Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity Book Summary

Book Summary — Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen and James Fallows

#1 – There is a high tendency of not reacting accordingly to the situation when something happens beyond your control. For instance, unexpected additional requests from a colleague may make you treat them poorly due to overwhelming stress. You can prevent such an ugly scenario by knowing the GETTING THINGS DONE METHOD. Letting its principles guide you will clear your mind and make your thoughts organized thereby allowing you to accomplish more or achieve better results.

#2 – With a long list of pending things to do, people store all the related information in their mind. It is actually counterintuitive since the OPEN LOOPS, which are unsolved problems and pending tasks, pops on your mind every now and then. Remembering such veers away your attention from what you are currently doing.

GETTING THINGS DONE METHOD (GTD) lets you properly manage the open loops and keeps you on track via five steps.

  1. Capture the open loops and ideas.
  2. Clarify to understand the items.
  3. Organize to put the items where it belongs.
  4. Reflect to be able to trust the system in place.
  5. Engage to simply do what you need to.

#3 – To be able to implement the GTD properly, the right workplace, tools, and filing system needs to be set up first. A workplace should have all the relevant materials whether it is in the office, at home, or a mobile one. Ensure that you don’t share a physical workspace with anyone to avoid being distracted in fixing it to your preferred arrangement. Meanwhile, for tools, you will need a writing surface, office supplies, and digital devices such as computer and phone.

The right tools will allow you to set up both a physical and digital filing system which keeps the information you will need in an organized manner. For a physical filing system, file the category in an alphabetical order for finding documents quickly. On the other hand, it helps to have an organized folder system for a digital filing. Once the systems are in place, remove unwanted documents and reorganize files at least once a year to keep it functional.

#4 -The first crucial step to the GTD is to CAPTURE your open loops and ideas using the tools you have to keep it out of your mind. This means if you need to set an appointment, you thought of a good activity, and etc., you need to take note of it in detail on a tool you can easily access when you need the information. It can be in a notebook, notes app on your smartphone, or sticky notes on your computer.

#5 – As you can write pretty much anything in the collection tool, the next step of the GTD method requires you to CLARIFY to understand the item so you can empty your collection tool. You can do it by asking yourself these questions, “What is it?” and “Is it actionable? and then you move on the next step which is ORGANIZE.

If you determined that it is not actionable, there are three possibilities:

  • It is trash so you do not need it anymore.
  • No action is needed now but something might need to be done later. This may be the places you want to visit in the future, the lessons you want to take, and so on. Put it on the someday/maybe list. Despite the list’s name, it is worth keeping so putting up a TICKLER SYSTEM (i.e. 1 file folder for each month of tasks) to remind you of what you need at a designated time in the future.
  • The item is useful information that might be needed for later. Store it as reference material.

If you determined that it is actionable, you have several options:

  • If the action will take less than two minutes, it should be done right away.
  • If the action will take longer than two minutes, ask yourself, “Am I the right person to do this?” Delegate it to the right person if the answer is no. This should go to waiting for list.
  • If the action will take longer than two minutes, you are the right person to do it, and it requires more than one step to accomplish it, put it in the projects list. Ensure that your project should have a clear and defined next action to propel it.
  • If the action will take longer than two minutes and you are the right person to do it, defer acting on it. However, determine whether it should be placed on the CALENDAR LIST or the NEXT ACTION LIST.

For the CALENDAR LIST, there are three things that go on it:

  1. Time-specific actions which are for appointments.
  2. Day-specific actions which are things you need to do sometimes on a certain day but not necessarily on a specific time.
  3. Day-specific information which is information that is useful on a certain date. An action for this isn’t necessarily needed.

On the other hand, everything else you need to do goes on the NEXT ACTION LIST. Categorizing each list of tasks according to context is more viable. Example of category depending on context “when at the airport” list of what to do.

When undertaking a project, it is helpful to classify the actions needed to be undertaken into the Calendar list and Next Action list as well.

#6 – After organizing the tasks and setting up a system for reminders, the fourth step of the GTD is to REFLECT to be able to trust the system in place.

This means incessantly reviewing the organized to-do lists and habitually conducting a comprehensive weekly review of all your next actions, calendar, waiting for, projects and even someday/maybe lists. By doing so, your mind will feel relaxed since you are assured that the system helps you achieve everything you need to do.

#7 – The final step to the GTD process is ENGAGE or choosing which item to focus on at a moment to get things done. There are four criteria in choosing which action to do:

  1. Context.
  2. Available time.
  3. Available energy.
  4. Priority.

It is best to have your lists with you always to take advantage of down times.

#8 – To be able to understand what needs to be prioritized, it is helpful to think in terms of horizon based on a six-level model.

  1. Ground: Current actions. This is the actions you need to take.
  2. Horizon 1: Current projects. These are relatively short goals that needed to be achieved with more than one step.
  3. Horizon 2: Areas of focus and responsibilities. These are key areas in your work and life wherein you want to achieve results.
  4. Horizon 3: One-to-two year goals. These are things you want to accomplish which influence aspects of your life. For instance, you want to attain a job promotion.
  5. Horizon 4: Long-term vision. This is what you want your life to look like in three to five years. Decisions at this level can alter your career or family aspirations.
  6. Horizon 5: Life purpose. This is the overall basis of your reason for existence so it influences all the previous horizons.

A bottom-up approach allows you to clear daily tasks so eventually, you will have the energy to make life-changing decisions. Even after defining the various horizons, you are required to review the levels at proper intervals e.g. ground level needs to be reviewed daily.

#9 – Overall, by implementing the GTD process, you are productive despite having too much to do.  

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