Two step guide to getting started with stress-free productivity.

I tried to write todo lists but they stressed me and I start to procrastinate on my tasks.

I don’t know how to get started with Getting Things Done?

David Allen’s book has a lot of great details, how do I quickly learn GTD?

Many people coming to my stress-free productivity meetup are confused where to start with personal productivity, especially Getting Things Done. I found a short practical exercise with two steps works best to get back on on top of your todo lists: 1. collect your open loops 2. decide the next-action.

Mind sweep preparation

You need need much for our quick experiment:

  • 2 blank pieces of paper
  • 1 pencil
  • 15 minutes

Let’s get started. Label the 2 lists.

  1. Name the first paper “INBOX”
  2. Name the second paper “NEXT ACTIONS”

In a few minutes we will now fill those 2 pages:

Step 1: Collect your open loops

Take the INBOX list. Write down everything you keep thinking about. Things that you want to get done, but didn’t until now. They keep coming back on your mind. Write down all things on your mind that you want to take care off. Don’t qualify. Take about 5 minutes. Brainstorm what comes to your mind for

“I should…”, “I could …, “I would…”.

Once you are done the inbox looks like this:


  • Buy milk
  • Trip to Paris
  • Learn to play guitar
  • Change tires

Within a few minutes you probably found a few “loose ends”, which where constantly on your mind. Lets tackles the results of this mind sweep in the next step.

Step 2: Decide the next action

Take your next-action list. Go through each item you collected on your “INBOX” in step 1. Clarify each item one by one. If the inbox item is actionable decide:

What is the next physical step you can do towards the desired end-result?

The next action should be small and actionable. You don’t want to rethink what it means when you read through your list. No matter how difficult something on your inbox is, it all starts with a small next step. Decide only the next step for each inbox item. If an item in the inbox is not actionable no next action is required. Make the next action specific.
Verbs like “decide”, “plan”, “organize” mean that you can break a task down to a more actionable step like “search online for …”, or “message John to ask about…”

Once you decided what to do for the inbox items the list looks like this:


  • Buy milk
  • Search online for cheap flight dates to Paris in April
  • Ask Lisa for piano class recommendation
  • Search winter tires in garage shelf

That’s all you need to decide to get your inbox to zero.

What to do after the mind sweep

Use next action list you just created to decide what to do next. When you have new ideas use the inbox and next action lists to get things off your mind.

Deciding next actions is a rewarding way to get going with GTD.
Many experience a sense of control and calmness when they decided the next action on a todo list. You got a glimpse of the power GTD can have on your life. There is a lot of nuance to each step.

Why didn’t we write a project list? What do you do if the next action list gets longer? We will explore the details in future posts.

GTD® and Getting Things Done® are registered trademarks of the David Allen Company. DoNext is not affiliated with the David Allen Company.

"No-fluff", tactical producitvity advice.