GTD and the Quadrant Method Practice

During the New Year holidays, I spent a lot of time reflecting. Alongside the growth and many merits over the past year, I also identified several shortcomings:

  • Lack of proactive thought on prioritizing tasks
  • A tendency to actively solve issues without much focus
  • Difficulty in concentrating on completing specific TODOs

Whenever I review my tasks, despite their number, I often feel a lack of clear judgment and thorough consideration. Sometimes, I might engage in a task because it seems crucial at the moment or out of a knee-jerk reaction, without truly assessing its priority or importance. This habit not only impacts my work efficiency but also prevents me from deep thinking and planning opportunities, which I aim to improve in the coming year.

I’ve read several books on time management, including GTD. For those enthusiastic about efficiency, GTD is a well-regarded concept in the realm of time management, though it’s known for its complexity and difficulty to master.

This article will summarize the GTD model and my time management method, including the quadrant theory, based on my knowledge of GTD and my reflections and practices.

What is GTD?

Understanding GTD’s utility is essential. It’s commonly associated with time management and efficiency enhancement. However, these terms are too abstract. Many believe GTD maximizes daily productivity or cures procrastination, and some use it as a reminder tool to combat forgetfulness.

GTD indeed covers these aspects, but its core selling point is mental energy conservation. Some people are overwhelmed by the day’s tasks, their energy depleted before the day ends, struggling to muster the spirit for more work. David Allen argues that using the brain for memory storage is wasteful. Third-party tools like paper or software can replace memory storage, freeing the mind from constant preoccupation. This focus improves current efficiency and conserves energy for more tasks.

Thus, GTD presupposes a busy lifestyle. It’s not designed for those with low time utilization rates, prone to procrastination or dawdling.

GTD’s Operating Principle

Any task follows five objective steps: collect, process, organize, review, and execute. For example, “hosting a dinner party at home”:

  • Collect: Find out how many guests will attend and their food preferences.
  • Process: Decide which preferences can be accommodated, how much food is needed.
  • Organize: List the dishes to prepare and the ingredients to buy.
  • Review: Check for any omissions.
  • Execute: On the day of the event, follow the prepared plan.

GTD posits that human energy is finite. Confusion arises when mental capacity is overwhelmed. By allocating mental resources efficiently across these five steps—thorough preparation for the first four, effortless execution for the last—GTD promotes distraction-free, more relaxed, and focused work, naturally enhancing efficiency.

Optimization Techniques for the Five Steps

Collect: Setting up a Raw Data Depot

A raw data depot replaces memory for storing all pending information. Other GTD articles might refer to it as a workbasket or inbox. However, I find “raw data depot” more illustrative, as it collects unprocessed information, akin to raw, unsubtitled films awaiting processing.

The first of the five steps: collecting.

The depot can be physical or virtual. A box for promotional flyers, a notebook represents a physical depot. Apps on your phone, computer folders, email inboxes serve as virtual depots. Depending on your situation, you may set up 1-2 depots, neither more nor less, choosing the most suitable option.

Not only “to-do tasks” but all pending information should be recorded in the depot. This differentiates it from other to-do lists.

How to Avoid Collapse During the Collection Phase

  1. All information must be placed in the depot, without exception. If only partial information is stored, you can’t fully rely on it, knowing it’s incomplete and still requiring brain memory. This leads to a split focus, consuming more mental energy rather than conserving it.

For instance, if your boss asks you to purchase five items and you list only three on your checklist, you can’t rely solely on the listfor shopping but must remember the rest, leading to inefficiency. This scenario exemplifies why some find GTD more cumbersome rather than streamlined.

  1. Do not spend more than 2 seconds on a single capture. Based on my experience, if capturing a single item takes longer than 2 seconds, it indicates the method is too cumbersome for long-term use. Avoid the following scenarios:

    • Inappropriate depot: A promotional flyer offering a scan code for a discount can simply be placed in a box, not photographed and saved to a note-taking app.
    • Unnecessary actions: Common in app-based depots. Recording a meeting for Wednesday at 2 PM should be straightforward, without setting reminders, categorizing, highlighting, etc. These are tasks for later stages, not during collection.
    • Obsession: Often seen among journal enthusiasts. Recording an item requires decorations, stickers, or color changes, otherwise, it feels like a disservice to the journal. Once the enthusiasm wanes, the effort feels burdensome.
  2. Regularly empty the raw data depot. Note that “emptying” doesn’t mean completing tasks but moving “raw data” out of the depot for further processing.

Process: Tagging the ‘Raw Data’

After collection comes processing, which means qualifying the “raw data”. Qualification involves asking a series of questions and tagging the “raw data” based on the answers.

During the collection phase, you’re advised to keep it under 2 seconds, merely glancing at the raw information. To properly process, a second reading is necessary for accurate understanding before moving to Q2.

Q1: What is this?

As stated, the initial collection is quick, requiring a second, more detailed look for proper processing.

Q2: Can it be executed now?

If not, choose one of the tags from “useless,” “might do,” or “might be useful” and conclude the processing.

  • Useless: Expired coupons, meaningless information, canceled plans, etc.
  • Might do: Intentions to act upon later, like recommended restaurants or movies to watch.
  • Might be useful: Information that might come in handy, such as takeaway menus, discount coupons, or case studies for reference.

Q3: Can it be done in under 2 minutes?

If yes, tag it for a 2-minute task and end the processing. If it takes longer than 2 minutes, proceed to Q4.

Q4: Can it be completed in one step?

If not, label it as a multi-step task and conclude. If it can be done in one step, move on to Q5.

  • One step: Tasks that can be completed with a single action, like calling someone, throwing away trash, or photocopying a document.
  • Multiple steps: Tasks requiring more than one action to complete, such as planning an annual meeting, delivering a keynote speech, or passing an English proficiency test.

Q5: Should I do it, or someone else?

If it’s for you to do, tag it accordingly and end the processing. If it should be delegated, tag it for someone else and conclude.

Organize: Clearing the Raw Data Depot

Organizing involves moving “raw data” out of the depot, categorizing it based on its tags. You’ll need several lists for wish lists, project lists, action lists, waiting lists, and a system for storing reference material (either digital or physical), plus a calendar.

  • Useless – Trash Can: Two scenarios warrant collecting useless “raw data”: quick collection without careful examination or changes that render previously useful data useless. Don’t be discouraged; directly discard items tagged as useless.
  • Might Do – Wish List: Tasks you plan to do someday without a specific timeline. This list can be seen as a “bookmark” for future reference.
  • Might Be Useful – Reference Folder: These items are not tasks but information for future reference. Keep physical documents in folders and digital information in cloud storage or note-taking apps. There are many tools available, but remember not to get lost in “tool-playing.”
  • 2 Minutes – Do It Now: Tasks that can be finished within 2 minutes should be done immediately and then removed from the list.
  • For Me – Action List, Calendar: Tasks tagged for personal action move to the “Action List”. If they have a specific date, they go on the calendar. Cross them off the depot and add them to the relevant list and calendar.
  • For Others – Waiting List: Tasks delegated to others go on the “Waiting List”. Although not requiring direct action from you, they remain your responsibility and may need follow-ups, so they shouldn’t be simply deleted but tracked.
  • Multiple Steps – Project List: The “Project List” is special. When moving tasks here, use a new sheet of paper for each project title, not as content. Each project on the list corresponds to a list, summarizing actions from the “Action List”, “Calendar”, and “Waiting List” related to it. This step further breaks down the project into more specific “single actions” that are then added back into the relevant “Action List,” “Calendar,” and “Waiting List.” This method ensures a comprehensive approach to tackling projects by identifying all necessary actions to move forward.

Review: The Final Preparation Before Execution

Many people can start using GTD, but maintaining it becomes a challenge, often leading to a breakdown in the system. The issue lies in inadequate review. The term “review” is translated from the original concept of “review” in GTD, which some might misunderstand as merely looking back at what has been done. However, the focus of this step is on checking, not reminiscing.

Review serves as the final preparation before execution. It’s like checking your luggage the night before a trip, ensuring your phone is off before an exam, or double-checking your attire before a performance. The principle of review in GTD is similar: a final check to ensure everything has been processed as planned.

The Steps for Review

  1. Check if the “Raw Data Depot” is empty.
  2. Review the “Wish List” to see if any items need to be acted upon, turning them into actions or projects.
  3. Go through each “Project List” to understand the progress of each project, ensuring each has at least one action assigned.
  4. Review the “Waiting List” for items that need to be converted into actions, meaning it might be time to follow up.
  5. Examine all lists for items that have been completed or rendered obsolete and delete them immediately.

Becoming a GTDer

  1. Initial Setup for GTD
  • Prepare your GTD tools, which could be a planner, app, etc.
  • Allocate a quiet weekend to sort through all pending tasks and ideas, and place them in the raw data depot.
  • Process, tag, and organize them into the respective lists.
  1. Daily Use of GTD
  • Execute: Start with the “Calendar”, then address unexpected tasks, and finally, work through the “Action List” in cycles.
  • In daily life, capture all sudden thoughts, new tasks, and information into the “Raw Data Depot”.
  • Review before bed: Empty the “Raw Data Depot”, process, tag, break down projects, and organize into the respective lists.
  1. Dealing with GTD Breakdowns
  • Extract unrecorded “raw data” from your mind and place it into the “Raw Data Depot”.
  • Conduct a review phase to bring GTD back on track.

Quadrant Method

The “Quadrant Method”, also known as the “Eisenhower Matrix” or “Urgent-Important Matrix”, is a tool for prioritizing tasks based on their urgency and importance. It divides tasks into four categories:

Quadrant I — Urgent and Important: Tasks that require immediate attention, such as dealing with crises, meeting tight deadlines, or addressing critical issues. These demand quick action and decisiveness.

Quadrant II — Important but Not Urgent: Tasks that contribute to long-term goals and visions, such as planning, relationship building, and personal development. Focusing on these tasks is key to effective time management and prevents future crises.

Quadrant III — Urgent but Not Important: Tasks that demand attention but do not contribute to long-term goals, such as some emails or phone calls. These should be minimized or delegated.

Quadrant IV — Neither Urgent nor Important: Activities that offer little value, like mindless browsing or excessive TV watching. These should be eliminated as much as possible.

Prioritizing tasks based on this matrix helps in focusing on what truly matters, reducing stress, and increasing productivity and effectiveness.

Practicing GTD with TickTick

For implementing GTD, I’ve chosen apps like TickTick and Todoist, with a current preference for TickTick due to its support for various platforms, including Linux and web, which suits my needs as a Linux user. TickTick facilitates the integration of GTD principles into my workflow, especially in managing projects through GitHub Issues, tagging for context, and using Diigo for bookmarking references.

Integration Method

GTD essentially breaks down into five phases: capture, clarify, organize, reflect, and engage. The practice hinges on understanding that our brains are better suited for thinking than remembering. By establishing a trusted external system to track all commitments, we can free our minds for more creative and productive thought processes.

  1. Capture: Fully, unreservedly capture everything that has your attention. Use TickTick’s powerful collection features to ensure nothing slips through the cracks.

  2. Clarify: Process what each item means and what to do about it. This involves deciding whether an item is actionable and, if so, what the next action should be.

  3. Organize: Put everything where it belongs. Use lists, tags, and due dates in TickTick to keep your tasks andprojects organized and prioritized.

  4. Reflect: Regularly review your commitments and actions. This step ensures that you stay aligned with your goals and can adjust your plans as needed. In TickTick, this could involve reviewing your upcoming tasks, checking off completed ones, and updating your projects and priorities accordingly.

  5. Engage: Take action on your tasks with confidence. Knowing that you have a complete and prioritized list of your commitments in TickTick allows you to focus on the task at hand without worrying about what you might be forgetting.

By integrating these GTD principles with TickTick, you can create a powerful system for managing your work and personal life. The key is to trust the system you’ve set up, allowing your mind to focus on the present tasks instead of trying to remember everything you need to do.

Advanced Tips for GTD with TickTick:

  • Utilize TickTick’s features to their fullest by setting reminders, repeating tasks for habits, and using tags to categorize tasks by context or energy level.
  • Customize your views in TickTick to match your workflow. For example, create smart lists to filter tasks by due date, project, or tag, helping you focus on what’s most important at any given time.
  • Incorporate TickTick with other tools you use. For example, if you’re managing projects on GitHub, use IFTTT or Zapier to automatically create tasks in TickTick from GitHub issues assigned to you. This helps ensure that nothing falls through the cracks and that you can manage all your tasks in one place.
  • Make time for a weekly review in TickTick. Set aside time each week to go through your tasks, projects, and lists to update your priorities, check off completed tasks, and prepare for the week ahead. This habit is crucial for maintaining clarity and control over your workload.


Adopting GTD with TickTick can dramatically improve your productivity and reduce stress. By capturing all your tasks and thoughts in a trusted system, clarifying their meaning, organizing them effectively, regularly reviewing your commitments, and engaging with your work with focus and intention, you create a seamless workflow that can handle the complexities of modern life. Remember, the essence of GTD is not about getting more work done but about being more present and engaged in whatever you choose to do. With TickTick and GTD, you have the tools and framework to make that a reality.