Summary: Getting Things Done by David Allen

Book Summary

David Allen's book presents a comprehensive system for managing commitments, projects, and actions. The key principles are capturing all commitments in a trusted external system, clarifying what each commitment means and what to do about it, organizing the results in appropriate categories, and regularly reviewing the whole inventory to regain control and focus. The five phases of mastering workflow - collect, process, organize, review and do - allow us to efficiently manage the constant influx of demands on our attention.

By implementing this system, we can free our minds from the stress and distraction of uncaptured and unprocessed commitments. This enables us to be fully present and engaged, with a "mind like water" that can respond creatively and effectively to new opportunities and challenges. The book provides detailed guidance on the tools, practices, and mindset shifts needed to achieve this "ready state" and perform at our best, with greater clarity, control, and meaningful progress in all areas of life and work.

Chapter 1: A New Practice For A New Reality

  • Getting things done requires capturing all commitments in a trusted external system and making front-end decisions about next actions.
  • The nature of work has changed dramatically in recent decades, with constantly shifting responsibilities and an overwhelming volume of information and communication.
  • Traditional time management and organizational approaches are insufficient for dealing with the demands of modern work and life.
  • It is possible to achieve a "mind like water" state of clarity, focus and effectiveness by implementing a comprehensive workflow management system.

Chapter 2: Getting Control Of Your Life: The Five Stages Of Mastering Workflow

  • The five stages of mastering workflow are: collect, process, organize, review, and do. Following this process is key to staying relaxed and in control.

  • Collect everything that has your attention in "collection buckets" like an in-basket, notepad, digital tools, etc. Get it all out of your head.

  • Process what you've collected by asking "What is it?" and "Is it actionable?" If it's not actionable, trash it, file it as reference, or put it on a "Someday/Maybe" list. If it is actionable, decide the very next action required.

  • Organize the results of your processing into appropriate categories: projects, project support material, calendar actions, next actions, and a "Waiting For" list. Review this system regularly to stay current and in control.

Chapter 3: Getting Projects Creatively Under Way: The Five Phases Of Project Planning

  • There are five phases in the natural planning model: defining purpose and principles, outcome visioning, brainstorming, organizing, and identifying next actions.
  • Asking "why" helps define success, create decision-making criteria, align resources, motivate, clarify focus, and expand options when planning a project.
  • Principles define the parameters, policies, and criteria for excellence to guide a project.
  • Having a clear vision of the desired outcome enables the mind to generate ideas and solutions for making it a reality.

Chapter 4: Getting Started: Setting Up The Time, Space, And Tools

  • Set aside a block of 2 days to initialize the workflow mastery process and set up an appropriate workspace with the right tools. Minimize distractions during this time.

  • Establish a dedicated physical workspace to serve as your central cockpit of control - at the office, at home, and a mobile one if you travel a lot. Don't share this space with others.

  • Stock your workspace with the basic processing tools, including trays, paper, pens, Post-its, clips, stapler, file folders, calendar, and wastebasket.

  • Good tools don't have to be expensive. Often simpler, less "executive" looking tools are more functional. The most important thing is having what you need to capture thoughts and process your stuff easily.

Chapter 5: Collection: Corralling Your "Stuff"

  • Block off time and set up a dedicated workspace with basic tools like trays, paper, pens, file folders, labeler, and calendar
  • Gather all incomplete items and put them in the in-basket for processing
  • Supplies, reference material, decoration, and equipment that are where they should be can remain in place; anything not in its proper permanent place goes in the in-basket
  • Gathering everything that needs processing into one place enhances focus and control and lets you know the full scope of what needs to be done

Chapter 6: Processing: Getting "In" To Empty

  • Collect everything that has your attention into an "in" basket or pile. This includes physical items, notes about things on your mind, and digital items like emails and voicemails.

  • Process the items in your "in" basket one at a time, deciding what each item is and what action is required. Never put anything back into "in."

  • For each item, ask "What's the next action?" If there is no action required, the item is trash, something to hold for later review, or reference material to be filed.

  • When in doubt about whether to keep something, either throw it out or keep it based on your intuition and the space you have available. Distinguish between actionable items and reference/support material.

Chapter 7: Organizing: Setting Up The Right Buckets

  • Organize action reminders into appropriate categories such as "Calls," "At Computer," "Errands," "Office Actions," "At Home," "Agendas," and "Read/Review"
  • Keep a "Projects" list that is an index of open loops requiring more than one action step to complete, and review it weekly
  • Store project support materials and reference information in separate files, not on action lists
  • Maintain a "Someday/Maybe" list for things you may want to do in the future but have not committed to yet

Chapter 8: Reviewing: Keeping Your System Functional

  • Consider creating "Someday/Maybe" lists for things you might want to do in the future but don't need to act on now
  • Use your calendar to park reminders of things to consider doing later, such as project triggers, events to attend, and decision catalysts
  • Set up a "tickler" file with 43 folders (31 daily files and 12 monthly files) to manage future reminders and to-dos
  • Create checklists for key areas of work, responsibility, and focus to ensure nothing falls through the cracks, especially in novel situations

Chapter 9: Doing: Making The Best Action Choices

  • The Weekly Review is critical for keeping your system functional and current. It involves reviewing calendar data, lists, and files to get clear and current.

  • Doing a Weekly Review requires setting aside time and space for catching up and rising above the day-to-day to regain perspective.

  • In the moment, choose actions based on context, time and energy available, and priority. Keep action reminders organized by context.

  • Balance predefined work, work as it shows up, and defining work. Regularly process inputs and review action lists to feel comfortable about what you're not doing.

Chapter 10: Getting Projects Under Control

  • Your ability to deal with surprise is your competitive edge, but staying busy with only the work at hand can undermine your effectiveness if you're not catching up and getting things under control.

  • Manage all levels of work (life, long-term visions, 1-2 year goals, areas of responsibility, current projects, current actions) in a balanced way to have relaxed control and inspired productivity.

  • Working from the bottom up - getting control of current actions and projects first - clears the psychic decks and allows creative attention to focus on the more meaningful visions.

  • Capturing more of the creative, proactive thinking we do (or could do) about our projects and lives through informal planning can relieve pressure on our psyches and produce significant creative output with minimal effort.

Chapter 11: The Power Of The Collection Habit

  • Take time to do "vertical" thinking and planning on your most important projects
  • Use tools like writing instruments, paper, whiteboards, and computers to capture and organize project ideas
  • Create simple, accessible file folders or notebook pages to store project notes and materials
  • Utilize outlining and brainstorming software as needed, but keep it simple and functional

Chapter 12: The Power Of The Next-Action Decision

  • Negative feelings about your to-dos come from breaking agreements with yourself, not from having too much to do. You can eliminate this negativity by renegotiating those agreements.

  • Capturing everything you need to do in an external system allows you to renegotiate your agreements with yourself, eliminating stress and guilt.

  • When everyone in a relationship or organization adopts the habit of 100% collection of commitments, it builds trust and allows greater focus on important matters.

  • Making "What's the next action?" a standard question to ask about everything you're committed to creates clarity, focus and productivity.

Chapter 13: The Power Of Outcome Focusing

  • Defining the next physical action required to move forward on a commitment creates positive momentum and energy
  • People often procrastinate because they haven't clearly identified the next action, especially on complex projects
  • Making next-action decisions on the front-end is much more efficient and less stressful than waiting until things blow up
  • Establishing "What's the next action?" as an organizational standard brings clarity, accountability, and productivity