Getting Things Done with Amplenote

Recently, I was introduced to the productivity method Getting Things Done by David Allen. Until now, I have received most of my best productivity tips through the Tim Ferris Podcast and his interviews with highly successful individuals. Well wouldn't you know it, a couple days after hearing about GTD, Tim released a new episode with David Allen. Before listening to the podcast, I had already watched this Ted Talk, then read his book, and his blog. I now feel fully equipped to be a productivity master and pass my knowledge onto you.

Truth be told, simply reading about Getting Things Done, and the GTD methods that David Allen suggests, is not enough.

link“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small, manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one. —Mark Twain”

Like most strategies, it only works when implemented correctly. David Allen has said a few times that the tool you use doesn't matter. Therefore, there is no best GTD app. It's a paradox, "The less the tool matters (the more you understand the methodology) the more the tool matters". Tools are fun and filled with features that are cool, but most features are simply extra and won't actually apply to the methodology you are using. Thankfully Amplenote was built with GTD in mind, and provides multiple features that make implementing this methodology easier and cleaner.

In order to increase my productivity I started implementing the systems laid out by David Allen. This includes capturing thoughts, clarifying them, organizing each task, reflecting on the lists, and finally engaging. With these steps in mind I started by brainstorming. Writing down each thought that arose allowed me to finish some easy tasks, clarify what I should be working on, and better plan for the future.

Now I have daily lists for things that I should look at each day including my brainstorm, work todo, personal todo and goals. I also have weekly and monthly lists for broader projects and goals that I need to remind myself of on a regular basis but don't need to take up space in my mind.

What I found was that with a clearer head, I am able to focus on one thing at a time, without the need to worry that I am missing something. As an incessant worrier, this was difficult, but ultimately rewarding.

linkWith that in mind here's how Amplenote can help with Getting Things Done, with features designed using the GTD method.


linkGTD Method 1: Capture:


link“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” ― David Allen

The first step in the GTD method is to capture everything that is in your head, without judgement or action. Simply to document our endless stream of consciousness holding everything we need, should, and want to be doing. By writing these down, one can free their mind of the clutter and leave room to focus one item at a time.

If you have a monkey mind like me this can be harder than it sounds. To be honest it's overwhelming. David recommends cutting out a 6-8 hour block of time to spend on this. For most people, a 6-8 hour block of time is a dream and not a reality. While I have blocked out a few times for brainstorming, those times are often filled with mostly random thoughts, and haven't been as productive as I expected (likely from only spending 6% of the recommended time).

This is where the quick todo feature comes in handy. Thoughts of inspiration or tasks that need completed can come at any point in the day. For me this is often late at night when I am in bed. This is not the most convenient time by any means and I don't want to sit at my computer filling my in tray. However, like many others my phone is always next to me, and so I open up Amplenote App and add a quick todo.

While pen and paper can take away the distractions that come with being on the internet, I find it easier to have a digital copy for step 2.

linkGTD Method 2: Clarify

linkOverwhelm comes from not clarifying what your intended outcome is, not deciding what the very next action is, and not reminding yourself of your intended outcome and action. - David Allen

Go through the in tray and for each task ask yourself these questions:

Is it actionable?

If yes, write down what the action is. I find it helpful to add supporting details.

If not, then it either needs more clarification, or to be put on the back burner.

If you can't put it on the back burner then it's actionable and you need to clarify what that action is.

What is the next action?

"is it a phone call to make, a website to surf, a conversation to have with your life partner, a document you need to draft or edit? What is it? What’s the very next thing you need to do? - David Allen

If you can complete the action in less than 2 minutes, just do it! . Unless you are unable to in that moment, this is the most efficient way to keep your list clean so you can block out time to focus on the most important tasks.

Can it be delegated?

Time is our most valuable asset and face it, we aren't always the best person to accomplish the task at hand. If there is someone who can do it better, or you have an assistant who can manage it, don't let it take up space in your mind or on your lists.

If the next action will not finish the task, then it is a project. Determine the outcome and fill in the steps that you'll need to take to get there. This is where Step 3 comes in.

linkGTD Method 3: Organize

link “You don't actually do a project; you can only do action steps related to it. When enough of the right action steps have been taken, some situation will have been created that matches your initial picture of the outcome closely enough that you can call it "done".

link-- David Allen

This is the most ambiguous step of them all. You can choose to organize things in whichever way that works for you. For me as an Amplenote user, this came in the form of tags, quick actions, and task points:


When you have the option to have unlimited notes, they get real messy real fast. Keyword searching is great, but it can only get you so far. The great thing about tagging is that you can add multiple tags to one note. For example, keep a GTD note that has all your capture notes, project notes, and todo lists.

After a couple attempts at organizing, what worked for me was #daily, #weekly and #monthly tags. These tags are added in addition to the #product or #todo tags. They structure the notes so that you know what needs to be looked at and when.

According to David Allen, the four primary actions lists are:


Next Actions

Waiting For

Calendar (for time-specific actions, day-specific actions, and day-specific information only)

linkQuick Actions:

Instead of having a specific calendar note for time specific actions, I use the Quick Actions feature on Amplenote. For example:

Collect monthly data on the first of each month

This task is set to repeat on the first of each month. This feature is also great for hiding tasks that don't need your attention until a certain date. For example:

Since I know Mom is having surgery next week, I want to make sure I remember to call her, but that doesn't need to take up space on my list or in my brain until then.

David also recommends keeping a someday/maybe list for projects/actions that you want to complete in the future but have no specific time frame. This can include things like:

Learn to dance salsa

Try the new restaurant that opened around the corner

linkTask Score:

The task score is a feature designed to help prioritize your daily todo list. This feature is based off the Eisenhower matrix, which you can read more about in this blog by our CEO Bill. The main idea is that you can prioritize based on if an item is Important, Urgent, a combination of the two, or neither. These properties can be set using the quick actions feature. In addition to the priority and urgency, task points take into account when the item is "due" or how long it's been since the item was created.

linkGTD Method 4: Reflect

link“Everything you’ve told yourself you ought to do, your mind thinks you should do right now. Frankly, as soon add you have two things to do stored in your RAM, you’ve generated personal failure, because you can’t do two things at the same time. This produces an all-pervasive stress factor whose source can’t be pin-pointed.”

link― David Allen

The reflect stage is simple. Take some time daily to look at your lists and make sure that they accurately reflect what you need to be working on. Not all of your lists need to be looked at daily. David recommends looking at your project list once a week. This is also a good time to examine the task core and use the points to guide your prioritization.

By reflecting on your written tasks, you can free your mind during the day to not worry about those tasks. The most important tasks should be moved to your daily todo list where you can mark them off that day.

Many times tasks will become outdated. During your review process you can remove these tasks to free up space on your list and in your mind.

This step is also useful for reviewing your someday/maybe tasks. These only need to be looked at on a weekly/monthly basis, but you may find that some time has opened up and you can fit one of these tasks into your schedule.

linkGTD Method 5: Engage

link“If you don't pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves.” ― David Allen

Once you have completed the first four steps you will be able to complete the engage step. It's as simple as going to do what you need to do at that time. This decision is dependent on:

Where you are

How much time you have

How much energy you have

Where your priorities should be

It is important that you have consistently completed steps 1-4 so that you are confident that you are completing the task that needs to be done at that time. Then watch as your task score productivity graph increases.

There you go. Now you have the secret to Getting Things Done, and how Amplenote is built to be your GTD App. Now go Capture, Clarify, Organize, Reflect, and Engage all those task that take up your mental energy during the day. If you are looking for the right tool, try out Amplenote and use the suggested features to Get Things Done.

Plot twist

Thanks for stopping by the Amplenote blog. Did you know that the content of this "blog post" is just a plain old note, lifted from the author's Amplenote notebook? Rich footnotes, industry-leading to-do lists, and a security-first mindset make us a solid option for modern writers. Try it out yourself.


Adam P. said 5 months ago

Hey Kevin, Thanks for writing this note. It is helpful to hear about how you are implementing GTD inside of Amplenote. I am curious about your use of multiple tags and how you keep a list of "Active Projects".

Do you utilize the GTD Notes with multiple tags as a directory or is there something specific about the tag structure?

Also — I have experimented with keeping a directory of "Active Projects" just by linking them in the note. Have you experimented with this?

brunofonseca said 5 months ago

As much as I see other applications, test, and see other people's application, looking logically and rationally, the amplenote makes perfect sense in everyday life. It naturally eliminates several barriers of use, ie the system is actually focused on thinking, organizing, planning and executing.