How I simplified My GTD® Approach

In a previous post, I described how I implemented Getting Things Done® with Asana.

Since there, I developed a simplified approach, based on handwritten notebooks, which I find both more effective and efficient.

I am now able to finalize my review in less than 2 hours, considering all my “roles”, meaning professional, personal, personal projects.

There are a few reasons why I decided to change:

  • digital information is fast to write, but tends to become easily unmanageable in terms of quantity and effective review: for instance, it is really easy to clip web pages, add tasks for interesting articles, ideas, thoughts, but their quantity become quickly overwhelming in my experience
  • writing by hand impresses contents much more effectively in our brains, so it eases remembering things, and sets a natural limit to the information you can collect (see this article as an example of cognitive benefits of handwriting)
  • your eyes and your brain can take a break from the device monitors continuous stimulus
  • if you love handwriting, as I do, this can be a tremendous stimulus to act
  • goals reaching is stronger with hadnwriting (see here for instance). I am starting to experience it.

How To Handle Weekly Reviews On Your Notebook

Prepare Your Tools

Take a different notebook for each of your roles for which you want to implement GTD®. I find separating areas of my life both effective and efficient.

I normally use 13x20cm notebooks, with dotted pages.

Use notebooks and pens you like. Why? Because you have to enjoy the writing act, so to be motivated to do it.

Define Your Upcoming Week Plan

It is fairly simple:

  • add the upcoming “CW X” on top of the page, where X stands for the upcoming calendar week number
  • divide your page with a vertical straight line on the middle
  • on the left part, list planned next actions, adding owners and date if needed; normally one page is enough for me to list all of them in a specific role; add more pages if you need
  • on the right side, list your top on-going projects: I find it useful, as it acts as a reminder of important on-going initiatives and enables a cross-check with the listed next actions; I usually don’t need the whole page length, so I divide it and add a “To be started / Maybe” project/actions/ideas list; use a different layout if you need more space or categories
  • on the next free page add a “Context Next Actions CW X”: here you can create different sections with your more important contexts. Professionally, I use boss O2Os, team members O2Os for instance: I add next actions (normally already listed as next actions in previous pages), in order to focus what I have to discuss, check on that specific context
  • on the next free page, add the “To be Captured” title, so you’ll be able to fill it with all new stuff you’ll decide to capture for further review. I suggest to divide them into “urgent” and “important” when it is immediate applying the “clarifying” and “organize” phases of the GTD® methodology.

Repeat the same procedure for each of your roles. I normally take a small break before switching.

Work On Your Actions Each Day

During the following days, work on your actions, drawing a line on completed actions (the thing I love most!), adding new tasks to be managed, projects to be started, things you might have forgotten, trying not to add anything to your current CW plan, but just on the “to be captured page”.

Each day, take “calendar actions”, i.e. those with matching set date, and those you decide to manage in that specific day, and add them to your “Top Actions Of The Day” in your notebook, to which I suggest to refer often during the day to be sure you’re fulfilling them.

Try to resist to work on new and maybe urgent tasks before completing your targets, unless it is mandatory.

Handle Your Weekly Review

I usually handle my weekly review on Sundays. This is a good day to find some peaceful time, far from the day-by-day noise.

During this time I both review the past week and set-up the upcoming one, with the process I described above. As I said, it takes me no more than two hours.

In order to review your ending week:

  • check your uncompleted actions and evaluate if they have to be moved to the following week (they also might be no more necessary or can become uncertain, thus you can move them into the “to be started” list)
  • check your context actions, applying the same process
  • check your “to be captured” session, and apply the clarifying and organizing phases to decide which next actions to add and projects to add to your lists (ongoing or to be started).

So, No More Digital?

Not at all: relevant digital contents capturing, project and reference material archiving, are all good use cases for digital tools, which I still use in conjunction with my notebooks.


I still believe GTD® is a great methodology that can help us to live a better life.

It requires repetition and continuous improvement: after a while, I felt the need to approach it differently, after realizing it was getting too challenging to face my reviews in a timely and effective manner. The reason was the implementation I chose, not the tool itself. Once I realized I needed a simpler approach, the handwriting option came almost automatically.

There’s much more in the GTD® methodology: goals, vision, specific contexts can enrich this simple approach, which as the methodology states, you don’t need to handle on a weekly basis.I recommend to start easily and make your review process a habit; then you can move on, finding your own implementation tools and approaches.

Stay productive!