Getting Things Done Book Outline

  • 11 Nov, 2018

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.

  • old days, work had a clear end.
  • today, projects can never be “perfect.”
  • infinite amount of data is available to keep trying to make project perfect.
  • Lack of edges creates more work for everyone.

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

  • In the 80s your calendar was the bomb.
  • Then, 90s some basic prioritization ABC and daily todo lists.
  • You can’t easily encode everything in priority order.

The Big Picture vs. the Nitty-Gritty

  • We need to focus on long term goals. We fail at it. Why?
    • To much distraction in the day-to-day
    • Ineffective organizational systems. Makes it too hard to take on big projects.
    • Big goals make us realize how much we have to do.
  • Focus on primary outcomes and values is critical exercise.
  • Missing piece - a system with coherent set of behaviors and tools that function at the level where work really happens.

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

  • most stress people experience comes from inappropriately managing commitments one makes or accepts.
  • all of those commitments are being tracked by your sub-conscious
  • these are “open loops” - anything pulling your attention that doesn’t belong where it is.
  • Deal with open loops by capturing the things that are ringing your bell.
    • what do they mean to you?
    • make a decisions about how to move on them
    • simple? but most people don’t do this

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

  • Think of a project or situation that’s on your mind. Write it down.
  • Think of what a successful outcome looks like for this project
    • write it down too
  • Think of the next action you need to move toward the successful outcome
  • People think a lot, but most of the thinking is of a problem, not about the problem

The real work of knowledge work

  • “In knowledge work . . . the task is not given; it has to be determined. ‘What are the expected results from this work?’ is . . . the key question in making knowledge workers productive. And it is a question that demands risky decisions. There is usually no right answer; there are choices instead. And results have to be clearly specified, if productivity is to be achieved.” - Peter Drucker
  • you need to clarify the real meaning of your work.
  • most people resist that
  • it’s most effective means available for making wises a reality

Why things are on your mind

  • you haven’t clarified the intended outcome
  • you haven’t decided the next action
  • you haven’t put reminders into a system you trust
  • if you don’t do these things you’ll keep thinking about it.

Your Mind Doesn’t Have a Mind of Its Own

  • Your brain reminds you of things you need to do at times you can’t do it
  • you’ll keep track of it in your head until you get it out somewhere

The Transformation of Stuff

  • “stuff” anything that you’ve allowed into your world that
    • doesn’t belong where it is
    • don’t know what it means to you
    • don’t know the desired outcome or next action
  • organization systems fail b/c people don’t deal with all of their stuff.
  • TODO lists are lists of stuff, not inventories of the real work that needs to get done.
    • these lists cause stress b/c they represents commitments without clear actions.

The Process: Managing Action

  • Get in the habit of keeping nothing on your mind
  • key to managing stuff is managing your actions

Managing Action Is the Prime Challenge

  • How do you make appropriate choices about what to do at any point in time?
    • manage your actions
  • you probably have more projects than you realize with undefined next actions.
  • Most projects seem overwhelming. They are!
    • Can’t do a project, only next actions.
    • many just require a minute or two, in the appropriate context to move them forward.
  • Time is usually not the issue
    • real problem is lack of clarity and definition of what a project really is
  • GTD requires two basic components
    1. what “done” looks like (outcome)
    2. what “doing” looks like (action)

The Value of a Bottom-Up Approach

  • start with the mundane on the floor stuff
  • most people are stuck in day to day commitments
  • getting control of your inbox and on your mind is a good way to start
  • you can handle higher focused thinking when your plate is clear

Horizontal and Vertical Action Management

  • H and V is how you control your commitments, projects and actions.
    • Horizontal control maintains coherence across all the activities you’re involved in
      • Need a good system to keep track of as many as possible and allow you to shift focus on them.
    • Vertical control is about thinking, development and coordination of individual topics and projects.
      • project planning in a broad sense
      • focusing on a single thing
      • fleshing out the ideas, details, priorities and sequences of events required for you to handle it.
  • Goal for H&V is the same. Get it off your mind and get them done.

The Major Change: Getting it all out of your head

  • Stop relying on keeping things in your head.
  • people only make lists when things are out of control
  • make externalization and review something you do on going
  • your mind will keep working on things that aren’t decided
  • you have a small short term memory. it’s going to make you nuts.
  • everything you tell yourself you have to do you think you should do right now
  • causes stress all the time

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

  • The five steps work together.
  • This is what you need to manage the horizontal aspect of your life
  • as we move from moment to moment this governs what we need to consider
  • Not just about “getting organized” or “setting priorities”
    • this happens naturally from these five pieces
  • must focus on five areas
    • quality of your workflow is only as good as weakest link


  • Need to know what needs to be captured.
  • stops your brain from trying to hold on to everything.

Get 100% of incomplete things

  • make note of anything incomplete in your world
  • if you say “should”, “need to” or “ought to” about a thing, it’s incomplete (i.e., I ought to figure out what to do with this old iPhone on my desk)
  • get those things into containers
  • get it out of your head

The Capture Tools

  • You’re likely capturing information in one or all of these buckets
    • Inbox
    • Paper, notebooks, etc.
    • audio recordings
    • emails, texts, IMs
    • Maybe a bigger container for physical, non-paper things?

Success Factors for Capturing

  • There are three
    • get it out of your head
    • keep the # of capture locations low
    • clean them regularly


  • Need to ask and answer questions about every item you capture.
  • You are organizing not stuff, but the actions you need to take about that stuff.
  • The decision model for clarifying actions
    • What is it?
      • Flow diagram in the book
    • Is it actionable?
      • Yes then…
        • put it into a projects list or
        • determine the next action to move this thing to done.
      • No?
        • trash it
        • or file it
    • There are three things you can do with actionable items:
      • Less than 2 minutes? Do it
      • Delegate it
        • I put something on a “waiting for” list when I delegate it
      • More than 2 minutes Defer it
        • goes into Next Action list


  • There are 8 categories that all your processed stuff goes in.
    • Non-actionable items
      • Trash
      • incubation
      • reference
    • Actionable things?
      • List of projects
      • storage or files for project plans
      • calendar
      • list of next actions
      • list of waiting for
    • Your lists belong in something
      • I use OneNote for this (at least as of now)
      • incubating things can go in your
        • calendar
        • tickler file


  • Definition : any result that can happen within a year with more than one action step
  • You don’t do a project, only actions related to it

Project Support Material

  • Your project list is an index
  • Reference files you keep out of site
  • I use Dropbox folders for reference files, then I can link to them in One Note
  • Best practice is to keep digital reference simple as possible, and consistently reviewed and purged.

The Next-Action Categories

  • NA is central
  • next physical, visible behavior on every open loop
  • what needs to be tracked?
    • action on specific time / day - calendar
    • as soon as they can - next action list
    • waiting for others? Waiting for list


  • 3 things go here:
    • time-specific actions
    • day-specific actions
    • day-specific information - things you want to know on a specific day.
  • no daily to-do lists on calendar, they don’t work
    • priorities change
    • dilutes emphasis on what actually does need to happen on your calendar
    • sacred territory, what’s on there gets done that day or not at all

Next Actions Lists

  • heart of daily action-management systems
  • longer than 2 minutes, non-delegatable action goes here
  • break them into categories or contexts

Non-actionable Items

  • 3 categories
    • Trash - obvious
    • Incubation - helps keep your project / next actions list manageable
      • Someday / Maybe - list of things to do at some point but not now
      • you could do other lists like books to read, movies to watch, etc.
      • Ticker system - system that surfaces items you don’t need until the future
        • calendar, 43 folders, etc
      • Reference Material
        • information that is easily referred to when required.
          • topic / area storage
          • general reference files
          • All of this goes in Dropbox for me
            • PRJ - NAME
            • or folders like “Manuals”
          • CRM is good for people based reference material


  • Magic happens here
  • must look at the landscape at least once a week

What to review When

  • If you follow guidelines - Prj list, calendar, NAs, Waiting For, not much maintenance is needed.
  • Calendar - hard landscape, must get done stuff
  • NA list
  • Project / Waiting For / Someday Maybe as needed

The Weekly Review

  • Critical for success
    • keeps your brain clear
    • review your entire system once a week
  • Process
    • Gather and process your stuff
    • review your system
    • update your lists
    • Get up to date on your stuff
  • Most people don’t have complete system
  • the more complete system, the more you trust it
  • weekly review is key to maintaining system


  • Purpose of workflow-management is to help with good choices at any time
  • move from “I hope this is the right thing” to trust in your actions
  • Three Models for making action choices
    • always a long list of actions
    • need to decide what to do, what not to do and feel good about both
    • how? Trust your intuition.
      • you can do that if you’ve captured, clarified, organized and reflected on current commitments
    • 1 - The Four-Criteria Model for choosing actions in the moment
      • Context - are you in the right space to do this action?
      • Time Available - do you have enough time to complete it?
      • Energy available - are you alert enough to do this?
      • Priority - what’s going to give you the highest payoff
      • now rely on your judgement
    • 2 - The Threefold Model for Identifying Daily Work
      • Doing predefined work - working from NAs and calendar
      • Do work as it shows up - sometimes stuff shows up, you decide to do them
        • you’re deciding that ad-hoc stuff is more important than anything else you have to do.
      • Defining your work - clearing inboxes, processing meeting notes, breaking down new projects
        • I do this quickly in the morning
        • and during weekly review
        • once you define all your work, you can trust your actions list
    • 3 - The Six-Level Model for Reviewing Your Own Work
      • Priorities should drive choices, most models not reliable for real work
      • To know your priorities, you have to know what your work is
      • there are 6 perspectives to define priorities
        • horizon model
        • Ground : current next actions list
        • Horizon 1 : Current projects, they are generating the most NAs
        • Horizon 2 : Areas of Focus and Accountability - key areas of life and work.
          • not things to finish but criteria for assessing whether the work fits into our life
          • list and review these to help evaluate inventory of projects
        • Horizon 3 : Goals - one to two years from now
          • to meet these goals you might have to shift areas of focus and accountability
        • Horizon 4 : Vision - projecting three to five years out into bigger categories
          • Strategies
          • environmental trends,
          • career,
          • lifestyle transition circumstances
          • your decision here could change what your work looks like on many levels
        • Horizon 5 : Purpose and principles.
          • Big picture view
            • Why do you exist?
            • Why does your company exist?
            • ultimate job description
            • everything falls out of this horizon

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

  • Key ingredients of relaxed control are:
    • clearly defined outcomes (projects) and NAs
    • reminders in a trusted systems that is reviewed regularly
    • “horizontal focus”

Enhancing Vertical Focus

  • Most of the time you only need horizontal focus
  • sometimes you need greater focus to get situation under control
    • vertical focus
  • doesn’t have to be elaborate process
    • most is informal back of the envelope stuff
    • sometimes most productive thinking
    • can be pretty creative with just pen and paper
  • Don’t need formal models
  • need ways to validate our thinking even if it’s informal thinking
    • don’t need project management software
  • need to know why something is happening in the first place

The Natural Planning Model

  • your brain is best planner
  • you go through five phases when planning
  • Example - going out to dinner
    • purpose - why do you want to go out to dinner
      • hungry, date, etc.
    • outcome visioning - how do you envision your night out?
      • sitting outside, relaxing with friends
    • brainstorming - figuring out where to eat
    • organize everything you need to make the night out work
      • call friends, make reservation, get ready to go out, feed dog
    • next action what’s the next thing you need to do to make something happen?
      • make reservations
  • NP is not necessarily normal
    • is this how you think about your work?
    • there are some components of natural planning model that you haven’t implemented for all of your projects

The Unnatural Planning Model

  • contrast NP with another scenario, finding ideas before understanding purpose
  • causes creative constipation

The Reactive Planning Model

  • people don’t plan because they try to do it incorrectly
  • if you don’t plan then you get hit with last minute urgency
    • Work harder
    • get organized
    • let’s brainstorm
    • now define vision and purpose

Natural Planning Techniques: The Five Phases

  • thinking in more effective ways about projects can make things happen sooner, better and more successfully
  • how do we learn from what our brains do naturally?
  • use those five phases
  • Purpose - ask “why am I doing this?”
    • prime directive
    • common sense but people don’t do it
    • get focused on doing and not thinking about why
    • value of thinking about why:
      • defines success - if you don’t know what success looks like you can’t win
      • creates decision making criteria -
        • given what you’re trying to do are certain actions or investments required? can’t know without a purpose
      • aligns resources
      • it motivates - helps get you and team on track if you know why you’re doing something
      • it clarifies focus
      • expands options
        • if you know why you’re doing something it can help you think about ways to make it happen
    • Your “WHY” must be clear and specific.
      • answer the question - “How will I know when this is off purpose?”
        • must have a clear answer


  • define the parameters of actions and the criteria for excellence of conduct
  • the standards and values you hold
    • if they are violated, create distraction and stress
    • try answering this question - “I would give others totally free rein to do this as long as they …”
      • stayed within budget?
      • satisfied customer?
      • kept the team healthy?
  • if people act outside your standards it creates stress
  • how do you define your standards?
    • ask question “What behavior might undermine what I’m doing, and how can I prevent it?


  • what does success look like?
  • the what instead of the why

Power of Focus

  • focus we hold in our minds affects what we perceive and how we perform
  • focus instantly helps create ideas and thought patterns
  • we notice only what matches our internal belief systems and identified contexts

Clarifying Outcomes

  • most important life skill
  • what will project look like when it’s done?
  • the concept of the “definition of done” is useful here
  • start with done and work backwards
  • if you can identify the outcome there is more enthusiasm for the work to get there


  • capture these ideas as you think of them
    • I also use Google Assistant “take a note”
    • mind mapping is helpful too
    • white board
  • writing things can boost productive output and thinking
    • helps you think of new ideas
    • distributed cognition - getting things out of your head into reviewable formats
      • extended mind
    • helps you stay focused on one thing for hours
    • keys
      • don’t judge, challenge, evaluate or criticize, it makes you sensor things
        • primary criteria inclusion and expansion, not constriction and contraction
      • quantity, not quality - generate as many ideas as you can
        • better context you can create for developing your options
      • put analysis and organization in the background


  • you might see natural organization happening while brainstorming
  • organizing happens when you start to identify
    • components
    • order of operations
    • priorities
  • use your structuring tools
    • bullet points on paper
    • project management tools
  • key steps to organizing
    • identify the components
    • identify the order to do them
    • identify the priorities
    • add detail as necessary
  • all projects can benefit from creative thinking in some form.
    • “What’s the plan?”

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

Next Actions

  • final stage
  • 90% of project planning is
    • creating a list of real projects
    • managing next actions for each one
  • can you answer question “What specifically do I need to do to more this project forward?
    • can’t answer it? need to flesh out your project some more.
  • The Basics
    • activate the moving parts - “is there something anyone could be doing on this right now?
    • more to plan? if you’re not comfortable with what’s next, do some more planning
    • this clarifying step will help you maintain relaxed control
    • If the next action isn’t yours you still need to track it. Put it in Waiting for List
  • How Much Planning Do You Really Need to Do?
    • as much as you need to get it off your mind
    • sometimes a list of outcomes and next actions
    • you’re going to do the full planning model, just in your head
  • Need More Clarity?
    • If you’re stuck try moving up one level in the planning model.
      • lack of clarity? need more brainstorming
      • brainstorming results not clear? need better outcome vision
  • Need More to Be Happening?
    • need more action? Move down the model
    • you’re probably need more brainstorming time
    • brainstorming stuck? might need more evaluation
    • try focusing on the questions
      • “What’s the next action and who’s got it?”
      • “What pieces could be moved on right now?

End of Part 1

  • None of this stuff required new skills to increase your productivity, just systematic behaviors
  • just knowing how to do this doesn’t product results
  • you need a coach
  • that’s part 2

Part 2 - Practicing Stress Free Productivity

  • Move from conceptual framework to full-scale implementation and best practices
  • follow along in logical sequence
  • read it multiple times

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

Implementation - whether all out or causal is about tricks

  • not ready to go all out? still good tricks here.
  • learning how to manage workflow is about laying out gear and practicing the moves
  • pay attention to details and follow through on suggestions in entirety
  • execution here will product real progress

Setting Aside the Time

  • you’ll need two whole days back to back.
  • full capture process can take six hours or more
  • clarifying and deciding on actions can take 8 hours
  • can chunk it though
  • try doing this on weekend or holiday
  • don’t do it after hours

Setting Up the Space

  • Your command center
    • work / home need a place to go
    • where do you do most of your work?
    • need writing surface
    • room for inboxes

go to an office? still need a spot at home

are you on the go? you still need a space

  • setup a micro-space
    • briefcase
    • folders
    • supplies
  • you can take advantage of on the go time if you have
    • good processing style
    • right tools
    • good connected system at home

Don’t share space

Get the tools you need

there are some basic supplies you need to implement this system

  • Paper-holding trays (at least three)
  • A stack of plain letter-size paper
    • while gather stuff use single sheets of paper for things that don’t fit in inbox
  • A pen/pencil
  • Post-its (3×3"s)
  • Paper clips
  • A stapler and staples
  • Scotch tape
  • Rubber bands
  • An automatic labeler
  • File folders - plain are fine
  • A calendar - I use Fantastical on the Mac
  • Wastebasket/recycling bins
  • your capture tools

Critical factors for your filing system

  • you won’t capture things if you don’t have an efficient filing system

Success Factors for Filing

  • keep a personal and digital filing system
  • should take less than a minute to file things
  • get comfortable with filing even a single piece of paper in a folder
  • Follow these guidelines
    • Keep your system close by so you can quickly file something
    • one system, alphabetical
    • easy to create a new folder
    • make sure there is plenty of space for new files, don’t jam things in cabinet
    • use your auto labeler
    • purge things at least once a year

Filing is it’s own Success Factor

  • mental and physical workspace should be kept free
  • cluttered workspace keeps that from happening

One Final Thing To Prepare

  • clear the decks of any other commitments while you’re doing this.

Capturing: Corralling Your “Stuff”

  • More detail than in 2
  • get all your incomplete items into one “in”
  • 1 to 6 hours of work
  • go through every storage area

Ready, Set …

  • you can only feel good about not doing something when you know everything you’re not doing
  • things lying around nag at you
  • saps energy


Physical Gathering

  • Walk around physical environment
  • Gather things that don’t belong permanently

What Stays Where It Is

Things should have an action tied to them except for

  • Supplies
    • anything you use regularly
  • Reference Material
    • books, project material
  • Decoration
  • Equipment
  • everything else goes to in

Issues About Capturing

  • more than can fit in tray
    • write a note about it instead
    • one note per piece of paper
    • date it
    • if tray is full, stack around tray
    • trash something if obvious junk
  • objective is to capture as quickly as possible
  • desire to purge and organize
    • if you do that you’ll need more time
    • better to make a NextAction “clean office closet”
  • some stuff already organized
    • treat those lists as things to process
    • were setting up a consistent system
  • “I have to deal with that”
    • ask does it need handling this second?
    • put it in inbox
    • put it in emergency pile

Start with Your Desktop

  • Deal with everything you come across
  • don’t ignore stacks
  • do you need to change anything about tools?

Desk Drawers

  • Anything that doesn’t belong? In


  • Always confirm if something is reference material or actionable

Inside the Cabinets

  • Are collectibles still meaningful to you?
  • organize and purge? put it into in

Floors Walls Shelves

  • anything on walls that doesn’t belong?
  • cleanup artwork?
  • old books, catalogs?

Equipment, Furniture, and Fixtures

  • Ask yourself if you what to change anything about office gear or physical space

Other Locations

  • Consider doing this same process in other locations in your life.

This is not about throwing things away

  • It’s about assessing and organizing your stuff.
  • Your stuff shouldn’t pull on your focus
  • As long as things are where you want them you’re good

Mental Gathering: The Mind Sweep

  • After physical stuff, now sweep your mind
  • One thought on each piece of paper
    • because of how you are going to later process things.
  • put it into In
  • Triggers List
    • helpful to give you prompts while clearing your head
    • look at the list and see if it triggers a thought

The “In” Inventory

  • Where are the other inboxes in your life?
  • should include things like
    • voice mail
    • email
    • digital task lists
  • make a paper note of these and put them into in-tray

But “In” Doesn’t Stay in “In”

  • Don’t leave things in “In” for too long
  • get “In” to Empty.

6 - Clarifying: Getting “In” to Empty

  • focuses on center column of GTD diagram
  • from “in” to “next action”

Processing Guidelines

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

Top Item First

  • You’re going to get to all the things eventually, start with the top one.
  • process != spend time on. It just means get it out of in and into your system

Emergency Scanning is not Clarifying

  • when in processing mode, stay in processing mode
  • if you break the rule then you’ll start leaving things unprocessed


  • dump your tray over and do FIFO.
  • it won’t make much of a difference though b/c you should get to these things eventually
  • LIFO is more efficient for processing email inbox b/c of threading

One Item at a Time

  • keep your eye from wandering, only take one thing out of inbox at a time.

The Multitasking Exception

  • DA says it’s ok to let someone take multiple things out and work on them at a time.
  • I disagree - multitasking is proven a bad thing
  • but he does ack it’s an exception

Nothing goes back into “In”

  • “handle things once”
  • avoid decision fatigue

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

  • often deciding NA isn’t self-evident
  • you will need to determine it

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

What if there is no NA?


  • when you process everything in your world you become more aware of what you are going to do and not do.
  • if you need to decide on whether to keep it you can follow two paths
    • when in doubt throw it out
    • when in doubt keep it
  • trust your intuition
  • there are some things you might be required to keep, talk to your accountant
  • need a good filing system so things aren’t lost


  • you might have things you need later
  • write them down on a someday maybe list or
  • put them in a tickler file or a reminder in your calendar
  • do this to get them off your mind right now.
  • they will resurface at the appropriate time

Reference Material

  • must have a good filing system here.
  • otherwise things just start piling up in inbox again
  • want to keep it? make a label and put it into a folder
  • if you can’t file it immediately you never will
  • lots of options for digital information
    • I use email archive feature
    • and dropbox
  • key drive: Do I still have attention on my reference content or system? If not, create project and NAs to get this under control

What if there is a NA?

Must be the next physical thing to do

  • Until you know what the next physical action is, there’s still more thinking required before anything can happen—before you’re appropriately engaged.
  • Determine what physical activity needs to happen to get you to decide. You’re not deciding to decide.

Once You Decide What the Action Step Is

Do It

  • if it takes less than 2 minutes, just do it.
  • do this as much as you want in one session
  • point is the time it takes to write it down, file it, think about it you could just have done it.

Delegate It

  • you are going to have things that other people need to do for you.
  • “Am I the best person to do this?”
  • you must track the handoff
  • that’s your “Waiting For list”
  • make sure you put a date on the item in the list
  • this is one of the most crucial categories in your system.

Defer It

  • write them down and put them in lists

The Pending Things That Are Left

  • What do you do with things that are delegated or deferred?

Identifying the Projects You Have

  • If you’ve defined a NA and it doesn’t complete the commitment you have a project.
  • Project is your stake in the ground

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

  • Make sure you date everything that goes in this category

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

  • Need to review system on regular basis
  • Believe you know all the things you should do
  • Also it’s OK to not do what you’re not doing (not forgetting anything important)
  • The minute you realize stuff isn’t on your lists you’ll lose faith in them.
  • System isn’t static
  • Need to handle two major issues
    • what do you look at and when do you look at it?
    • what do you do and how often to keep your system running smoothly?
  • Review system helps

What to Look At, When

  • need to see all your actions when you need to see them
  • few people have this really setup
  • call list example
    • if you have free time and access to phone
    • look at list of calls, make best call or say it’s OK to not make any calls right now
  • you can do a few seconds a day reviewing your systems
    • just scan lists from time to time

Look at your Calendar First

  • What’s your hard landscape?
  • What gaps do you have in your day
  • Knowing this helps plan other activities

Then Your Action Lists

  • Scan your lists
  • Don’t have to do anything; just evaluate them
  • Get confident that you’re not missing anything critical
  • If you trust calendar and keep lists up to date that’s all you need to look at every couple of days

The Right Review in the Right Context

  • Make sure you have the right lists available when you need it.
  • I think this mostly means knowing where you keep things.
    • Agenda List for wife
    • up to date project list for boss
    • etc

Updating Your System

  • You should regularly adjust your thinking and your system
  • don’t let list fall behind reality or you can’t do this
  • biggest challenge
    • once you have a system up and running, can you keep it maintained?
    • yes if you do a weekly review

The Power of the Weekly Review

  • You’re crazy life makes the weekly review valuable
    • the capturing, reevaluation, reprocessing time gets built into your schedule
    • you can’t do this while also doing your day to day work
  • Help you focus on your most important stuff because you regularly review everything that you have to think about

What is the Weekly Review

  • Whatever you need to do to get your head empty and ready for the next couple of weeks
  • Get to the point where you can say “I know everything I’m not doing but could if I decide to do so”
  • 3 part drill
    • get clear
    • get current
    • get creative

Get Clear

  • This is a quicker version of the initial sweep you did when you first started
  • collect all loose papers and materials
  • empty your various inboxes
  • empty your head, get things into proper lists anything new that’s not captured

Get Current

  • Get your system up to date
  • review NAs
    • get done stuff off list
    • update lists with new actions
  • review calendars
    • look at past calendar
      • does it trigger any associated actions?
    • look at upcoming calendar
      • does it trigger any associated actions?
  • reivew Waiting For list
    • do you need to do any follow-up?
  • review Projects list
    • evaluate the status of your list 1 by 1
    • make sure there is at least one NA on a list
    • review project support material
      • does that trigger any new items?
      • should any of this move to a Someday / Maybe list?
  • review any relevant checklist
    • anything else you should do?

Get Creative

  • Everything is out of your head at this point.
  • Review your Someday/Maybe list
  • give yourself time to think of new ideas

The goal is you want a relaxed mind and relaxed control

The Right Time and Place for the Review

  • Must happen once a week
  • Recommend 2 hours in the afternoon on Fridays
    • early is best b/c you can then follow up with people before the weekend
  • This might be a huge challenge for you
    • find after hours time then
  • Try just putting it onto your calendar

The Bigger Picture Reviews

  • Must sometimes clarify longer term goals and larger outcomes
    • What are your key goals and objectives at work?
    • What should you be doing one to three years from now?
    • How is your career going?
    • Is this the lifestyle that’s fulfilling to you?
    • Are you doing what you need to do?
  • Once you have your head on the day to day stuff you have the mental space to think through the big picture goals

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

  • Context
  • Time available
  • Energy available
  • Priority


  • As you learn system you’ll invent new contexts
  • sometimes temporary contexts are good (i.e., Before Trip)
  • Sometimes you can create contexts based on areas of focus (life, work, family administrative)
  • no right way to structure NA lists
  • when you start you may have more than a 100 NAs
  • getting sophisticated with your NAs will pay off.

Time available

  • Look at the slots of time you have between appointments
  • take on actions that will fit in those slots
  • small actions are good quick wins after a long period of focus

Energy available

  • Sometimes you just don’t have enough energy to work at peak level
  • Keep an inventory of actions that require low mental or creative power
  • You’ll have to deal with these things anyway


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.

  • A lot of work shows up “in the moment”
  • When you have good system, dealing with suprises comes more easily.
  • as long as you know what you’re not doing this is ok.
  • make it a concious choice
  • don’t let the infinite stream of immediacy keep you from defining your work and managing your own inventory.
    • you’ll end up working on non-critical stuff

Momement to momement balancing act

  • People complain about interruptions preventing them from doing work.
    • interrupts happen all the time
  • you must get better at handling weird time that shows up
  • you can’t multi-task
  • must get good at parking things mid-stream so you can shift between situations

The Six-Level Model for Reviewing Your Own Work

Ground Level

  • Make sure NA lists are complete
  • if you don’t have at least 50 things on your NA list it’s probably incomplete
  • this gives you an immediate sense of priorities

Horizon 1

  • Does your project list capture all the commitments you have?
  • boundaries of your week-to-week operational world
  • Horizon 1 challenges
    • gettings NA for each thing on this list

Horizon 2

  • Areas of your Life
  • Current Job Responsibilities
  • What hats do you wear?
    • can start with job description
    • any personal goals
  • Create a list of “Areas of Focus”
    • Professional & Personal sublists
  • don’t need to look at it once a week
  • four to seven key areas at work
  • Purpose of AoF lists is to make sure you have all of your projects and NAs defined

Horizons 3–5

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

10 - Getting Projects Under Control

  • getting projects under control isn’t about Gantt charts
  • real need is to capture and utilize more of the creative, proactive thinking we do
  • this chapter is full of practical tips related to five phases of project planning

What Projects Should You Be Planning?

Projects that need next actions about planning

  • projects that you know should have more things fleshed out or feel out of control
  • get a next action written down that starts the planning process

Typical planning steps

  • Brainstorming them
  • Organzing them
  • if you have project support materials put an “Organize …” in the appropriate NA list where to file them
  • Setup Meetings
  • Gather information

Random project thinking

  • carry tools around with you to jot ideas as you think of them.
  • you need a place to hold all of your random ideas until you can process them.

Tools and Structures that Support Project Thinking

Thinking Tools

  • great tools can trigger great thinking
  • Writing Instruments
  • Keep good writing tools with you all the time.
  • Keep one at each place where you’re working
  • Paper and Pads
  • perforated do you can quickly write something down and drop it into your inbox
  • Easel or Whiteboard
  • and obviously working pens
  • Your Digital Tools
  • Outline in your Wordprocessor or favorite mindmapping tools

The Support Structures

  • Create file folders or loose leaf pages as needed
  • Paper vs. Digital
  • you might prefer digital but don’t discount the idea that “thinking on paper” might unlock new ideas.
  • I use a hybrid approach with iPad and Pencil
  • Software Tools
  • Mindmapping and outlining apps are good for planning

How Do I Apply This in My World?

  • Give yourself 2 - 3 hours for this vertical thinking
  • Focus on each project one at a time in your list. Ask yourself “What about this project do I want to know, capture or remember?”
  • mindmap, outline
  • get comfortable having and using your ideas

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

  • lifelong practice, multiple levels of mastery
  • mastery == ability to consistently engage product behaviors to achieve clarity, stability and focus
  • must incorporate all of GTD
  • master the segments then the incorporate them all

Three Tiers of Mastery

  • Mastering the Basics
    • simple but proficiency takes time
    • easy to regress on things
      • avoiding NA decisions
      • Using Waiting For for every expected deliverable
      • Using Agenda Lists for managing communication with others
      • Simple accessible filing system
      • Calendar as pure hard-landscape
      • doing weekly reviews
    • it is easy to get off track
      • you must make time for weekly review
    • it is easy to get back track
      • get pen, paper, empty your head,
      • clean up your lists
      • identify projects
    • the cycle of off again on again happens to everyone
      • especially during the first level of mastery
      • takes 2 years to get this fully integrated into work and life
  • Graduate Level - Integrated Life Management
    • requires more subtle awareness and practice
    • not focused so much on the system itself
    • mastery is about the bigger issues driving the basics of GTD
      • need to address higher level of control and focus
      • trust in the system frees your mind
    • How do you know you’re a master?
      • projects are the heartbeat of your operational system
        • not just a reflection of your next action lists
        • become a true reflection of your roles, areas of focus and interests
        • you move from the ground to somewhere between horizon 1 and 2
        • few people walk around with a complete inventory of their projects that are objectively and regularly reviewed.
        • mastery == when you recognize anything that has your attention and translate that into achievable outcomes with next actions.
      • Assigning and populating your project list from areas of focus
        • When you identify your areas of focus you’ll identify more projects
        • you’ll realize you’re not paying attention to things you should be
      • An integrated total life-management system
        • not a collection of lists
        • a control room that works together to help you deal effectively with whatever comes up
        • you understand GTD enough to customize it for you.
      • Pressure Make You Use GTD More, Not Less
        • when things come up, are you leaning on your system?
        • issues and opportunities should galvanize GTD practices
  • Post Graduate - Focus, Direction, and Creativity
    • Freedom to Engage in the Most Meaningful Things
      • once you trust your system you’ll toss anything into your inbox
      • when you put to bed the mundane things you are free to think about the big things
      • you’ll have freedom to focus on the upper horizons of focus
    • Leveraging Your External Mind
      • when you review your external mind and new things pop up the system adds value
        • automatically occurs when you review your system
        • a simple checklist
      • mastery of GTD reflects the elegant way you deal with all the things in your life


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