then i stopped eating good meals because i didnt prepare.


A lot of the answers to the questions you are posing depend a great deal on your particular personal attributes and workflow, as well as the nature of the work you do. I think regardless of the choices you make, the key is to be structured in implementing those decisions. Let’s take a moment to look at a few of the uncertainties you raise:

A lot of people in the GTD system and otherwise have suggested various capture strategies. For example, some have suggested have a morning or afternoon capture session, or both.
I personally adopt a strategy of an afternoon capture session, except I’ll add capture events throughout the day when I have meetings, for example. So my default is an afternoon capture: what are all the things that need to be dealt with given the events of the day?
I never deviate from this afternoon capture no matter what. Sometimes there’s nothing to capture, sometimes there’s lots.

I also don’t hesitate to capture throughout the day with the quick capture dialogue, if something pops into my mind, I’ll add it. If I have a meeting about a project that falls outside of the structured capture time, I’ll make sure to capture tasks that arise from the meeting during that meeting.

I’m never worried about duplicates. It happens, but you’ll catch this when you go through and process your actions.

In general I process immediately after my afternoon capture session. So my afternoon capture session all goes into my inbox, brain-dump style. Then I spend some time putting those into the various projects (and contexts) and setting due dates. So the time I set for processing is the same, essentially, as capture.

Two exceptions:

  1. Meeting-based captures are usually input directly to the project that the meeting corresponds to, so they are either processed upon entry or require no processing at all.
  2. My impromptu, spur-of-the-moment captures that take place throughout the day as things come to mind get processed at the end of the work day, or if they were capture after my work day, I process them in the morning, first thing.

With respect to the timing of events, this can be a bit tricky. Almost every action I have has a due date, either because it really does have an actual due date in reality, or because I’ve roughly imposed a due date on something that is somewhat time-flexible, based on the priority it has overall. Outside of OmniFocus, I set up times for working on specific projects. A lot of my work involves writing various things. So this morning is a writing day, and the afternoon is about coordinating some aspects of my ongoing research.
For this morning, I consider what writing projects have a degree of urgency (e.g., by using the forecast or common sense), and I work on those actions (“Write introduction for Manuscript X”). I ignore all the other stuff. Its a writing morning so I only consider writing tasks (Contexts help here).

In the afternoon I switch gears. My coordination requires a lot of little actions. Look up this person’s contact info. Compose this email. Locate this company. Make a list of phone contacts to negotiate site access. And so on.

It’s important to note that I don’t put things like “Writing day” or “research organization day” in Omnifocus. Those don’t belong in OF because they aren’t actions. I can generally survive by using my head to decide on and keep track of what things I’m allotting time to. If things get a bit hairy I start using my calendar, so the morning would have a large block called “writing” and the afternoon “site negotiation” or whatever. The beauty is that these show up in OmniFocus’s “Forecast” perspective.

Some days are just too cluttered with interruptions (Meetings and appointments) that I just have to pick away at little, reasonably quickly completed actions between other obligations, in which case it’s just a matter of looking at due dates and using common sense to figure out what I can squeeze into this 30 minutes or that hour.

This depends. I default to a weekly review, but some projects get longer periods, usually 2-4 weeks, because they are slower moving or on a longer time-horizon. It might be worth starting at 1 week and seeing how that works, and adjusting accordingly if you find that 1 week is to (in)frequent.

There are a couple of things to consider here. Is it really necessary to include an action like “Eat lunch”? Is that effective? Honestly I don’t need a reminder for eating lunch, my body makes sure I don’t forget.

If the issue is that you routinely fail to prepare a proper meal, perhaps you need to add some preparation-related actions for appropriate times. For example, consider a recurring action group like “morning routine” or “prepare lunchbox” that contains all of the things you need to do every morning prior to leaving for the office (or whatever you do).

Other daily stuff like “Change dishcloth” or “fix lightbulb” or “order takeout for dinner” could be handled in a variety of ways. For me the best strategy is to have a project of “Single Actions” for these types of things. This could be a “Miscellaneous” or “Home” or “Chores” or “Household” or whatever is relevant and ideally broadly capturing the extremely general set of tasks that belong here. You could then rely on contexts to break this list down a bit. For example, you might use contexts to define where, or with whom, or with which tools, or at which times (e.g., “Weekend” or “Evening”) these actions should be accomplished.

I like Single Action projects for this sort of thing since, conceptually, they aren’t about “finishing” a project. Your “House” is never finished, as soon as you go shopping or cook a meal, the next shopping trip or meal is already on the horizon. So for mundane stuff I have a project called “Miscellaneous” that serves as a bit of a “junk drawer”, and I use contexts, due dates, and defer dates to impose a bit of order on it. This is, by necessity, a bit more casual and haphazard compared to actual projects.

I also tend to work very inductively with building workflow. For example, when I first started using OmniFocus, I had zero projects and zero contexts. I then put everything into the inbox. EVERYTHING. Then, I said, given these things, what projects make the most sense. Which “Projects” should actually be a folder with many projects? Which contexts actually make sense? and so on. My workflow, and how my omnifocus is structured is emergent from the actions I need to accomplish (as you can imagine, therefore, I am not a strict adherent to the GTD philosophy, though it has informed how I manage my tasks a great deal).

I hope this helps. Really with matters of file organization, time management, and so on, its hard for anyone to be prescriptive. I’ve always found it best to look at what lots of other people are doing and synthesize those various techniques into one that works for me and my specific needs.


@scottisloud has made some amazingly thoughtful responses here, and it’s hard to add to.

If I were to try, though, I would recommend the revised GTD book, which has some really great sidebar quotes and thoughts to help answer questions like “how often should i capture or review?”

Other great resources I really enjoy and found helpful are the GTD audio programs, including GTD Live, Managing Projects, and Weekly Review. All are here. Warning that the MP3 versions I have heard are of fairly crap quality (maybe they’ve been updated), so I’d check out the CDs (and rip as needed). That’s just me, though :)


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thanks for the responses!
sorry took long for me to get back.
Processing at night seems like a good idea and I will try that. Its hard to make this a habit.

I did read the newest edition of his book. It still is a bit confusing for me. By the end of the book I felt like he must walk around with 100 lists in his pocket! I started making lists for every project on omnifocus… there is a lot!

So I tried listening to a youtube clip with David Allen today. He clarified a few things which makes me wonder if omnifocus works differently then his setup:

He only has 8 lists. 8!
They are context sensitive lists.
I started making like tons of lists. A list for each project and it gets overwhelming.

Instead he has one project list which has any action that requires more steps -on one master project list. There is no action list for each project, it would seem. Instead he looks at that project list and then adds actions to his other lists which are labeled @work, @computer

It does sound simpler and less lists means less pain for me. So I may try something like this.
The project perspective shows a project list, but they have action lists underneath them. And for something to leave the inbox it must be placed in a project.
Im going to try and come up with a solution that works for me. Probably by adding some perspective and filtering stuff around…
Maybe then I wont feel overwhelmed by it and I will open the app! Otherwise I fear the app it scares me cause I see all the things I have not done.

I don’t have the revised GTD book in front of me right now but I do recall that David Allen did say that it take about 2 years to eventually get all of the gears clicking in GTD. He said that it was a lifestyle change and adopting a new series of habits over time. It doesn’t click automatically. I think it took about 2 years for me to get GTD and OmniFocus clicking. So I can attest to that timeframe.

We might get good at the capturing part but it may take a while to get the reviewing/curating part down.

One recommendation I have is to try to adopt one habit at a time. The Zen-To-Done variation was what helped me finally kick start everything into gear.

The print edition is available on Amazon

It was released to public domain in 2008 and can find it in various formats (PDF, epub, etc.) here:

The author broke GTD down into 10 habits to acquire over time. Master one habit at a time. This provides a solid foundation for you to create your own workflow. From there, you can eventually add other building blocks that you may learn by checking out other people’s workflows.

You can probably do an Internet search for “OmniFocus 2 workflow” and find a rich treasure trove. See how other people construct their workflows and adopt pieces that will fit into your workflow.

Yeah, I don’t know how GTD can survive in an analog world - there would be hundreds of lists overflowing from your back pocket to try to keep our lives in check.

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I set most of my projects up for either every 2 weeks or 1 month.

If a project has a lot of changes and updates, set the review interval to a shorter span such as every 3 days or every week. For projects that don’t change a lot, one week or longer is a good timeframe to remind you about projects.

If it is a project that is a someday/maybe or on hold project, I usually set it for once a month or every quarter (3 months). These projects are so far off into the future. I don’t want to worry about them every week.

The capturing part is what got me. I started collecting everything and just parking it into OmniFocus. Later, I learned about curating. During the weekly review, I viciously cut through the weeds. I would put a lot of projects on hold so that they are no longer viewable in my perspectives showing “available” next actions. Then I would also put a bunch single tasks into a someday/maybe single action list with the status set to on hold. These are things that I might want to get done one day but don’t need to do it right now. Then I also started looking at projects and determined which ones can stay and which ones should get dropped. A lot of projects/ideas that sounded brilliant at the time I thought about them would be placed into OmniFocus. But then I started to realistically look at it and thought “there’s not enough reward-for-the-effort” and it’s probably worth deleting or hiring someone else to do it for me.

Once you get the capturing habit down, it’s time to perfect to the review/editing habit.

One thing that works well for me, in avoiding being overwhelmed, is to have a perspective with ”Sidebar selection” set to a few projects I regularly want to work with, and "Filter by availability” set to First available. That way I could quickly get an overview over things to work with, limited to one task from each project (provided that my projects aren’t Singles actions projects, in which case all tasks would be shown). With only a few tasks visible, I have found it easy to choose which one to do first. Before I see the tasks in this perspective, I have prioritized them in their separate projects. Most of my projects aren’t really projects, they are simply separate tasks of similar kinds. Even so, I have found it much easier to prioritize separate tasks when they are of the same kind. It’s mostly obvious to me which tasks I would like to do first.

This two-step approach serves me very well in avoiding being overwhelmed with my tasks (they are many!) in Omnifocus.

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