Getting Things Done

by David Allen

Troy Shu
Troy Shu
Updated at: April 28, 2024
Getting Things Done
Getting Things Done

Discover the modern, digitally-enhanced approach to "Getting Things Done" - a global, cross-cultural methodology to boost productivity and achieve a calm, focused mindset. Explore curated insights and actionable strategies.

What are the big ideas?

Revised Approach for Modern Challenges

The author rewrote the first edition to include updates relevant for the digital age, acknowledging the evolving challenges while retaining the core, timeless principles of the methodology.

Universal Applicability

The book highlights the global and cross-cultural relevance of the methodology, emphasizing its suitability for different genders, ages, and professional contexts.

Digital Integration

Explicit consideration of digital tools enhances the methodology, providing strategies to evaluate and incorporate these tools effectively into personal and professional workflows.

Mind Like Water

This principle teaches maintaining a state of readiness, where external stimuli are processed in a calm and controlled manner, akin to water returning to calmness after being disturbed.

Horizontal and Vertical Actions

The methodology introduces a dual-focus approach: 'horizontal' for maintaining coherence across all activities, and 'vertical' for managing individual projects and tasks.

The Power of Next Actions

Focuses on defining the immediate next step for tasks to promote clarity and prevent procrastination, transforming planning from a reactive to a proactive process.

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Revised Approach for Modern Challenges

The author recognized that the modern world presents new challenges that require an updated approach, while preserving the core principles of the original methodology. The revised edition incorporates insights from cognitive science to validate the effectiveness of the practices, providing a robust, evidence-based framework for addressing the complexities of today's digital landscape.

The author acknowledges that tools and techniques must evolve to keep pace with the ever-changing demands of work and life. However, the fundamental principles underlying the methodology - such as capturing, clarifying, organizing, and reflecting on commitments and responsibilities - remain timeless and universally applicable.

By blending time-tested principles with contemporary insights, the author empowers readers to navigate modern challenges with greater clarity, control, and focus. This revised approach equips individuals and organizations to thrive in a world of increasing volume, ambiguity, and shifting priorities.

Here are some key examples from the context that support the revised approach for modern challenges:

  • The author acknowledges that the original book was primarily geared towards "managers, executives, and higher-level, fast-track professionals", but now recognizes the need for a more inclusive approach that can benefit a "much broader range of people than simply professionals on a corporate career track."

  • The author provides examples of unexpected endorsements of the GTD principles, including "the head of the world's largest finance organization, a popular American comedian, the most listened-to U.S. radio personality, the CEO of a major European conglomerate, [and] one of the most successful Hollywood directors." This demonstrates the broad applicability of the methodology beyond just business professionals.

  • The author notes receiving "fascinating" feedback from "the clergy of many different religions" who have found the GTD techniques helpful for "freeing themselves of the distractions of the day-to-day business aspects of leading a congregation." This shows the relevance of the approach for non-business contexts as well.

  • The author acknowledges that while the original book provided "detailed instructions and recommendations about how to fully implement its methodology", the amount of information can be "perceived as too overwhelming for someone to even begin to implement them." This recognition of the need to balance comprehensiveness with accessibility reflects the revised approach.

  • The author emphasizes that GTD is "not so much concerned with getting things done as it is championing appropriate engagement with your world" and "eliminating distraction and stress about what you're not doing." This reframing moves beyond just productivity to a more holistic focus on engagement and well-being.

Universal Applicability

The methodology presented in this book has universal applicability. It can benefit people from all walks of life - from executives and professionals to homemakers, students, artists, and retirees. The principles and practices outlined are not limited to the corporate world, but can be equally valuable in personal and family settings.

The author has received positive feedback and testimonials from a diverse range of individuals, including leaders in finance, entertainment, media, and even religious organizations. This validates the broad relevance of the methods, which can help anyone achieve relaxed, focused control over their work and life, regardless of their specific situation or responsibilities.

The book's examples and focus have been intentionally reframed to be more inclusive and accessible to a wider audience. The author acknowledges that the original title and content may have given the impression of being geared solely towards business professionals. However, the true essence of the methodology is about appropriate engagement with one's world, not just "getting things done."

By embracing this more universal perspective, the book can now better serve the growing need for effective personal productivity and workflow management strategies across the global population. The principles and techniques presented are truly lifestyle practices, necessary for navigating the modern world's demands and distractions, regardless of one's role or context.

Here are some examples from the context that support the key insight about the universal applicability of the methodology:

  • The author notes receiving "testimonials from a diversity of people around the world in an infinite variety of situations about the life-changing value they have experienced applying GTD principles." This indicates the methodology has been beneficial for people in many different contexts.

  • The author cites "endorsements of the value of applying the Getting Things Done principles and techniques" from unexpected sources like "the head of the world's largest finance organization, a popular American comedian, the most listened-to U.S. radio personality, the CEO of a major European conglomerate, [and] one of the most successful Hollywood directors." This diverse set of individuals attests to the broad appeal and usefulness of the methodology.

  • Feedback from "the clergy of many different religions" has also been positive, as they've found the principles helpful for "freeing themselves of the distractions of the day-to-day business aspects of leading a congregation." This shows the methodology's applicability beyond just business and professional settings.

  • The author notes that "Students, designers, doctors—the list of self-identified GTD advocates is endless," further demonstrating the wide range of people who have found value in applying the Getting Things Done principles.

In summary, the context highlights numerous examples of the methodology's universal appeal and effectiveness across different demographics, professions, and life contexts, supporting the key insight about its broad applicability.

Digital Integration

Integrating digital tools is crucial for enhancing personal and professional productivity. Evaluating and incorporating these tools effectively can significantly improve your workflows.

Digital tools like mind-mapping software, outlining programs, and project management applications offer powerful capabilities to capture, organize, and manage your work. Leveraging these tools can help you stay focused, efficient, and in control of your projects and commitments.

However, it's important to select the right digital tools for your specific needs. Avoid getting caught up in the latest trends or features - instead, choose applications that seamlessly fit your existing processes and preferences. Mastering a few key digital tools will enable you to maximize their benefits without getting bogged down in complexity.

Striking the right balance between digital and physical methods is also essential. While digital tools offer many advantages, paper-based approaches like notebooks and whiteboards can still play an important role in your personal management system. Utilize a mix of digital and analog techniques to unlock the full potential of your productivity toolkit.

Ultimately, integrating digital tools into your workflows is not an end in itself. The goal is to enhance your ability to capture, organize, and act on the information and commitments that drive your personal and professional success. By thoughtfully incorporating the right digital solutions, you can elevate your productivity and focus on your most important priorities.

The key insight here is that digital integration enhances the methodology by providing strategies to effectively incorporate digital tools into personal and professional workflows.

Examples from the context:

  • The context discusses the "enormous flowering of digital tools" for organizing project-related information, including "cloud-based note-taking and notebook-organizing software", "group-sharing file and project management systems", and "personal project-organizing applications for everything from free-form mind mapping to organizing large writing and research endeavors."

  • However, the context also cautions about the "inherent danger in the digital world" of "how much data can be spread into how many different places so easily, without coordinating links." It notes the risk of "trying to keep it all coordinated back in our heads!"

  • To address this, the context recommends "keeping a clearly delineated and accessible Projects list and ensuring that I'm scanning across any related parts of my system regularly for pertinent details." This demonstrates the need to strategically integrate digital tools into a cohesive personal system.

  • The context also discusses the value of "paper-based loose-leaf notebooks" as a "valuable" model that supports "a more integrated and multilevel platform for well-oriented thinking", illustrating how digital and physical tools can be combined effectively.

In summary, the key insight is that thoughtful consideration and strategic integration of digital tools is essential to enhance personal productivity and organization, as demonstrated through the examples provided in the context.

Mind Like Water

The Mind Like Water principle teaches you to maintain a state of readiness and responsiveness. When external stimuli or demands arise, you process them in a calm and controlled manner, like water returning to calmness after being disturbed.

This means you don't overreact or underreact to situations. You respond appropriately to the force and nature of what's happening, then quickly return to a state of equilibrium. You're open, flexible, and able to adapt without getting overwhelmed, frustrated, or stuck.

Cultivating a "mind like water" allows you to access your full capabilities and perform at your best. You can dedicate 100% of your attention to the task at hand, free from distractions or internal turmoil. This focused, relaxed state is the key to productivity, problem-solving, and achieving your goals with minimal effort.

The martial arts use this water metaphor to describe the ideal mindset - one that is powerful yet balanced, able to generate force through speed and precision rather than raw muscle. Similarly, in your work and life, you can develop this responsive, adaptable way of being to handle whatever comes your way.

Key Insight: Mind Like Water

This principle teaches maintaining a state of readiness, where external stimuli are processed in a calm and controlled manner, akin to water returning to calmness after being disturbed.


  • The "mind like water" simile from karate, which describes how the mind should respond to external inputs - "It can overwhelm, but it's not overwhelmed. It can be still, but it is not impatient. It can be forced to change course, but it is not frustrated."

  • The analogy of a pebble being thrown into a still pond, where the water responds "totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input; then it returns to calm. It doesn't overreact or underreact."

  • The concept of "swing" described by world-class rower Craig Lambert, where the rower works in harmony with the boat, not forcing it, allowing the momentum to carry them, rather than "thrashing" to go faster.

  • The idea that "Your ability to generate power is directly proportional to your ability to relax." Tense muscles are slow, while relaxation allows for focused speed and power.

  • The notion that "Clearing the mind to being open and appropriately responsive is the key" to achieving this "mind like water" state, rather than overreacting or underreacting to stimuli.

The key is maintaining a state of calm readiness, where one can respond appropriately to external inputs, without being overwhelmed, impatient or frustrated. This allows for maximum focus, productivity and performance.

Horizontal and Vertical Actions

The methodology outlines two complementary approaches to managing your work and life:

Horizontal Action Management keeps you on top of the myriad commitments, projects, and tasks that demand your attention day-to-day. This involves having a reliable system to track everything, so you can quickly shift focus between different items without losing control or forgetting important things.

Vertical Action Management is about deeply engaging with individual projects or situations to flesh out the details, priorities, and sequences needed to make progress. This deeper dive allows you to get clear on the desired outcomes and the specific actions required.

The goal of both horizontal and vertical approaches is the same - to get things off your mind and into a trusted system, so you can feel calm, focused, and in control as you navigate the complexities of work and life. Mastering this dual focus equips you to handle both the big-picture and the nitty-gritty details effectively.

Examples from the Context:

  • Horizontal focus: Maintaining "relaxed control" by having clearly defined outcomes (projects) and next actions, and reminders in a trusted system that is reviewed regularly. This allows you to manage the "broad spectrum of work and life" without things staying on your mind.

  • Vertical focus: More rigorous thinking to "get a project or situation under control, to identify a solution, or to ensure that all the right steps have been determined." This "back-of-the-envelope planning" helps clarify components, sequences, or priorities for specific projects or situations.

  • The goal for both horizontal and vertical focus is "to get things off your mind and get them done" - providing a sense of control as you move through your work and life.

  • Horizontal focus handles the "minute-to-minute and day-to-day" tasks, while vertical focus manages the "thinking, development, and coordination of individual topics and projects."

  • For example, horizontal focus could involve capturing and organizing all the small tasks you need to do in a day, while vertical focus would be the deeper planning for a specific project or situation.

The key is using both horizontal and vertical focus to achieve "relaxed control" over your work and life.

The Power of Next Actions

The Power of Next Actions is a transformative approach that shifts planning from a reactive to a proactive process. At its core, this technique involves clearly defining the immediate next physical action required to move a task or project forward. By consistently asking "What's the next action?" whenever something lands in your awareness, you create clarity, accountability, productivity, and a sense of empowerment.

This simple question forces you to get specific about the concrete steps needed to make progress, rather than getting stuck in vague intentions or overwhelming complexity. It prevents procrastination by ensuring you know exactly what to do next, rather than letting tasks languish. Adopting "What's the next action?" as a standard operating query can have a profound impact, increasing energy, focus, and the ability to get things done across both individual and organizational contexts.

The power of this approach lies in its simplicity and effectiveness. By breaking down larger goals and projects into their component next actions, you create a clear path forward and avoid the paralysis that can come from feeling overwhelmed. This discipline of defining and executing next actions is a master key to enhancing productivity and creating a more relaxed, empowered inner state.

Examples from the Context:

  • The author describes a scenario where someone has "Get a tune-up for the car" on their to-do list, but has not taken the next action to actually make the appointment. The author emphasizes that "Get a tune-up" is not a next action, but rather "E-mail Fred for info re: the garage" is the true next action.

  • The author explains that bright, sensitive, and intelligent people often procrastinate the most because they can "freak out faster and more dramatically" by imagining all the negative consequences of a project, causing them to quit before taking the next action.

  • The author states that adopting "What's the next action?" as a standard operating question can automatically increase "energy, productivity, clarity, and focus" for individuals and organizations.

  • The author learned this "next-action technique" over 30 years ago from a management consultant, who would force executives to decide on the very next physical action required to move a project forward.

Key Terms and Concepts:

  • Next Action: The very next physical step required to move a project or task forward, rather than a vague or incomplete placeholder.
  • Procrastination: The tendency, especially among bright and sensitive people, to avoid taking the next action due to imagining negative consequences.
  • Proactive Behavior: Deciding on next actions before circumstances force the decision, rather than reacting under pressure.

Additional Example:

  • The author describes how asking "What's the next action?" at the end of a staff meeting or family conversation can force people to get clear on the specific next steps required, rather than just complaining about a situation without taking action.


Let's take a look at some key quotes from "Getting Things Done" that resonated with readers.

If you don't pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves.

When you neglect to address the things that demand your attention, they can consume more of your mental energy than necessary. This can lead to feelings of overwhelm and distraction, making it challenging to focus on what's truly important. By acknowledging and dealing with these distractions, you can free up mental space and allocate your attention more effectively.

You don't actually do a project; you can only do action steps related to it. When enough of the right action steps have been taken, some situation will have been created that matches your initial picture of the outcome closely enough that you can call it "done.

When working on a project, it's not the project itself that gets done, but rather the individual tasks that lead to its completion. By breaking down a project into smaller, manageable actions and taking them one by one, you create a path towards achieving your desired outcome. Once all necessary steps have been taken, the project is considered complete, matching your initial vision.

Your ability to generate power is directly proportional to your ability to relax.

When you're relaxed, you're able to focus your energy more effectively. Tension and stress can slow you down, making it harder to achieve your goals. On the other hand, a calm and centered state allows you to harness your power and move forward with clarity and precision. This balance of relaxation and focus is key to unlocking your full potential.

Comprehension Questions

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How well do you understand the key insights in "Getting Things Done"? Find out by answering the questions below. Try to answer the question yourself before revealing the answer! Mark the questions as done once you've answered them.

1. What fundamental principles are retained in the updated methodology?
2. How does the revised edition validate its practices?
3. Why is it important that the methodology is applicable to a broader range of people than just professionals on a corporate career track?
4. What is the significance of the strategy beyond just productivity, as highlighted in the revised approach?
5. How does the updated approach handle modern challenges such as volume, ambiguity, and shifting priorities?
6. How does the methodology benefit people from various professions and life stages?
7. What changes did the author make to the book to emphasize its broad relevance?
8. What type of feedback has the methodology received from users?
9. Why is it important to evaluate digital tools before incorporating them into your workflows?
10. What are the benefits of using digital tools like mind-mapping software and project management applications?
11. How can digital and analog tools be integrated effectively to enhance productivity?
12. What is the ultimate goal of integrating digital tools into your workflows?
13. What does it mean to maintain a state of readiness and responsiveness according to the 'mind like water' principle?
14. How does a 'mind like water' help in achieving goals and productivity?
15. What is the importance of equilibrium in the 'mind like water' concept?
16. How does the metaphor of water explain the desired response to external inputs?
17. What does the 'mind like water' metaphor suggest about the nature of power and control in handling situations?
18. What is the purpose of having a trusted system in managing day-to-day tasks?
19. How does vertical action management help in handling projects?
20. What are the benefits of mastering both horizontal and vertical action management?
21. Describe how horizontal and vertical focuses differ in their approach to tasks and projects.
22. What is the fundamental question that guides the proactive planning process to boost productivity and prevent procrastination?
23. Why is defining the immediate next physical action in a project or task considered effective in enhancing individual and organizational productivity?
24. What are some of the psychological benefits of continually asking for the next action in any situation?
25. What might be a common misconception about task descriptions like 'Get a tune-up for the car' and why is it important to redefine them into more specific actions?
26. Why do bright and sensitive people often procrastinate more according to the key concepts, and how can adopting a proactive question mitigate this?

Action Questions

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"Knowledge without application is useless," Bruce Lee said. Answer the questions below to practice applying the key insights from "Getting Things Done". Mark the questions as done once you've answered them.

1. How can you adapt the principles of capturing, clarifying, organizing, and reflecting to effectively manage your commitments in today's digital environment?
2. What steps can you take to expand the inclusivity of your problem-solving methodologies to encompass a broader demographic?
3. How can you adapt the principles described to enhance your daily productivity and well-being, regardless of your current role or lifestyle?
4. What specific methods from the book could you incorporate into your routines to better manage your personal and professional life?
5. How might you mentor someone else to implement these productivity techniques in their own environment or lifestyle, ensuring they understand the benefits and applicability?
6. How can you evaluate and select the best digital tools to enhance your current workflow?
7. How can you regulate your reactions to unexpected challenges in your daily routine to embody the principle of a mind like water?
8. How can you enhance your daily task management by incorporating a system to track commitments horizontally?
9. What steps can you take to improve your engagement with a particular project by applying a vertical focus?
10. How can you break down an overwhelming project into manageable next actions to enhance your productivity?
11. What specific next physical action can you take today to progress a task that you've been procrastinating?

Chapter Notes

Introduction to the Revised Edition

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Rewrite of the First Edition: The author has rewritten the first edition of "Getting Things Done" to update the content and language, incorporate new learnings, and make the methodology more relevant for the 21st century.

  • Fundamental Principles Unchanged: The core principles and techniques of the "Getting Things Done" methodology have not changed, as they are timeless and applicable across different contexts.

  • Impact of Digital Technology: The rise of digital technology has both enhanced and exacerbated the application of the "Getting Things Done" methodology. The author has updated the content to acknowledge the ubiquity of digital and mobile tools, while providing a general model for evaluating the usefulness of any tool.

  • The 24/7 World: The explosion of nonstop, potentially "important" information has made it simultaneously rewarding in its opportunities and treacherous in its volume, speed, and changeability. The "Getting Things Done" methodology is essential for dealing with this.

  • Global Reach of the Methodology: The "Getting Things Done" methodology has spread worldwide and has been found to be applicable across different cultures, genders, ages, and personality types.

  • Inclusive Approach: The author has reframed the focus of the book to be more inclusive of a larger population of readers and users, beyond just business professionals, as the need for the methodology is universal.

  • Depth of Implementation: The author acknowledges the significant time and energy required for the full implementation of the "Getting Things Done" methodology, as well as the behavioral changes needed to maintain it. The book provides a blueprint for the depth and breadth of the methodology.

  • Cognitive Science Research: Recent cognitive science research has validated the principles and practices prescribed in the "Getting Things Done" methodology.

  • Engaging with the Revised Edition: The revised edition of the book will provide a novel and absorbing level of engagement for both new and experienced readers, as it will open up a new universe of ideas to incorporate within the existing structure and tools.

Welcome to Getting Things Done

  • Efficiency and Relaxation: The chapter aims to teach readers how to be maximally efficient and relaxed, regardless of the task at hand. The author believes it is possible to be effectively "doing" while also "being" in the present moment.

  • Principles over Methods: The chapter emphasizes that while there may be many methods and tools available, the key is to grasp the underlying principles that can guide one's selection of appropriate methods. Relying on methods alone without understanding the principles can lead to trouble.

  • Universality of Practices: The author has uncovered simple processes that can vastly improve one's ability to deal with the mundane realities of the world, while still feeling connected to more meaningful priorities. These practices have proven to be viable across time, from managing homework at age 12 to regrouping about corporate strategies.

  • Addressing Anxiety: The chapter suggests that anxiety is caused by a lack of control, organization, preparation, and action. The methods presented aim to address these underlying causes of anxiety.

  • Targeted Audience: The chapter identifies two key target audiences for the methods presented: 1) Executives and professionals who are looking to instill a standard of ruthless execution in themselves, their staff, and their organizations, while also maintaining work-life balance. 2) Individuals, including students, who need to learn how to process information, focus on outcomes, and take actions to make them happen.

  • Experiential Learning: The author emphasizes that the power, simplicity, and effectiveness of the methods are best experienced through real-time application in one's own life. Merely understanding the models is not enough; transformational change comes from actually applying them.

  • Book Structure: The book is divided into three parts: Part 1 provides an overview of the system and basic methodologies, Part 2 guides the reader through step-by-step implementation, and Part 3 explores the more profound results that can be achieved by incorporating the methodologies into one's work and life.

  • Author's Perspective: The author shares that he is a fellow student, who also struggles with losing control and focus at times. He has personally experienced and tested the validity of the practices he presents, and continues to use them in his own life.

Chapter 1: A New Practice for a New Reality

  • The "Mind Like Water" Concept: The author introduces the martial arts concept of "mind like water" - a state of perfect readiness and responsiveness, where the mind is clear and constructive things are happening. This is an ideal state for dealing with the complexity of modern life and work.

  • Ineffectiveness of Traditional Time Management: The author argues that traditional time management models and tools are insufficient for dealing with the speed, complexity, and changing priorities of modern work and life. They fail to accommodate the lack of clear boundaries and the constant flux in our jobs and personal situations.

  • The Problem of "Stuff": The author defines "stuff" as anything you have allowed into your psychological or physical world that doesn't belong where it is, but for which you haven't yet determined the desired outcome and the next action step. Unresolved "stuff" creates stress and pulls on your attention.

  • The Importance of Capturing and Clarifying Commitments: The author emphasizes the need to capture all the things that command your attention in a trusted system outside your head, clarify the desired outcome and the next action for each, and maintain reminders of them in a system you review regularly. This is crucial for managing commitments effectively.

  • Horizontal and Vertical Action Management: The author introduces the concepts of "horizontal" control, which maintains coherence across all your activities, and "vertical" control, which manages thinking, development, and coordination of individual topics and projects. Both are necessary for achieving a state of relaxed control.

  • The Need to Get Things Out of Your Head: The author argues that there is an inverse relationship between how much something is on your mind and how much it's getting done. Keeping things only in your head creates stress and reduces your cognitive capacity. Externalizing and organizing your commitments is key to achieving a "mind like water" state.

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

  • The five steps of mastering workflow are: (1) capture, (2) clarify, (3) organize, (4) reflect, and (5) engage. These steps work together as a whole to help manage the horizontal aspect of our lives.

  • Capturing involves collecting all the things that have our attention, including physical and digital inputs, as well as self-generated ideas and commitments. This should be done using a minimal number of capture tools, and the contents of these tools should be regularly emptied and processed.

  • Clarifying involves determining what each captured item is and whether it requires action. Actionable items need to be associated with a project and a next physical action step. Non-actionable items can be categorized as trash, incubation, or reference.

  • Organizing involves maintaining lists and systems for managing projects, next actions, calendar items, waiting for items, and reference materials. These systems should be reviewed regularly, especially during a weekly review.

  • Reflecting involves stepping back to review the overall picture of your work and life, including your projects, areas of focus, goals, vision, and purpose. This provides a framework for making informed decisions about what to do in the moment.

  • Engaging involves choosing what to do based on the constraints of context, time, energy, and priority. This involves balancing predefined work, reactive work, and defining new work.

  • The weekly review is a critical success factor, as it allows you to gather, process, and update all of your systems to keep them current and complete. This enables you to have a clear, trusted system that frees your mind to focus on productive work.

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

  • Natural Planning Model: The five phases of natural planning are: (1) Defining purpose and principles, (2) Outcome visioning, (3) Brainstorming, (4) Organizing, and (5) Identifying next actions. This is the natural way our minds operate to accomplish tasks.

  • Purpose: Clearly defining the purpose or "why" of a project is crucial, as it provides direction, motivation, decision-making criteria, resource alignment, and expanded creative options.

  • Principles: Establishing the standards, values, and policies that will guide the project is important, as they define the parameters of acceptable behavior and conduct.

  • Vision/Outcome: Visualizing and clearly defining the desired outcome or "what" of the project helps activate the brain's perceptual filters to recognize relevant information and solutions.

  • Brainstorming: Capturing ideas in a non-judgmental, quantity-focused manner allows the mind to explore possibilities without prematurely evaluating or criticizing them.

  • Organizing: Identifying the key components, sequences, and priorities of the project helps structure the plan and reveal any gaps or missing elements.

  • Next Actions: Determining the specific next physical steps to be taken, and by whom, is essential for transforming the plan into concrete progress.

  • Unnatural Planning Model: The "unnatural" or reactive planning model, which starts with seeking "good ideas" before defining purpose and vision, often leads to crisis, disorganization, and ineffective solutions.

  • Distributed Cognition: Externalizing ideas through mind mapping, note-taking, or other "cognitive artifacts" allows the mind to generate more ideas by offloading the burden of holding them internally.

  • Sufficient Planning: The goal is to plan only as much as necessary to get the project off one's mind and into a trusted system of reminders and next actions.

Chapter 4: Getting Started: Setting Up the Time, Space, and Tools

  • Implementing the GTD Methodology: The author recommends dedicating two full, uninterrupted days to implement the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology, as it can take up to 6 hours to capture all input and another 8 hours to clarify and decide on actions. This front-end process is crucial for achieving a sense of control and accomplishment.

  • Dedicated Workspace: It is imperative to have a dedicated, individual, self-contained workspace at home, at work, and even in transit. This provides a locus of control from which to manage one's workflow and reference materials.

  • Importance of Filing System: A simple and highly functional personal reference filing system, both physical and digital, is critical to the GTD process. The filing system should be fast, functional, and enjoyable to use, with files organized in a single alphabetical system.

  • Tools and Supplies: The author recommends having basic supplies and equipment, such as paper-holding trays, plain paper, Post-its, a stapler, an automatic labeler, file folders, and a calendar, to facilitate the collection, processing, and organizing of information.

  • Organizing Tools: While various organizing tools (e.g., paper-based planners, digital task management apps) can be used, the key is to find a system that is simple, easy to use, and enjoyable, as this will encourage consistent use and behavior change.

  • Clearing Distractions: Before starting the GTD implementation process, it is crucial to clear the decks of any other commitments or distractions to ensure that one's full attention can be dedicated to the task at hand.

Chapter 5: Capturing: Corralling Your “Stuff”

  • Capturing everything into an "in" tray is the critical first step in getting to a "mind like water": This means gathering all your incomplete tasks, ideas, and commitments into one central location, so you can process them systematically.

  • There are four categories of things that can remain where they are: Supplies, reference material, decoration, and equipment. Everything else should go into the "in" tray.

  • Issues that may arise during the capturing process: Items too big to fit in the tray, the pile being too big to fit, the urge to purge and organize, and dealing with things already on lists or in organizers.

  • Start the capturing process by going through your physical environment: Desk, drawers, countertops, cabinets, floors, walls, shelves, equipment, furniture, and other locations.

  • Perform a "mind sweep" to capture anything residing in your mental RAM: Write each thought, idea, project, or thing that has your attention on a separate sheet of paper and put it in the "in" tray.

  • Use the "Incompletion Triggers" list to help jog your memory and ensure you've captured everything: The list covers a wide range of professional, personal, and administrative areas.

  • The "in" inventory should include physical items, voice mails, organizer lists, and digital items like emails: Everything that has your attention should be in the "in" tray.

  • The goal is to get everything out of your head and into the "in" tray, so you can process it systematically in the next step: Leaving things in the "in" tray indefinitely will allow them to creep back into your consciousness.

Chapter 6: Clarifying: Getting “In” to Empty

  • Process the top item first: When processing your "in" tray, you should always start with the top item, even if it's something less important or interesting than items further down. This ensures you don't avoid dealing with anything.

  • Process one item at a time: It's important to focus on one item at a time when processing your "in" tray. Trying to tackle multiple items at once can lead to procrastination and leaving things unprocessed.

  • Never put anything back into "in": There should be a one-way path out of your "in" tray. Once you pick something up, you should decide what to do with it and where it goes, never putting it back into the "in" tray.

  • Identify next actions: For each item in your "in" tray, you need to determine the very next physical, visible action required to move it forward. This could be calling someone, sending an email, buying something, etc.

  • Handle small actions immediately: If an action will take less than 2 minutes, you should just do it right away instead of deferring it. This "two-minute rule" can significantly boost productivity.

  • Delegate actions when appropriate: If you determine that someone else is better suited to take the next action, you should delegate it to them in a systematic way, such as via email or by adding it to a meeting agenda.

  • Defer actions that can't be done immediately: For actions that will take longer than 2 minutes and that you can't do right away, you should defer them and add them to your organization system, such as a to-do list or calendar.

  • Identify projects: In addition to individual actions, you should also identify the larger projects you have, which are outcomes you're committed to achieving that will require multiple action steps.

  • Maintain a "Pending" stack: As you process your "in" tray, you'll likely end up with a stack of items that have been delegated or deferred, which you'll need to organize in your personal system.

  • Develop a simple, accessible reference system: Having an easy-to-use filing system for reference materials is crucial to keeping your "in" tray clear and your information organized.

Chapter 7: Organizing: Setting Up the Right Buckets

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Maintain Distinct Categories: It is critical to keep the seven primary organizational categories (Projects, Project Support, Calendar, Next Actions, Waiting For, Reference, Someday/Maybe) visually, physically, and psychologically separate to promote clarity. Blending these categories will lead to a loss of the value of organizing.

  • Use Simple Tools: All that is needed for an effective organizational system are lists and folders, either physical or digital. Avoid attempting to impose complex prioritization schemes on your lists, as these can be frustrating and require constant rearrangement.

  • Organize Actions by Context: Group your "as soon as possible" action items by the context required to complete them, such as "Calls", "At Computer", "Errands", etc. This allows you to quickly identify the best actions to take in the moment based on your current situation.

  • Leverage Calendar for Hard Landscape: Only put time-specific or day-specific actions on your calendar. Use the calendar to establish the "hard landscape" of your commitments, and leave other actions to be done "as soon as possible" on your context-based lists.

  • Utilize Agenda Lists: Maintain separate Agenda lists for recurring meetings and key people you interact with, to ensure you address all relevant topics during those interactions.

  • Manage "Waiting For" Items: Maintain a comprehensive "Waiting For" list to track all deliverables and commitments from others that you are depending on. Review this list regularly to follow up as needed.

  • Use Original Items as Reminders: In some cases, such as with physical documents or emails, the original item itself can serve as the best reminder of the required action, rather than creating a separate list entry.

  • Achieve Empty "In": Aim to process your email inbox to empty, by either acting on, delegating, or filing each message. Use dedicated folders like "@ACTION" and "@WAITING FOR" to organize your actionable emails.

Chapter 8: Reflecting: Keeping It All Fresh and Functional

  • Reviewing your system regularly is essential for maintaining trust and control: The author emphasizes that your personal system and behaviors need to be established in a way that allows you to see all the action options you need to see, when you need to see them. This requires regularly reviewing your calendar, action lists, and other components of your system.

  • The Weekly Review is a critical success factor: The Weekly Review is the process of gathering up loose ends, getting your system current, and engaging in creative thinking. It allows you to get your head empty and get oriented for the next couple of weeks, ensuring your system remains trustworthy and up-to-date.

  • Checklists can be highly useful for maintaining focus and control: Checklists can help you remember what you need to do, especially in novel or unfamiliar situations. They can cover a wide range of topics, from job responsibilities to personal development, and can be created and eliminated as needed.

  • Reference materials should be separated from actionable items: The author emphasizes the importance of distinguishing between actionable items that require action, and reference materials that are for information only. Properly managing reference materials can help prevent them from becoming a distraction.

  • Someday/Maybe lists can capture creative ideas: The Someday/Maybe list is a place to capture ideas and projects that you might want to pursue in the future, without having to commit to them immediately. This can help unleash your creative thinking.

  • Higher-level reviews are important, but should wait until you have control at the operational level: While it's important to periodically review your higher-level goals, visions, and objectives, the author suggests that this is best done after you have established control and confidence at the more mundane, operational levels of your life and work.

Chapter 9: Engaging: Making the Best Action Choices

  • Trust your intuition: When it comes to making decisions about your work, the author recommends trusting your intuition, gut, or inner wisdom as a reference point for making the best choices.

  • Use a four-criteria model for choosing actions: The four criteria to consider when choosing actions are: context (what you can do given your location and tools), time available, energy available, and priority.

  • Organize action reminders by context: Sorting your action lists by context (e.g., calls, at home, at computer) prevents unnecessary reassessment and ensures you're focusing on what you can actually do in the moment.

  • Match actions to time and energy available: Knowing how much time and energy you have allows you to choose actions that fit the windows of availability, whether that's a 10-minute task or a mentally intensive project.

  • Maintain a complete next-action system: Having a comprehensive system for tracking all your next actions, across contexts, time, and energy, is crucial for making the best choices in the moment.

  • Distinguish between three types of daily work: Your daily work involves doing predefined work from your lists, handling work as it shows up, and defining your work by processing inputs.

  • Use a six-level model to review your work: The six levels are: current actions, current projects, areas of focus and accountability, one- to two-year goals, long-term visions, and life purpose.

  • Approach priority setting from the bottom up: Start by getting control of your current actions and projects, then work your way up to higher-level goals and visions, rather than trying to manage everything from the top down.

  • Capture and process what has your attention: Deal with whatever is most on your mind, even if it seems insignificant, as this frees up your attention to focus on what really matters.

  • Develop the skill of making next-action decisions: The ability to consciously decide on the very next physical action to take, rather than just reacting, is a core skill of stress-free productivity.

Chapter 10: Getting Projects Under Control

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • The Need for More Informal Planning: The chapter emphasizes the importance of more frequent, informal planning of projects and situations, rather than relying solely on complex project management techniques. This informal planning can free up creative and constructive thinking, and increase productivity.

  • Types of Projects Needing Planning: The chapter identifies two types of projects that deserve planning: (1) those that still require decisions and organization beyond the next action, and (2) those where ideas and supporting details emerge spontaneously.

  • Typical Planning Steps: The common planning-oriented actions include brainstorming, organizing existing notes and materials, setting up meetings, and gathering additional information.

  • Capturing Random Project Thoughts: The chapter stresses the importance of capturing any random project-related ideas that occur, even if they are not immediate next actions, so they are not lost.

  • Thinking Tools: The chapter recommends various tools to facilitate project thinking, including writing instruments, paper and pads, whiteboards, and digital tools like word processors, mind-mapping, and outlining software.

  • Support Structures: The chapter suggests creating file folders or loose-leaf pages to organize project-related materials, and discusses the pros and cons of paper-based versus digital organization.

  • Software Tools: The chapter explores different types of software tools that can be useful for project planning, from simple note-taking to complex project management applications, emphasizing the need to find the right level of tool for each project.

  • Applying the Concepts: The chapter encourages readers to dedicate focused time to review their projects, using the various planning tools and techniques discussed, in order to get ahead of most people in terms of project planning and organization.

Chapter 11: The Power of the Capturing Habit

  • Capturing Habit: The practice of systematically capturing and organizing all incomplete tasks, agreements, and open loops in your life. This helps eliminate the negative feelings associated with broken agreements with yourself.

  • Three Options for Dealing with Incomplete Agreements: 1) Don't make the agreement, 2) Complete the agreement, or 3) Renegotiate the agreement. Renegotiating is key, as it maintains the integrity of the agreement without the negative consequences of a broken agreement.

  • Importance of Capturing Everything: Capturing even small, seemingly insignificant agreements with yourself is important, as the subconscious part of your mind does not differentiate between major and minor agreements. Uncaptured agreements can create unnecessary stress and pressure.

  • Organizational Benefits: When everyone in an organization adopts the capturing habit, it can significantly increase productivity, reduce stress, and allow the organization to focus on higher-level priorities rather than constantly "bailing water" due to communication gaps.

  • Relationship Benefits: Adopting the capturing habit in personal relationships, such as between spouses or family members, can foster more warmth and freedom by handling mechanical tasks through the system rather than through the relationship.

  • Accountability vs. Personal Systems: While organizations can hold people accountable for outcomes and tracking agreements, they cannot legislate personal systems. The key is to provide the information and tools, then facilitate a constant renegotiation process so people feel comfortable with what they are and are not doing.

Chapter 12: The Power of the Next-Action Decision

  • The Power of the "Next-Action" Question: Asking "What's the next action?" is a simple but powerful technique that can dramatically increase energy, productivity, clarity, and focus for individuals and organizations. It helps people move forward on projects and tasks by defining the very next physical action required.

  • Overcoming Procrastination in Bright People: Highly intelligent and creative people often procrastinate the most because their sensitivity allows them to imagine negative scenarios about tasks, which can paralyze them. Defining the next action helps "dumb down" the brain and reduce this tendency.

  • Clarity, Accountability, and Productivity: Adopting "What's the next action?" as a standard operating procedure can transform an organization by:

    • Providing clarity on decisions and responsibilities
    • Holding people accountable for their commitments
    • Increasing overall productivity by moving things forward proactively
  • Empowerment and Self-Esteem: Consistently asking "What's the next action?" undermines a victim mentality and builds self-esteem by making people feel in control of their circumstances and able to make things happen. It exercises people's innate power and positive qualities.

  • Avoiding the "Blow-Up" Mentality: Most people make action decisions only when things "blow up" and become urgent, rather than proactively deciding on next actions as soon as projects or tasks appear. This creates inefficiencies and unnecessary stress.

  • Learned Technique, Not Innate: The "What's the next action?" thought process is not something people are born with, but rather a learned technique of thinking, decision-making, and focused attention. Incorporating it as a habit can significantly improve both productivity and peace of mind.

Chapter 13: The Power of Outcome Focusing

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Outcome Focusing Enhances Productivity: The author has seen the application of the "outcome focusing" method presented in the book create profound results for people in their day-to-day lives, leading to enhanced or even new jobs, careers, and lifestyles. This method helps people get things done more quickly and easily.

  • Defining Specific Projects and Next Actions: Defining specific projects and next actions that address real quality-of-life issues is productivity at its best. Identifying the real results you want and the projects you need to define in order to produce them is crucial for getting things done.

  • The Duality of Creating and Fulfilling: There are two fundamental problems in life: (1) you know what you want, but don't know how to get it; and/or (2) you don't know what you want. The solutions are to "make it up" (create) and "make it happen" (fulfill). This duality of creating and fulfilling is a fundamental aspect of the human experience.

  • Engaging with Incomplete Tasks: Everything you experience as incomplete must have a reference point for "complete." Once you've decided that there is something to be changed, you need to ask yourself, "How do I now make this happen?" and "What resources do I need to allocate to make it happen?" This process of engaging with incomplete tasks is essential for getting things done.

  • The Importance of Mundane Tasks: The author finds it engaging to work with clients on the mundane, day-to-day tasks and details that have accumulated in their minds, physical spaces, and virtual spaces. Helping clients process these tasks effectively is critical for building the necessary standards and behaviors to engage with them as they demand, leading to significant changes in their relationships and overall well-being.

Chapter 14: GTD and Cognitive Science

  • The Combination of Effectiveness and Efficiency: The practical focus of GTD is the combination of effectiveness and efficiency that these methods can bring to every level of your reality, from high-level "purpose, values, vision" thinking to the mundane details of daily life.

  • The Power of Natural Planning: The natural planning model provides an integrated, flexible, and aligned way to think through any situation, encompassing the steps of capturing, clarifying, organizing, reflecting, and engaging. This model is not automatic but can bring significant improvement even when only partially implemented.

  • Shifting to a Positive Organizational Culture: Applying the principles of GTD, such as defining outcomes and actions, can create profound results in an organization by increasing productivity and shifting the culture towards a focus on desired outcomes rather than negativity and passive resistance.

  • Cognitive Science and GTD: Recent research in cognitive science has validated the efficacy of the GTD methodology, including the concepts of distributed cognition (the value of an external mind), relieving the cognitive load of incompletions, flow theory, self-leadership theory, goal-striving via implementation intentions, and psychological capital (PsyCap).

  • Distributed Cognition: Our minds are designed for recognition, not recall, so relying on memory to manage our lives leads to overwhelm. GTD provides a methodology for efficiently using our minds by identifying things that need focused attention and organizing the triggers for appropriate thinking at the right time.

  • Relieving the Cognitive Load of Incompletions: Unfinished tasks and commitments take up mental space, limiting clarity and focus. GTD's approach of determining the next action and parking it in a trusted system can relieve this cognitive burden without requiring the completion of the task itself.

  • Flow Theory and GTD: GTD's emphasis on focusing attention on one task at a time, having clear goals, and receiving feedback aligns with the conditions for experiencing the state of flow, which is associated with higher levels of subjective well-being.

  • Self-Leadership Theory and GTD: GTD embodies aspects of self-leadership strategies, including self-cuing, natural reward, and constructive thought patterns, which have been shown to improve self-efficacy and other positive organizational behaviors.

  • Goal-Striving via Implementation Intentions: GTD's approach of linking specific actions to contexts (e.g., "When I'm in my office with more than an hour of free time, I'll work on this important task") aligns with the concept of implementation intentions, which can help ensure goal-directed behavior.

  • Psychological Capital (PsyCap) and GTD: GTD directly relates to the four components of PsyCap (self-efficacy, optimism, hope, and resilience) by enabling individuals to create and maintain a complete picture of their commitments, set meaningful goals, and bounce back from adversity.

Chapter 15: The Path of GTD Mastery

  • GTD is a lifelong practice with multiple levels of mastery: Similar to learning an instrument, sport, or game, GTD involves learning and applying a set of techniques that can be continuously refined over a lifetime.

  • Mastery of GTD does not mean achieving a final "Zen-like" state: Rather, it refers to the demonstrated ability to consistently engage in productive behaviors to achieve clarity, stability, and focus, regardless of the challenges faced.

  • Three tiers of GTD mastery: 1) Employing the fundamentals of managing workflow, 2) Implementing a more elevated and integrated total life management system, and 3) Leveraging skills to create clear space and get things done for an ever-expansive expression and manifestation.

  • Mastering the basics of GTD: This can take a significant amount of time (up to 2 years) to fully integrate into one's life and work style. It involves developing habits like capturing everything, avoiding next-action decision making, utilizing the "Waiting For" category, and conducting regular Weekly Reviews.

  • Integrated life management: At this level, the focus shifts from the mechanics of the system to the higher-level projects, roles, accountabilities, and interests that drive the content of the basic level. This involves maintaining a complete, current, and clear inventory of projects.

  • Projects become the heartbeat of the system: As one progresses, the Projects list becomes the primary driver, rather than just a reflection, of the Next Actions lists. This involves translating any concerns, worries, or issues into achievable projects.

  • Pressure produces greater utilization of GTD practices: At the advanced level, challenges and surprises trigger the use of the GTD methodology, rather than causing one to abandon it.

  • Postgraduate mastery: This involves leveraging the freed-up focus and external mind to explore more elevated aspects of one's commitments and values, as well as to produce novel value through creative ideas and actions.


  • Reaping the Rewards: The author hopes that the reader has started to experience the benefits of increased productivity and reduced stress by implementing the Getting Things Done (GTD) techniques.

  • Tasting the Freedom of a "Mind Like Water": The author emphasizes the importance of achieving a state of relaxed focus and the release of creative energies that can result from applying the GTD methods.

  • Validating Common Sense: The author suggests that the book may have validated the reader's existing knowledge and practices, while providing a more systematic approach to applying that common sense in an increasingly complex world.

  • Defining Core Methods: The author's intent is not to introduce new theories or models, but to define the core methods that are timeless and effective, regardless of the specific context.

  • Using GTD as a Road Map: The author invites the reader to use the GTD principles as a reference tool to regain their most productive state whenever needed.

  • Setting up the Physical Organization: The author provides specific recommendations for setting up the necessary physical organization, such as in-trays, personal reference systems, and a well-organized workstation.

  • Embracing Change: The author encourages the reader to make any changes they have been contemplating to enhance their work environments, such as rearranging the workspace or acquiring new tools.

  • Tackling Areas Systematically: The author suggests setting aside time to work through the GTD process and organize different areas of the office and home.

  • Sharing and Reviewing: The author recommends sharing the insights gained from the book with others, as well as reviewing the content again in the future, as it may reveal new perspectives.

  • Staying Connected: The author encourages the reader to stay in touch with people who are practicing and reflecting the behaviors and standards promoted in the book.


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