Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity - By David Allen

Date Read: May 24, 2021

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🚀 The Book in 3 Sentences

  1. You probably have more stuff to do and keep track of than you know.
  2. All of that stuff subconsciously chips away at you and affects your mental health and well-being.
  3. There's a simple process to follow that will help you see your way out of that stress.

🎨 Impressions

The message of this book is deceptively simple. I watched YouTube videos about implementing GTD and cobbled together my own bastardized system based on those videos and thought I pretty much knew what I needed to know about it. Boy was I wrong.

The level of detail the book uses to describe the solution is incredible. I've never read anything quite like it and it far exceeded my expectations. It's also far more spiritual than I expected.

I already put a reminder in my calendar to re-read it in six months.

Who Should Read It?

Anyone who feels like they're constantly having things fall through the cracks, who is trying to manage things by memory in their head, and who wants to do it differently, and have a higher level of personal well-being and lower level of stress and anxiety as a result.

☘️ How the Book Changed Me

  • It gave me a solid foundation for organization and keeping the different areas of my life organized
  • It helped me establish new habits that have helped me be more relaxed about the things I need to do
  • It helped me to stop worrying about forgetting the things I needed to do and who I needed to do them for
  • It helped increase my confidence in my ability to run my business and my life

✍️ My Top 3 Quotes

  • IT’S POSSIBLE FOR a person to have an overwhelming number of things to do and still function productively with a clear head and a positive sense of relaxed control.
  • The consistent, unproductive preoccupation with all the things we have to do is the single largest consumer of time and energy.
  • The key to managing all of your stuff is managing your actions.

📒 Summary + Notes

Everytime you make an agreement with yourself that you're going to do something, no matter how big or small, it gets tracked by your subconscious. If you don't have a reliable way to keep track of all these things then your mind is going to spend energy trying to keep track of them for you.

The only way to deal with these things is to capture all of them, clarify what exactly each one of them means to you, and decide what the next action is for each one.

Anything that you're trying to keep track of in your head creates stress. It causes your mind to be unclear. All of that stuff needs to be collected in a reliable place—outside of your head—you know you'll come back to regularly to review.

You have to clarify exactly what every one of those items is, what they mean to you, what the intended outcome for each one is, and what you need to do next to move each one towards completion. When you're clear on what you need to do next for every one of those items, you need to collect the next action steps in a place you'll come back to regularly to review.

The reason things stay on your mind and take up your energy is because you haven't done the work of collecting and clarifying, and putting them in a system you trust.

Getting things done requires:

  • defining (1) what “done” means (outcome)
  • defining (2) what “doing” looks like (action)

We:

  1. capture what has our attention
  2. clarify what each item means and what to do about it
  3. organize the results, which presents the options we
  4. reflect on, which we then choose to
  5. engage with

For your mind to be able to let go of the energy draining task of trying to remember the things you need to do, you have to know you have captured everything that represents something you need to do, or decide about.

As soon as you attach a “should,” “need to,” or “ought to” to an item, it becomes an open loop.

  1. Every one of these needs to be collected somewhere outside of your head (your collection buckets). The tools you use to collect these things should become part of your lifestyle so no matter where you are you can collect a valuable thought or idea.
  2. You should have as few collection buckets as possible.
  3. You must empty and review them regularly. If you don't then your tools aren't serving you and they just become an overflowing storage space for miscelaneous stuff.

What you need to ask, and answer, about every item (email, text, voice mail, memo, note, idea, etc.) that comes your way.

What Is It?

Do you actually need to do something about it?

Is It Actionable?

If no then there is no action required and there are three possibilities:

  1. It’s trash, no longer needed.
  2. No action is needed now, but something might need to be done later (incubate).
  3. The item is potentially useful information that might be needed for something later (reference).

If yes, you need to determine two things:

  1. What “project” or outcome have you committed to?
  2. What’s the next action required?
  • If it’s about a project you need to capture it on a “Projects” list. That will help to keep reminding you that you have an open loop until it's done.
  • What’s the next action? This is the critical question for anything you’ve captured; if you answer it appropriately, you’ll have the key substantive thing (the next action item) to organize.

Do It, Delegate It, or Defer It?

Once you’ve decided on the next action, you have three options:

  1. Do it. If an action will take less than two minutes (or some other small time interval you've decided for yourself) do it immediately.
  2. Delegate it. If the action will take longer than two minutes, ask yourself, Am I the right person to do this? If the answer is no, delegate it.
  3. Defer it. If the action will take longer than two minutes, and you're the right person to do it, you have to defer it until later and track it on one or more “Next Actions” lists.

Managing the system requires these basic tools:

  • A list of projects
  • Storage or files for project plans and materials
  • A calendar
  • A list of reminders of next actions
  • A list of reminders of things you’re waiting for

A project is defined as any desired result that can be accomplished within a year that requires more than one action step. The reason is that if one step won’t finish something, you need some kind of tracking to remind you that there’s still something left to do.

The list of projects is a compilation of finish lines we use to determine our next actions and to make sure we have a next action for every goal we've set for ourselves.

Next-Action Categories

The next-action decision is central. It needs to be the next physical action we can take on every open loop without exception.

The Calendar

Every action that needs to happen at a specific time or on a specific day goes on your calendar. The only things that should go on the calendar are day-specific actions, time-specific actions and day-specific information.

  • Day-specific actions are those that need to happen on a specific day but not necessarily at a specific time.
  • Time-specific actions are basically appointments.
  • Day-specific information is not necessarily actions but things you want to know that is relevant to your day-specific actions or appointments.

The Calendar is sacred. It's not a place for to-do lists or miscelaneous notes. If something goes on there then it should absolutely be done on that day or at that time. It should only be changed if an appointment changes.

Next Action Lists

Everything that needs to be done as soon as possible should go on these lists. This along with the calendar are the central hub of your dail action-management. Depending on how many you have it might be beneficial to subdivide these into categories (calls to make) or context (home, computer, errands, etc.).

Waiting For List

Actions that you are waiting for others to do should go on this list.

What to Review When

It’s a good habit, as soon as you complete an action on your calendar, to check and see what else needs to be done. After checking your calendar, you’ll most often look at your Next Action lists, your inventory of predefined actions you can take if you have extra time.

All of your projects, agendas, and lists should be reviewed once a week

The Weekly Review is the time to: Gather and process all your stuff. Review your system. Update your lists. Get clean, clear, current, and complete.

This is a critical component of your system. It might be a good idea to schedule this so you don't forget and so it becomes a habit.

How do you decide what to do?

  1. The Four-Criteria Model for Choosing Actions in the Moment At 3:22 on Wednesday, how do you choose what to do? At that moment there are four criteria you can apply, in this order:
    • context (if you're at your computer, check your computer list, if you're out of the house, check your errands list)
    • time available
    • energy available
    • and priority
  2. The Threefold Model for Identifying Daily Work When you’re getting things done, or “working” in the universal sense, there are three different kinds of activities you can be engaged in:
    • Doing predefined work; working from your Next Actions lists and calendar or managing workflow
    • Doing work as it shows up; doing things as they show up because you decide to or you have to
    • Defining your work; clearing and processing your in-tray, inbox, notes, messages, and breaking projects down into discrete next actions

Purpose - It never hurts to ask why

Almost anything you’re doing can be enhanced by more scrutiny at this top level of focus.

One of the most powerful like skills, both personally and professionally, is defining clear outcomes. We need to be able to define, and redefine as necessary, what we're trying to accomplish on many different levels, and make the necessary shifts to get these done as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Any outcome or vision for a project can be as simple as a single-sentence statement or a complete script depicting the entire future of the project in minute detail.

“Wouldn’t it be great if . . .” is not a bad way to start thinking about a situation, at least for long enough to have the option of getting an answer.

Keep a General-Reference filing system

You only need one for general reference. And keep it at hand so filing is instantaneous and easy.

One simple alpha system files everything by topic:

  • person
  • project
  • company
  • etc.

So it can be in only three or four places if you forget exactly where you put it. You can usually put at least one subset of topics on each label, like “Gardening—pots” and “Gardening—ideas.” These would be filed under G.

Even digitally, it's' helpful to have a system sorted in a way that make sense—either by indexes or data groups organized effectively, usually in alpha format.

More questions to ask

“What does this mean to me?” “What do I want to be true about it?” “What’s the next step required to make that happen?”

These are the cornerstone questions we must answer, at some point, about everything.