GTD-Free: a simple yet powerful GTD-based task manager


GTD-Free is a multiplatform, free task management program that is based on the “Getting Things Done” (GTD) methodology. It aims to be lightweight and simple while offering a wide range of features such as editable lists, projects, priorities, etc.

This program will appeal to both (a) users who are knowledgeable about and/or use GTD to get organized, as well as (b) users who do not know much about GTD but are looking for a good task-management tool to help them get better organized. I would classify myself as being more the latter than the former or perhaps somewhere in the middle. For the purposes of this review I will pitch GTD-Free as an organizing tool for everyone and explain some of the GTD principles employed in it.

More notes on this program:

  • GTD-Free in practice: I would actually say that as far as task-management programs go GTD concepts make it easier to interact with and use this program as compared with other to-do programs. The reason for this, I think, is that GTD seems to really be a note-taking or idea-recording method that then expands on these thoughts and notes in order to create actions out of them; which is to say it “eases” you into creating actions while encouraging you to put everything down in writing as a precursor, making it more likely that you will actually use the program.
  • The learning curve: is much shorter than you would expect even if you are new to GTD. I would advise on importing the example template and starting there (and it includes a list of GTD related tips and info). Also looking at the descriptions of the various pre-defined lists will give you a very good idea as to what these are and why they are there. The program also employs tooltips that appear whenever you hover over an element that tell you what it is.
  • Installation: GTD-Free is a single executable that you can place anywhere and run. It is not really portable as it creates and writes data into a “.gtd-free” folder on your root drive. It also requires JAVA 1.6.
  • The user interface: is brilliantly conceived, IMHO. GTD-Free is structured around five tabs (Overview, Collect, Process, Organize/Review, and Execute), which both represents GTD very well but also in my opinion is a very practical structure from a user’s point of view.

Here are more notes on each of these five aforementioned tabs:

The “Overview” tab: this tab (pictured in the screenshot above) is just an index or starting point where you can take some quick actions and/or jump to any of the other 4 tabs. It also offers some pertinent info such as number of items in the in-basked list or in the “next action” list.

GTD-free screenshot collect tabThe “Collect” tab: one of the main objectives of GTD is to have the user dump all tasks, ideas, and thoughts, etc, out of their head and put it down in writing. The “Collect” tab is where this happens, and what is interesting here is that there is nothing to do here except add tasks or ideas; you do not need to categorize them, add them to lists, assign priority, or do anything except jot them down; which is exactly the point: get them out of your mind and worry about any further action or follow up later.

GTD-free screenshot process tabThe “Process” tab: now that you have your tasks/items/ideas written down, it’s time to move them into “lists”, and this is the main function of the “Process” tab (you can also do this in the “Organize/Review” tab if you wish, but the process tab display your items prominently on top and allow you to scroll through them). There are three categories of lists: (1) Actions, (2) Someday/Maybe, and (3) References, and their titles reflect their function precisely, the “Actions” category being the one where all actionable items are to be placed).

You cannot add or change categories; they are permanent fixtures of the GTD method, but these categories contain various “lists” (folders) that you can add to or delete as you wish depending on what works best for you. Moreover, each one of your tasks or items can only belong to one of the categories and one of the lists within it. My advice: import the example file and consider using the pre-defined lists that it will create initially to see how these work for you; each list of has a description that can be viewed in the “Organize/Review” tab (but should have also been displayed in the “Process” tab IMHO). Afterwards you can then eliminate and add lists as you see fit.

Once you do assign your item to a list, there are a number of things you can do with it as follows: assign a reminder date (i.e. a due date); assign a project (which is more or less what you would use as a “category” in a normal to-do list (e.g. “2009 Budget”, “Performance Eval”, etc.); associate a URL: if you want to; assign priority: a 3-star priority system is used; or assign to Queue (next actions list).

GTD-free screenshot organize-review tabThe “Organize/Review” tab: you can view all of the items in your lists here and what is interesting here is (a) the “default lists” category in the left pane, which contains dynamically generated “smartlists” (to borrow a term more commonly associated with media players); (b) also contains view filters that can filter by project, by priority, and by time period; and (c) this is also where you can add/edit projects, which allows you can click on each of the different projects in the left pane in order to see the different items that relate to that project (no matter what lists or categories these item belong to).

Lists in the “Default Lists” category include the following: an “In bucket” list (for items not associated with a list), a “Next actions” list (for items that you’ve put in your action queue), a “Priority” list (for items that you’ve assigned a priority to), and a “Tickler” list for items that you’ve assigned a due date to.

One criticism here is that for some reason clicking on the category itself in the left pane does not result in displaying all of the items in the various lists within that category, which seems unintuitive.

GTD-free screenshot execute tabThe “Execute” tab: this is the tab where you go if you are ready to perform some actions and want to look at only those items you’ve added to your “next action” queue.

Wish list: (or how to make this program even better)

  • In the “Organize/Review” tab, being able to display all the different items in all the different lists that belong to a single category. I find it a strange omission that this is not possible in the version that I tested.
  • A small bugfix: in a list where one item has a reminder date and the next one does not, the reminder data from the first one is not refreshed to blank when you scroll to the next one, making it seem as if it had that same reminder date when it does not.
  • The ability to bring back items after being accidentally resolved (i.e. completed). GTD-free keeps a record of these so they are not gone for good, but does not allow you to resurrect (un-resolve) them.

The verdict: I am someone who always gets excited about to-do and task-management type programs, starts using them, then eventually stop after getting the sense that using the program has become work in itself that is not paying off in terms of added productivity. So far I have been using this program for about a week and am generally very pleased with it; it has managed to provide a very workable, practical structure that seems to make things easier rather than getting in the way.

What I also like about this program is its minimalism and simplicity in terms of design and user-interaction, and the ease with-which I was able to learn to use it without reading any documentation whatever.

I am not a GTD expert, but insofar as freeware GTD-inspire task organizers go GTD-Free seems to me to have more depth and to be more authentically GTD than the aforementioned FusionDesk Starter. Another option to explore is ThinkingRock, which I believe is also very GTD-centric. I haven’t tried that one personally but if you have and if you try GTD-Free as well I would very much like to read your thoughts/impressions about these two in the comments section below.

Version Tested: 0.4.2

Compatibility: Multiplatform Windows/Linux/MacOS. Available in EXE (Windows version) or JAR.

Go to the program page to download the latest version (approx 1.42 megs).