Getting Things Done Step #2- Clarify what you Captured

We learned that the first step of GTD is to collect all of the thoughts you have in your mind. We do this to free up our mental energy to boost our creativity and focus on higher level tasks. What do you do with all of your thoughts now that they are written down? This is where step 2 of the GTD system comes in. We need to clarify what we captured and decide what we are going to do now with those items.

The next step is to untangle and make sense of all your thoughts you have written down.

Next Actions and Projects-

Top users of GTD know that the key to any successful GTD system is that you trust your system. You might not follow it exactly the way David Allen suggests, or the way we suggest, but that doesn’t matter as long as you know how your system works and that if you put something in it, you will be able to act on it and locate it later on. When we make a to do list, one of the problems is what we capture is vague. You might capture- organize email, buy new cell phone, learn new language, or change oil in car. These are all to dos that need more clarity. In their current state they are not clear or defined which can lead to resistance doing them. They need a next action. When you start to understand just how powerful next actions are, you will wonder how you got anything done before! A next action sounds exactly what it is. It is the thing you need to do get the project moving forward. A project is anything that requires more than one step. If you only have one step than guess what? That is a next action!

Let’s look at our some of our examples above.

Organize email- Doesn’t everyone want to do this? You have 100s (hopefully not thousands!) of emails in your inbox. How do you want to organize your email though? Do you just want to clear out some of your inbox? Do you want to make new folders? Do you want to change or delete your folders? Do you want to unsubscribe to some emails? You get the point. There a lot of different ways to organize your email. Maybe you want to do all of those things. If that’s the case you might want to make sure your folders are set up properly so you can then process your inbox.


Buying a new cell phone- You may want to switch to a different carrier, maybe a different operating system, or maybe you want to go bigger or smaller. There is a lot to possibly consider. Even if you are not making any major changes and you are just upgrading, there are still things you need to do to make buying the cell phone actually happen. You might want to research new features, call the store to get your pre-order in, or look online for a good used phone.


Learn a New Language-  This seems to be a passing goal for most people that they never do. Why? Because there is no clear starting point to it! It seems like a daunting, huge task when it is phrased like that. If it were broken down into clear next actions, we might have more people speaking duel languages. A simple next action might be look online for different courses and 0ick 3 to try.


Change Oil in Car- This one could be pretty straightforward, but a next action could be get number to call and set up on appointment. Or if you do it yourself, look at calendar and schedule time to change the oil.

This is a great visual chart that walks you through the GTD workflow. Your “stuff” is all of the ideas and thoughts you have written down already.

I will personally admit that I am not the best with projects and adding next actions. I still keep thoughts in my head when I really should write it down and turn it into a project. I am lazy though and will make a task and then add notes in the tasks as my next actions. I can do better, but this works for me and I trust my system. If I have something on my tasks lists for a few weeks and it is not moving forward, I have to ask myself, what do I need to do to move this forward. If I can’t think of anything or I keep putting it off, maybe it isn’t a priority right now and I would want to put it on a someday/maybe list.

Don’t feel like you have to do everything on your list. Focus on what is most important and what will make the most difference. Ideally you should enjoy it as well. You will accomplish more on your adventure if you do.

Just like with setting goals, your tasks need to have a clear plan to get them completed. Finding out what the next actions are for your projects will help you not get stuck in endless list making. Using step 1 you have captured everything. In step 2 we have clarified if something is a project and what the next actions are to move it forward. In step 3 we are actually going to organize these tasks and projects.


Subscribe to Start Learning About Your Time & Money!

* indicates required

Please select all the ways you would like to hear from Cents of Time:

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. For information about our privacy practices, please visit our website.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp’s privacy practices here.


  1. Thanks for a good review of step 2. I am great at capturing, but I have to deliberately step 2 and it has helped me a lot. I have been using GTD for a while and a couple months ago I went through my next actions and found that many times I did not have a next action listed. Sometimes I needed to locate the phone number, so that was the next action. Other times I needed to decide if I was going to call, email, search the web or stop by a store to resolve an issue. In most cases identifying the next action — the real next action– had it moving forward even that day.

    “Much of the stress that people feel doesn’t come from having too much to do. It comes from not finishing what they’ve started.”
    ― David Allen

  2. I just reread this post. I am still working on this step in the process. I collect ideas and projects, but the sorting them out and deciding what to do with them is an area of improvement for me. Sooner or later we have to deal with things by ignoring them for now (putting them on a someday maybe list) or deciding what is the next action. If I don’t address issues when they show up, I will have to when they blow up. One of David’s books points out that we cannot put off forever important decisions. An example he used was needing new tires. If you don’t address the need and decide a next action when you notice the worn tires, you will eventually need to determine a next action (calling a tow truck) when you are on the side of the road.

    “Things rarely get stuck because of lack of time. They get stuck because the doing of them has not been defined.”
    ― David Allen, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

    “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.”
    ― David Allen, Ready for Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Work and Life

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.