GTD for Teachers

David Allen’s organizational system Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (those in the know call it “GTD”) promises stress-free productivity. Doesn’t that sound good right about now?

GTD is different from classic time management in a couple of ways:

  • First, instead of working from the top down (…where you want to be in ten years… all the frameworks…), GTD builds from action steps.
  • Second, rather than focusing on keeping tabs on all the things you need to think about and handle, GTD focuses on getting all those things off your mind.

These are the characteristics that make this system so refreshing for this hectic time of year.gtd processing diagram

The basic steps for GTD are these:

  • Collection: all the papers you have to deal with, things you think of that you don’t want to forget, memos and forms that cross your desk and fill your mailbox, emails and voice mails and shouts down the hallway — everything — goes into a single in-box. It can be an electronic in-box (I like Microsoft Outlook with the GTD add-in, but TaDa List is a good free option), a sound-based one (tape recorder or even your cell phone), or an old-fashioned basket and a notepad and pen. The key here is that every single thing goes into the in-box. You don’t think about it, worry about it, try to remember it for later, or have to search for it. When something comes up, it goes into the in-box and then you don’t fret over it. David Allen calls this “ubiquitous capture,” which I’ve always thought would make a good  band name.
  • Processing: The thing that makes it possible for you not to worry about all that stuff is your knowledge that you will be sorting it out soon. So you make time for processing that in-box at the end or beginning of the day, on Monday morning — whatever your personal circumstances require, but you make a habit of it. Processing means going through the stack and applying the following steps to your stuff:

Here’s where a lot of people get overwhelmed and panicky. Not us; we’re teachers, so we can do graphic organizers. Click on it to get a nice big copy and print it out. Then you pick up each thing in the in-box and spend a few seconds asking the questions. Let me break it down:

  • Do you need to do something about it? If not, file it (if you’ll need it again) or toss it.
  • Is it more than a one-step process? If so, add it to your projects list or file. When you do this, you should take a moment to decide what your next action step — actual physical action — on this project should be, and add that to your “next actions” or to-do list.
  • If it’s just one step, you have three options. You can delegate it to someone else. If it will take you less than 2 minutes, you can go ahead and do it. Or you can defer it — write it on your calendar if it needs to be done on a specific date, and on your “next actions” or to-do list if it isn’t time-sensitive.

GTD work flow

(Alternatively, waste a little time laughing at the Procrastination Flowchart.)

  • Action: Now that you have your list of next action steps, you go ahead and take action. Allen claims that, without having all that stuff cluttering up your mind, you will be able to decide on the fly which action is the highest priority. If you aren’t comfortable with that, you can prioritize your list. However, since you are capturing everything as it comes up and processing it quickly according to whether it needs doing and what aspect of it needs doing next, you may find that a glance at your calendar and actions list is all it takes to get you started on the next important task.

More online:

  • GTD for Teachers planner pages from DIY Planner let you print out and construct your own perfect planner.
  • Corrie Haffly has colorful forms you can print out.
  • GTD fans love the Moleskine notebooks.
  • David Allen’s website has plenty of free resources on the subject.
  • A post on Failing at GTD helps you foresee and short-circuit the things that might keep the system from working for you.

Let me leave you with a quote from David Allen that seems to me to be particularly relevant for teachers:

“If you walk into anywhere and want to get more control, all you really need to do is a version of collect. That is I need to sit down and just get everything that has my attention or the attention of everybody in the group I’m trying to get [in] control.”

If you taught your students to respond to distraction by writing down the things that occurred to them or caught their attention and then getting right back on task, how much less time would you waste in your classroom? Could you use word cards to collect all the little issues that arise, put them in your pocket chart so students won’t worry that they’ll be forgotten, and take a few minutes before lunch every day for processing time? Try it and see how the class stress level sinks.


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