GTD + Asana = My Sanity

I first read Getting Things Done (also called “GTD”) earlier this year, after seeing it mentioned in many a blog post and Youtube video. Although I loved the basic tenets of David Allen’s system, I had a really hard time with how much of it was done on paper. Not only did this approach feel outdated, but I also couldn’t get behind the amount of paper waste this would cause.

Since then, I’ve tried implementing the system a few different ways, but my favourite way has been combining it with the project management tool Asana. Keep reading to learn more about the book and how I’m pairing it with the app.

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Getting Things Done: Overview

The book is admittedly a bit dry (I can tell because nearly every page is dog-eared; I clearly only did a couple pages at a time), but it’s definitely worth reading to learn the full system. I’ve been implementing it for most of the year, and I’ve noticed a huge improvement in how much I’m able to accomplish (without feeling overwhelmed!).

Although there’s a lot more to it (like achieving inbox zero and doing a brain dump to find all the “someday projects” rolling around up there), here’s the basic gist: every task coming at us needs to be assessed. If the task will take less than two minutes, just do it right away. Anything that takes longer either gets delegated or goes into your inbox for later. It’s those inbox items that I want to focus on in this post.

David Allen’s idea of a project differs from what my idea of a project was coming in to the book. In my mind, a project was something that takes a long time and has many steps and usually other people associated with it, like releasing a new version of software or renovating your kitchen. While David would agree with me that those are projects, he includes anything that takes more than one step to accomplish. So, by his definition, this blog post is a project in itself.

Projects and Tasks in Asana

Once I identify something as a project (e.g., reorganize the kitchen, move apartments, Christmas shopping), I add it to Asana. Although most things are stored as projects (in accordance with the GTD rules), I’ve made a slight exception for my blog posts, which are stored as tasks within a “Blog Posts” project. This method allows me to easily see just the blog posts by filtering based on that project, rather than seeing them mixed in with other things I need to do.

Each task in the blog project has sub-tasks that correspond to the steps that are required to complete the post, such as taking the necessary photographs, writing, and editing. I also collect any of the notes or reference materials I need here, such as an overview of the post, which tags and categories to apply, and the social media text I want to use. I find it really handy to have all of this planned out in advance and stored in one place:

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Once I’ve set up all of my projects, tasks, and sub-tasks, Asana reminds me when things are due so that nothing slips through the cracks. Having the app means that I can add to and update my task list on the go, which is really handy when I have some time to kill waiting in line or at a subway station.

For things that are in the “someday/maybe” pile, I don’t put a due date on them. Instead, I peruse this list at the beginning of each week to see if there’s anything that I can fit into my schedule. This practice has made me a lot more efficient at getting to those “someday/maybe” projects so that they don’t turn into “probably not/never”.

Example Project

Let’s say that you’ve decided that you’d like to move to a new apartment. According to GTD, the first step is to brainstorm all of the individual tasks you’ll need to accomplish in order to make the move happen. I like to do this either in a notes app or on a scrap piece of paper.

Your list might look something like this:

  • Save $2500 for rental deposit and moving expenses
  • Find apartment
  • Apply for apartment
  • Pay deposit
  • Give notice
  • Book movers
  • Book elevators for moving day
  • Pack
  • Clean old apartment
  • Clean new apartment
  • Unpack
  • Change contact information at work
  • Email friends and family with new address information

Once you’ve got the list, you can add the project and each of these as a task within Asana (you can reorder them by dragging and dropping):

Any tasks that need them can have sub-tasks. For example, maybe you put in sub-tasks for how you’re going to save the money you need for the move. From there, you can set due dates where appropriate (in this example, probably nothing would have a due date until you actually get accepted to a new rental) and add any notes or attachments you need.

I’m finding this combination really helpful and effective for keeping me on track, but I’m always excited to hear what other people are doing to stay organized. Let me know in the comments!

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