Getting Things Done – Tools for Collecting

Getting Things Done is a popular book by David Allen. In it he uses five steps to getting tasks and projects done. The steps are Collecting, Processing, Organizing, Reviewing and Doing. Each step is important, but you can't get to the final step of Doing until you first work through the earlier steps. Getting started with Collecting is the important first step.

One of the biggest problems with the collection process is that we often have too many places to collect and store information. Even if you have everything collected, but don't have it in one place, then it is hard to get things done. In the book the author suggests that you have only one inbox. He even prints out emails which need to be processed so that he can throw them in his main inbox. It is not realistic to carry the same box with you to the gym that you would have on your desk at the office, but minimizing the number of inboxes so that they can all be brought together for the Processing step will help tremendously in getting things done.

Here are some tools that you can use in different situations as inboxes. Many of these will be brought physically back to the main inbox at your processing location.

GTD Tools – Paper Notepad

The critical part of getting things done is collecting thoughts and information quickly and at any time. Currently there is no way to beat a pencil and piece of paper for this step. "A short pencil is better than a long memory" the old saying goes. Carrying around a 3x5 card that is always available to receive a new note is a great way to collect while away from your desk.

Photographers talk about the best camera being the one that you carry with you and use. While a $5000 dSLR setup may be functionally better than your camera phone, your camera phone is one that you always have with you and can use at any moment. When it comes to note taking on-the-go you don't need anything fancy. There are some beautiful leather-bound notepads that you can carry with an expensive pen, but you have to always have it with you for it to be functional.

The best low-tech solutions for note taking is At their site you can print out specially designed 8-page notebooks on standard printer paper. However, just learning to fold the paper the way they fold it will allow you to instantly create a collection inbox that works as well as any leather-bound notebook. Since it only costs about one penny for the paper you won't mind carrying it around in your back pocket, on a hiking trip or when doing manual labor.

GTD Tools – Smartphone

Today we have smartphones to help keep us organized. Smartphones include phones that you can install applications on. Thes are phones like the iPhone and Android devices. These can be great inboxes on the go as long as the process is quick and simple.

With a smartphone you can keep written notes, audio reminders and even snap video and still pictures. These can help you remember everything that needs to go through the Processing phase of GTD.

If you choose to use a smartphone look for apps that will be simple and fast. The appeal to using a smartphone is that you always have it with you and once you have the information collected you won't have to type it again. The difficulty of using a smartphone is that the time it takes to record and collect may be just awkward enough to cause you to think you can remember without writing it down.

The fastest way to stop trusting the GTD system is when you can no longer be assured that every thought has been collected. You begin to spend time and energy having the same thoughts over and over. Don't let your insistence on your smartphone stop you from collecting the information you need. Keep some paper handy if necessary.

GTD Tools – Online Services

Another great type of inbox, which can often work in connection with your phone, is online services. The best note taking application that works while online, through your smartphone and offline at a computer is Evernote. Evernote is a free-form database that lets you collect information while in various settings. You can even scan your handwritten notes into Evernote and all of your information will be searchable. Use Evernote to remember everything.

One of the biggest problems with online tools for Collecting is that it is easy to ignore the information while Processing. Allen suggests that you print out the notes from your phone or online tool that need to be processed. That way everything is physically dealt with during Processing.

GTD Tools – Inbox

A physical inbox on your desk, or in your workspace, is where everything needs to end up to start the Processing step. This can be a fancy basket that you buy at the office supply store, or it can be a cardboard box that everything gets dumped into until the Processing begins. If you are a traveling salesman then your inbox may be a crate that sits in the backseat of your car. The idea is to have a place where everything gets collected.

When first starting out with Getting Things Done you may find that a large cardboard box that everything from your desk gets raked into is perfect. Once the processing of this initial inbox is done, then you can scale back to a more reasonably sized inbox for use on your desk.

GTD Tools – Email

When most of us think of inboxes we think of our email inbox. And, frankly, it is a scary thought. You might cringe when you think about all of the information in your inbox that you never process. The truth is that you can use your email inbox to help learn the GTD system. When Processing, you need to learn to handle every item just once. Look at your email inbox and determine to do something about every email you have received this week. Go through the Processing steps to determine what needs to be done with them. Learn Getting Things Done by through Proccessing your email inbox.

Allen suggests you print your email and deal with it like you would any other item that lands in the inbox on your desk. When Processing, don't forget your email inboxes.

GTD Tools For Collecting

Collecting is the important first step to being able to process, organize, review and do. Minimize your inboxes, and if possible pull all of them into one physical place when you are ready to process.

There is much more in the book by David Allen, Getting Things Done. You can also get supplemental material and subscribe to his podcast at