Getting Things Done: Book Notes

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Overview (in 3 sentences)

Getting Things Done (GTD) lays out a framework for managing your tasks and projects, so you can efficiently get things out of your head and get actions done. The core idea is to capture all tasks and ideas, organize them into actionable categories, prioritize them, and then systematically work through them. By using this structured approach in both your work and home life, it can lead to improved productivity and less stress.

My Thoughts

There are many great productivity ideas in this book and a clear framework for dealing with the tasks that land on our desks. It is generously sprinkled with practical examples which bring the text to life. It will appeal to people who either like planning or feel that they need a more structured approach to their task management.

If you want to fully embrace the Getting Things Done (GTD) system, you’re going to need time. Allen suggests having 2 clear uninterrupted days just to implement the system. There is also an ongoing time commitment to maintain the system. This may be a difficult ask for people who are already stretched.

However, it is possible to do a ‘partial implementation’ and use just the ideas and ‘hacks’ you find most useful. This is likely what most people will end up doing – including me.

I enjoyed reading the book, although thought it could have been made more concise in parts.

Useful Quotes

“Airtight organization is required for your focus to remain on the broader horizon and eliminate the constant pressure to remember or be reminded”.

David Allen

“a full-scale implementation of the model… could take at least two full uninterrupted days”.

David Allen

“The in-tray is a processing station not a storage bin”.

David Allen

“The weekly review is the critical success factor for marrying your larger commitments to your day-to-day activities”.

David Allen

“The problem most people have psychologically with their stuff… is they haven’t decided what’s actionable and what’s not”.

David Allen

Book Notes

A key concept of Getting Things Done involves ‘getting things out of your head’ and into a trusted system, which could be physical or digital. This includes all outstanding tasks and ‘open loops’.

Once out of your head, all of these items can then be processed, and a decision made on what to do with each.

This process works to clear the mind, so it’s available for critical thinking rather than trying to store information and remember things.

Allen outlines a 5-step process to mastering this workflow:

  1. Capture: Collect every unfinished task or idea in a trusted system to clear your mind. Maintain a minimal number of capturing buckets and regularly empty them.
  2. Clarify: Define each captured item. Determine if it’s actionable or not. If it’s not actionable, decide to trash, file for reference, or put it in a “Someday/Maybe” list. If actionable, identify the next action and whether it’s part of a larger project. The possible next actions are: Do it (if it will take less than 2 minutes), defer it or delegate it.
  3. Organize: Categorize and organize your tasks. Maintain project lists for review. Differentiate between tasks to be done on specific days, ASAP, and tasks waiting for others. Non-actionable items can be trashed, incubated, or filed for reference.
  4. Reflect: Regularly review and update your organized system. Engage in a daily review of your calendar and action lists, a weekly review to process and update all collected materials, and a higher-level review of your goals and objectives as needed.
  5. Engage: Take action based on the decisions made during the previous steps. Choosing which action to take in the moment is based on four criteria: Context (do related tasks together), time available, energy available and priority.

Practical Ideas from the Book

2-minute rule – If a task is likely to take 2 minutes or less, just do it, don’t bother putting it on an action list

Weekly review – This is a critical time to reflect on your projects and decide on the action tasks that need implementing. Make time to ensure everything is up to date, and allow yourself time for creative thinking.

Someday / Maybe list – This is a useful list for storing ideas, tasks or projects that are not immediately actionable. It helps keep your Next Actions list free of unnecessary clutter.

Categorizing and Organization – Most people are familiar with a simple ‘to do list’. GTD takes this further and there are 7 classifications or buckets:

  • A project list – all ongoing projects
  • Project support materials – resources to help you think about your projects and support your actions.
  • Calendar actions and information – Tasks to be done on a particular day or at a particular time.
  • Next actions list – tasks which need to be done.
  • Waiting for list – delegated work and when you’re just waiting for the go ahead or approval.
  • Reference material – no action needed, but maybe useful in future.
  • Someday / Maybe list – Ideas for the future and also reassessment of current projects that may need to be put back.

Phraseology – When writing your lists (particularly your next action list), identify what the exact next action is and use an action phrase to describe the task, so rather than “Meeting with Felix”, write down “Send Calendly link to Felix to arrange meeting”.

How I’m Going to Use this Book

This book is full of actionable content. I’m going to be implementing the following points;

  • 2-minute rule – This is a no-brainer to implement and will help with preventing procrastination.
  • Waiting List – I’ve always had a ‘To Do’ list but never had a ‘Waiting for’ list. This is an area where things can easily slip through the cracks, and I’ve already set this up in my Notion project management system.
  • Weekly review – I’ve done regular reviews in the past, but GTD has re-emphasised the importance and given a structure for my previously ad hoc method.
  • Someday / Maybe list – This is a classification that I’ve implemented to streamline my tasks and projects.
  • Which task to do next – I’m going to be focussing on the GTD criteria of priority, energy available and time available to help decide which are the next actions to do.

Final Thoughts on “Getting Things Done”

I hope you found these book notes on David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” both insightful and actionable. Allen’s methodology has the power to transform the way you approach tasks and projects, enhancing your productivity and reducing stress. The key lies in capturing all your thoughts, organizing tasks effectively, and consistently reviewing your commitments.

If you’re hungry for more productivity wisdom, click here to explore additional book notes that can help you streamline your life and achieve your goals.

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