Project Management with the Getting Things Done Method: An Overview

Time management lessonWould you like to know how to better manage your time, writing, and research projects? A reader who took my reader survey asked me to explain how I manage my time, writing, and research projects. So by reader request, this 2-post series will broadly explain how I use the Getting Things Done (GTD) method of organization and project management.


Getting Things Done

The main idea behind GTD is that you need to free your mind of anything that draws your attention away from what you need to do. The easiest way to free your mind is to set aside time to brain dump on a piece of paper, in an Evernote note, Word Doc, or a GTD-optimized app such as OmniFocus, IQTELL, Asana, or Todoist.


Initial Organization: Brain Dump & Action Steps

BrainstormList every project you need to complete and everything that is weighing on your mind.

Do not limit yourself to work related-ideas, write down everything weighing on your mind.

When you have finished writing down all of your to-dos and ideas, look over your list.

Your list may look like a mishmash of words: “Elkanah Watson,” “pharmacy,” “speed read.”

Turn this jumble into actionable steps by adding verbs to the items on your list: “Write article about Elkanah Watson,” “Pick up prescription at the pharmacy,” “Learn to speed read.”

Adding the verb is important because it transforms your mental note into a defined action you can take; verbs turn to-do lists into action lists.

Next, sort your action steps into projects and single-action items.

Single-Action Item: “Pick up prescription at the pharmacy.” I need to go to the pharmacy once to complete the task.

Projects: “Write article about Elkanah Watson” and “Learn to speed read.” These items are projects because I must complete smaller tasks before I finish these larger tasks.

For example, my action steps for “Write article about Elkanah Watson” may include: • “Read Flick Dissertation about Watson” • “Consult Watson’s Men and Times of the Revolution” • “Brainstorm what aspect of Watson’s life to write about” • “Draft outline of article” • “Draft article” • “Edit article” • “Submit final article to Journal of the American Revolution.”

All of these steps will help me complete the larger project, “Write article about Elkanah Watson.”

Take the time to brainstorm the actions steps you need to complete each larger project on your list. It will likely take you several hours to brain dump, organize your single-action steps and projects, and create action steps for each of your projects, but it will be time well spent.


Getting-Things-Done-FileWork vs. Personal Lists

If it will help you stay organized, you can further organize your projects into 4 different lists: Work, Personal, Work: Someday/Maybe, Personal: Someday/Maybe.

Place your work-related projects on your work list and your personal projects on your personal list. The Someday/Maybe” lists are all the items that you wish to accomplish in the future. They could be places you would like to travel to, skills or languages you would like to learn, topics you would like to write about.


Keeping Your Mind Focused

Aside from your action-step lists, GTD has 2 other important parts that you need to manage your projects and keep your mind focused: 1. Write down every idea that comes to you and store them in an “inbox-type” folder (physical or electronic) and 2. Frequent Reviews.



In order to keep your mind focused it must be free from distraction. Every time you have a thought that springs into your mind you need to write it down and store it in a place where you know you will not lose it. This action will give your subconscious the security it needs to let go of the distracting thought.

A trusted place can be a notebook you carry with you, an Evernote notebook, or a note taking or project management app on your smartphone. The trusted place should also be something that you have ready access to whenever you need it. I use Omnifocus on my smartphone as my trusted inbox.



Reviews are reminders. They keep your mind focused on the tasks and projects you need to complete by giving your brain the peace of mind it needs to focus. Reviews involve looking over each project on your work and personal lists and reviewing the action steps for each project. Reviews help you stay on top of what you need to/want to do so you do not forget.

By reviewing your project lists and inbox every so often, your mind will be able to focus on the projects you need to get done because it won’t have to waste time trying to remember everything that you need/want to do.



Reviews are essential to getting and staying organized and focused. Since they play such a vital role in how I manage my projects, I will devote tomorrow’s post to how I conduct my reviews.


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Stay Tuned  for “Project Management with the Getting Things Done Method: Reviews.”