Setting Up the GTD method in ClickUp

Setting Up the GTD method in ClickUp

Table of contents

Over the last few years, a system that has gained widespread popularity is Getting Things Done, or GTD, developed by productivity consultant David Allen. But what exactly is GTD, what cognitive principles is it based on, and how can you put it into practice to achieve stress-free productivity?

A Video About the Method:

ClickUp GTD Template: Getting Things Done Method Demo    

What is Getting Things Done (GTD)?

GTD is a system for capturing all your tasks, ideas, and projects into an external system, clarifying them into specific actions, and organizing them by priority and context. The goal is to get everything out of your head and into your productivity system, freeing up mental space and enabling you to engage fully in the moment. The five key steps of GTD are:

  1. Capture - Collect what has your attention into an external inbox
  2. Clarify - Process what each item means and what to do about it
  3. Organize - Put it where it belongs (projects, next actions, waiting for, someday/maybe, reference)
  4. Reflect - Review frequently to update and improve your system
  5. Engage - Simply do, choosing actions based on context, time, energy, priority
GTD Block Diagram
GTD Block Diagram

The Brain Science Behind GTD

Getting Things Out of Your Head

Our brains are great at coming up with ideas but not so great at remembering them. By writing down all your tasks and ideas in an organized system, you free up mental space. This allows your brain to focus on the task at hand rather than trying to juggle everything you need to do.

Reducing Mental Clutter

Having a lot of unclear tasks in your mind causes stress and makes it hard to concentrate. Writing down everything into an inbox clears your mind. Studies show that recording unfinished tasks makes them less distracting.

Finishing What You Start

Unfinished tasks stick in your memory and nag at you. By identifying the next action to take on your tasks and projects, GTD helps you achieve closure. Your brain craves completing what you've started.

Planning Ahead

Deciding in advance what you will do and when is a powerful way to get things done. Research shows that planning specific actions makes you more likely to do them. GTD's lists of next actions organized by context (like @calls or @computer) make planning easy.

Using Your Environment

Productivity relies on your physical and social surroundings, not just your mind. GTD helps by using tools like to-do lists, files, and calendars to extend your brain power and memory. Experts say GTD is a great example of using your environment to help you think and get things done.

Science Behind GTD
Science Behind GTD

GTD in Practice: Tips and Examples

Here are some tips and real-life examples for implementing GTD:

Capture everything.

Don't rely on your brain for remembering tasks. Write it down, whether that's a notebook, app, email, or voice memo. Get in the habit of capturing ideas as soon as they occur to you. For example, I'll often send myself a quick email from my phone to my inbox to process later.

Clarify Precisely.

Vague tasks like "Plan vacation" will just sit on your list. Clarify the specific next action, like "Call travel agent to discuss Hawaii trip dates." I find it helpful to start the next actions with a verb. Be as concrete and granular as possible.

Use Contexts

Organize the next actions by the context you can do them in, like @calls, @computer, @errands, @home. This allows you to quickly scan for tasks based on where you are and what tools you have available. For instance, I have a "Waiting For" context to track things I've delegated.

Do a Weekly Review.

This is the secret sauce of GTD - a sacred meeting with yourself to clear inboxes, review the next actions and projects, and get clear and current. Block off a couple hours each week. I like to do my weekly review on Fridays so I can start the week fresh.

Keep it Simple.

You don't need a complex app or system. Even a simple pen and notebook can work wonders. The power is in the process, not the tools. Find what works for you and stick to it. I use a combo of digital tools and a paper notebook for capture.

Iterate and Adapt.

No productivity system is perfect from day one. Experiment, reflect on what's working and what's not, and continually fine-tune your approach. It's a practice, not a destination. I'm always looking for ways to streamline my system.

Make it Fun.

Gamify your productivity and celebrate small wins. Checking off that next action gives you a dopamine hit and a sense of progress. I like to race against a timer for processing inboxes. Enjoy the process and the journey.

Setup GTD in ClickUp

1. Create Your GTD Lists

In ClickUp, create the following lists to match the GTD workflow:

  • Inbox - For capturing new tasks and ideas
  • Next Actions - For tasks that are ready to do
  • Waiting For - Delegated tasks awaiting a response
  • Projects - Multi-step outcomes that need to be planned
  • Someday/Maybe - Tasks to consider for the future
  • Reference - Non-actionable but useful information

You can add these lists to a dedicated "GTD" folder or space in ClickUp.

2. Use the Inbox

Whenever a task or idea pops into your head, add it to your ClickUp Inbox. Don't worry about organizing it yet - just get it captured quickly. ClickUp's mobile and desktop apps make this easy to do from anywhere.

3. Process Your Inbox Regularly

Set aside time daily or weekly to clarify and organize your Inbox items. For each task, ask: Is it actionable? If no, trash it, file it as a reference, or add it to Someday/Maybe. If yes, decide on the next action. If it takes less than 2 minutes, do it right away. If it's a multi-step project, add it to your Projects list. If it's a single action, add it to Next Actions or delegate it to Waiting For. ClickUp lets you easily convert tasks to subtasks, move them between lists, and add tags like "delegated" to keep track.

4. Organize Your Lists with Custom Fields

ClickUp's custom fields are perfect for adding GTD contexts to your tasks. Create custom fields for Time Required, Energy Level, People Involved, Location, or Priority. Then you can view your Next Actions list grouped by context to quickly see what to work on given your current time, energy, and situation.

5. Use Views to See Your Tasks

ClickUp offers several views to engage with your tasks:

  • List view - See all tasks sorted by priority or due date
  • Board view - View tasks in a Kanban style, grouped by list or custom field
  • Calendar view - See tasks with due dates in a weekly or monthly calendar
  • Me Mode - View only tasks assigned to you across all lists

During your weekly review, look over your Projects and Next Actions to ensure everything is up to date and organized.

6. Set Up Recurring Tasks

Make your daily and weekly reviews a habit by setting up recurring tasks in ClickUp. You can choose the interval and set the tasks to auto-assign to you. This ensures you never miss a review!

7. Reflect and Engage

With your system set up, you're ready to get things done! Use your weekly review to celebrate completions, update your lists, and get clear on the next actions. Then work from your Next Actions list, sorted by context or priority. ClickUp's "Me Mode" is great for focusing on your own tasks.

The Limits of GTD

No system is without its critics or constraints. Here are some common critiques of GTD and how to address them:

It's too complex.

It's true that GTD has its own vocabulary and can seem complicated at first. But the basic principles are quite simple. Start small and build up as you get more comfortable. You don't have to adopt every technique at once.

It's too rigid.

Some people resist the idea of an external system and prefer to keep things in their head. But the goal of GTD is actually to enable more spontaneity and flexibility by getting things off your mind. Adapt the system to your personal style.

It doesn't address prioritization.

GTD is more about organization than prioritization per se. But the weekly review is an opportunity to identify your highest impact actions. Combine GTD with other prioritization methods like the Eisenhower Matrix or MITs (Most Important Tasks).

It's not a silver bullet.

No productivity system can eliminate the hard work of actually doing the tasks. But it can create the conditions for more clarity, focus, and motivation. At the end of the day, you still have to climb the mountain yourself.


GTD is not a cure-all, but it's a reliable productivity system for good reasons. By externalizing attention, clarifying actions, organizing by context, reflecting regularly, and engaging mindfully, it addresses modern workplace challenges like information overload and constant distractions.

GTD offers more than just techniques. It provides a sense of relaxed control and a clear mind, helping you be present and responsive. In a complex world, this is a valuable goal.

The power of GTD lies in freeing up mental space for what matters most. With a trusted system, you can focus more on relationships, creativity, and high-level thinking, making productivity a means to a richer life.

Starting GTD takes patience and practice. With insights from cognitive science, practical tips, and a spirit of continuous improvement, it's a path anyone can follow. The goal is not just to get things done but to fully engage in your life. As David Allen says, "The better you get, the better you'd better get." Happy productivity!

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