Getting Things Done Book Outline

I’ve been a practitioner of the book “Getting Things Done” by David Allen for years. I reread the book every few years. I finally got around to outlining it. Note that this is a work in progress, I’ll remove this note when the outline is complete

Part 1 - The Art of Getting Things Done

1 - A New Practice for a New Reality


You have all the tools you need to be in a high performance state.

You just don’t do it in a timely, complete or systematic way.

Three key objectives to GTD methods:

  1. capture all the things in a trusted system
  2. make front-end decisions so there is always an inventory of next actions
  3. curate and organize all that content so you can have a view of your levels of commitments at any point in time.

The Problem: New Demands, Insufficient Resources

Paradox - even with enhanced quality of life we are more stressed b/c we take on more than we can handle.

Why does this paradox exist?

Work has no clear boundaries.

Everything involved in our working day is fuzzy, cognitive boundaries, time and space and explosion of data.

Our Jobs (and Lives) Keep Changing

No one has the luxury of a clearly defined job anymore because:
  1. Organizations are always changing
  2. As a pro you’re more like a free-agent. Need to stay up to date.
  3. High speed lifestyle, things can change fast for you

Nothing new here, just the frequency in which things change that’s new.

The Old Models and Habits are Insufficient

The Big Picture vs. the Nitty-Gritty

The Promise: The “Ready State” of the Martial Artist

David Allen uses the mind like water analogy to describe the state one must be in to effectively work. This is what the productive state should feel like. You should be able to get into that productive state when required.

The Principle: Dealing Effectively with Internal Commitments

Basic Requirements for Managing Commitments

  1. If it’s on your mind, your mind isn’t clear.

  2. You must clarify exactly what your commitment is. Decide what to do. Make progress toward doing it.

  3. Must keep these commitments in an organized system you review regularly. “You must use your mind to get things off your mind” - David Allen

An Exercise

The real work of knowledge work

Why things are on your mind

Your Mind Doesn’t Have a Mind of Its Own

The Transformation of Stuff

The Process: Managing Action

Managing Action Is the Prime Challenge

The Value of a Bottom-Up Approach

Horizontal and Vertical Action Management

The Major Change: Getting it all out of your head

2 - Getting Control of Your Life: The Five Steps of Mastering Workflow


Get 100% of incomplete things

The Capture Tools

Success Factors for Capturing




Project Support Material

The Next-Action Categories


Next Actions Lists

Non-actionable Items


What to review When

The Weekly Review


3 - Getting Projects Creatively Under Way: The Five Phases of Project Planning

Enhancing Vertical Focus

The Natural Planning Model

The Unnatural Planning Model

The Reactive Planning Model

Natural Planning Techniques: The Five Phases



Power of Focus

Clarifying Outcomes



Related: How I use OneNote to implement Getting Things Done.

Next Actions

End of Part 1

Part 2 - Practicing Stress Free Productivity

3 - Getting Started: Setting up the Time, Space and Tools

Implementation - whether all out or causal is about tricks

Setting Aside the Time

Setting Up the Space

go to an office? still need a spot at home

are you on the go? you still need a space

Don’t share space

Get the tools you need

there are some basic supplies you need to implement this system

Critical factors for your filing system

Success Factors for Filing

Filing is it’s own Success Factor

One Final Thing To Prepare

Capturing: Corralling Your “Stuff”

Ready, Set …


Physical Gathering

What Stays Where It Is

Things should have an action tied to them except for

Issues About Capturing

Start with Your Desktop

Desk Drawers


Inside the Cabinets

Floors Walls Shelves

Equipment, Furniture, and Fixtures

Other Locations

This is not about throwing things away

Mental Gathering: The Mind Sweep

The “In” Inventory

But “In” Doesn’t Stay in “In”

6 - Clarifying: Getting “In” to Empty

Processing Guidelines

The following are guidelines to follow when processing things in your inbox

Top Item First

Emergency Scanning is not Clarifying


One Item at a Time

The Multitasking Exception

Nothing goes back into “In”

Key Processing Question: “What’s the Next Action?”

Related: What to do with your physical stuff after a sweep and before you handle it?

What if there is no NA?



Reference Material

What if there is a NA?

Must be the next physical thing to do

Once You Decide What the Action Step Is

Do It

Delegate It

Defer It

The Pending Things That Are Left

Identifying the Projects You Have

7 - Organizing: Setting Up the Right Buckets

The Basic Categories

The importance of hard edges

All you really need are lists and folders

Organizing Action Reminders

What goes on your calendar?

Organize as soon as possible by context

The Most Common NA Categories

Organizing Waiting For

Use the Original Items as Its Own Action Reminder

Manual Paper-Based Workflow

Managing E-mail-Based Workflow

A Caution About Dispersing Reminders of Your Next Actions

Organizing Project Reminders

The Projects List(s)

The Value of a Complete Projects List

Where to Look for Projects Still to Uncover

One List, or Subdivided

Some Common Ways to Subsort Projects

What about Subprojects?

Project Support Materials

Organizing Ad Hoc Project Thinking

Organizing Nonactionable Data

Reference Material

The Variety of Reference Systems


Someday/Maybe List

Special Categories of Someday/Maybe

The Danger of “Hold and Review” Files and Piles

Using the Calendar for Future Options

The “Tickler” File

Checklists: Creative and Constructive Reminders

Things You Want to Pay Attention To

First, Identify Inherent Projects and Actions

Blueprint Key Areas of Work and Accoutability

The More Novel the Situation, the More Control Required

Checklists at All Levels

Create any checklist as the urge strikes you.

8 - Reflecting: Keeping it All Fresh and Functional

What to Look At, When

Look at your Calendar First

Then Your Action Lists

The Right Review in the Right Context

Updating Your System

The Power of the Weekly Review

What is the Weekly Review

Get Clear

Get Current

Get Creative

The goal is you want a relaxed mind and relaxed control

The Right Time and Place for the Review

The Bigger Picture Reviews

9 - Engaging: Making the Best Action Choices

When you need to get work done, how do you choose what to do? Trust your heart. Three priority frameworks:
* 4 criteria model
* 3 fold model for daily work
* 6 level model for reviewing own work.

Four-Criteria Model


Time available

Energy available


Given all the other things, what’s the most important thing to do?

Threefold model for evaluating daily work

during the day you’ll be doing one of three things:
* predefined work
* work as it shows up
* or you’ll define your own work.

Momement to momement balancing act

The Six-Level Model for Reviewing Your Own Work

Ground Level

Horizon 1

Horizon 2

Horizons 3–5

Three lower levels handle current state of things
Horizon 3 and up future direction

10 - Getting Projects Under Control

What Projects Should You Be Planning?

Projects that need next actions about planning

Typical planning steps

Random project thinking

Tools and Structures that Support Project Thinking

Thinking Tools

The Support Structures

How Do I Apply This in My World?

Part 3 - The Power of Key Principles

11 - The Power of the Capturing Habit

12 - The Power of the Next-Action Decision

13 - The Power of Outcome Focusing

14 - GTD and Cognitive Science

15 - The Path of GTD Mastery

Three Tiers of Mastery