GTD® Step 1: Collection

We are continuing our series on The Concepts of GTD®, using our one page graphic which can be found here. In our previous post, we gave an overview of the key benefits of GTD® and a snapshot of the five steps of the system:

1. Collection
2. Processing
3. Organizing
4. Doing
5. Reviewing

Let’s get started with the first step: Collection.


Collect all of your files, papers, projects, tasks and ideas. The GTD collection habit frees up your mind from having to remember so many things and eliminates the guilt of unprocessed inbox items by clarifying the work choices you are making. The result of collection is an Inbox of files, papers, projects, tasks and ideas.

An integral part of the efficacy of GTD is getting all of your flies, papers, projects, tasks and ideas out of your head and into the GTD system so you don’t need to worry about them when you’re not addressing them. You’ll need a good block of time, a few hours is optimal, an inbox receptacle and a half inch stack of paper and a pen/pencil.

Collect everything from your physical environment that doesn’t permanently belong where it is, other than supplies, reference materials, decorations and equipment and place it in you inbox. If the item is too large to fit in your inbox, write a note with the date, the description of the item and its location and place the note in your inbox. If your inbox overflows, and it most likely will, make piles around it or near it. If something is obviously trash, dump it now. Start with your desktop. Then move on to your desk drawers, counter tops, cabinets, floors, walls and shelves.

One of the tricky parts of Collection is resisting the urge to process or do something once you come across it. Try to remain focused on the idea that you are only collecting items, in the next steps, you will process and do them. The efficacy of GTD® is based, to a large extent, on first getting EVERYTHING into your inbox so that you aren’t worried about things that you don’t have in front of you.

After you have gathered all of the physical things around you that need to be processed, it’s time to turn to the mental ones. Write each and every thought that you have about things that need to be done on a separate piece of paper and place each sheet in your inbox. This process can take between 20-75 minutes. The more you can get out of your head and into your inbox the merrier, you may later end up throwing some sheets away but the idea is to completely sweep your mind clean. Finally, you need to get all of the emails and voice mails that reside on your communications system into the inbox.

By the time you have completed the collection process, everything in your life, up to this point in time, that needs to get done should be in your inbox. Now that we have filled the inbox, in our next installment, we will talk about getting “in” to empty.

Get our weekly Brevedy Email: