David Allen gives away the ultimate GTD app

David Allen, world-renowned creator the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology, is giving away the ultimate GTD app (some assembly required).

Twenty-five years ago, David created a set of plans for the ultimate GTD app. Despite committed efforts by many talented people, it has yet to be built. Now, David is putting his plans in the public domain.

David Allen’s announcement from the 2019 GTD Summit (in Amsterdam) about “the ultimate GTD app”

I designed eProductivity, the GTD app that David has used and recommended for the last decade. He talked about it at the GTD Summit in Amsterdam two weeks ago. Though we were constrained at the time by the existing Lotus Notes platform, this app is, in David’s words, “the closest anyone has ever gotten” to his vision of the ultimate GTD software implementation.

Over the six-year process of designing eProductivity (2002 – 2008), David and I looked at hundreds of apps supposedly designed for GTD. I’m sure many had smart people behind them. Some were elegantly designed, but none hit the mark. For many, it was clear that their creators simply did not understand the more subtle aspects of what makes GTD so powerful.

As David showed parts of his plans at the GTD Summit, he recommended developers talk to me. A few confidently claimed that they could crank out a dream app in a few weeks. Looking back on my 25 years of experience with David and GTD, I had to warn them not to be deceived. Though what the user sees may appear simple, behind it lies great complexity.

The ultimate GTD app will require an impressive array of features, but that’s not the hard part. The hard part—the part that I spent six years thinking about—is making the entire GTD experience as seamless and simple as possible for the user. That requires not only deep understanding of GTD, but also great complexity and intricate design, all hidden behind the scenes.

Consider this illustration: the perfect system is like an automatic transmission. As anyone who’s driven a manual transmission knows, an automatic turns a complicated operation into a simple one—and as any mechanic knows, the automatic transmission can do so only because it is complex.

Twelve years of running eProductivity has given me a unique perspective on what works and what doesn’t for personal productivity tools. This has led me apply the knowledge I gained in the software space to help people do their best work where they are, with whatever tools they have (Notes, Office 365, etc.).

David Allen and Eric Mack together at the GTD Summit 2019 in Amsterdam

That said, I, along with David, would love to see the ultimate GTD app come to life. If you have a productivity application that you want to GTD enable, or you’re thinking about designing one, I can help. 

What features would you love to see in the ultimate GTD app? Leave a comment below!

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17 thoughts on “David Allen gives away the ultimate GTD app

  1. The problem is even bigger than you describe for two reasons as I see it. The first is that GTD is a truly personal system, as it was designed to be. I have heard people speak of there system that is perfect for them and I know what they have would never work for me. The second issue I see is that there are many platforms that people operate in, and not always by choice. David uses Notes, as a consultant I have lived in a few different office ecosystems. The app would need to be Office Environment agnostic to insure that as the back end changed the app would still work. Even within the same ecosystems you may not have the same capabilities. Again, as a consultant I have utilized MS Office in different organizations. Each has been configured with it’s own rules. I worked in one environment and had a fairly robust GTD implementation integrating my work and personal lives, optimal in my opinion. I changed jobs and lost all the integration I had due to to limitations. For people like me I would see the need to have the tool integrate multiple ecosystems. Based on policy there would also need to have the ability to have the tool move data between the environments or only integrate them in the app and not cross pollinate data. I am sure there are even more and greater challenges.

    • Vincent, you raise many excellent points that David and I have discussed for years. Even when I developed eProductivity, the only way I was able to get close was by having several hundred preferences that could be called upon to easily customize the software for the individuals or environment it served. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Hi Eric, thx for your input at the GTD summit. As you stated, I don’t think any of the apps out there come close to what GTD requires. I believe that David’s blue print needs to be broken down into smaller modules. And each module should be programmed and tested one at a time. I would start with a plugin which can operate in any email client to deliver the 5 steps workflow. I bet that even veteran GTDers when they move onto autopilot with email clarification/process do end up short cutting the workflow. It be ideal to have a tool that when you click on open email starts “its song” – “What is-it”, “Is it actionable”, “Yes/No”. I would want to see a timer if it’s a less than 2′ action… I’d be happy to discuss more with you. Thx

    • Yannick, indeed this is the approach I took when I developed eProductivity and showed it to David Allen step-by-step. Even as much as GTD is embedded in the way David works, he still uses some of the built-in tools you described that make it effortless.

  3. I worked at IBM, 1978-2014. For a period of time I used eProductivity. Since I’ve left IBM, I no longer have access to IBM / Lotus Notes. For a period of time in the 1990s, we were considering to use Lotus Notes. The Corporate IT folks said it wouldn’t scale to the size of an organization of IBM. Then we bought the company. Over the next few years in the 1990s, IBM PROFS was turned off and we ran on Lotus Notes. Today, I wonder what the best, if there is one, “backend” system should be…. open source, proprietary, or what.

    Before eProductivity, the most acceptable system I had was the Franklin Covey Windows based time management system. While not completely GTD based, the Covey system did allow for a decent approach to time and project management. Ultimately, when I switched to a Mac based platform for personal use, it lost its appeal, as did the ultimate support for a product.

    I’ve tried some extensions based upon Evernote, and Omnifocus, even Google Mail/Calendar/Apps, nothing really seemed to do an adequate job of being a tool to add my adoption of GTD.

    • Ken, I don’t believe there is one ultimate back-end system; however, I can say that the IBM (Lotus) Notes environment is extremely robust and quite capable and allowed us a great deal of flexibility to customize the environment and workflow. Unfortunately, IBM dragged their feet/lost their way for many years on the marketing and development of Notes, causing many clients to move on to other markets. Recently, HCL purchased Notes from IBM for several billion dollars. It will be interesting to see what they choose to do with it.

  4. I have been scouring the Internet for this program/app too, but as you said, I want it tailored to to my tasks and daily goals. I don’t feel so bad now that I know I’m not alone on this. I thought I could hire a programmer to create something for me, but not sure I could afford it right now. The guys over at quality-assurance-solutions have some nice little apps that if combined would be a nice start for me, but when I emailed asking if a couple could be integrated and maybe added to over time I was given a quick “No”. 🙁 Anyways, thanks for sharing David!! –Tracy L.

  5. I have some ideas that could possibly enhance/accomplish the GTD process that I have been using in bits and pieces. It would be great to discuss this approach with someone to guide me to see what it would take to make it happen. I looked at the notes that David has put together but much of the handwriting is not clear.

    Is there someone to contact or is there a document that is written that I could reference to get this process started?

    It would be great to hear from you.

    joseph herbst

    • I hope this doesn’t sound simplistic, but the screens really describe David’s vision, and David’s book describes the process. Beyond that, all you need is a decade or two of mastery of all the subtle nuances of GTD and an understanding of workflow development 🙂 That’s what I did when I designed eProductivity. While most of my attention these days is on helping people become intentionally productive with whatever tools they already have, I would be open to consulting with an organization that is prepared to invest in this and wants to understand more deeply how to “bake in” the GTD principles.

      • Thank you for your response.

        I have been working on this set of issues for quite a while. I have partial implementations that focus on productivity in very specific environments, some quite out of the box for standard ToDo types of applications. Dave does have one for students that I just noticed and I will have to read to see how it fits with my approach. I guess I would need a quick conversation to see if my approach makes sense to effect a simple approach with a complex set of accomplishments before I jump into the full project. Is there anyone or a quick guide that can help me get started.

        Also, I printed out Daves pdf but I don’t seem to be able to get a clear printout from the download. Is there a clearer version of this or perhaps a ppt presentation that I can print more clearly.

        These will be of great help.

        Again, thank you for the info

  6. Great Eric! Thanks for sharing David and Eric.

    I agree with Vincent in that GTD implementations are very personal. Also, the solutions designed only for work environments aren’t the best option for personal stuff (and for people that change jobs).

    I’ve been using GTD for the last 12 years and have tried many tools, I could write down a list of ideas, features and requirements from my own perspective, but I think we are missing the point. Any product development effort needs to start in the problem space, not in the solution space.

    To build the best GTD solution is needed to perform user research and see which are the user pain points with current GTD practices and implementations, before start to discuss functionality. I think there is a great opportunity to do this the right way. I’d be happy to contribute.

    • I agree wholeheartedly with the need for personalization and starting the design process in the problem space. This is much of the approach I used years ago when I designed eProductivity, though it took me several years to get the design so clear, complete, and effortless that it passed David’s rigorous vetting process — but once I did, the solution stuck (in fact, 10 years later, David still uses it).

      That said, both of us would love to see this brought current and moved forward, and I think that’s why David is choosing to share his plans and his vision.

      I’ll reach out to you privately about your other ideas.

      • Most people don’t realize the pain they’re in, that GTD relieves. That’s the big marketing and design issue.

  7. Thanks, everyone, for your comments and MANY emails. I’m working my way through responding to those I can.

    Meanwhile, I’d like to keep the discussion here on the blog for now so people can interact and learn from one another.

    Due to the volume of inquiries, I’ve arranged to do a podcast with David Allen in two weeks so we can address some of these questions. if you have a question you would like us to consider for the podcast, please be sure to post it as a response to my latest blog post — see https://www.intentionallyproductive.com/answers-and-podcast-on-the-ultimate-gtd-app/

  8. In the spirit of giving and getting input re GTD app, I’d like to share what I use. (Combo of PersonalBrain, calendars and Keep lists). Hopefully this will give the CTO some ideas and he may be able to provide input to my process to make it more effective.

  9. Hi,

    There are ereader tablets which you can take notes on and read documents, some of them run Android and therefore allow all sorts of productivity apps that aren’t only for a single device.

    I’m going to get the Onyx Boox Max 3, its a 13.3 inch ereader with lots of great features. Would be really great to have a great productivity and personal organising app for these.

    Sadly they are pretty expensive, but for a professional life with lots reading with large technical documents or even just notes, this is very important for exposure for people to know their options.