How to effectively break down large projects into manageable pieces of tasks in a GTD way.

Oct 06, 2022, Jiten Madia
Getting Things Done is a best-selling personal productivity system authored by David Allen. The book created a new technique for productivity and the acceptance of this method made it shoot to unprecedented fame.  

If you always feel overwhelmed by the number of tasks, try your hardest and yet miss finishing up tasks, chances are that you will benefit from a simple organizing system like Getting things done to organize all your professional and personal life. 

GTD isn't another to-do list system. GTD gives a clear recipe for how to organize your (life's) entire to-do list that works and gets things done.  

The core principle of GTD is:  

Your brain is meant for processing ideas not storing them. 

Knowledge workers and busy professionals lead a life of chaos with conflicting priorities things are bound to slip through the cracks.  GTD aims to create a perfect capturing device followed by some practical advice on execution to ensure nothing slips through.  
After all, GTD aims to attain a ‘mind like water.' A mind that is perfectly capable of living in the present.  
The GTD method has 5 stage organizing process 

Stage 1: Capture 

Everything starts with capturing what is there in your brain. When adopting the Getting Things Done approach for the first time, this initial stage of inboxing data may take many days.

Capturing involves capturing ideas, tasks and projects that came from emails, calls, and meetings through external stimulation as well as ideas, tasks and projects generated through your own creativity and imagination.  

David emphasizes a physical tray in his original version. But in the current digital age, you don't necessarily need it to be actual in-trays. Any organising system that enables written note-taking might be considered your capturing device. This implies that you can utilize both digital and analogue note-taking systems, inboxes including your email inbox, Evernote or OneNote or tangible trays, and vertical file systems to organize. 

Whatever your approach is, the key thing to remember is it is essential that you have one clear capturing device to hold all the information together.  

Stage 2: Process 

The second step requires you to clarify and divide different items into categories and sort them out. Consider asking the following questions for each item on the list  

Can I take an action on this task now? 
       If Yes. Ask, can I do it in 2 minutes or less?  
               If yes, do it.  
               If not,  consider adding it to the action items list. 
       If the answer is no, you will need to either trash or put it in the maybe group or archive it to come         back to it later group.  

Repeat this process for the entire list.  

Stage 3: Organize:  

This is the step that is most crucial and most liberating.  In this step, you will figure out how to create a version of GTD that works for you. 

There are three categories that the tasks can be divided into.  
- Project, Time or Context 


A project is anything that involves a series of tasks. Anything ranging from income tax return filing to creating your annual plan for the company can be classified as a project. Items related to similar projects should go together. 


 On the other hand, task if the project tasks are time bound, they should also go on a calendar e.g. Someone's birthday. A task deadline of a project etc.

Remember task is the smallest and most actionable unit of a project. Always remember-if anything that classifies as a task should have a clear next point defined to move forward. If you write a task as calling your lawyer, but the number of your lawyer is not handy, your task is not specific enough. Always ask yourself a question –What is to be done next?  This will help you clarify the tasks and sequence them better.  

There would be items on the list that is both on the project list and on the calendar if the task is time-bound. And that is fine. 


Anything that is related to similar tasks like making calls to x, y and z. Or sending follow-up emails can be grouped into context. This can be any set of regular action items that you need to do on a recurring basis.

Task can interject between Context and time as well. 

Everyone needs to tweak and personalize GTD as per their needs, and this is the point of juncture in your GTD journey where you need to adjust GTD as per your needs so that it works for you. GTD gives enough flexibility provided to create your task list and time-bound list in the way you want them to.  

All actionable items should first be assigned to temporary trays or placed on lists, and then processed from there. 

But what about non-actionable items? All non-actionable items should either go in a reference list that can be useful to refer to or in the someday/maybe list where you can keep your creative ideas and further pursuits.  

That's it. Once this is done, the next step is to review. 

Stage 4: Review 

Organizing your tasks and appointments will help you gain clarity, but it will not be enough to boost your productivity and ensure that you complete everything in the allotted time. To do so, you must review your lists on a regular basis. 

Every week put the time to review your takes and every month ensure that you are reviewing your short-term goals.  

Remember, you must ensure that your system is up to date, or you will be unable to focus on the task at hand without wondering if you have missed that appointment.  

Stage 5: Engage

The last stage in GTD is referred to as Engage. Engage is interweaving GTD in your daily routine.  

Pick up your calendar, put the tasks and see the magic of how they keep getting done.  

While the already classified tasks get executed, the new information and new tasks will keep getting accumulated through external and internal stimulation.  

Every time you get the task repeat the process of capturing, process and organising the tasks.  

Essentially, The GTD method employs four criteria to decide what to do next: context; time available; energy available; and priority. 

Context: In your Getting Things Done system, you've made at least one to-do list. Because you have many different contexts in your life (work, family, hobbies), you should make separate lists called "context lists." That way, you won't have to sift through a long to-do list to figure out what to do next. Simply look through your short context lists. 

Time Available:  How much time do you currently have? If you're in the car and 20 minutes from your destination, don't start a phone call that will take an hour of your time. Stopping at the supermarket to cross some items off your shopping list might be a better option. 

Energy Available: Throughout the day, your energy level fluctuates. Our biorhythms are all slightly different. For a week, track your energy levels throughout the day to determine when you have energy high and low. Schedule tasks that require your undivided attention and performance in the future at times that suit your biorhythm when you're feeling energetic and up to the task. 

Priority: If you've narrowed down potential actions based on the three criteria and have multiple options, let priority decide: Which task is most important? Proceed with this task.  


Getting Things Done is ideal if you live in a world of chaos and would want to organize your life and work through one coherent system. GTD is a highly analytical and structured approach and works well if you already have some broad clarity about your goals and priorities.  

Jiten Madia
Oct 06, 2022