5 Mistakes People Make With GTD

GTD is an incredible productivity system when used properly. However, there are many mistakes people make. Here are some you could be making that is decreasing productivity and adding unnecessary stress to your life.

I hope the title made you stop and think, “That’s odd. I wanna read.” If it didn’t, let me know.

The Getting Things Done Method (GTD) is a classic approach to commonplace productivity. It resonates with people 30 and under, as well as those who are 31 and above — not very common for most “philosophies”.

Popularized by David Allen in the book, Getting Things Done, GTD takes an approach with five steps:

  1. Capture
  2. Clarify
  3. Organize
  4. Reflect
  5. Engage (Get things done)

With those five simple steps, writers, CEOs, professors, and entrepreneurs have been able to stay on track, hit their goals, and be insanely productive.

Although it’s so popular and well known, people make a plethora of mistakes when trying to implement GTD into their workflows. Here are the top 5.

1. Capture in Too Many Places

The first mistake people make when implementing GTD is capturing in too many places. They use their iPhones when out and about, their notepad on the desk at work, and sticky notes around the house when at home.

When it comes time to clarify and organize, it’s difficult to find all of their to-do’s and reminders; therefore, nothing gets done.

If you’re struggling with this problem, try choosing one digital capture inbox and one physical inbox. I solely use the reminders app on the iPhone and have optimized it to work in a way that is quick, easy, and frictionless.

Those reminders sync to Things 3, my task manager. From there, I can quickly organize and clarify.

Mistake #2: Next Actions Lack Clarity

The second mistake people make in regards to GTD is assigning too large of tasks as ‘Next Actions.”

“Develop brand strategy” should not be a next action. That’s a project. The goal of having the next action list is to know you can look at that list anytime and know exactly what needs to be done. The more broad and big the task is, the less likely you are to complete it.

A great next action would be, “Call Lisa about the brand strategy outline”. “Call Lisa” is too general and “Create brand strategy outline” is too large.

Mistake #3 Too Many Tags

One of the key strategies of GTD is to add contexts or tags to your tasks. Although this was helpful in 2002 when the book came out, it’s a little irrelevant now.

The goal of contexts was to know when each item needed to be completed — whether that be at home, at work, or while doing errands. As society becomes more connected, smartphone use rises, and working at home becomes more commonplace, anything can be done pretty much anywhere now.

The mistake of having too many tags is that it becomes paralyzing. You have to think, “It’s Monday afternoon, I’m at home and my wife is gone, so I can do task X now”; however, if certain contexts don’t come up, those tasks can be missed.

Try adding two to three tags to your tasks to help organize them. You could separate by:

  • Priority
  • Time of day the task needs to be completed
  • High energy task vs. low energy task
  • Who the task needs to be completed with

Having more than three tags adds friction. Friction = 👎🏻

Mistake #4: Inconsistent Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is the best way to increase productivity when using GTD. It helps you see where you invested time last week and what needs to change for the following week.

Because this is such a hard and unnecessary task, people skip it. Or, they do it once every two and a half months. That helps no one.

Schedule your weekly review at the same time and place every week. There is no, “right” way to do a weekly review. In fact, there are many different ways, but here’s my favorite.

Mistake #5: Overthinking the System

Whenever new systems or apps come on the market, it’s tempting to adopt it into your workflow. Don’t.

The time you spend learning the new app and figuring out how it works is much better spent getting things done. Until you’ve found a workflow that works, feel free to try new apps, but when you find something that works, keep it.



Social Media Manager and Content Creator at Bayside Church. I write about how to use technology to navigate the Church in the 21st Century.

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Dalton Mabery

Social Media Manager and Content Creator at Bayside Church. I write about how to use technology to navigate the Church in the 21st Century.