My Personal GTD System: From Outlook and To-Do to Apple Mail and Reminders

My Personal GTD System: From Outlook and To-Do to Apple Mail and Reminders

Note: This blog post is an update to my previous post on implementing Getting Things Done (GTD) in Outlook and To-Do. Since then, I’ve made some changes to my productivity system, and in this post, I’ll share how I currently manage my actions and to-dos using Apple Mail and Apple Reminders.

Managing a Busy Life with GTD

As the CTO at ITQ, a freelance teacher at Novi Hogeschool, and a proud husband and father, my schedule can get quite hectic. Balancing my professional life, family commitments, fitness goals, and personal aspirations requires a reliable system to keep track of everything. That’s why I turned to Getting Things Done (GTD) as the foundation for my productivity strategy, allowing me to stay on top of tasks and projects in a simplified and organized manner. Or at least I try to :-).

Evolving My Productivity System

Having previously implemented GTD in Outlook and To-Do, I’ve found ways to optimize and tailor my system to suit my needs better. Although Apple Mail is still very rudimentary compared to other mail clients, it serves its purpose and is lightning-fast on my M1 MacBook Pro. Additionally, Apple Reminders is a powerful app that many people may not be using to its full potential. So now, my productivity system revolves around Apple Mail and Apple Reminders, which seamlessly integrate into my daily workflow.

GTD Workflow
GTD Workflow

Capturing Everything in a Single Inbox

GTD emphasizes capturing all incoming tasks and ideas in a single “Inbox.” With Apple Mail as my primary email client, my Inbox serves as the central hub for everything that requires my work-related and personal attention. This means I configure my Gmail, Novi Hogeschool Office 365 email, and ITQ Office 365 account in Apple Mail and use the “All Inboxes” folder as my GTD Inbox.

Whether it’s an important email, a Teams message, a Slack message, or a thought that pops into my head, I use Apple Mail to capture it all. This is where the app Braintoss comes in very handy. I use it whenever I want to quickly capture something into my inbox. As the productivity expert Tiago Forte says, your brain is for having ideas, not for storing them!

I’ve incorporated the Braintoss app into my system to ensure I don’t miss any ideas that strike at unexpected moments. Whether I’m driving or browsing online, I can quickly jot down notes or record audio clips with Braintoss, which then automatically sends them to my email Inbox for processing. I also use the ‘Share’ feature across my devices to quickly store links, images, screenshots, and so on using Braintoss.

BrainToss for GTD capturing
Braintoss App on iOS

Handling the Inbox with GTD

The key to effectively managing the Inbox is to establish a routine for processing its contents. At regular intervals or whenever I find a moment, I go through the items and decide what needs to be done with each. GTD provides a straightforward workflow for this:

  • If an item is not actionable, I determine whether to file it for reference or discard it.
  • If an item requires action, I assess if it takes less than 2 minutes to complete. If so, I tackle it immediately.
  • For longer tasks, I create a Task in Apple Reminders, my dedicated tool for managing actionable items.

I try to stick to the ‘Inbox Zero’ principle, but this is becoming more challenging if I’m being sincere.

The beauty is that you can drag an email from Apple Mail to Apple Reminders, creating a new reminder with a link to the e-mail. You can archive the email so it’s gone from your inbox and click the mail icon in the reminder to open the email. Great!

Organizing Tasks with Apple Reminders

Apple Reminders is my comprehensive task management tool, allowing me to categorize tasks and easily access them when needed. I’ve set up various lists in Apple Reminders to prioritize and categorize my tasks:

  • Next-Action Lists. These lists form the core of my productivity system and include specific categories like “Anywhere” for tasks that can be done from any location and “Calls” for people I need to contact.
  • Meetings. As I have numerous (recurring) meetings, I create lists for each meeting to capture agenda items and discussion topics.
  • Checklists. I’ve created checklists for tasks that repeat, such as a travel checklist for business trips or a tax-filing checklist.
  • Waiting for: I park tasks in this list while waiting for someone. I add the name of the person I’m waiting for using a hashtag #. This allows me to keep track of stuff that’s out of my hands.
GTD-Lite in Apple Reminders

Emphasizing Simplicity and Flexibility

My GTD implementation in Apple Mail and Reminders is more streamlined than the traditional GTD system, as I opted for a “GTD lite” approach. I simplified the folder structure to suit my preferences and avoid system overload.

Constantly Improving and Adapting

As with any productivity system, there is always room for improvement. To better manage my workload, I identify weekly and monthly goals aligning with my responsibilities and priorities. I also need a new system for storing and organizing my notes. I’m playing around with Notion, but this needs more investigation.

Summary of tools:


Staying organized and on top of my tasks allows me to focus on what truly matters. As with any system, consistency and setting up habits are crucial to stay effective. It’s easy to let go of your system in the heat of everything. Writing a blogpost like this always encourages me to get back on top of things. If you have suggestions or ideas to improve my system or want to share your GTD journey, reach out to me on Twitter.

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