Tools Needed for Getting Things Done

The following post is reproduced from Zenhabits.NET by kind permission of Leo Babauta

What tools do I need for Getting Things Done?

Getting Things Done – Part Two: Tools Needed for GTD

A minimal setup for GTD would include a notebook, pen, inbox, filing drawer, folders and labels.

However, there are many other tools you could use, including but not limited to:

  • a mobile device such as a PDA for everything – capture, lists, reminders
  • an electronic labeler for neat labels
  • a calendar or calendar program (highly recommended)
  • computer software (off-line or online) to handle your lists or your capture
  • a tickler file, either using folders (see next question) or software
  • index cards for capture and lists

What is a tickler file or 43 folders, and do I need it?

A tickler file, as spelled out in the book, is a system of 43 folders: 12 folders labeled for each month, and 31 folders labeled for the days of the month. So the way it works:

  • If you have a piece of paper (or a concert ticket, etc.) that you don’t need to think about until later this month, put it in one of the daily folders (let’s say the folder labeled “20″ if we want to look at it on the 20th of this month).
  • If you don’t need to think about it until a later month, put it in that month’s folder.
  • Each day, you look in the folder with today’s date on it (if today is the 20th, I’ll look in “20″) and see what you need to think about today. If you want to postpone it until later, simply put the paper in a later folder. In this way, you could have a recurring reminder. Each day, the folder with today’s date should be at the front of the pile — rotate yesterday’s folder to the back of the pile.
  • At the end of each month, rotate the past month’s folder to the back of the month folders pile, and look in the next month’s folder — take out the papers in it and redistribute throughout the 31 day folders.

It’s an ingenius system, and if it appeals to you, give it a try. However, many people (myself included) find this system a bit cumbersome, especially given the ease-of-use of today’s computer calendars (I use Gcal). Using a calendar program, you could just mark a reminder on the date in the calendar. You can even set up recurring reminders.

Hi-tech vs. lo-tech?

This is the real question for GTD users when it comes to tools: do you go with a paper system (such as the Moleskine, the Hipster PDA, the PocketMod, etc.) or with a digital system … or as many people do, a combination of both.

Of course the answer is that it’s a highly personal question, and you should go with the tools that work for you — and especially the tools you love to use. If that’s a PDA, then go for it. If that’s a Moleskine, that’s great too.

Usually it takes a little bit of experimentation to find the right tools — however, I would caution against obsessing over tools, as this is the biggest waste of time for most GTDers — pick your tools, and go with them. Focus more on actually doing your tasks than what cool tools you’re going to use.

You’d think that geeks on the Internet would go with digital tools, especially online ones or with PDAs or smart phones. And many do. However, there is a large number of geeks (myself included) who end up using analog (paper) tools such as the ones mentioned above.

Why? That’s an often debated topic, but the reasons usually have to do with simplicity, ease of use, portability, ease of expansion and modification, and especially the tactile pleasure of using paper and a good pen. Ultimately, it’s something you’ll have to choose for yourself.

Here’s one of the best papers on this, and one that opened my eyes to the possibility of paper a while back: GTD LoFi HiFi Whitepaper (it’s got more HiFi stuff since I first read it, I think, but still interesting).

What’s the best GTD software?

There are so many out there, it would be impossible to choose just one. And it really depends on your needs and personal preferences. A couple of things to read:

I’m stuck with Outlook at work. Can I set up Outlook for GTD?

Absolutely — many people have. I would recommend reading various implementations, including:

What about implementing GTD on a Mac?

The Mac is a great GTD tool. 43Folders blog is an excellent source for more information, or see this MeFi thread for some good stuff:

Is it OK to have multiple setups on my computer, PDA, and planner?

Again, what works best for you is what you should go with. But my recommendation? Simplify. It’s hard to continually check and update different lists and calendars on a computer, a PDA and a paper planner.

You are more likely to use and stick with the system if you just have one place to check and update. Find the one that works best for you and stick with it.

“Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity”
by David Allen is available from




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