GTD “trusted” system

In a previous post, I tried to relate the GTD (Getting Things Done, David Allen) reasoning for developing and using a trusted system for storing information and tasks, rather than simply trying to remember things.

A few core ideas and components define a GTD trusted system:

The inbox – there is a single location or entry point for the system. Only one.  Ever. This reinforces the habit of using the system. Further, the inbox should be readily accessible so that when information or an interruption occurs, a note can be put in the inbox quickly, and collected and stored there for later processing. Then you can get back to productive, planned work. Anything, in any form, can go into the inbox. Finally, it is important that you alone control what goes into the inbox, because if others can put things directly into your inbox, it gets cluttered. If it gets too cluttered with junk, it gets difficult to process. If it is too difficult to process, you’ll let stuff collect up – congratulations, you’ve officially fallen off the GTD wagon. This fact alone makes your email inbox a lousy GTD inbox. I’ll cover tips on incorporating email in a later post. Remember – a single, private, inbox that is easily accessible – put everything there.

Processing mentality – process the inbox every few hours, or when there is a natural break in work. There are only three permissible actions: do it, delay it, or delete it. If it can be done (or filed for reference) quickly enough to not break the flow of processing, say 30 seconds, then go ahead and knock it out. If it will take longer to do, then delay it, possibly in a task scheduler or suspension list (more on this in a later post). If it is no longer relevant, just delete it. Remember – decide what it is and get it out of the inbox.

Organized storage – the storage system must be organized so you can find things. What does this organization look like? The answer to this question is not obvious in an age where search has overtaken up-front filing. “Pile and search” is a reasonable choice in the age of Google. For me, search is a valuable tool, but has a complication. I use similar terminology in lots of different ways. If I search my 4500 notes for the word “productivity”, I get back a few hundred notes. This is not particularly helpful.

On the other hand, a hierarchical filing system (such as folders in Outlook) has not proven useful for me. The problem with hierarchical storage is that each item stored can only be about one thing. This constraint means that I am limited on how to find things in the system and have to work too hard to find the “right” place to put things.

I have worked on this for a while and have refined a tag-based organization/filing system that I found on the web. I’ll post details on this topic later, but for a preview, go to The Secret Weapon. The site has a 7-minute overview video. Remember – organization is a key to trusting your system.


  • A single, private, readily-accessible inbox
  • Process often and process to empty
  • Organize your storage so you’ll trust it

GTD has been around for a while and has evolved over time. If you’re interested in more detail, here’s a link I also recommend the book; it is thorough and concise.