Personal Project Management: The Getting Things Done Methodology and Asana

A staircase leading up to a trophy

Are you flooded with requests? The recent shift to remote work has probably cluttered your calendar, your inbox, and whatever chat app your team is using. How are you supposed to make sense of everything and get things done?

In this series, we’ll examine some of the most popular productivity methodologies and pair them with a project management tool you can use to apply it to your daily work. In the first post of this series, we’re delving into the Getting Things Done methodology, and how you can use Asana to put it into action.

What is the Getting Things Done methodology?

The Getting Things Done methodology was outlined in the book of the same name by David Allen, a productivity consultant. The primary goal of this methodology is to put a bit of order in all the requests the average worker receives and turn them into actionable tasks.

So how does it work?

This methodology relies on a five-step process to improve productivity and manage projects. These steps are capture, clarify, organize, reflect, and engage. Here’s what to expect from each step.

Capture

In this step, you take all the things that bother you (whether they came at you through a notification or an informal Slack chat) and put them in the same place. This can be a digital tool, a physical “in” box, or even a notepad. The most important thing is to limit the number of places where this information lives. Ideally, it should be a single place.

Clarify

After collecting everything you feel responsible for, analyze each of them in turn. Start by asking yourself if the item is actionable; is there a specific action you can take in relation to this? Then, ask yourself what comes next; after this item is completed, what’s the follow-up action? Finally, choose one of three ways to deal with each item: do it, delegate it, or do it later.

Organize

Now that you’ve taken the time to look through each item to determine what needs to happen, it’s time to send each one where it needs to go. Now that you’ve figured out what’s actionable and what isn’t, this task is that much easier. If an item isn’t actionable, it goes in one of three places. Put it in a reference bucket of some kind (like a database tool) if it’s important information you’ll want to look at later. If it’s not quite ready for action but might be with some more time, put it in an incubation bucket until the next steps become clearer. Finally, if it’s worthless, trash it. You can even write it out on paper and throw it out physically if that makes you feel better.

If an item is actionable, here’s how it should be handled:

  • Does it require a single step to complete? If the answer is no, it needs to become a project. In the context of this methodology, a project is something that can be completed within a year and that requires two or more steps (or tasks) to complete. If the item can be done in a single step, move on to the next question.
  • Would completing the item take more than two minutes? If not, do it right away. If so, keep going.
  • Is it an item you need to take care of? Sometimes we care a lot about a certain project or task because it affects our work but it’s not necessarily for us to do. Then if you haven’t already delegated it, do so. You can also use a calendar or a work management tool to give yourself a reminder to follow up if you need to know how it pans out.
  • Finally, does the item have a deadline? If so, add it to your calendar. Otherwise, add it to a Next Actions list and consider asking for more context.

This framework alone gives you a good baseline to handle pretty much any request that comes at you. You’ll keep things organized and know how to handle incoming requests. So what are the next steps?

Reflect

You need to review your work at least once a week. That means checking your inbox, looking in on projects you’ve created, and reviewing your Next Actions list. Doing this regularly is crucial to make sure you’re actually making progress instead of just organizing tasks.

Look at your multi-step projects. What’s the desired outcome? What’s the immediate next step that needs to take place in order to push it in that direction (i.e. the Next Action)?

Is your inbox empty? What needs to happen to empty it?

Engage

Now it’s time to do the actual work part of this process. Pick a task from your Next Actions list (or your calendar if it identifies a time-sensitive task) and get to work. There are many ways to decide what your Next Action should be, but here’s a popular method for doing this:

  • Context: Are you at home? Working remotely? What can you best put your mind to in the context you’re currently in?
  • Time available: Is your day packed full of meetings? Or do you have a solid focus block to work on a more intense task?
  • Energy available: 4PM on a Friday is probably not the best time to start work on that big monster task that’ll move that important project forward. If you’re in tune with your energy levels, take that into account when deciding what to work on.
  • Priority: Which projects are crucial? Which tasks can be backlogged for a bit? This step involves a lot of communication with other teams, so make sure to stay in touch with people affected by your work.

And that’s the Getting Things Done methodology in a (big) nutshell. Just remember to capture everything that’s on your mind, clarify whether it’s actionable or not, organize your work items, reflect on your work, and finally engage with what needs to get done. Now let’s dive into how you can use Asana as your one-stop-shop for this whole process.

How to use Asana with this methodology

While you can use any number of work management tools and make them work for the Getting Things Done methodology, Asana has some features that make it uniquely suited to this methodology.

Use the My Tasks view to capture everything

Asana’s My Tasks view shows you every single task that’s assigned to you, no matter what project they’re in. This essentially performs the capture stage of this methodology for you; everything that exists in the tool that you’re attached to is kept in one place. You can swap between a list and calendar view, so you can either see what was most recently assigned to you first or have a holistic view of what you’re responsible for each month.

Multi-home tasks

Asana has a built-in ability to keep tasks synced up between Asana projects. No matter where a task originates, you can add it to another project so that it’s visible in both. For the Getting Things Done methodology, create an Asana project for any actionable item requiring more than two steps. Then you can grab those steps from multiple Asana projects and keep them in one place. That makes the reflect and engage steps of the methodology easier to act on.

Stay in the loop by adding yourself as a collaborator

Just because you delegate a task doesn’t mean you want it completely out of your mind. If you want to keep track of a task you’ve delegated (maybe because one of your Next Actions is dependent on it) you don’t have to stay assigned to it. Add yourself as a collaborator and you’ll get an email update whenever something happens to that task. This is a good way of clearing up your My Tasks capture bucket without losing track of everything you care about.

Abuse tags and custom fields to choose what you engage on

One of the key steps to choosing which actionable items to engage on is determining your resources, time, and context. So why not use labels to identify these metrics? Or better yet, you can use custom fields with multiple options, so that people assigning you a task pre-build their work estimate into your tasks. This is something our marketing team does in our marketing triage project; when someone makes a request, they’re expected to estimate the amount of work required. This makes choosing what to focus on a breeze (especially when it comes to identifying two-minute tasks).

How to upgrade this methodology with Unito

While Asana is a great tool to pair with the Getting Things Done methodology, what happens when your organization uses more than one tool? The My Tasks view is no good if you also need to jump into multiple tools to capture all your tasks.

Unito is a workflow management platform that lets you integrate multiple disparate tools, turning them into a single collaborative environment. That means tasks from Trello, Jira, and ClickUp can be pulled into Asana, or whatever tool you choose.

Building a workflow with your preferred tools can be done in just a few clicks, and you can ensure that everything you’re responsible for ends up in the tool you need. Curious how it works? Check out our blog post on the personal to-do list workflow, which overlaps with this methodology.

Get things done

The Getting Things Done methodology can help you make sense of the flurry of requests you get on a daily basis. By building simple buckets for the things you need to take care of, the things you need to delegate, and the things you need to get rid of, you can bring some order to the chaos. With some of Asana’s features, you can apply this system to your work easily. And when you add in Unito, you can work this way no matter how many tools your organization is using.

What’s next?

  1. Learn how to get things done with the personal to-do list workflow.
  2. See how Unito is shaping the flow of work.
  3. Ready to start? Try Unito free for 14 days!