Getting Things Done: Organize

- 4 min -
Joe Buhlig

Organize. The favorite step of most GTDers. This is where you set up tools for tracking each bucket from the Clarify step.

People can spend hours researching and testing potential apps, websites, and services. With the app boom in full swing there are hundreds (maybe thousands) of to-do managers out there.

But you have to step back and think about it. What works for you? What do you want in an app? Don’t go out there looking at everything that might work. Think about what you need and search for that.

You’re looking to put four different systems in place. Keep in mind that some tools can do more than one. Here are the four:

Reference Material

For all the items you collect that have no action assigned, you’ll need a place for long-term storage. If you’re a paper person, you’ll want to invest in a filing cabinet. David Allen suggests using an A-Z filing system to limit the number of places that something could be.

If you’re a paperless person, you’ll be looking for some kind of long-term storage solution. The one that most have found to work well is Evernote. Another that is similar is OneNote.

I prefer to have my reference material with me at all times, which led me to a cloud-based solution. I’ve developed a split system between Evernote and DropBox. Evernote holds everything except actual files. For that I use a (dis)organized system in DropBox.

Evernote users will be either notebook-based or tag-based. I’m tag-based and have developed a tagging system that makes it easy for me to quickly find anything I’m looking for.

List Manager

Boiled down, GTD is about managing lists. That’s it. You’re looking for a list manager. Some are quite advanced and others are simple. You can use something robust like Omnifocus but you can also keep track of lists in a simple text file. The level of detail and the amount of functionality that you want is up to you. Keep in mind that the majority of what you’re collecting will go here.

When looking for a list manager make sure you have the ability to look at your projects and your contexts from different views. You will find it much easier to manage if you can plan out your projects in one view and work from another.

Here’s an article on how I use Omnifocus for this.


It’s best to only add items to your calendar that you need to be present for. That includes meetings, local events, commitments to your kids, or even agreements with yourself. Whatever they are, you will be there for them without question. To-dos and reminders are best kept in your list manager and tickler systems.

Currently, I’m using a mix of MS Exchange and Google Calendar. All commitments with another person go on the Exchange calendar so I’m seen as “busy” and to keep others from booking meetings during these times at work.

Any agreements with myself that don’t involve someone else go into my Google Calendar. These can include times for writing, intentional thinking, brainstorming, or administrative tasks. I keep them here so they don’t mess with my availability on the Exchange server.

I deviate from the rule of “meetings with a person” in my Exchange calendar when I have an agreement with myself that I feel is important.


The original concept behind the Tickler is an intricate system of 43 folders. You name 12 of them after the months and number the remaining 31 for each day of the month. You look at the folder for the month and day for today to see what items you need to see or make a decision on today. It’s a system that worked well when we didn’t have a computer in our pocket at all times.

Today, we can use reminder applications and calendars to make the Tickler more robust than checking a folder in the morning.

I’m using a separate calendar in Google for events that I want to remember but haven’t committed to. I set up a reminder on an Evernote note with information I want sent to myself at a specific time. If it’s just a simple reminder, I’ll add it to Apple’s Reminders on the iPhone.

What comes next?

You’ll want to review your system at different levels before you decide what to do each day. You need perspective to intuitively choose where your time is best spent. That’s where we’ll pick up next time.

This is a series about the productivity framework Getting Things Done by David Allen. You can find the entire series at the following links:

  1. Getting Things Done: Introduction
  2. Getting Things Done: Capture
  3. Getting Things Done: Clarify
  4. Getting Things Done: Organize
  5. Getting Things Done: Reflect
  6. Getting Things Done: Engage
  7. Getting Things Done: A Day in the Life