Recently meet an interesting girl who have some common with me, and we made friends naturally. I felt that she is the same type of person as I am, energetic independent and ..dilettante. We share our thoughts about travel, dream and future, and our book list. One of the best thing I learned from her is the time management method - GTD (Getting Things Done).

Looking back to the whole year of 2013, a lot of things have been done, some are out of my expectations. However I still felt that I lacked the concentration on the real important stuff. As one of my new year revolution, I plan to try this time management method GTD, to see whether it will help me in my research and personal growth.

GTD focuses on bottom-up goal-settings. The author David Allen argues that it is often difficult for individuals to focus on big picture goals if they cannot sufficiently control the day-to-day tasks that they frequently must face. By developing a system that clarifies and defines the regular workday, an individual can free up mental space to begin moving up to the next level of focus.

GTD is based on storing, tracking and retrieving the information related to the things that need to get done. Mental blocks we encounter are caused by insufficient ‘front-end’ planning. This means thinking in advance, generating a series of actions which can later be undertaken without further planning. The human brain’s reminder system is inefficient and seldom reminds us of what we need to do at the time and place when we can do it. Consequently, the ‘next actions’ stored by context in the trusted system act as an external support which ensures that we are presented with the right reminders at the right time. As GTD relies on external memories, it can be seen as an application of the theories of distributed cognition.

The Ideas

Since in the middle of reading another book, I didn’t go through the book carefully but with only a quick glance. The five stages of getting things done is illustrated.

Collect the tasks you encounter in your life, with the help of tools instead of using your head alone. If you have too many things in your RAM (head), they can be easily messed up and demotivating you from completing them. However try to keep as few number of collecting tools as possible, and empty them regularly.

Process the coming “Stuff” to decide the response to it - whether it should be discard, or done instantly or put in the “waiting lists”, or scheduled to a specific date and time.

Organize the “Stuff” as to-do lists, projects, calendar events or wish lists can that they can be easily tracked and evaluated.

Review your lists on regular bases, process-update-clear your lists.

Do the things based on the context, time and energy availability and priorities.

Keep the Lists

Keep ease-accessible lists of things is important. It can be book lists, project lists, to-do lists. It can also be files of papers. These external containers help the brain to remember, as said we should not rely too much on our memory. There are some tools I am using to collect various information I encountered in my daily life.

EndNote - Digital collection of academic papers

Github/Bitbucket - Online backup of source codes

EverNote - Whenever to write and collection of webpages

WeHeartIt - Favorite pictures

Paper on iPad - Collection of Sketches

Process the Stuff

A good guideline to process new coming stuff.


Set the Goals

There is a good online tool - Toodledo, which implements the GTD system. I spent some time to put lists of the tasks and goals I planned to achieve in the system, and keep a track of them all. For example, I set a short-term goal (1-2 years) to learn rock climbing.I attached a list of tasks to the goal so that I could track the progress I made to accomplish this goal.


An interesting feature is that whenever you finish a task, the chain under the goal gets longer. It really motivates people to continue with their tasks and finally to achieve the goals.