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Using the iPad for GTD

Does the iPad’s mobility mean that GTD can really get things done?

David Allen’s Getting Things Done productivity system has always felt as though it added work rather than saved time. The complex system of multiple folders, workflow and priority setting has long appealed to geeks and nerds with a knack for organization. For more typical freelancers, though, the kind of people who tend to make do with whiteboard lists, flagged emails and missed deadlines, GTD always seemed too fiddly and too time-consuming to become a part of a fast-moving day. The popularity of the iPad, though, might just have changed all that. With 85 percent of US tablet owners playing with their devices as the same time as they watch television and 30 percent of all iPad time spent in front of the box, it’s now possible — even easy — for iPad owners to turn their evening relaxation into a productive hour organizing their work and preparing for the next day.

You will need to use the right app, though, and here you’re going to be spoilt for choice. The App Store offers about 1,167 list-making apps that range from the general but popular Evernote to Santa’s list, shopping lists and anime lists. Choose the wrong one and you won’t do much for your workflow but you might be able to zip around the grocery store a little faster. Here are a number of apps and a workflow that can make your GTD-based productivity a bit more useful.


OmniFocus is the app that David Allen himself recommends. In addition to listing all of the tasks you need to complete — something that the iPad’s own Reminders app  can do — the app also lets you provide contexts for tasks so that you can see the jobs you need to complete in the supermarket, when you’re downtown or as you’re stepping into the office. A Forecast section provides a preview — some might call it a nagging reminder — of the tasks coming up next. And, of course, you can have plenty of fun sorting your actions into projects and folders, an essential element of the GTD experience.

With a testimonial from David Allen, not to mention a five-star ranking from more than 50 reviewers, OmniFocus should be all a GTD-inclined organizer needs. Even Rob Corddry of The Daily Show has said that the app is an essential part of his workflow. But priced at $39.99, it’s one of the most expensive apps in the App Store, and you’ll need to pay another $79.99 for a Mac version, although the versions will at least sync automatically.

That makes OmniFocus an option only for dedicated David Allen fans who know what they want and have the funds to pay for it. Other freelancers will need to keep looking.


Also popular with GTD followers is Wunderlist — and not just because it’s free. The app’s multi-platform functionality — with free versions available for PC, Mac, Linux, Blackberry and Android as well as iPad — makes it feel a lot like Evernote but without that app’s recipe-building flexibility. Wunderlist, in fact, is a fairly simple list-making app.

You can add notes to each task. You can search through your tasks and you can prioritize tasks by adding an asterisk and placing them on a calendar. But categorization is only done by creating different lists. That might make the app useful for freelancers who want to keep track of all the different tasks that that they have to complete for different clients. But for GTD followers looking for all of the multiple folders and prioritization options that David Allen recommends, Wunderlist’s inability to grade tasks and move them easily from one list to another might make it too simple — at least for now. 6Wunderkinder, the company behind Wunderlist, is now working on Wunderkit, a collaborative tool that allows teams to share notes, tasks, profiles and other productivity tools. It might move the app further from David Allen’s teachings, which are geared towards individual workers, but expect GTD-inclined clients to ask you to sign up.


GTD isn’t just about making and prioritizing lists of tasks; it’s also a way of organizing a day. Blogger and photographer Patrick Ng has adapted his Chronodex system — a way of dividing a day into prioritized segments rather than into vertical sections — to David Allen’s GTD system. After initially offering Chronodex pages as free downloads that can be printed and assembled into planners, he’s now created versions suitable for some iPad note-taking apps.

The pages work particularly well with Noteshelf and Ghostwriter Notes. To use them, you’ll need to:

  1. Download the Chronodex Daily GTD for GhostWriter Notes JPG from Box, and save the image in your photo roll.
  2. Open Noteshelf or Ghostwriter Notes.
  3. Create a new notebook.
  4. When asked to select paper, choose the Chronodex page from your photo roll.

You’ll then be free to draw on the lists you’ve created in your other apps and place them, using a stylus, around your Chronodex.

Easy iPad GTD

All of these apps can help a freelancer employ GTD, even as they’re watching television. But Omnifocus is broad but expensive, Wunderlist is cheap but limited and Chronodex takes some getting used to. In practice, though, it is possible to employ GTD using the kind of common apps you’re likely to be familiar with anyway. Emanuele Castagno, author of Time Management with GTD and iPad offers a workflow that consists of:

  1. Is the task actionable? If no: trash it; add it to a “some day/maybe” list on Apple’s Reminders app; or place it in a Reference section in Evernote.
  2. If yes: create a new project in Evernote if multiple actions are required; do it if it takes less than two minutes; delegate it by adding to a “waiting for” list in Reminders; or place it in the Calendar linked to the Reminders list.

It’s simple, it doesn’t use any paid apps and you should be able to do it in the time it takes to finish watching the commercials.


  1. turfstuf Says:

    Remember the Milk works great with GTD. It isn't free but the paid version runs with iOS, Android, Outlook, email and browser so "capturing" is easy. Somebody wrote a whitepaper on how to set up RTM for GTD. It saved me a lot of time and contexts such as @phone, @home, @office, etc., work perfectly. Highly recommend it.

  2. tech Says:

    Have you read one of David Allen's books which teaches GTD? I ask because there is a strong emphasis in his teachings that people must develop their own systems. Multiple folders may work well for one person but a whiteboard or email may be best for others. He specifically recommends against prioritizing. Your first paragraph suggest otherwise.

    My systems have taken an incredible amount of time and energy to create but payoff significantly in the long run. I design new ones as job responsibilities change. They help avoid loss of important and time-sensitive information and save me time in many different ways. Given a different job or a different brain I could definitely see simply using email or a whiteboard for GTD purposes.

    Just saying, it sounds like you have GTD pigeonholed as a strict discipline when, as David Allen teaches it, it is actually a set of guidelines and lists of procedures that have worked for others. If I sound a bit zealous about this it is because I have watched supervisors and directors attempt to standardize time management in departments several times with the same results. It takes a lot to get them to buy into the "the same isn't going to work for everyone" mantra.

  3. Samia Says:

    I also use my iPad for GTD. I'd like to recommend a great GTD application which integrated an interesting concept; saving time from your notes. This app, Beesy, generates automatically ToDo lists from a smart note taking. Also, the advantage is you can easily generate professional minutes from your notes and send them by email. Besides, you can browse your ToDo by actions,projects or people. You save a lot of time at meetings.
    I strongly recommend Beesy for people which often have meetings and want to appreciate them again 😉

  4. Mirelle Says:

    I'd love to recommend the SmartTM app. It's based on GTD and wors smoothly with Evernote and other services. It's really simple to manage notes and create them using your EN account, this is totally great!
    I've tried some other apps (including those from the list) and for me SmartTM beats them right from the very start!

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