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Getting Things Done Summary

15 min read ⌚ 

Quick Summary: In “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity,” David Allen teaches readers how to stay focused in a distraction-full society. Getting Things Done, or GTD for short, is a time management method based on throwing all those to-dos out of your mind in a collection bucket, a list or two, or a regular weekly review.

Who Should Read “Getting Things Done”? And Why?

Apparently, writing “Getting Things Done” has created an option for closing down that organizational “pitfall”. The problem refers to the inability to properly conduct the process of sharing the amount of work in the company. Transport everything that is from your head into a reliable system which the users can review on a regular basis.

Corporations hate being forced to operate on the verge of uncertainty, meaning that the tasks delivered by their employees are not necessary – at least not in the present moment. Associates allow themselves to manipulate the system by finishing their work without communication.

Such mistakes can cause serious production issues and other managerial constraints. Once the activities are into the system, there is nothing to worry about, but aversiveness to change can sometimes play a considerable role.

Use the designated folders, baskets and boxes to lock-up all of your items. At the same time, horizontal controls will grant you the possibility to put anything of value into an organized framework, and the vertical controls can enable you to plan any projects.

Projects tend to get a little needy, once the implementation process is underway, to make it easy for you and the other associates, define the project’s scope, vision and adopt a set of principles.

This book is intended to answer questions and enable organizations to master the technique of “Getting Things Done,” as such all the people will find use in adopting some of the author’s methods and understanding its vision.

About David Allen

David AllenDavid Allen was born soon after the end of WW2 on December 28, 1945. He as an American-born consultant, writer, editor, and historian left a mark in every industry related to his expertise. With more than two decades of coaching experience, he indeed is an “all-arounder”.

David spent his childhood in Shreveport, Louisiana and graduated from the University of Berkeley – studying American history. Later on, he founded “David Allen Company” and time management “Getting Things Done”.

“Getting Things Done Summary”

I recently finished reading this book and I already started implementing a lot of the things I learned from it. It initially appeared in 2002 and it was revised in 2015 with some new ideas and perspectives, mostly from a technological point of view.

David Allen is a productivity consultant for companies and individuals who feel that somewhere along the road, they got lost in the little things and are trapped in a vicious circle of small tasks that consume their energy.


'Keep everything in your head or out of your head. If it's in between, you won't trust either one.' @gtdguy Click To Tweet

They know they have big projects, but they are not quite sure how to get started because it seems that there is always something in the way. Although many theories would suggest starting from the top down, and seeing the big picture when it comes to a project,

Allen shifts the perspective completely. In this new method, GTD (Getting Things Done) he says it is crucial to see “What the next action is?”, write down all your ideas about that particular project and divide it into small actionable steps.

This is actually one of the main ideas of the book and the entire system:

Keep everything in your head or out of your head. If it’s in between, you won’t trust either one.

So in order to have a clear vision about our ideas, projects, plans and even day to day activities it is best to put them on paper. Sounds simple, but so many of us don’t use this system and we rely solely on our minds to remember stuff.

And that is not a big issue. The main problem is that we remember stuff in the moments when we should focus on something completely different and we decrease our productivity:

'There is usually an inverse relationship between how much something is on your mind and how much it's getting done.' @gtdguy Click To Tweet

Is there anything more important than a sharp vision? The phrase “put everything on paper” has some meaning, and this book summary is going to try and bring that message closer to the readers.

Whether we are talking about office, home, family, finances or even vacations, it does not matter.

All things deserve to be treated with respect, because at the end of the day – productivity defines the quality of life. All of these topics should be written down in specific places where you know you will revise them again and make progress.

Getting Things Done resolves another issue: if you have an agenda where you write down everything in bulk, you will never really get to the bottom of things, and you will be overwhelmed by the amount of information that you gathered.

So one of the easiest ways to get organized is to use lists. Post-its, agendas, pens, paper, all the classic stuff that you usually keep around the house or in our office can help you in this process.

Of course, you can also use digital tools and rely on them to some extent, but it was proven that these traditional tools are still the most efficient. How can you get started?

Allen suggests that it takes about a full weekend for some of his clients to go thoroughly through the entire process and organize their lives. You would need two days in which you are not distracted, you do not have important calls, tasks, and commitments.

You will need to go through all your stuff and make a complete inventory of your materials. If they are useful for some projects, if they are just reading materials, stuff you will deal with at a later date or simply just trash.

Getting Things Done Summary

He recommends this process not only for individuals but also for companies: “I recommend that all organizations (if they don’t have one already) establish a ‘purge day,’ when all employees get to come to work in jeans, put their phone on do-not-disturb, and get current with all their stored stuff.”

In order to be more productive, the author suggests using the two-minute rule.

So if something new appears in your schedule like an email or a memo that you have to answer with yes or no, if it can be done in under two minutes, the advice is to do it, even if you feel that it breaks your work cycle.

Leaving it for another time will mean that your emails are starting to gather in your inbox and perhaps answering after a week is no longer relevant to that topic.

Anything that requires under 2-minute actions should be dealt with immediately.

In order to be more focused and present in our daily activities, Allen says we need to have a “Mind like water”:The idea of ‘mind like water’ doesn’t assume that water is always undisturbed.

On the contrary, water engages appropriately with disturbance, instead of fighting against it.”

How can you achieve a “mind like water” attitude? Well, first you have to take everything from your mind and write it down on a piece of paper.

You will instantly feel more relaxed because you now have a system which will help you remember things instead of constantly wandering inside your thoughts and organizing everything there when you should be focusing on one project at a time.

Once you do this and you have control over what is in your head, you need to find the right perspective.

Habemus GTD

David Allen, in developing his famous method, called this “open circuit” effect, which he defines as “anything attracting our attention that is not in its proper place as it is.” Complex things like “putting an end to hunger in Africa” or as small as “putting an envelope in the mail”.

The point of the book is that even people who are not consciously “stressed” will always be more relaxed, focused and productive if they learn to deal with their open circuits efficiently.

To do this, he proposed a method, which he called GTD, or Getting Things Done (Free Translation, “Leaving Things Done” or “Completing Tasks”). GTD is a system for controlling these open circuits so that you can focus on your current task at all times without distractions.

According to David Allen, every open circuit in your life must have its own place, organized and filed, so you can temporarily take it out of your head, with the peace of mind that when you need to revisit it, it will be properly cataloged.

Also, GTD also features a task prioritization system to ensure that you are always working on the most important activity at the time. The system is broken in steps. Get to know them below:

Stage 1: Collecting Information

The first step to adopting GTD is to bring together the tasks that are taking away your focus. You can use paper, a tool like Evernote or even an email client to do this (our favorite is Google’s Inbox).

The tasks that you need to collect on this list will come from your day-to-day activities, but also from requests from co-workers, friends, and family. To succeed in this step, it is important that:

Every planned task should go to your collection system and thus get out of your head; This list needs to be constantly and cleanly revisited when you perform or cancel a task. Having this list is essential, and if a task is open in your head, it is important that you take note.

Otherwise, it will end up becoming a distraction that takes your focus every moment.

Stage 2: Processing Information

It is impossible to finish all your tasks and close all your circuits. It is human nature that new open circuits always appear. But if you cannot do all the tasks you wrote down, how can you keep your list empty? For this, there is a simple but extremely efficient cleaning process that keeps you organized.

Step 1: Identify the item: Before starting a new task, we must identify what is contained in it and make a careful analysis.

Ask yourself “What is this?” And understand in depth what that task represents.

This is very important especially when tasks are demands that come from other people such as emails. Understanding the item will help you decide what tasks need to be done to close the open circuit.

Step 2: Ask yourself, “Do I need to do something about it?”

This question is interesting because not all tasks really need to be performed, after all, some demands may have no meaning, or it may be that you or someone on your team is not necessarily the best person to do it.

If you identify a task that you do not need to take action, do one of the following: Put it in the trash. Archive it as “one day / maybe” (this is for anything you may want to do in the future but cannot do or do not want to do now).

Archive it as a “reference” (you do not need to do anything about it, but you may need this information later; it’s a good idea to have an organized system for storing reference items, either in your bookmark system, in an email folder Or even on paper on your desk).

[PRO TIP: Use Evernote] If the task requires your attention, but not immediate, it is best to mark it as such. It is essential to put it on a list to be revisited in the future. A good idea would be to put an automatic reminder on your calendar for when action needs to be taken.

[Pro Tip: Use Google Calendar or Google Inbox!] In the cases above, you have solved the item and can remove it from your collection system and thus close (although temporarily, in the case of future attention) the open circuit.

Most items in your collection buckets probably will not go beyond this stage. This step is essential to ensure that we have our heads free to start producing and focusing on the tasks that require our immediate attention.

If your list only has tasks that require immediate attention, now is the time to go to the next step

Step 3: Ask yourself, “From my list, what is the next activity I should execute?” Now that you have a free mind to produce, you have to be smart in choosing what to focus on first. If it is a simple task, you can go straight to the next step.

But in our lives, many tasks are complex and require several small activities to achieve the desired goal.

If the task is simple, skip to the next step. If the task is more complex and will require it to be broken into several smaller tasks, you need to add it to a new list called Projects.

In the Projects list, you must break this item across all its sub-items. With the sub-items set, return the most important ones to your main list. The list of projects is a list of all open circuits that require more than one task to complete.

A good example would be to have a “Rent apartment” project, and its subtasks would be “Visit real estate”, “Choose apartments to visit”, “Visit apartments”, “Make an offer to real estate”.

The projects list is a tool for tracking the open circuits you are still working on.

When you complete all the sub-tasks of a project, you can take it out of the project list. When new tasks appear in the project, such as “Find cosigner for the contract”, add it to the project list.

Step 4: Work on small tasks. This step is to ask yourself, “Can I complete this task in a single action and in less than two minutes?” Simple tasks like the examples below can be executed immediately.

Answer a question from a co-worker; Fill out a short survey form; Schedule a meeting; And if you can complete it right away, why not finish it now and clear your brain of that open circuit?

Step 5: Delegate what is not your job / It is not the best use of your time. After the immediate tasks, the easy and fast, it is time to know how to handle the tasks a little more complex, it is time to prioritize them.

The first question should be: Am I the best person to carry out this activity or can I delegate it to someone on my team (family, friends, etc.)? If it makes sense to delegate this activity, go ahead and do it.

Once you have delegated a task, you must schedule the date on which you want to check the progress of the task. If you choose to perform the task, put it on your list of upcoming actions. The list of upcoming actions is timely planning, which ideally should be closed early in the day so you can be productive and do the most you can.

Step 6: Organizing your list of upcoming tasks. You should constantly revisit your list of upcoming tasks. The two most common ways of organizing it are by context and by priority.

To organize your list by context, ask yourself, “Where do I need to be to accomplish this task?”

Contexts can be physical locations such as your office, your home or the supermarket, but they can also be specific situations, already pre-occupied daily or weekly in your schedule.

A good example of situation context would be to have a fixed time in your agenda, from 8-am to 9-am called “email management”, or “internal meetings.” For each context, you must create a task list.

Organizing by context helps you, regardless of what you’re doing, to look at your list of upcoming actions and see what you need to do where you are.

Priority organization, however, must be done differently.

It is necessary to ask yourself, “Given my context, time and energy available, what will bring the most reward?”

Another important point is to consider the tasks according to your long-term goals.

Allen also suggests that you familiarize yourself with the Eisenhower Matrix of prioritization, which is based on the urgency and importance of the tasks (google this or read the article above!).

Stage 3: Performing – Get Shit Done!

Now that you’ve created your list of upcoming actions and organized them by context and priority, you’re ready to get started. Roll up your sleeves to perform the most complex and hairy tasks.

Still, you’ll have tasks popping up in your calendar (the ones you delegated and checked to check in Step 5), so plan to have time for them as well. If during an execution time some new task begins to distract you or disrupt your focus, put it on your list of open circuits so that you can return to it later.

Stage 4: Analyzing and Reviewing your Routine

The last step is the constant review of our lists and there are three essential analyzes that should become a habit so that we can keep our circuits constantly in the tracks. Here they are:

  • New context review: Whenever you are in a new context (example, in the company board that you were asked to attend monthly.), Check your list of upcoming actions. This creates the habit of working on your priorities in any context.
  • Daily agenda review: Every morning, check your calendar and see what tasks you need to complete that day. Analyze, evaluate and if necessary, make adjustments.
  • Weekly Review of Upcoming Task Lists and Open Circuits: Weekly review is essential to boost your productivity using GTD. It works like this:
  • Empty your list of open circuits: Review your main list weekly and try to get as many activities as possible.
  • Review your project list: Finalize completed projects, evaluate which projects are becoming less important and whether new projects have come up.
  • Clear your list of upcoming actions: Rearrange your list by transferring the tasks from last week that still need to be completed and adding new items to your list of open circuits. The weekly review allows you to stay organized and constantly evolving.

Allen’s method suggests six “horizons of focus”:

  1. Current actions
  2. Current projects
  3. Areas of Responsibility
  4. 1-2 year goals
  5. 3-5 year goals
  6. Life.

Getting Things Done pdf

What is so great about this process is that there isn’t a recipe for everyone and you can customize the process so that it fits your personality and your work mechanisms.

You can choose a number of lists that you want to have, the way to organize your calendar, the amount of technology you want to involve.

You have to take into consideration some basic guiding lines, but most of it can be tailored to your specific needs.

Getting Things Done is a mechanism that will help you store, track and retrieve information at any given moment and in this way you will no longer feel stressed that you might forget some important details.

What you need to keep in mind when you are writing down an idea for a project, is the fact that it needs to be broken down into actions.

For example, if you just write: planning vacation, this is not something that will make you take further action. You need to think about the specific steps and what is the next 1-2 concrete steps that you need to take: a. decide about location, b. announce your boss that you need a vacation leave, c. book tickets etc.

“Project” is a very general term and as the author puts it:

You don’t actually do a project; you can only do action steps related to it.

If you keep these suggestions in mind and you start even with only small changes, you will see the difference in the way you respond to tasks and the way you organize in a matter of days.

This book is one of the best I’ve read when it comes to time/action management and it really helped me to become a more focused and organized person.

I began to apply the ideas presented while I was reading it and although I did not reach the point of having a full purge of my office and all my documents, I still feel better about the way I organize my day to day activities and I became more productive.

Key Lessons from “Getting Things Done”

1.      Managing limited resources
2.      Look from another perspective
3.      Workflow Mastery

Managing limited resources

You only have 24 hours each day, make the best out of that time. Well-equipped managers must be able to efficiently allocate expendable resources.

If you consider yourself as one, start by identifying only the most essential activities and avoid working on others. Define each project’s steps and follow them thoroughly.

Look from another perspective

Not knowing whether the job is completed or not, is the worst case scenario. Adopting new attitude on how to get things done efficiently must be a priority for any company.

Believe in change, and train the other employees to follow your example.

Workflow Mastery

Don’t let life control you, beat the system and become your own master.

There are several stages, which will assist you in managing life by valuing all those things that are worthy of your attention and combining them into a well-organized framework of activities.

Like this summary? We’d Like to invite you to download our free 12 min app, for more amazing summaries and audiobooks.

“Getting Things Done” Quotes

If you don't pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves. Click To Tweet Your ability to generate power is directly proportional to your ability to relax. Click To Tweet You can fool everyone else, but you can't fool your own mind. Click To Tweet Use your mind to think about things, rather than think of them. You want to be adding value as you think about projects and people, not simply reminding yourself they exist. Click To Tweet Anything that causes you to overreact or underreact can control you, and often does. Click To Tweet

Our Critical Review

The book empowered by many core principles also describes in great detail all the tools that you have available in order to be more productive and keep an organized life.

We join the agenda by producing this book summary that is going to spread the “Getting Things Done” influence worldwide. Regardless of other factors, the author emphasizes some fundamental values that would help the everyday person to reorganize life.

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