At the center of David Allen’s Getting Things Done approach is the “trusted system”. This is a system into which you can put everything you need to keep track of and trust that you will see it again at the right time. The David never says what exactly that system should be, just what it should be able to do. And so, the biggest question in the GTD world is this:
“What is the best GTD system?”
Now that’s a perfectly reasonable question to want to ask. You’re going to be investing a lot of time and energy and thought into this system. You’re going to put all of your projects into it. You’re going to put all of your actions to do into it. You’re going to ask your brain to trust this system and stop holding on to everything on its own. You want the best system. But asking for the best GTD system is like asking a carpenter, “What’s the best hammer?” It’s the wrong question.
There are lots of pre-built GTD systems out there, most of them in software. Try OmniFocus. Try Things. Try Davidco’s Outlook plugin. Don’t worry about becoming invested. Switching from one to another should be marginally more difficult than doing a weekly review. All it takes to switch is to go through your projects and actions and move them over. You should be doing that every week anyway.
What do I use? Well. I started with an OmniOutliner outline. Then I migrated to the defunct Kinkless GTD, which was a brilliant set of Applescripts on top of OmniOutliner. Then I tried using a TiddlyWiki. I tried iGTD for a while, and then went to OmniFocus, which developed out of kGTD. Finally, for the last 6 months or so I’ve used a Circa notebook with custom refills from D*I*Y planner. And now I’m thinking of switching back to OmniFocus.
What’s the best GTD system? The right system is the system that fits you best. And since you’re not quite the same person from day to day, the best system now may not be the best system tomorrow. That’s ok. Be nimble switch it up.
Here’s my best advice: start with paper. It’s simple, and it’s easily customized. You’re not stuck with someone else’s idea of how you record information. Make a list of all your projects, and then make a list of all your actions for those projects. If you find it useful, split up the action list into lists for different contexts: Home, Work, Errands, etc. If you don’t, then don’t. It’s easy to adapt if you change your mind. Keep another list for Someday/Maybe items, things you don’t want to commit to yet, but you want to think about doing later. If it’s useful, break up that list into categories; if not, don’t. If you want to add symbols to your actions and projects that mean special things, do it. The paper won’t stop you. Do whatever works.
Then, when you have an idea of what you need, go try some software on for size. See if you like it better, now that you know what you really like.
Try different things, take time to reflect regularly on how well they work, and don’t be afraid to make drastic changes. That’s the best GTD system.