When I get media inquiries for expert opinion, I'm often asked for easy-to-understand descriptions and examples. As you know from posts like Extreme GTD: How Low Can You Go (or: Can We 80-20 GTD?), I like simplifying. Following is the simplest description I can come up with of how methods like GTD work.
I'd Love To Know...
- What do you think of my description? How would you improve it?
- Do you have a method for managing yourself?
- How would you describe it?
- How well is it working for you?
The World's Simplest Productivity Method
- Capture all incoming items into a small number of inboxes : email, paper, and voice.
- Empty those every day.
- To empty an inbox, apply the 5Ds  one by one to each item: DELETE, DEPOSIT (file), DELEGATE, DO, and DEFER.
- The last three Ds take action and need tracking in a system:
- DELEGATE: Hand off to someone else, and track in a Waiting For  list.
- DO: If the action can be done in a couple of minutes, do it right then.
- Otherwise, DEFER doing it for later, and track in either the Calendar or an Actions list:
- If the action is date-related, put it on the Calendar.
- Track all other actions on an Actions list.
- During the day work the Actions list as your Calendar permits, and review the Waiting For for needed follow-ups.
What's neat is you can see there are four actionable categories in this approach: A Calendar and three lists (Projects, Actions, and Waiting For).
I sometimes include a few other ideas:
- Use chunking to break larger tasks into small, doable actions.
- Call the large tasks "projects," and list them all on a master Projects list.
- Every project must have at least one "active" action on the Actions list.
The Method Applied: Mini-cases
To see it in action, following are a few email messages, and how I'd handle each one. (Sidebar: This is a simplified version of the "Stuff Practice" exercise I do in my workshops. I do it at the end of the workshop to pull together all the day's concepts. It's a popular group exercise that gets uniformly high marks. Best yet, it's fun!)
- Message from boss asking for quick status.
- Can reply in a minute, so reply then move message to email project folder.
- Message from partner asking me to order equipment.
- Can order in two minutes (1-Click), so order it, track order on Waiting For, and move to email project folder.
- Message asking for quarterly report.
- Will take longer than two minutes, but can be done in one sitting.
- Not date-related (should be done ASAP), so put on Actions list.
- Message setting up a meeting for next week.
- Date-related, so put appointment on Calendar then delete message.
- Message asking to arrange a conference on a specific date.
- Complex multi-step task, so add entry to Projects list.
- Pull out starting action (e.g., "research venues") and add to Actions list.
- Put date on Calendar.
- Move message into new email project folder specific to the conference.
-  An attempt at serendipity and synchronicity: Arbitrarily-selected posts mentioning "inboxes":
- Use These 5W/1H Questions To Test Your Productivity Chops
- A Dozen Small Ways To Get Productivity Improvements To Stick In An Organization
- Reader Question: Getting Personal Productivity Changes To Stick?
- The Productivity I/O Sweet Spot, Or Why Balance Is A Bad Thing
- Dealing With Meeting Notes - GTD To The Rescue!
- Add, Subtract, Multiply, Divide: Productivity Lessons From Basic Math
- Small Steps To Big Results: Do One High Value Task A Day
- Some Answers To "Should I Keep It?" When Filing
-  See How To Process Stuff - A Comparison Of TRAF, The "Four Ds", And GTD's Workflow Diagram.
-  I'm using David Allen's terminology because 1) GTD is so popular that maintaining consistency taps into shared language, 2) it diverges from more traditional terms (e.g., "to-dos" and "tasks" for actions), and 3) they are damn good names! :-)