My GTD System #1 - Components

I recently got this on twitter:

So let's get to into the weeds and go over what is in my GTD system and how I use it.

Part 1 will cover the components of my system. What kinds of tasks go where, how I structure and name projects and folders, what contexts I use, and my most used OmniFocus custom perspectives. Part 2 will go over the Horizons of Focus as the back-bone of my system. And in part 3 I bring it all together and talk about how I use the system. I cover my daily workflow, regular reviewing routines, and long-term planning.

This series is intended for GTDers who want to get some tips and ideas on how to improve their system further. If you are new to GTD, I would highly recommend you buy the book. You won't find anything in this article that is more useful than the content of the book.

I use OmniFocus, but I'm sure you'll be able to implement the concepts I use in your own system, whether it's analogue or digital.

Building a system

My system is an amalgamation of other people's systems along with my own little quirks. It has evolved with my needs, and as I learn new techniques or try stuff out. I started with an all-paper system that mixed GTD with Kanban boards with a bunch of sticky notes on the inside of a A4 notepad! My system is entirely different now.

Over time you will develop something which works for you. Don't feel like you're doing anything wrong because you do things differently.

Remember, the goal is stress-free meaningful productivity; not having the perfect productivity system.

The Core

OmniFocus is the core of my system. Everything, big or small, goes into OmniFocus including things like Someday/Maybes, review checklists, and general checklists and templates.

There are two exception:

Short-term tasks

Tasks which take less than 2 minutes and I can do immediately I wont bother adding to OmniFocus. If I get interrupted halfway through I will either add the task to the OmniFocus inbox or write it on a post-it note and chuck that in my physical inbox at work.

Repeated maintenance tasks and habits

Repeating tasks in  Due

Repeating tasks in Due

Repeated maintenance tasks include things like defrosting the freezer, taking out the trash/recycling, and replacing the water filters.

Actions which I want to make a habit include laying out my clothes for work the evening before and daily journaling.

I've recently moved both of these out of OmniFocus into Due on my phone. Due supports auto-snooze which reminds you of an incomplete action every few minutes after the initial due time. This nagging has been good at getting me off the couch to take the trash out and made sure I journal before going to bed.

Edit (20/03/2016): I've been asked about habit building apps. I haven't done much research in this area, but I don't particularly like any of the ones I have tried.

Folders, Projects, and Contexts

My goal here is to make it easier to connect actions and projects to my areas of responsibility and the Horizons of Focus.


Task naming is actually more difficult than it sounds. A task should represent a single unit of action, small enough to be discrete, but not so small so as to be absurd. "Get boarding pass from the printer" implicitly assumes that you stand up and walk to the printer without spelling out those individual actions. However, you might not want to bundle the "Send boarding pass to printer" and "Pick up boarding pass from printer" actions. This might seem like splitting airs, but often times projects don't move forward because something that seemed like a single action is actually a multiple ones in disguise.

I like to name my actions with enough detail so that if I see any of them individually, separate from their projects I immediately know what it's about. This can look a little silly in project view with tasks such as:

  • Research flight times for UK meetup
  • Pick a flight time for UK meetup
  • Buy flight tickets for UK meetup
  • Check-in to flights for UK meetup

Consider the alternative, if you are planning multiple flights and you only have "Print flight tickets" and "Check in to flight" it's easier to get confused. It's a small thing but why have that little niggle every time you look at your task list?


I name my projects by the outcome I want to achieve by the time I finish them. I am as specific as I feel is helpful, and no more. A typical project title could be "Mom has a birthday present she likes".

This little exercise forces me to think about the aim of the project. A cornerstone of the natural planning model. I've changed my initial plans on a few occasions because I took the time to think about the outcome. If the outcome is more complicated, such as "Have a report that complies with EU specifications", I add a document to the notes field of the project that contains the specifications.


Main projects are stored in one-level directories, each named after one of my areas of responsibility: Jacobo Blanco, Partner, Sibling, Friend, Gamer, Work, Home, and so on. I don't use subfolders with the exception of work projects. I'm handling a few projects at work so it's easier to have another level of folders just to keep things in order. These folders are ordered by how important that area of responsibilty is to me.


There is also a folder to hold all my single-action lists for each of my areas of responsibility. You could also put a Single Action list in each of the Area of Responsibility folders.

Edit (20/03/2016): The name of the single-actions lists are suffixed with SA to make it easier navigating to them using Quick Open (⌘O).

As per Joe Buhlig's system, I have the Guidance folder with all my review lists, Horizons of Focus, and weekly goals for work and life. I assign the context admin to all the projects and tasks so that I can separate them from the main project tasks.

Finally, I have a folder to hold my Someday/Maybe lists, project template and checklists, and stalled projects. The latter holds projects I feel are still relevant but not progressing.


This is probably the most difficult aspect of GTD advanced implementation and the one I'm exploiting the least. Much has been written about the subject, see links at the end.

My main contexts describe kinds of activities like read, listen, watch, research, learn, play, work, and so on.

I have a single waiting context which I keep active. I can set a due date on an item and it will show up for me. I then go poke people to get an update on their progress.

I also have am agendas context for all things which I need to talk to people about. This includes things I need to bring up in a meeting, on a phone call, or at home with my partner for example. It does NOT include returning emails because I am not with them at the time.

I've started using a lot of location-aware contexts. I go crazy and nest these. I wont go into too much detail on the ones I use cause they are specific to Cork, where I live. But I have search ones pharmacy, supermarket, and ATM. The latter is useful when I need to get cash for an airport taxi ride.


I've implemented Joe Buhlig's Dashboard perspective which shows you flagged and due soon items divided by context. During my morning routine I pick which things I want to work on, flag them, and then plan my day based on that list.


I have a Waiting perspective that contains all tasks with the waiting context, that way I can get a quick glance every day at the things I am waiting on.


The someday/maybe lists are great for me. I have a lot of these. To be precise, 139 items in 16 different lists. I have lists for ideas for work, movies to watch, ideas for blog posts, ideas for presents (this one makes me look great), restarurants to try, things I want to learn, stuff I want to do, new productivity techniques I want to try out. You name it; there is probably a list for that. All the items are on a running context which is on hold so they don't show up anywhere.

Edit (20/03/2016): The name of the Someday/Maybe lists are suffixed with SM to make it easier navigating to them using Quick Open (⌘O).

Horizons of Focus

The Horizons of Focus is a critical part of GTD but it takes some time to really get to grips with long-term planning.

My 50K, 40K, and 30K items go into OmniFocus as projects under the Guidance folder. Each project has the Admin context so that they stay out of the way.

Almost there

Phew! That was a lot! Next time we'll go over how I approach the horizons of focus and long-term planning as the backbone of my system, before we get to the last part talking about daily planning, reviewing, and using pen and paper to get away from OmniFocus.

Thank you for reading.

If you have any questions please leave a comment below or on message me on twitter.

Have a nice day. Until next time.

-- Jay Blanco