Trigger List: The Key To Mastering Getting Things Done (GTD) Template

In a world brimming with tasks, responsibilities, and an ever-increasing demand for our attention, the pursuit of productivity can often feel like chasing a mirage. However, amid the chaos of modern life, a powerful tool exists—a hidden gem, if you will—that can unlock the door to effective task management and transform how you approach your daily endeavors.

This is the Trigger List, a fundamental component of the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology, which offers a practical solution to regain control over your tasks and achieve your goals.

In this exploration, Focuscommit delves into the heart of the Getting Things Done methodology and uncovers the profound impact of the Trigger List GTD on your ability to take control of your life and achieve your goals.

Let’s understand how this seemingly simple checklist can be the linchpin of your productivity, helping you accomplish more and savor the satisfaction of a well-organized, purpose-driven life.

​​What is a Trigger List?

A Trigger List is a tool to prompt or trigger your memory and awareness about various tasks, responsibilities, and commitments you need to address or remember. It’s a checklist of prompts that covers different areas of your life, such as work, personal, home, health, and finances. In addition, you can use it in cases such as trigger warnings lists and trigger foods lists, …

What is a Trigger List

A Trigger List to help you process a brain dump identify and capture tasks or items that might otherwise be overlooked, forgotten, or buried amid daily life. The basic idea behind a trigger list is to provide prompts that can stimulate your thinking and guide your thoughts in a particular direction. 

For example, if you’re brainstorming ideas for a new product, a trigger list might include words like “innovative,” “sustainability,” “customer experience,” “technology,” and so on. Participants in the brainstorming session would then use these words as starting points to generate ideas and explore different aspects of the product.

The concept of a Trigger List is commonly associated with the Getting Things Done (GTD) productivity methodology, which David Allen developed. 

In the GTD template, the list of trigger words is a key component used during the “Collect” phase in step “Capture.” It helps individuals gather all their tasks, commitments, and ideas into a trusted system to process, prioritize, and take action later.

Trigger lists can be highly customizable and tailored to the specific context or problem you’re trying to address. They can be used individually or in group settings, and they’re particularly useful when you want to encourage creative thinking and avoid getting stuck in a mental rut.

When to Use a Trigger List?

The frequency and timing of using a Trigger List can vary depending on your preferences and the specific demands of your life and work. Indeed, while many practitioners of the GTD methodology primarily employ a Trigger List during their initial mind sweep, I’ve discovered valuable applications for the Trigger List in the following scenarios:

  • Commencement of the GTD Process: The Trigger List proves exceptionally beneficial during the crucial stage of the initial mind sweep, aiding in the comprehensive capture of tasks and commitments.
  • Times of Overwhelm: Whenever I face an avalanche of tasks and responsibilities that threaten to overwhelm me, the Trigger List is a lifeline, helping me regain control and prioritize effectively.
  • Returning to GTD: If there has been a lapse in my GTD practice, the Trigger List becomes an indispensable tool for reestablishing my task management system and ensuring that no critical items have been overlooked.
  • Periodic Reassessment: Periodically revisiting the Trigger List allows me to reassess my commitments, goals, and priorities. It’s a strategic practice that aligns my task management with my evolving needs and objectives.

Trigger Lists in Getting Things Done (GTD)

How to Make Your Trigger List?​​

Every trigger list will vary based on unique circumstances and priorities. Your list should be customized to align with your specific needs and preferences, particularly in the context of your weekly reviews. Here are several methods you can employ to personalize your trigger list:

1. Physical Environment

In every designated area, take the time to thoroughly investigate the contents of cupboards, drawers, and any other storage spaces. Jot down anything that catches your eye or is a potential task.

Physical Environment

 If you need clarification about whether something warrants attention, err on caution and record it. You can always decide to exclude it from your task list later.

Here are the areas to focus on:

  • Bedroom
  • Bathroom
  • Kitchen
  • Living Room
  • Dining Room
  • Study
  • Garage
  • Garden
  • Office
  • Car
  • Shed
  • Attic

While in each location, it’s helpful to pose the following questions to yourself:

  • Are there any tasks or actions that require my attention?
  • Are there any issues or problems that need to be addressed?

2. Mental Environment – Areas of Focus

Mental Environment – Areas of Focus

​​If you have already compiled a list of your Areas of Focus, retrieve it now. If you haven’t, you can use the following list as a reference:

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Health
  • Finances
  • Fitness
  • Hobbies
  • Main Areas of Your Job

For each of these primary focus areas, please take a moment to consider the sub-areas that fall within them. For instance, within the “Family” category, you might have sub-areas such as your partner, parents, children, etc. Then, ask yourself the following questions to gain clarity and identify potential tasks or responsibilities:

  • What needs my attention or action in this sub-area?
  • Are there any specific issues or goals I should address within this sub-area?
  • Are there tasks or commitments related to this sub-area that I need to capture and manage?

3. Digital Environment

Digital Environment

When “Getting Things Done” was introduced in 2001, people’s digital environments were far less complex than today. At that time, they may have had a personal computer (PC) and a personal digital assistant (PDA) to manage their digital tasks and information. However, the digital landscape has evolved significantly since then. 

Now, we have many digital devices and services at our disposal. Here’s an updated list of digital environments to consider:

  • Computer
  • Laptop
  • Phone
  • Tablet
  • Previous Phone(s)/Tablet(s)
  • E-Reader
  • Network Storage Devices (NAS)
  • Online Services (e.g., cloud storage, email, project management tools, social media platforms, etc.)

To effectively manage your digital environment and capture all relevant tasks and information, navigate through each device’s folders and applications and within your online services. Pay close attention to files, documents, emails, or messages containing actionable items or commitments.

Ask Yourself:

  • Is there anything on this device or within this service that requires my attention?
  • Are there tasks or projects associated with these digital files or messages?
  • Can digital clutter or outdated items be deleted or archived to reduce digital noise?

Following these steps, you can create and use a Trigger List for your GTD practice. It will help you stay organized, reduce mental clutter, and ensure you capture and address all your tasks and commitments, increasing productivity and reducing stress.

How to use a Trigger List?

How to use a Trigger List?


Regularly reviewing and working through your Trigger Lists is the initial step in harnessing their potential. The triggers are like little sparks of inspiration that ignite your memory and prompt you to recall tasks, commitments, or ideas that might otherwise slip through the cracks. 

When a trigger activates your mental alert, it’s essential to capture it promptly. This can be done by either jotting it down in a physical notebook, a digital task management app, or any other trusted system you use for GTD.

The act of capturing is a critical moment. It ensures you retain valuable thoughts or ideas that may be the key to your future success. Recording these prompts gives you a tangible starting point for action.


Once you’ve captured the items from your Trigger Lists, the next step is clarifying each. Clarification transforms vague notions and reminders into actionable tasks with clear next steps. Ask yourself:

  • Is this task something I can act on?
  • What is the very next action required to move it forward?
  • What is the priority level of this task?

This clarification process helps you break down complex projects or vague ideas into manageable steps, making them less intimidating and more actionable. Additionally, it ensures that you’re not just collecting tasks but also defining a clear path to accomplish them.


Now that you have clarified your tasks and commitments, the final step is to organize them within your GTD system. This involves categorizing tasks, setting appropriate deadlines, and deciding where they should reside within your system for easy access.

Categorization allows you to group similar tasks, making it easier to tackle them efficiently. Setting deadlines ensures that time-sensitive tasks get the attention they deserve. Choosing the right location in your GTD system ensures you can quickly retrieve and prioritize these tasks when ready to work on them.

This organization step is where the true magic of GTD comes into play. It transforms your clarified tasks into a structured, actionable plan. With your tasks neatly organized, you’ll always know what to work on next and have the flexibility to adapt to changing priorities.

Final Thoughts

By meticulously curating our trigger lists, we empower ourselves to seize control of our tasks and goals to steer through the tumultuous waters of our daily lives with a sense of purpose and direction. We learn to say ‘no’ to what’s unimportant and ‘yes’ to what genuinely matters. We become masters of our own time.

However, it’s important to recognize that mastery doesn’t come overnight. As you embark on this journey of GTD and trigger lists, expect challenges and setbacks. But remember that each obstacle is an opportunity to learn, adapt, and refine your approach.

In conclusion, the Trigger List is a powerful instrument within the GTD productivity methodology that can help you reclaim control over your tasks and commitments. Whether tackling professional projects or managing your personal life, the Trigger List ensures you capture and manage everything that matters. Embrace it as your guide to mastering Getting Things Done efficiently and effectively.

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Monica Nguyen

Meet the mind behind our productivity insights—a finance professional who has mastered the art of efficiency in the fast-paced corporate world. Harnessing a variety of productivity methods, she has not only excelled in her roles at major multinational corporations but also coached her colleagues on achieving peak performance. She brings to our blog a wealth of experience in applying disciplined focus and organizational skills to both her work and teachings, ensuring that our readers receive practical and effective strategies to enhance their daily productivity.

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