Getting Sh-t Done

Personal organization without the hassle

"This system is so simple...almost no overhead. I love it." - Steve R.
"A wonderful, slightly irreverent, lightweight system for those not interested in joining the GTD cult." - Education Week

Aching to scribble

For years I fought the good fight, shoehorning my life into a clusterfumble of digital devices, trying to align the vagaries of an analog world into the rigid structures of a drawer full of computers, tablets, and mobile phones.

But it was futile, because I ached to scribble in the margins, draw fat circles around things, and scrawl out arrows to connect thoughts together.

Sure, I had tried out the Hipster PDA (verdict: too hipster), read up on the Moleskines (verdict: too much pressure to be the next Hemingway or Picasso), and even thought about Getting Things Done, but I just wasn't up to it.

It was all just so ... involved.

And then, one sunny day in early 2005, a chance lunchtime stop at a random old-school stationary store changed my life forever.

Right there on the shelves in front of the giant plate glass front window, I found nirvana: no longer was I going to be hamstrung by electrolust, for I was going full-tilt analog, armed with a thick black Miquelrius and a shiny new pen.

The birth of Getting Sh*t Done

For the next few months, I slowly evolved a method for personal organization, using just paper and pen. It was brutally simple, didn't require much forethought or planning, and kept me focused on the tasks at hand rather than on the task of organizing. And it worked.

But it took a chance encounter with Dave Gray and a few other folks several months later in a San Francisco restaurant to realize that I actually had a system here (250,000+ views!). So with a bit of goading from the crew, I wrote it up and gave it a name: “Getting Sh-t Done”, or GSD. It's quick, it's dirty, and it doesn't require a lot of preparation, special materials, or rigorous thinking.

So here it is - GSD in four easy steps:


Create the Master List

The core of the whole system is dead simple. I start off by banging out a stream-of-consciousness list of everything that I can think of that I have to do, putting an empty square next to each of them - and not spending any time prioritizing or organizing.

But the key is to make sure that each item is a task that I can actually do. Not “figure out dishwasher repair”, but “make list of five dishwasher repair people and phone numbers”. Otherwise, they'll just linger there on the list, mocking me, and never actually get done.


Create the Daily List

Early each morning, I sit down with my notebook (laptop closed, phone off, tablet in the bag) and open it to the next blank page. I write the day and date at the top, and pull forward the Post-It tab that I use to mark the current page.

Next, I dump a list of the things that are top of mind, in no particular order. That's important, because it lets me get everything out without worrying about structure. I combine work and personal items, although you may not want to.

Then, I go back to previous days and look for unfinished items. For each one I find, I draw a slash through its box (indicating it's been moved forward), and rewrite it on today's page. The goal is to move all open items onto the current page, and eventually have every box on prior pages filled with a check (it's done), a diagonal line (it's moved), or an X (I'm punting and will never do it). Once I've moved everything forward from a prior page, I put a check mark in the upper-right hand corner of that page to show it's closed out.

Finally, I review my Master list for items that need to be addressed. Usually, a lot of them have already come through in the brain dump, but it helps me remember and stay focused on longer-term goals.


Work the Daily List

Next, I look at my entire Daily list, pick the top 3 or 4 most important items, and put little dots in their checkboxes.

Then I get to work, cranking through my list and getting sh-t done, placing check marks as I complete my items. Once I've completed my priority items, I go back and put dots next to the next-most important items, and work on those … on so on.

The key, however, is to make sure that you're only working on things that are on the list. If something new comes up, add it to the list, and then re-prioritize.



This system works pretty well for me, but sometimes the entire context shifts, and it's time to rethink the whole thing. When this happens, I start over, returning to Step 1 and revisiting the Master list, deleting things that are no longer important, and brain dumping new tasks.

Tips and tricks:


From time to time, even the dots don't work, especially when I'm up against some sort of timeframe. That (or when I'm being especially proactive in the morning) is when I draw out a time ladder (see background).

I start with the current time, map out the hours through the end of the day, and then map activities against the timeline in rough 30- or 60-minute blocks. This usually works for about half a day, then the whole thing goes to hell and I just wing it.

Out and about

I've found a great little trick for whenever I'm out and about and don't have my notebook with me. Whenever I think of something, I pull out my mobile and tap out a quick e-mail to myself, and then when I'm back at my desk I manually transfer items from my inbox to my notebook.


Several people have written to ask about how I do my calendar and address book. Actually, it's nothing special - I just use the Calendar and Contacts that come with my Mac.

The Notebook

If you're looking for a Miquelrius notebook of your own, I originally preferred their 6-inch x 8-inch 300-page version with a black cover and grid rule. However, I'm not happy with their quality lately. Instead, I'm enjoying Zequenz notebooks from; they've sent me a few to try out and I'm really impressed with the paper quality and overall design. Give them a click and see for yourself.

And that's it!

So that's it, GSD in a nutshell - one place for all your to-dos and notes, a quick and dirty way of managing them, and no need to buy special software or spend your Sunday fighting with a cumbersome prioritization scheme.

Enjoy, and consider joining the GSD community on Facebook.

(Looking for a more advanced GSD?) Check out the fantastic, but more complex, Bullet Journal method by Ryder Carroll.

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