There are two principal components of the GTD system: (1) GTD Processing: handling all of your incoming “stuff” so that you can organize your workflow and track all of the tasks that arise from it; and (2) Doing Work: managing your time to get things done. The first diagram below shows how to process all of your incoming “stuff.”

The GTD method rests on the idea of moving planned tasks and projects out of the mind by recording them externally and then breaking them into actionable work items. This allows one to focus attention on taking action on tasks, instead of recalling them. Only after you’ve processed all of your incoming “stuff” can you really focus on your actual work without the distraction of keeping track of what you are supposed to be doing or worrying that you’ll forget something. The essence of the GTD system is to free your mind to work by separating the acts of processing incoming “stuff” and tracking tasks and appointments from actually doing your work.

The GTD system gives you the mental freedom to concentrate on what you are doing. Knowing that your tasks are tracked and in order in a list or system that resides outside of your own memory makes it possible for you to give yourself permission to give 100% of your mind to each task you are performing.  Do you ever feel that you’re spending most of your time “putting out fires” and ultimately missing  important steps? Doing less than your best on the steps you actually do perform because you’re distracted by the size of the mental task list you are carrying around in your head? Use the GTD system! You funnel all incoming “stuff” through a process by which you decide if each item is actionable, and if so, carefully identify “next actions” and add them to your task list in Daylite—then forget about them untill you see them on the task list and do them. When incoming items do not require action, you archive them (email), store them  (SharePoint) or delete them. It’s that simple.

The key is to only wear one “hat” at a time and focus on only what you are doing: processing incoming “stuff,” planning next actions, putting tasks and appointments in Daylite, and then doing work one task at a time from your task-list. Keep those modes of operation separate, cycling through them throughout the week as needed in a way that makes sense, rather than jumping back and forth impulsively. Process your incoming “stuff,” plan your tasks, plan your day and do your work. When the barriers between these modes of operation begin to break down, stress and confusion skyrocket while effectiveness plummets. At first this way of working takes discipline, then it becomes a comfortable habit.


6:30 a.m.


Coffee, personal study

7:30 a.m.



8:00 a.m.


Urgent calls

8:30 a.m.


Office, gym on way

9:30 a.m.


Daylite tasks

2:30 p.m.


Case planning

3:30 p.m.


Documents for approval

4:00 p.m.


Deep reading & writing

5:00 p.m.


Final email check

5:30 p.m.


Final billing check for day

6:00 p.m.


Home, fun, rest

The hypothetical “Model Day” shown above (a typical  day in the office, not otherwise set aside for appointments) provides a daily schedule that might work for you. The primary functions of a legal professional are clustered into parts of the day. While performing these functions, the tasks generated from incoming items such as email, court filings, and the tasks generated from case planning, telephone calls and meetings will arise as you work, which will of course require that you “process” those items as diagrammed above rather than interrupting your scheduled work to handle new complex tasks (as opposed to those that can be completed in less than 2 minutes, or are emergencies).

The items shaded in green constitute the most actively productive phase of the day—when you are not responding to interruptions and urgent items, but are instead making headway towards success in your case rather than merely avoiding disaster. Preserving this phase of your day is essential, but this goal competes with the need to acknowledge emails quickly with replies or phone calls, which you do first thing in the morning and again at the end of the day. It is in this “green zone” that you are getting things done, while breaking the habit of responding and reacting at the expense of proactive work.