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Getting Things Done by David Allen
Hardcover (288 pages), Viking Adult (January 2001) ISBN-10: 0670899240 PSRP: 24.95 USD

Last Revised January 26, 2013 Overview: Amazon - "Our ability to be productive is directly proportional to our ability to relax. Only when our minds are clear and our thoughts are organized can we achieve stress-free productivity. His system teaches how to identify, track, and choose the next action on all our tasks, commitments, and projects and master all the demands on our time while unleashing our creative potential."

Review: GTD now developed a cult following in Silicon Valley likely because of its rigor – both intensely logical and pragmatic. While indeed seamless, GTD lacks an strong look at “purpose” – answering the question of why we should be productive. What’s Getting Things Done? ‘Getting Things Done’ is a toolkit for building a single consistent, foolproof, and personal system to do work. By capturing all the open loops in life and making front end decisions on all work knowing at all times what the “next action” will be, you’ll declutter/clear your mind and achieve “stress-free productivity.” Most people allow open loops to fester in their subconscious which results in worrying, stress and unnecessarily wasting time when you can be focusing on the “now.” While others often advocate a top down approach, this is a bottom up approach to life management – letting go of lower levels of thinking. Organizing the day-to-day, allows the higher level thinking of goals / values to fall into place. The Approach to Work: “Getting Head to Empty” 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Collect things that attract attention. Process: what is it & what needs to be done? Organize the results. Review as options, choose what to do. Do.

inbox trash what is it?

is it actionable?
Multi-step projects


someday/ maybe
(tickler file; hold for review)


what’s the next action?

(retrievable when required)

project plans
(review for actions)

will it take less than 2 minutes?

do it now delegate it

do it later

(for someone else to do)

(to do at specific time)

next actions
(as soon as possible)

Be ruthless and regular about collecting, centralizing and processing tasks/data into very discrete categories: Actionable items. Each item should be “actionable,” meaning: 1. 2. You know what outcome looks like and what you’re committing to. What the next required action is.

There are 7 categories of items that you’ll track: 1. 2. Projects List: Anything that requires >1 action step. Project Support Material: These are materials/resources to support actions and thinking about projects – don’t use for reminding. You will thumb through to consider pending next actions. You can set up subprojects here. Doesn’t matter how many lists of projects you have as long as you review as often as is necessary. Include in Weekly Review (see below). Keep one system. Calendar: Items that go in Calendar do not include “ASAP” tasks but the following: a. b. c. 4. Time specific actions: e.g. specific appointments Day specific actions: needs to be done that day Day specific information/reminders

*The 2 Minute Rule: If it takes less than 2 minutes, just do it. In building lists, the goal is to have all actions/options you need to see when you need to see them. Author’s own system of lists is digital with exception of two physical ones: read/review & data entry (e.g. business cards, quotes, articles).


Next Action Lists: Remember this is for items > 2 min. Organize in physical context – relative to tools you need,
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people you need to speak to (e.g. calls, @computer, @office, @home, read/review). First, trust your gut, and then choose what to do based on the following criteria: a. b. c. d. 5. 6. Context Time available Energy available Priority

10. Review ‘Someday/Maybe’ list. Check for any projects that may have been active and transfer to projects. Delete any no longer of interest. 11. Review “Pending” and Support Files. Browse through all WIP support material to trigger new actions, etc. 12. Be creative and courageous. Any crazy new risk taking ideas you can add to system? Seeing Tasks within the Bigger Picture Review long term goals/life as required. “You need to assess your life and work at the appropriate horizons, making the appropriate decisions, at the appropriate intervals, in order to really come clean.” A model for deciding how to process daily work: 1. 2. Doing predefined work Work as it shows up. You should be aware of what you're not doing by frequently reviewing lists. Reduce "urgent" and "surprises" as much as possible should be goal. System however allows for interruptions. Expect the unexpected by having various lists with you - you can do things on hold only if you know that those things need completing. Defining your work in the context of a part in the larger system.

Waiting for Lists: When tasks are delegated you should track and date what you’re waiting for & from whom Reference Material: Do not blend actionable items here! Items do not have any pull/push associated with them. (see more details below). Someday Maybe List: Triggers regularly reviewed.


Categories must be kept separate and distinct. If they lose their edges, much of the value of organizing will be lost. Day-to-Day Review 1. 2. Calendar first. Knowing day/time specific commitments helps make decisions about your day Next, your action lists. Looking at actions items versus where you will be gives you option to do those things


The Weekly Review A critical step that Projects should be reviewed regularly at least once a week. Recommended to block out 2 hours of time – e.g. Friday afternoon when information is still fresh, you can still reach people at work, and makes you free for weekend. It is ok to decide not to decide to do something so long as you have a system that tracks this. Put all tasks/commitments in context to get to empty again: 1. 2. Loose papers. Pull out all scrap paper, receipts, etc, into inbox for processing. Process notes. Review journal entries, notes, list actions, waiting for’s, calendar events, read/renew material, etc.. Be ruthless. Purge what’s unnecessary. Previous calendar data. Scan past calendar dates in detail for action items leaving nothing uncaptured. Upcoming calendar. Scan for future calendar events (LT and ST), actions about arrangements/prep. Empty your head. Put in writing new projects, action items, w/f’s, someday maybes not yet captured. Review ‘Projects’ (and larger outcome lists). Evaluate status one by one, with at least one action on list. Consider moving to Someday/Maybe. Review ‘Next Action’ lists. Mark off completed actions, review reminders. Review ‘Waiting For’ list. Record appropriate actions for any required follow up, check off received items. Review any relevant checklists. Anything else?

To be most productive and motivated, your tasks at the lower levels must be aligned with your broader longer term goals and values at all levels: 50,000+ feet: Life 40,000 feet: Three to five-year vision 30,000 feet: One- to Two-year goals. What will the nature of your work look like 1-3 years later? Life? 20,000 feet: Areas of responsibility. Make personal and professional sublists (likely 4-7 areas of responsibility at work and similar number personally). Ensure you have all your projects and next actions defined so responsibilities can be managed appropriately. Look for gaps/imbalances between this and projects. 10,000 feet: Current projects Runway: Current actions Everything has to be managed in a balanced way so you can be in the present. Knowing all the open loops can result in a much clearer vision. Working top down when the bottom is out of control can be highly ineffective. Finalize your “Projects” list and ensure that it captures all the commitments you have made in an objective inventory that will automatically produce greater focus, alignment and sense of priorities (this takes 10-15 hours for most clients to get to point of trusting thoroughness of inventory). Long term questions to ask 30-50,000 feet: • What are the longer-term goals and objectives in my organization, and what projects do I need to have in place related to them to fulfill my responsibilities?
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3. 4. 5. 6.

7. 8. 9.

• •

What longer-term goals and objectives have I set for myself, and what projects do I need to have in place to make them happen? What other significant things are happening that could affect my options and change what I'm doing?

with 200-400 paper-based general reference files and 30-100 email reference folders.) Large Category Filing. Any topic that requires more than 50 file folders with its own alpha system. Stick with one system to avoid conflict. Rolodexes and Contact Managers. Libraries and Archives. If material is purely for reference, the only issue is whether it's worth the time and space required to keep it. Tracking "Someday/Maybes". Not throwaway items. Either lists as trigger or paper-based "tickler" system. Let loose. The Tickler File. Physical reminder of things you want to see or remember not now but in the future. Like mailing stuff to yourself in the future. Every day of the week that day's folder is pulled and reviewed. E.g. travel tickets, travel destinations. "A tickler file demands only one second per day new behavior to make it work and payoff value is logarithmically greater than the personal investment." 43 folders: 31 daily files titled with sequential days + 12, one for each month The next day's date is the first file (e.g. if today is 5th, the file would be 6th). Next day's file is emptied into inbox every day and folder is refiled at back of the dailies. If you leave town, you must check the folders for the days you'll be away BEFORE you go. Using Checklists. The more novel the situation the more control is required (versus cruise control). Use checklist to maintain focus until you're more familiar with what you're doing. First, clarify inherent projects and actions. 6 areas of work that can be defined and listed and reviewed consistently in a bigger picture format: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. • • • • • • • • Career goals Service/Volunteering Family Relationships Community Health and energy Financial resources Creative expression

Examples of things that can force you to re-evaluate: • • • • • • Changing nature of job / priorities of company Direction in career and career changes and things you need to do for promotions Organization direction / adjusting career plans Lifestyle preferences / needs. Retirement. Struggle with the "Why" or else everything else won't fit / be in balance. Ensure that you're set up for "vertical processing" - maybe a someday/maybe list or folder called dreams and goals

Make sure your projects list is up to date. Spend 1-3 hours to handle as much vertical thinking as possible. Take a few projects that you have the most attention or interest in and do some thinking and collecting and organizing on them. Focus on each one, one at a time, top to bottom, ask yourself " what about this do I want to know, capture or remember?" Bringing Your Email Inbox to Empty Most folders in email should be used for reference or archived materials. Keep actionable items outside “inbox” where most people keep them. Create one folder for emails that will take longer than 2 minutes. Get rid of as many using the 2 minute rule. "Action" Folder should sit at the top of your reference folders and should look different (in MS Outlook it is "@") "Waiting For" folder. Drag items into folder or cc/bcc yourself auto directing mail like this into your Waiting For folder. Get "in" to "empty"; then it becomes like answering machine. Otherwise, "in" can be mind-numbing each time you look at your email as you reassess everything given the unopened loops. Empty does not mean you have handled everything. Now you can open your @Action file. Remember that because you have a separate sub-system for email, these action items must also be reviewed daily. For peace of mind, you must have actionable items locatable, know what can wait and you have to do that in seconds. Managing Non-Actionable Information (Again, do not blend with actionable items!). Two categories: Reference and reminders of things that need no immediate action but might at later date. Warning: All files must be consistently reviewed. A few systems: General Reference Filing. Rule 1: Be able to access anything within 60 seconds. Rule 2: Paper or email, you must feel comfortable enough storing a single piece of paper to refer to later. (Most end up

A list of some topics of checklists: Personal Affirmations (e.g. value statements) Job/Key Areas of Responsibility Travel Checklist (Things to take/do before a trip) Weekly Review (everything to review and/or update on a weekly basis) Training Program / Event Components Clients Focus Areas (key life roles and responsibilities) Key People in My Life/Work (relationships to assess regularly for completion and opportunity development)

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• •

Organization Chart (key people and areas of output to manage and maintain) Personal Development (things to evaluate regularly ensuring personal balance / progress)

• •

Get rid of hanging files if you can - faster and less formal; if you can't, label files not hangers, use only one file folder per hanger, keep big supply of hangers Purge your files at least once a year

Get comfortable with checklists but ad hoc and more permanent and be ready to create and eliminate as required. Setting Up your Physical Space “You increase productivity and creativity exponentially when you think about the right things at the right times and have the tools to capture your value added thinking.” Workspace/prime location. Writing surface and room for an inbasket. Most need ≥ 4 file drawers for general reference & project support types of paper based material. Don't Share Space! You need your own in-basket and physical space to process paper. You will need a space at home / satellite with identical system. For business traveler. Micro-office in transit - e.g. briefcase with appropriate folders and portable supplies The Basic Processing Tools/Starting from Scratch: • • • • Paper-holding trays (≥ 3, no lips). In, Out & WIP trays Stack of plain letter-size paper. A pen/pencil, Post-its (3X3s), Paper clips, Binder clips, stapler and staples, Scotch tape, rubber bands. Automatic labeler. Surprisingly important. Legibly label folders, spines, and numerous other things (one of best tricks for enhancing personal productivity is having organizing tools that you love to use) File folders. Letter size, plain (color coding rarely worth effort). Calendar. Wastebasket/recycling bins. Filing System.

Getting Started for the First Time Start with a 2 day block of time, block out the world. It can take a while to define all the open loops and next actions especially if they’ve been open for a while. Interruptions can double the time needed. A. Collection: Corralling your “stuff” (usually 1-6 hours) Why gather everything together before you start? 1. 2. 3. To have sense of volume you need to deal with. So you know where end of tunnel is. Keeps you focused when you move onto processing step (vs. incomplete collections)

Gather everything. From business cards in wallet to gadgets with missing parts. Physical Gathering process: • • • • • • • • • Stuff that stays where it is: Supplies, reference material, decor, equipment Everything else, even re-considering the stuff that stays goes "in" For items too big - write a note on a piece of letter size plain paper to represent it / date it as well. Date everything. If your basket overfills, create stacks around Instant Dumping: Goal is to get everything "in" as quickly as possible. If it's obviously trash, dump it. If in doubt, process later. Don't get distracted and not being able to get through entire process Existing lists / organizers - put into "in" - your system needs to be consistent and merge everything into one Use a priority/emergency stack if necessary but get everything processed first, if possible Start with your desktop and get all the crap out (e.g. phone slips, mail, memos, business cards, notes from meetings); ask yourself if you have any intention of changing tools/equipment Next, desk drawers, countertops, inside cabinets, floors, walls, shelves, equipment furniture fixtures, other locations - look everywhere including outdated/broken stuff Mental Gathering. The Mind Sweep: (see appendix for checklists) Virtual inboxes - email and voicemail. For Vmail consider transferring to paper and putting "in". Email best left where they are given volumes. To be processed in their own mini-system.

• • • • • • • • •

Using your Filing System: You must feel equally comfortable filing a single piece of paper or even scribbled note in its own file as you would more formal document Keep your General reference files at hand's reach - filing has to be instantaneous/easy; swivel distance One alpha system - not multiple. Don't bother doing it by area of focus. KISS. Have lots of fresh folders - keep giant stack instantly at hand; reorder when <100 Keep Drawer less than 3/4 full - if overstuffed, you'll resist putting things in there. Material such as finished project notes and dead client files may still need to be kept but be stored offsite or at least out of your workspace Label folders with auto labeler - makes everything easily identifiable Get high quality mechanics for file cabinets – again removing any negative feelings/reluctance you have in opening.

• •

• •


Processing: getting ‘‘in’’ to empty Steps to process (start with low-tech pieces of paper and upgrade later to electronic/digital later to manage lists):
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1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

Trash what you don't need Complete any less than two minute actions Hand off anything that can be delegated Sort into your organizing system reminders of actions that require more than 2 minutes, and Identify any larger commitments (projects) you now have based on the input.

You are either attracted or repelled to things on your list – no neutral territory. Bright people procrastinate most because minds process faster and end up over-thinking faster than others – the solution is to reduce negative imaging, breaking down into completable tasks. Negative feelings also come from breaking agreements with yourself – not from having too much to do. Avoid them by not making the agreements, completing the agreement or renegotiating the agreement. You’ll make fewer agreements as you develop objective inventory of your work. It’s easier to complete tasks/agreements when you know what they are. Unaccounted for open loops occupy subconscious RAM. Change agreements by lowering standards or moving the task to someday/maybe lists, so you know this has been managed. People fall off the wagon when they let their lists grow into abstract tasks versus discrete actions. Within organizations, focusing on next action is empowering, avoiding the dark side of collaborative cultures that can deflect responsibility. Each meeting should establish first, what the goal is for that meeting and secondly at the end, what’s the next action. Planning Projects to be more Creative The goal is to get projects off the mind but stay open to creative ideas. The biggest opportunity to project planning isn’t formal but the need to capture and use more of the creative, proactive thinking we do, or could do. Recognizing projects that could use some planning: 1. Those that still have your attention even after you determine their next actions. Specific application of one or more of following required: purpose, principles, vision/outcome, brainstorming and/or organizing Those about which potentially useful ideas and supportive detail just show up. These are ideas that just show up ad hoc but they need to find a place to stay for later use as required.

Rules: 1. Process the top item first. Don't spend time on it. Decide what the thing is, action required, and dispatch accordingly. Last in/first out system (vs FIFO) generally better. Process one item at a time. This is critical or else you end up with a "hmmmph" stack that never gets processed. Exception: if you're processing multiple items at once. Never put anything back into "in". Deal with everything once and only once.



The next processing question: “what’s the next action?” This is the absolute next physical thing that must be done. Group “Next Steps” by context/tools that you need to get tools done. Process: 1. Do it (if < 2 minutes). Just a guide - if you have longer time window you can extend/shorten. Time yourself until you're familiar with the process. Improve your typing speed if necessary. Delegate it (if you're not the appropriate person to do the action). Not always downstream. Date everything you hand off to others. Consider the following order: a. b. c. d. e. 3. email write note to person vmail agenda item on list for next real time conversation talk directly face / phone. Make sure you track the handoff - "Waiting for" list



Defer it. Stack of items that have actions soon, someday or on specific date.

Five phases of project planning: 1. Defining purpose and principles. Ask "why?" - Defines success, creates decision-making criteria, motivates, clarifies, and focuses Envision ideal outcome or project Brainstorm Organize Identify next action

If no immediate action required: 1. 2. 3. Trash. Check with CPA to see how long you need to keep critical documents so you know your options. Items to incubate. e.g. coupons, seminars Reference Material. 2. 3. 4. 5.

Identify the projects that you still have. These are placeholders for ALL open loops (probably 30-100 projects). Building a “What’s the Next Action” Culture “The secret to getting ahead is getting started.” (Mark Twain). Asking what the next action is, breaking complex tasks into simpler ones, and forcing you to think about what doing looks like which puts you in control. Automatic increase in energy, productivity, clarity and focus.

Using Mindmapping. With core idea at center and related ideas radiating out. Rules for Brainstorming: • • • • Don't judge, challenge, evaluate or criticize Go for quantity, not quality Put analysis and organization in the background

Basics of Organizing: Identify significant pieces
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• • • • •

Sort by components, sequences, or priorities Detail to the required level

Setting up Meetings: Progress can be made on project thinking when you set up meeting with people you'd like to have involved in the brainstorming Usually means sending email to whole group or to assistant to get it calendared. "One of the greatest blocks to organizational productivity is the lack of decision by a senior person about the necessity of a meeting, and with whom, to move an important issue forward.”

Gathering information: • Sometimes task is to gather more data

Capture and process random project thoughts. Always keep paper and writing utensils around for this very purpose. Tools and Structures that support project thinking: • • • • • • Thinking tools. e.g. palm organizer, computer Writing Instruments. Invest in quality. Can be inspiring. Papers and Pads. Where’s your closest? Keep it closer. Easels and whiteboards. In as many places as possible The Computer The Support Structures: · File Folders or Loose-Leaf Pages: can provide sense of control · Software tools: digital outlining (point form & indents provide structure for project planning), brainstorming / project planning applications · Attaching digital notes: Make sure that you review attachments to make them useful

Other Tips • • • • Keep read/review file in one place so you can grab and read when it’s appropriate to maximize productivity. Review GTD system every 3-6 months Share anything of value you’ve learned – this is the fastest way to reinforce what you’ve learned Visit David Allen’s site:

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Appendix: Triggers List Professional Projects started, not completed Projects that need to be started Commitments/promises to others Boss/partners Colleagues Subordinates Other people in organization “Outside” people Customers Other organizations Professionals Communications to make/get Internal/external Initiate or respond to: Phone calls Voicemail E-mail Pages Faxes Letters Memos Other writing to finish/submit Reports Evaluations/reviews Proposals Articles Promotional materials Manuals/instructions Rewrites and edits Meetings that need to be set/requested Who needs to know about what decisions? Significant read/review Financial Cash Flow Statistics Budgets Forecasts/projections P&Ls Balance sheet Credit line Planning/organizing Formal planning (goals, targets objectives) Current projects (next stages) Upcoming projects Business/marketing plans Organizational initiatives Upcoming events Supplies Office/site Office organization Furniture Decorations Waiting for… Information Delegated tasks/projects Completions critical to projects Replies to: Letters Memos Calls Proposals Requisitions Reimbursements Petty cash Meetings Presentations Organizational structuring Changes in facilities Installation of new systems/equipment Travel Banks Receivables Payables Petty cash Administration Legal issues Insurance Personnel Policies/procedures Customers Internal External Marketing Promotion Sales Customer service Systems Phones Computers Office equipment Other equipment Utilities Filing Storage Inventories Insurance Ordered items Items being repaired Tickets Decisions of others Professional development Training/Seminars Things to learn Things to look up Skills to practice/learn especially re: computers Tape/video training Resumes Outside education Research – need to find out about… Professional wardrobe Personal Projects started, not completed Projects that need to be started Commitments/promises to others Spouse Children Family Friends Professionals Borrowed items Projects: other organizations Service Civic Volunteer Communications to make/get Family Friends Professional Initiate or respond to: Phone calls Letters Cards Upcoming events Special occasions Birthdays Anniversaries Weddings Graduations Holidays Travel Weekend trips
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Vacations Social events Cultural events Sporting events R&D— things to do Places to go People to meet/invite Local attractions Administration Financial Bills Banks Investments Loans Taxes Insurance Legal affairs Filing Waiting for. . . Mail order Repair Reimbursements Loaned items Medical data RSVPs Home/household Landlords Property ownership Legal Real estate Zoning Taxes Builders/contractors Heating/air-conditioning Plumbing Electricity Roofing Landscape Driveway Walls/floors/ceilings Decoration Furniture Utilities Appliances

Light bulbs/wiring Kitchen things Washer/dryer/vacuum Areas to organize/clean Computers Software Hardware Connections CD-ROM E-mail/Internet TV VCR Music/CDs/tapes Cameras/film Phones Answering machine Sports equipment Closets/clothes Garage/storage Vehicle repair/maintenance Tools Luggage Pets Health care Doctors Dentists Specialists Hobbies Books/records/tapes/disks Errands Hardware store Drugstore Market Bank Cleaner Stationer Community Neighborhood Schools Local government Civic issues

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