Getting Things Done (GTD) With Amazing Marvin

Getting Things Done by David Allen describes a framework for personal productivity. There are numerous web sites, blogs, and the book itself that will go into detail about the framework, and how to set up your own system using many different tools. 

This post isn’t that. 

This post is to document how I have set up Amazing Marvin for my GTD system, at this point in time, shortly after Amazing Marvin had Goals and Habits added to its feature set. (Early 2021). I am a long time GTD user, 15 years at this point, having migrated through many different implementations. Look through my blog archives and you’ll see some evidence of that. What works for me will almost certainly not be what works best for you, although it may give you some ideas. 

A few quick words about the GTD framework:


Collect happens in whatever inboxes you have. There’s an Inbox in Amazing Marvin, and its a reasonable place to put things (Tasks / Projects) briefly until you Process and Organize them to somewhere else.

Process is simply looking at everything in your inbox(es) and deciding what each thing is, then putting it somewhere that you’ll find it when appropriate. This is where Amazing Marvin can help a lot, giving you places to put things in an organized manner.

Organize is what happens with the things you collected as you process them. Setting up your system with well thought out components that link together intelligently will go a long way to helping you keep track of what needs to be done, and accomplish the “stress free” part of GTD productivity. Amazing Marvin has lots of capabilities for this, more below.

Review is regularly looking at everything you have organized, and making sure that nothing is being forgotten. Amazing Marvin has several features that help with this.

Do is the meat of productivity, actually completing all the tasks that you have organized so that your projects get done and your goals accomplished. Amazing Marvin has many different Strategies and approaches to help you pick and choose which tasks to do, and to keep you motivated to work through your lists.

I want to structure my GTD system to allow me to keep track of my personal and professional life in the same system. Almost never will an activity be for both, so I can start by defining two Categories: Work and Personal.

GTD tracks Goals at different timespans, see Labels for Goal Altitude below. I am using a Label Group “GTD Altitude” with three labels. I define my goals using the Goal feature (shortcut G from the main screen) and assign the appropriate “GTD Altitude” label to them. I also assign the goal a Category, either Work or Personal, or one of the Area of Focus categories.

Areas of Focus are the GTD “20,000 foot level”, those aspects of life that are ongoing, and cannot be completed. Another name for these is Roles. I define these as SubCategory entries under either Work or Personal. For example, “Husband”, “Engineering Manager”, “Homeowner”, “Maintain Healthy Finances”, “Recruiting”.

Projects are GTD’s “10,000 foot” level. I define projects with a Category, one of Work, Personal, or an Area of Focus, and if the project is part of accomplishing a Goal, I also make it a member of the Goal. I can conceive of wanting sub projects, in which case there will be a parent project instead of Category, although I haven’t done that yet.

And finally, Tasks are the runway, where the rubber meets the road and things get done. Amazing Marvin allows Tasks to be steps in a Project, or as standalone Tasks within a Category or Goal. The GTD process calls tasks Next Actions, and they should be the very next physical step needed to make progress. They are often much smaller than other productivity management approaches, for example not “replace tires on car” but “get phone number of tire store” is a Next Action. Amazing Marvin lets you set a configuration option (strategy) so that only the next task in a project or category appears on your list(s) of things to do, which can go a long way toward reducing the feeling of overwhelm that is very common when people look at all the things they have to do in one place.

Any of the above can be placed on the “Backburner” if you activate the Backburner Strategy, which creates a second master list of items that are not currently actionable. GTD calls this a “Someday/Maybe” list. Items have an edit submenu that allows them to be moved to and from the Backburner easily. Amazing Marvin when set up with the native GTD Workflow also has tags @maybe and @idea and Smart Lists “Later” and “Maybe” that might be used for similar “Someday/Maybe” concepts. For my taste, that’s too many options to sort out, and I’m just using the Backburner for my “Someday/Maybe” items.

Once all the things are Organized, you can start Doing. But don’t forget to Review regularly!

Amazing Marvin has a nice Review strategy, which lets you define the steps you want to take in a review. There are several sources that can be found on the web for “GTD Weekly Review” checklists that are good starters to build your own. I would like multiple reviews to be available, as I also do monthly, quarterly, and annual reviews, but I have workarounds for those (see Ticklers, below) that don’t rely on Amazing Marvin.

To Review effectively, you want to be able to look at your Projects, Goals, and Areas of Focus without distraction. I am doing it this way:

  • Areas of Focus I review in the Master List, expanding from Work and Personal for a high level of what’s in each, and drilling in for detail when needed.
  • Goals are best reviewed from the Goal Overlay, grouping goals by Label
  • There are several ways to look at Projects, I prefer to use a Smart List that lets me control whether I’m looking at Backburner items or not

I’m certain that as Amazing Marvin matures the Goal implementation and other features, and as I gain more familiarity with the tool that something about the above will change. That’s to be expected, and the great part about the “Getting Things Done” approach to personal productivity is that implementation allows flexibility as your needs and abilities (and your tooling) change.

Labels for Goal Altitude

Add all labels to a Label Group “GTD Altitude”

Order the group by title ascending to get them to render in order.

30kft 1-3 Year Goals

30,000 feet is for 1-3 year goals, timebound with target dates.

There will be multiple projects, tasks, and perhaps habits linked to each of these goals.

What does my world look like in 12/18/24/36 months? What has changed? What did I / will I do to make that happen?

40kft 3-5 Year Goals

40,000 feet is for 3-5 year goals, timebound with target dates.

There will be multiple projects, tasks, and perhaps habits linked to each of these goals.

What will be different over the next several years, with my

  • Organization
  • Career
  • personal life
  • etc.?

What did I do to make that happen?

50kft Meaning Of Life Goals

50,000 feet is for lifetime goals. Why am I here? What will I accomplish?

There will be multiple projects, tasks, and probably habits linked to each of these goals.

Additional Thoughts

Some additional thoughts on bits and pieces of features in Amazing Marvin, and how they affect my GTD based personal productivity implementation.

Calendar: I do not use Marvin’s calendar at this time. GTD orthodoxy says to only put on the calendar the things that are date and time bound, which is almost never anything that is on a task list. I do block my Google Calendars to reserve time for what Marvin calls “work sessions”, but I prefer to do that separately from Marvin. 

Contexts: One of the lightbulb moments for me was understanding GTD contexts. All tasks can not be done at any time in all places – many have a dependency on time of day, day of week, time available, location, mental energy, or many other things. The combination of all of those at this moment is the Context that you can use to select available tasks from to work on. Using Labels to identify the dependencies of a task, and filtering on those Labels shows the tasks that are appropriate right now.

Priorities: I do not use an explicit priority marker for tasks or projects. Experience tells me that it changes too often. I can find myself procrastinating by playing with my productivity system getting everything labeled with a priority that’s just right. Then something changes, and it needs to be done all over again. I use context filters (see above or read up on GTD elsewhere to learn about contexts) to limit the size of a list I’m viewing at any point in time to a small enough list that I can quickly decide on the fly what is the highest priority of that set.

Dates: I find start date to be a helpful strategy, allowing me to define next actions for a project that can’t be done until some future date. I will use scheduled date for some tasks, but very judiciously. I’m even more careful not to overuse due date, I have learned that it is very easy to fall into the trap of assigning due dates as a proxy for priority, which keeps changing. Better not to muddy the system with them at all, unless there is a real hard deadline. I do put an explicit due date in the text of project names and sometimes in a task when it really matters.

Ticklers, Repeating Tasks and Projects: I prefer to think about a repeating task (or project) as two different elements. One is the current instance of the task, and the other is a reminder for the future (a “tickler”) to plan the task again. Ticklers are all Calendar activities, so I use “all day” events on my calendar to hold this kind of reminder. Marvin can help shortcut the actions I need to follow by letting me define a repeat pattern for task or project so it automatically reappears in my lists. For other things that don’t have a clear repeat pattern, being able to save a task or project and “load” the saved template is useful. For the moment, most repeating tasks are defined to repeat in Amazing Marvin, and also have an entry in my calendar. As time goes on and my trust in Marvin grows, I may retire the calendar copy.