Guest Feature

Getting Things Done in 2024

By Brent Rivard, Managing Director


Brent RivardThere are a few moments in your life that are inflection points – where the course of your life and career can change significantly.  Some of those points are easy to figure out.  The college you choose to go to creates a new path to develop relationships with friends, job opportunities and the team you’ll root for your entire life no matter how bad they are (check UCLA basketball this season).  Getting married and the decision to have children and build a family is definitely an inflection point.  Changing jobs or careers can be inflection points that lead you down new paths for personal and professional growth.  For me, one of the more impactful inflection points happened in 2007 and impacted my personal and professional growth to this day.

In 2007 I joined the real estate world as CFO of Grubb & Ellis/BRE Commercial in San Diego working for John Frager who is currently an Executive Managing Director at CBRE and a member of Pathfinder’s Advisory Council.  John introduced me to David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, or “GTD” for short.  Reading GTD and adopting David Allen’s methods on productivity was an inflection point in my life.  Unlike other productivity methods that I had read and tried previously, GTD was a philosophy that I could follow and which fit into any productivity system that worked for me.

Prior to GTD, I was a list guy.  I would start each day creating a new list of the “tasks” on my plate.  I also had hundreds of emails that needed attention, mail that needed to be opened, voicemails that needed to be responded to and even more in my head that would never make it out!  It was difficult to prioritize because I didn’t have one place or system to review my tasks and projects.  There are several facets of the GTD philosophy that have become part of my DNA over the last 16 years.  As we enter 2024 with an increased level of optimism for the economy and the real estate market, I believe we’ll see a lot more activity and opportunities.  I thought now would be a good time to reflect and share my top four GTD strategies to prepare for a much busier 2024.

  • Create a Trusted System – At the core of any productivity methodology is some sort of system to keep you organized. One of the things that drew me to David Allen’s GTD methodology was that there is no perfect system for everybody.  Some people work well with creating lists on paper.  Some people keep folders and binders and some use technology.  For me, I adopted Microsoft Outlook “Tasks” or “To-Do Lists” to stay organized.  Every project, task, idea, etc. is in an Outlook task and is categorized.  I’ve simplified my system over the years so tasks are in a few categories.  “Work” tasks are ones that I do when I’m sitting at my computer.  These could be phone calls to make, documents to review or other work-related tasks.  By having them all in one place, I can review regularly and prioritize.  “Waiting for” tasks are items that I’ve delegated to others.  By creating a task to review regularly, I don’t have to remember what I sent keeping my mind free for other ideas.  “Someday/Maybe” tasks are ideas or thoughts that are not ready for action today but also things I don’t want to forget.  It doesn’t matter how you organize your system, but I believe it’s important to have a system that you trust.  My system allows me to focus on what’s important, work on the right stuff at the right time and increase
  • Mind Like Water – In GTD, David Allen describes a pebble thrown into a calm pond. The water reacts with ripples, the pebble disappears, and the ripples go away after a few seconds.  In the same way, thoughts or ideas come into our head and if we let them stay there, they create constant ripples that interfere with our productivity.  A “mind like water” gets those thoughts out of our head and into our trusted prioritization system.  I primarily use email to myself to get ideas, tasks and anything else off my mind.  In fact, in preparation for this article I looked back at how many emails I sent myself in 2023.  It was an astounding 936 emails – almost 3 per day – most of which just have something in the subject line.  What do I do with these emails?  I clear them out each day and either complete them or put them into my trusted system.    Like.  Water.
  • Do It, Delegate it, or Defer It – Whether it’s an email, voicemail or snail mail, if it’s something that requires action, David Allen suggests three primary options. The first option is that if it can be done in less than two minutes, then just get it done.  This might be the most powerful part of his philosophy.  The joy of completing a task, checking that box or crossing out that line on the paper is very satisfying.  The second option is delegating the task.  If it is a task that you need somebody else to do, send it off but also create that “Waiting For” on our own list so you don’t forget what you sent.  The third option is to defer the task by putting it on your calendar or in your system to be done later.
  • Each Day Empty – This is the most difficult part of GTD in my opinion. David Allen suggests that you end each day with an empty “in” box.  Most of our work comes to us via email or some other technological solution (i.e. Slack) these days.  It is difficult to get your email inbox to zero every day but taking time to “process” your emails with the options above and get them into your trusted system pays dividends in productivity.  I get as much joy out of deleting emails (and unsubscribing from lists) as I do from checking off tasks.

I believe Getting Things Done changed my life and career path and was the single most important career inflection point in my life.  The added benefit was that it didn’t just impact my work productivity, it also had a positive impact on my personal and family life.  I’m thankful to John Frager for introducing it to me so many years ago and looking forward to a productive and successful 2024.  Happy New Year!

Brent Rivard is Managing Director, CFO and COO of Pathfinder Partners, LP. Prior to joining Pathfinder in 2008, Brent was the President of a national wealth management firm and CFO/COO of a one of southern California’s leading privately-held commercial real estate brokerage firms. He can be reached at

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