GTD in Gmail

What Is GTD?

  • One of the best selling productivity books of all time, by David Allen, helping (mainly executives) be stress-free and strategic with their time.

What Is Breef?

  • A Gmail addon that makes GTD easier. It turns your inbox into a smooth-scrolling feed for rapid organizing, and reduces lots of newsletters down into a handful of calm topics that you can complete on your schedule.


  • We don’t succeed because our brain is distracted worrying about too many details at once.
  • Our email inbox is the worst offender for sucking up our brain-space. The inbox clutters important things, it’s a jungle habitat of everything-ness. We worry that if don’t do email right now it’ll disappear and we’ll forget.


  • Get everything out of your brain and into a list. ‘Make your mind like water’. ‘Your brain is for having ideas, not holding them’.

  • Don’t let interruptions distract you from your chosen goal. Just rapidly capture incoming tasks into a simple inbox, and schedule calendar blocks to later covert it into task lists.

  • Always be ready for what’s next. Group your tasks into projects, and for each project, have a Next Action for when you come back to it.

  • Have environmental triggers: know when & where a task can be done. Give it a deadline or a context (e.g. ‘office’, ‘car’, ‘shops’), and check those lists as you move.

  • Delegate to clear your mind, but never forget. When you make the ask, mark it as ‘Waiting On’: it’s your list of everything you’re expecting other people to complete.

  • Schedule a Weekly Review. Prune prune and only do the things that make you brilliant.

    • Keep a ‘50,000ft’ perspective of the most important things you want to achieve in life, and check each task in your lists are still true to it.
    • Chase anyone you’re Waiting On who hasn’t yet come back.
    • Make sure every project has a Next Action.
    • Clear out things that are no longer relevant.
    • Move low-value things into a Some Day list that you can revisit if you ever have the time.
  • Email is so painful that GTD gives a lot of tips for it…

    • Check your inbox fast, but do your email slow. Realistically, we have to keep on top of our inbox. But that doesn’t mean we have to let it interrupt us. Split email activity into two distinct workflows:
      • Triage: the frequent act of prioritizing and clearing your inbox.
      • Do: Schedule calendar time to do email. Even better, schedule calendar time per project so you stay focused on one goal at a time.
    • To triage effectively in Gmail
      • Use Gmail Labels or Stars. Move emails into labels such as ToDo and WaitingOn. You almost certainly also want a label per project. Later, do a Gmail search for “label:ProjectX label:ToDo” to see your work.

      • Take a look at our sister Gmail addon, ActiveInbox. It’s designed to be the ultimate GTD experience in Gmail. It gives you a trusted way to do things later, prioritized and never forgotten.

      • If you work in a team, move tasks out of the inbox and into other apps (so you can all see the same information in one place). Most apps have a Gmail integration, e.g. Asana.

      • The per-email decision that GTD made famous is to:

        • Delete if it’s just junk.
        • Do if you can act or reply in under 2 minutes.
        • Delegate if you can and flag it so you’re reminded to chase in your Weekly Review (e.g. a WaitingOn label)
        • Defer until your mind is ready if the email task is hard. This is where to use Gmail Labels or Stars, or an integration.

        Whichever you choose, archive it out of your inbox to hit Inbox Zero.


  • Breef lets you keep up with your inbox so quickly and lightly it barely interrupts what you’re actually doing.

    Why? Because it removes friction and cognitive load. There’s no need to choose the next email to read, nothing to click, and you’re encouraged to skim read just enough to make a decision.

    Gmail is even blurred out so you’re not tempted into distraction.

  • With Breef you’ll have fewer tasks to do. It reduces many newsletters down to just a handful of topics. Stop bouncing around from Groupon to Seth Godin to Tim Ferris, start blocking time for ‘productivity inspiration’, ‘marketing tips’, ‘discounts’, etc.

Key Lessons

  • Harvard University estimates we lose 1-2 hours a day to distractions, and the University of London found constant online interruptions (even if we ignore them) reduce our IQ by 10 points.

    Our digital realm - and email especially - is overwhelming our ability to live a life in control.

  • Breef dramatically speeds up your inbox triaging, so you can minimize distractions.

  • Breef brings lasting order to your inbox. Make a little effort to tidy up now, and your topics will stay organised forevermore.

Next Level

  • Take a look at our other Gmail addon, ActiveInbox. It was designed for properly doing GTD in Gmail. It gives you perfect control over your inbox: box emails into projects and due dates, so they’re off your mind but never missed.
  • Give yourself permission to also halve the time of your replies: add a sentence to your signature to say “I try to write emails in under 3 sentences to respect the value of our time.”.


  • “Isn’t all this Gmail labelling just creating more work for email?”

    Just as cooking is faster if you clean the surfaces before you start, so it is with email. A little bit of effort in prioritising things up front means you can spend the rest of the day with a clear mind.

  • “Isn’t GTD quite pedantic with ’ticklers’ and ’next actions’ for everything?”

    It can be as advanced as you want to make it, but its core is simple: put everything that matters on a list that stays manageable, so you can stop worrying about it.

    How does it stay manageable? The thing that really makes GTD work is the ‘Weekly Review’. Just a scheduled block for 20 minutes on a Friday to reprioritise things that matter, and drop things you’ll realistically never do into the ‘Some Day’ graveyard.

Be briefed, briefly, to be brilliant