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Getting Things Done (GTD) in Wunderlist

Updated on July 1, 2016
Jonathan Wylie profile image

Jonathan is a certified teacher who taught in the UK & the US. He now works as a Digital Learning consultant for Grant Wood AEA.

Going Digital With GTD

Tell me if this sounds familiar. You are busier today than you ever have been, and the lines between work and home are irrevocably blurred. You have countless things to do and there never seems to be enough time to do even half of them. Your brain is full of things that you don't want to forget and you have little time for original thoughts or spontaneous acts of creativity. So, you make lists, but more often that not, the lists that you create to ease your anxiety simply add to it.

Sound familiar? If so, you are not alone. This was me before I started my journey with a life-changing system called Getting Things Done, (GTD). It is a system that was created by David Allen to fix all the above problems, and for many people, including myself, it is nothing less than a godsend. The book was originally published almost 15 years ago, and was very much based around a paper-centric system with physical files and folders to help you organize your life. A new edition has recently been released to bring it up to date with the latest advances in technology.

However, for me, the new version of the book did not quite go far enough. Why? The system is rock solid, and works as well as ever, but I use very little paper on a day-to-day basis so I needed something to help me implement GTD in a purely digital environment. In short, I needed to be paperless. There are lots of digital tools that are capable of facilitating this, but after much deliberation, I settled on Wunderlist.

What follows is an explanation of how I use Wunderlist to implement GTD in my workflow. It's not a summary of how to get started with Getting Things Done. Instead, it is one example of a digital implementation. Yours may look different. This is, in many regards, a personal take on Getting Things Done, but it's faithful to the original concept.

Why Wunderlist? Why Now?

I have been using Wunderlist as a task manager for a number of years now, but it is only recently I decided that it would be the perfect fit for my GTD mission. Why? My criteria was short, but at the same time, demanding. Here's what I wanted:

  1. Ease of use
  2. Cross-platform
  3. Great design
  4. Reminders/Due Dates
  5. Free to use

I looked at a lot of tools, but only Wunderlist was able to meet the majority of my needs the majority of the time. I love that I can access it anywhere, and on any device. However, equally important is that it just works. There are very few, if any, bugs or problems with syncing between devices. For me, that means I trust it 100%. That level of trust is key to any GTD implementation.

An Overview of Wunderlist

Making Lists for a GTD System

I used to have a large number of lists in Wunderlist. Now, I have seven. Each list is in some way based on the lists that are recommended by David Allen in his book. They are:

  • Inbox
  • Projects
  • Next Actions: Work
  • Next Actions: Other
  • Waiting For
  • Someday/Maybe
  • Read/Watch Later

If you have used the GTD system, the lists above should look familiar to you. I split "Next Actions" in to Work and Other, which essentially means work and home, but I have a lot of things going on outside of both home and work, so I decided to name this list with a suitably generic label.

The "Read/Watch Later" list is something I considered using Pocket for. Pocket is a free, cross-platform bookmarking tool that lets you save things to read later from almost any device. So in many respects, this would be the ideal tool but I wanted to keep this list of links closer to home base, and a visible part of the weekly review, so I made a list for them in Wunderlist. Most of the items in this list are pages from websites, but you can add PDFs and other files as you need to.

I did, however, resort to one outside tool to complete my GTD setup. For project support materials I use OneNote, mainly because this often consists of web links and the Add to Wunderlist browser extension only lets you add things to a list, as opposed to a task. I also couldn't think of a way to organize everything I needed in Wunderlist without compromising the next steps mantra that is associated with ongoing projects. OneNote lets you add notes, web clippings, data files, audio recordings and more with ease, and it works on multiple devices.

Screenshot of Wunderlist for the Web
Screenshot of Wunderlist for the Web | Source

Collecting Tasks With Wunderlist

There are many ways to capture your thoughts, ideas and resources in Wunderlist. If I am on my smartphone or tablet, I use the Wunderlist mobile app. Wunderlist has apps for iPhone, iPad, Android, and Kindle Fire, so there is an app available for each of the most popular mobile platforms. There is also an app for Macs and one for Windows too. Chrome and Chrome OS users can take advantage of the packaged Chrome desktop app that works offline as well as online.

Another great way to get things into your Wunderlist is the Add to Wunderlist browser extension that is available for Chrome, Firefox and Safari. With just a click of your mouse, you can quickly add web based content to your Inbox. You can also use Add to Wunderlist on iOS through the sharing menu if you have iOS 8, or later, installed on your device.

Lastly, the Mail to Wunderlist feature lets you send an email to your straight to your Wunderlist Inbox. Once you enable Mail to Wunderlist in your account settings, you can send any email to your list by forwarding it to me@wunderlist.com. If you send it from the email address that is associated with your Wunderlist account, it will magically appear in your Inbox with the subject title of the email as the task, while the body of the email will be added as a note. Mail to Wunderlist can be great for forwarding emails that you want to turn into tasks.

Outlook users can also use Wunderlist for Outlook. This simple add-in does very much the same thing, but gives you a lot more control over what list your add the email to. Wunderlist for Outlook is available for Outlook 2013 or later, as well as Outlook on the web. Learn more here.

How to Use Add to Wunderlist

Organizing Tasks in Wunderlist

All tasks, thoughts and ideas that I add to Wunderlist start my Inbox. This is my "catch all" bucket. Everything goes in here, no matter how random the thought. The Inbox items are then sorted into other lists when I have time. Some tasks are trashed if they are no longer relevant or actionable. Project materials rarely make it to my Inbox because I add them straight to OneNote instead.

I use the sub-tasks in Wunderlist to add next steps for Projects. Occasionally I will also use the notes section to give more detail or explanation about the nature of the project, but this is not something I do a lot. If you want, you can add files to tasks in Wunderlist. The free version limits you to a maximum file size of 5Mb, but Wunderlist Pro removes this restriction.

Reminders and due dates can be added to tasks or projects that need it. David Allen talks about keeping time sensitive tasks exclusively in your calendar, but mine end up in both places due to the Wunderlist Calendar Feed URL that can be used to add your tasks to Outlook, iCal, Google Calendar or other web based calendars automatically.

Access your account settings on the web to find your calendar feed
Access your account settings on the web to find your calendar feed | Source

Contexts

In the GTD system, contexts are the ability to sort your tasks by type, depending on the mood, location or time you have available. In Wunderlist, I use hashtags to designate my contexts. At various points I will have contexts like #mileage, #phonecall, #email, #blogpost, #hubpages, etc. All you need to do is add a hashtag to the task that you input, and Wunderlist will let you sort by a specific hashtag simply by clicking or tapping on the one you want to see. This displays all the tasks with that hashtag and lets you work on a targeted group of tasks. It's quick and efficient.

A Place for Everything and Everything in its Place

Wunderlist was recently been acquired by Microsoft, but it's business as usual for this popular productivity app. Microsoft have stated that they are committed to keeping the app running and to update it with new features in the near future, so that is definitely good news given how much time and trust you need to invest in a GTD app.

Wunderlist is a natural fit for GTD, but at the same time I realize that something this important will always be a matter of personal preference. Other options are listed in the poll below, but I would love to hear what works best for you in the comments section.

Have Your Say! Vote for Your Favorite GTD App

What is your favorite digital tool for implementing a GTD system?

See results

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    • profile image

      Aaron 2 months ago

      GQueues when using Google Apps was so great. Miss it having Outlook now.

    • Jonathan Wylie profile image
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      Jonathan Wylie 9 months ago from Iowa, USA

      Great question Razvan. I have used both Evernote and OneNote, but still prefer OneNote for several reasons.

      1. The free version of Evernote only syncs across two devices. OneNote syncs across all my devices for free. I use Mac, Windows, iPads and iPhone pretty regularly so need to be able to switch between whatever device I am using.

      2. I actually prefer the OneNote UI to Evernote, so for me, OneNote is simpler and easier to find the stuff I need. I never really felt that Evernote were happy with their app design, particularly on iOS, because that has changed several times, (a new version is out today!). OneNote is more consistent with design so easier for me to navigate.

      3. I don't scan very many documents, but the OneNote app on iOS has Office Lens technology built-in and that does decent scans of documents or whiteboards.

      4. OneNote does let you email content too: https://blogs.office.com/2014/03/17/email-your-not...

      There are lots of similarities between these services. If anything, I wish the sync was a little faster with OneNote, but I don't really have any problems.

    • profile image

      Razvan Rogoz 9 months ago

      Thank you.

      I'm reading GTD at this moment and I was looking for a specific guide on implementing it in Wunderlist. I'm going to start implementing right now. I don't know if Wunderlist is the perfect tool for it but it is versatile. I've tried GTD about five years ago, using the paper version and it required a rather large amount of customization.

      However, I'm sure that I can make Wunderlist work.

      Thank you for your effort.

      One question though - why do you prefer OneNote as opposed to Evernote? Evernote is ...

      - Faster (performance wise).

      - Simpler to use.

      - Simplified workflow.

      - Has useful features like document scanning (which works surprisingly good).

      - You can send documents directly to Evernote.

      - Last but not least, it is free (or at least, the basic version is free).

      I may be biased because I'm using MacOS and Microsoft products for MacOS are not the best but I'm really curious to understand your perspective in picking OneNote.

      Best regards,

      Razvan

    • Jonathan Wylie profile image
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      Jonathan Wylie 10 months ago from Iowa, USA

      Yes. It has been a life saver for me too! :)

    • profile image

      Rohit Kakar 10 months ago

      I have been using DGT GTD for 3 months now. I would heartily recommend it to anyone who is a classic GTD believer.

    • Jonathan Wylie profile image
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      Jonathan Wylie 11 months ago from Iowa, USA

      Nice! I haven't seen that one before. I love the clean design. Does it sync well across all devices?

    • profile image

      anon 11 months ago

      I use TickTick.

    • Jonathan Wylie profile image
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      Jonathan Wylie 12 months ago from Iowa, USA

      Nice idea. I had not thought of doing in that way before, but I can see how efficient that could be.

    • profile image

      Tom Laget 12 months ago

      I found a different solution to see which project my next action belongs to. I created a Folder called Projects and have a list for each project under this folder. In the different project lists i have my tasks. Instead of manually creating "next action" lists, I use the "* Starred" for my next actions. In all smart-lists all tasks are automatically grouped under its belonging List name so I can see which project it belongs to. That also makes it more efficient as I don't have to move tasks, I just "Star" it and/or sets a due date if necessary.

    • Jonathan Wylie profile image
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      Jonathan Wylie 12 months ago from Iowa, USA

      I know a lot of people who are fans of Nirvana. I am glad that it works well for you :)

    • profile image

      Tom 12 months ago

      Nirvana ist just the best gtd tool.

    • Jonathan Wylie profile image
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      Jonathan Wylie 12 months ago from Iowa, USA

      Agreed. The tool is important, but the system is the key. Find a tool that works the way you want it to, take some time to learn it, and for the most part the tool should become invisible in time. All you should really be worried about is whether your productivity system is working for you or not.

    • stevarino profile image

      Steve Dowell 12 months ago from East Central Indiana

      After receiving a notification from this hub and revisiting it, I decided to download Wunderlist and check it out. When I attempted to setup an account, I was already on it! I'm using it right now but like any tool it takes a little usage to get comfortable with it. I just don't want to get too bogged down with it, I've discovered in the past that you can spend more time planning, documenting and organizing your tasks than actually getting them accomplished. Just thought I throw in my 2 cents!

    • Jonathan Wylie profile image
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      Jonathan Wylie 12 months ago from Iowa, USA

      Here is how I do it. I have a separate list called Projects. Inside of that list I have the name of the projects listed as tasks. My next actions for a project are sub-tasks of the Project task. So it looks like: Projects (list) > Project name (task) > Next Action (sub-task). You can then action a sub-task as you complete it or delete it. Would that work?

    • profile image

      Tom Laget 12 months ago

      I have several projects and when I put a task in Next action, how do I know which project it belongs to?

    • Jonathan Wylie profile image
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      Jonathan Wylie 13 months ago from Iowa, USA

      Yes, I think either duplicating the task in Next Actions, or if you are scheduling it for a specific day you could add it to your calendar. I guess you could also just set a due date for the Project. Make the date for the project the date that the first sub task is due, then reset the Project date for the next sub task when you complete it.

      I dont think either of these options are ideal but maybe due dates for subtasks will come in the future. You can vote for this feature here: https://wunderlist.uservoice.com/forums/136230-wun... so hopefully with enough votes, this feature will arrive soon!

    • profile image

      Jason 13 months ago

      I love the aesthetic of Wunderlist, but one thing edges me toward the comparatively bland Todoist - being able to set different due dates for sub-tasks. If I have a project, but don't want to make it a whole new list, I need to use sub-tasks. The problem though is keeping track of particular tasks that are time sensitive. Would you get around this by duplicating sub-tasks in the next actions list?

    • Jonathan Wylie profile image
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      Jonathan Wylie 13 months ago from Iowa, USA

      Hi Basheer. I am glad you found something that works well for you. The important thing is that you have a tool you can trust 100%.

    • profile image

      Basheer 13 months ago

      Hi, I prefer IQTell, which is very versatile and GTD Friendly

    • Jonathan Wylie profile image
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      Jonathan Wylie 14 months ago from Iowa, USA

      Trello is certainly a good option for many people, but as you may have guessed from this article, I personally am more partial to Wunderlist :)

    • profile image

      Barry Winston 14 months ago

      Trello.

    • Jonathan Wylie profile image
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      Jonathan Wylie 24 months ago from Iowa, USA

      Yes! The Wunderlist add-on for Outlook is a useful recent addition!

    • Andy Schmidt profile image

      Andy Schmidt 24 months ago

      @Stevarino

      If you are like me and you have used Outlook and other Microsoft products a lot, I can recommend the Wunderlist Outlook addon: http://wunderlist.yasoon.com. It fits into the daily office workflow but you also have the benefits of the nice and clean Wunderlist mobile apps.

    • Jonathan Wylie profile image
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      Jonathan Wylie 2 years ago from Iowa, USA

      Ron, I think you will like GTD. it is flexible enough that you can tweak it to your own liking. What was interesting to me was that the author did not mention any specific tools by name, probably so not to date the book, but I agree that there are lots of things out there to try. There is no right and wrong tool, just the right one for you.

    • Jonathan Wylie profile image
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      Jonathan Wylie 2 years ago from Iowa, USA

      I'm glad you liked it Steve. There is, of course, still room for paper and pencil, but I am less likely to lose a device than I am paper, so this works for me :)

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      I hadn't heard of GTD. Thanks for the link to the GTD tutorial. I'm going to start working my way through that to get a feel for the concepts. I may or may not use Wunderlist because I already have several tools that may be useful in implementing GTD.

    • stevarino profile image

      Steve Dowell 2 years ago from East Central Indiana

      For many years I relied on task management in Outlook or previous Microsoft products, but these days, I simply use pencil and paper. You've got me thinking about an updated electronic method - I'm now tinkering around with OneNote and Wunderlist.

      Thanks for this very "useful" piece!