Getting Things Done by David Allen: Summary and Notes

getting things done summary “If you don’t pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves.”

Rating: 9/10

Related Books: The Getting Things Done Workbook, Ready for Anything, Making It All WorkDeep Work, Productivity Beast, 21 Keys To Develop a Productivity Plan, Think and Grow Rich, Eat That Frog

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Getting Things Done Short Summary 

Getting Things Done by David Allen provides an organization system for your working and personal life. Some of it is outdated by now but has lots of great proven principles on productivity throughout the book.

A New Practice for a New Reality

Two objectives that can enhance stress-free productivity:

  1. Capturing all things that need to get done (whether big or small, in the present or in the future)
  2. Practicing discipline in making decisions that develop into action steps

In this new millennium, people add to their stress levels by taking on more than they have the resources to handle. In the old days, work responsibilities were more defined. A lack of clearly defined responsibilities in the current times increases stress. Placing excessive emphasis on ‘the bigger picture’ at work at the expense of focusing on the finer details is a failing approach because:

  • There are too many distractions. This makes it hard to focus
  • Ineffective personal organizational systems. These cause subconscious resistance to undertaking bigger projects that are not likely to be managed well, causing even more stress
  • The realization that a lot needs to be changed. This leads to feelings of being overwhelmed

Mind Like Water State (The Zone): a condition of working, doing, and being in which the mind is clear and constructive things are happening Here are the basic requirements for managing commitments:

  • Unfinished tasks must be captured in a mental space that can be revisited at will
  • Clarify exactly what your commitment is and decide what you have to do to make progress in fulfilling it
  • After deciding on all the actions you need to take, keep reminders of them in an organized system that can be reviewed regularly

Uncompleted tasks will always remain on your mind until you:

  • Clarify your intended outcome
  • You haven’t decided what the next physical action to take is
  • You haven’t put reminders of the outcome and the action in a system you trust

The key to managing your responsibilities is managing your actions.

Getting Control of Your Life: The Five Stages of Mastering Workflow

The five discrete stages we go through as we deal with our work:

  1. Collect things that command our attention
  2. Process what they mean and what to do about them
  3. Organize the results
  4. Review  the options
  5. Take action

Trying to implement all 5 phases at once doesn’t yield much success.

Collection involves identifying tasks that are yet to be completed, as well as decisions that are yet to be made towards the completion of tasks. Tools that can be used for the collection could be low tech (e.g a physical in-basket, paper-based note-taking devices) or high tech (e.g voice recording devices, email)

Processing collected tasks involves deciding whether there are action steps to be taken and possibly discarding tasks that you are unwilling to work on. Once decisions are made, choose whether to do, delegate, or defer the actions.

Project: any desired result that requires more than one action step You don’t do a project: you just take actions related to it. Replace to-do lists with next action lists.

The Five Phases of Project Planning

The key ingredients of relaxed control are:

  • Clearly define projects and the next actions required to move them to closure
  • Reminders placed in a trusted system that is reviewed regularly

Your brain is a natural planning machine. To accomplish virtually any task your mind goes through five steps:

  1. Defining purpose and principles
  2. Outcome Visioning
  3. Brainstorming
  4. Organizing
  5. Identifying next action steps

The five phases of natural planning are:

  1. Purpose. Identify the why of your decision
  2. Principles. Boundaries
  3. Vision of the outcome
  4. Clarifying outcomes
  5. Next Actions. Identifying whether the action should be taken by you or by someone else

Setting Up the Time, Space, and Tools

Create a block of time and prepare a workstation with appropriate furniture and tools to initialize the process of managing your workflow. This set up makes work attractive.

Set up a physical location to serve as your functional workspace, which is critical. Even if you go to an office to work, it is also important to have a workspace at home. Don’t share workspaces!

Processing: Getting “In” To Empty

Release stress by emptying your mind by writing down what you need to get done. Complete quick action steps in two minutes or less, or the shortest time you can. Set reminders of actions that require less than two minutes (or a short period of time) to complete.

Process one task at a time. Multitasking is an exception that works only if you hold the discipline of working through every item in short order, and never avoid any decision for longer than a minute or two. After determining what action steps to take:

  • Do it if the action takes less than two minutes
  • Delegate it if you’re not the most appropriate person to take the action
  • Defer it into your organization system as an option for work to do later

Pending Actions: actions that have been delegated to others or deferred to be done later

Organizing: Setting Up The Right Buckets

Here are seven types of things to keep track of and manage from an organizational perspective:

  • A “Projects” List
  • Projects support material
  • Calendared actions and information
  • A “Next Actions” list
  • A “Waiting For” List
  • Reference material
  • A “Someday/Maybe” list

There are two basic types of actions: actions that can be done as soon as possible and actions that need to be done on a specific date by a specific time Surprisingly, some of the things you write on your lists will come to pass without you making an effort to make them happen.

Reviewing: Keeping Your System Functional

The purpose of this workflow management method is not to let the brain become lax, but to enable it to move toward more elegant and productive activity You must be assured that you’re doing what you need to be doing, and it’s ok to not be doing what you’re not doing

Your personal system and behaviors need to be established in such a way that you can see all the action options you need to see when you need to see them.

Always look at your calendared action steps first, then your action lists A weekly review sharpens your intuitive focus on your important projects as you deal with the new flood of input and possible distractions from the rest of the week

Bigger Picture Reviews: Clarifying the larger outcomes, long-term goals, visions, and principles that ultimately drive and test your decisions.

Doing: Making The Best Action Choices

Trust your intuition in your action taking processes The four-criteria model for choosing actions in the moment is based on:

  • Context
  • Time Available
  • Energy Available
  • Priority

The threefold model for evaluating daily week includes:

  • Doing predefined work
  • Doing work as it shows up
  • Defining your work

Getting Projects Under Control

Typical project planning steps:

  • Brainstorming
  • Organizing
  • Setting up meetings
  • Gathering information
  • Digital outlining

The Power of the Collection Habit

Having too much to do is not a source of negative feelings. Negative feelings come from a place of breaking agreements you make with yourself: disintegrating self-trust. You can prevent broken agreements with yourself by:

  • Don’t make the agreement
  • Complete the agreement
  • Renegotiate the agreement

The Power of Next-Action Decision

Create the option of doing. Failing to make a decision about the final plan of action causes you to be stuck. The smartest people are usually most prone to procrastination. Taking the next action-action steps requires clarity, accountability, and empowerment

The Power of Outcome Focusing

You can’t define the right actions until you know the outcome, and your outcome is disconnected from reality if you’re not clear about what you physically need to do to make it happen.