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How to ace your exams with time management

Written by Astrid Roest on 12 June 2018 for Graduates

With exam season now in full swing here in Belgium, you’re forgiven for feeling a little stressed. Exams aren’t everyone’s favourite time of the year; there’s lots of work to be done, a ton of distractions and constant demands on your attention. Sometimes, just avoiding Fortnite or resisting Netflix can seem more challenging than your actual revision!

To succeed, you’ll need discipline and a good framework to help you manage your time effectively. That’s where ‘Getting Things Done’, or GTD for short, comes in. David Allen’s 2001 best-selling book has had an immense impact and is one of the world’s most popular time management frameworks to this day.

GTD provides an easy-to-use framework that can help you keep track of tasks and work. It has inspired countless time management trainings and it is also included in our Start Smart programme. In two years’ time, Exellys coaches young graduates to become the IT professionals of tomorrow.

In this blog post, we’ll outline the principles of GTD so that you can beat procrastination and revise more effectively for your upcoming exams!

What is Getting Things Done?

‘Getting Things Done’ is a system that helps you organize and track your daily tasks. It provides structure to your daily routine allowing you to focus on the things that truly matter.

Getting things done

The GTD system has five simple steps:

  1. Capture
  2. Process
  3. Organize
  4. Reflect
  5. Engage


This workflow helps you capture and prioritize all the things that come into your life, whether they are emails, assignments or revision tasks.

Here’s a quick video that explains what this framework is about:

How does GTD work?

GTD works by providing you with a framework for effectively capturing and processing every task and activity. This lets you focus on the most important tasks, and block out distractions.

#1. Capture

The first step of GTD is simple: write down everything you need to do. Grab a notebook, use an app or open computer document. It doesn’t matter.

Every idea you have. Any task that you need to focus on. Every important date or deadline. For simplicities sake and to avoid digital distractions, a piece of paper and a pen are highly recommended.

#2. Process

The second step is to decide which items on your list are ‘actionable’. Which items do you actually need to do something about? This helps you focus on the tasks that are the most important.

For every item that you captured in step one, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is the item actionable?  (Yes/No)
  2. If yes, ask yourself “Would it take 2 minutes or less to complete?”
  3. If the answer is yes, go ahead and do it!


To complete the second stage of GTD, you need to complete every task that will take you less than two minutes. This could include answering emails, printing your exam timetable, adding dates to your calendar, replying to someone’s question or finding the right books for your revision schedule.

Why does this work?

According to GTD’s author, David Allen, the answer is simple:

Getting things done

The goal of stage two is to free your mind from unwanted distractions that are easily solved.

The first time you try to process everything you’ve captured, you can be left feeling a little overwhelmed. However, once you get into the habit of doing it regularly, things will run on auto-pilot.

So, what about all of the tasks that are actionable but take longer than two minutes to complete? Let’s head to stage three!

#3. Organize

Once you have processed and completed all of the actionable items on your list that took less than two minutes, you now need to organize all of the remaining items. These items are those that you identified as taking longer than two minutes to complete.

On a separate piece of paper, create a table with three columns:

1. Project
2. Time
3. Context

In the first column, be very specific and don’t write general tasks such as ‘Revise for physics exam’. Instead, identify smaller steps such as:

  • Review the class notes
  • Revise the text comments
  • Summarize chapter 20 of the textbook
  • Study Topic 3a

In the second column, assign the time the task should take, when it should be done or the due date. Add important dates to your calendar – these are your essential tasks.

In the third column, identify the context of the task. This could include college, home, exam, library or computer. Simply because most of those actions require a specific tool or location.

Here’s an example of how stage could look in terms of supporting your exam revision:

Getting things done

#4. Reflect

Every day, you should review the obligatory items, those that are on your calendar.

Every week, review your entire list to ensure that everything is running smoothly. Are your actionable items helping you work towards to your goals?

Add, remove or modify your items to ensure that you are on the right path.

Getting things done

#5. Engage

With stage three completed, your calendar should include all the things you need to today. The project column will tell you what you need to do. The context of each item will help you match things together.

Now go do!

As you go about your daily tasks, new information and issues are bound to come your way. Now you know exactly how to process them so that they don’t cause a distraction. Following the five steps of GTD will let you enjoy stress-free productivity. So stop reading blog posts and get shit done!

If you have any questions about the GTD framework or on how this training is integrated into our two-year training programme, get in touch with us. We’ll gladly tell you all about it!

Can’t get enough? Enjoy this talk by David Allen at TEDxAmsterdam in 2014:

Written by Astrid Roest Talent Development Manager