In the book Getting Things Done by David Allen he gives a 5-step workflow to get things done. These five steps are just one small section of the whole book. For more detailed information on these steps I have written an article about the first 2 steps of Collecting and Processing. I have also written a detailed article about the last 3 steps of Organizing, Reviewing and Doing.
Everything needs to be collected into one spot to get started. That means everything in your head needs to be put down on paper so that you no longer have to think about it. You stop relying on yourself to "happen" to remember all of these items and start trusting a system you know holds all the information you need at any time. This frees you up to focus on the task that is immediately in front of you.
The five steps are: Collecting, Processing, Organizing, Reviewing and Doing.
Step 1: Collecting
Collecting everything is the critical first step. You must collect your thoughts and action items into one inbox that will allow you to process them properly. Collecting the information is not enough, you must know you have collected everything you need to move a project forward. If you don't then you are likely to forget things and stop trusting the system.
There are many tools that can help you with the collection process such as: notepads, smartphones, online tools, email and physical inboxes on a desk. Ultimately, you want to have your items all land in a single inbox to be processed.
Collection is fundamental and should be done constantly. Even if you are not able to act upon the items you are collecting at the moment it is important to write them down. Drop a note or physical item into your inbox for everything you need to act upon and you will know you have collected it. You no longer need to think about it. Condense everything into as few inboxes as possible.
Step 2: Processing
After everything is collected you can start processing. The purpose of the collecting step is to fill the inbox, now your goal is to empty it. Processing should get you to the bottom of the inbox. When processing you need to clear everything out. Nothing goes back into the box once it has been taken out.
The first time you go through the 5 steps of GTD you will probably have a huge amount of information to process. You may work with just one room at a time if your are trying to organize your house. Processing your car and office may need to be done in 2 separate sessions.
Figure out what every item needs to have done to it. Take one item at a time and don't move on to the next until you have assigned a place for everything. That place may be a trash can. Allow yourself that liberty. If it is something that needs to be filed for reference purposes, then file it. Some items need to be filed with the project folder they belong to. If it is time sensitive then setting up a calendar file will help you remember it when you need to deal with it. You no longer have to keep thinking about items because they are in the system to be dealt with at the right time.
If the item needs action taken upon it you have three choices: Do, Delegate, Defer. If it can be done in 2 minutes or less, then do it right then. If someone else needs to do it, then delegate it. Deferring means that you choose not to do it at this time. That is fine, but that is not an excuse to drop it back into the inbox. You need to assign a time to the item so that it will be reviewed again when it is time to act upon it.
Collecting and Processing are done constantly. This might be a daily task, or even done a couple of times a day. You will become so good at dealing with things that many items will never make it to the inbox. You will immediately file things where they belong. Then do, delegate and defer other items.
Step 3: Organizing
While Processing you will be Organizing. Organization is where everything is filed that needs to be filed. There will be lists that some items get jotted down on, others will end up in reference and project folders. Items that need to be put on a calender will be scheduled for the right time. The longer you use GTD the better organized you will become.
Some of the lists where your action items will end up are projects, next action and waiting for lists. These lists help you know what projects need to be done and what are the next actions to move the project forward. When waiting for someone else to complete a task or get you further information, you will jot that down so you know who needs to get back with you.
Step 4: Reviewing
The key to keeping everything running smoothly in the GTD system is the Weekly Review. This is a time that you do a general overview of all your projects and action items. While you don't want to constantly think about items, you do need to think about them occasionally. The weekly review will help you know what needs to be done in the following week. This does not mean that you never review at other times. Reviewing your action lists and project specific items will be done as often as necessary to accomplish your tasks.
The Weekly Review is critical to trusting the system. This is the confidence you need to know that nothing will suddenly surprise you.
Step 5: Doing
There are four criteria for knowing when and how to actually accomplish the tasks that need to be done. They are: Context, Time available, Energy available and Priority.
Break your lists down into settings or locations. These are your Contexts. Grocery items go onto a list that you only need to look at when going to the grocery store. Context specific lists will help you know what you need to do when you are in the setting where it can be done.
The Time and Energy available will dictate when you can do a task. Work on items that can be accomplished in the time available and at the energy level you currently posses.
Everyone wants to prioritize their lists, but your priorities will be based on the other three criteria of Context, Time available and Energy available.
Those are the basic five steps of Getting Things Done. Take time to read the whole book and learn how to get things done in your life.