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Getting Things Done   Thumbnail

Getting Things Done

Book Review: Getting Things Done by David Allen

Key points:

  • Keep everything out of your head
  • Decide actions and outcomes when thing first emerge on your radar instead of later
  • Regularly review and update the complete inventory of open loops of your life and work

 Checklists: be willing to create checklists for anything.  These are great tools.  You should have them for the various areas of life, as well as things you do often.  They are helpful for clearing your mind of things you don’t need to know for a task.

Tickler file: have a file system with 43 files.  There should be one for each month, and 31 for the current month.   Every month you go through the month file and put things in the appropriate day.  It is important to check this every day, so you trust it.   It only takes seconds per day.   This is useful for physical reminders of things that don’t need to be dealt with immediately.

It is important to have separate lists of things to do according to where/what you need to accomplish them. This way when you have a small block of time, rather than having to go through your whole to do list, you can just look at the part that is relevant.

 The Four Criteria Model for Choosing Actions in the Moment:

  1. Context – are you by a phone, a computer, at your desk, at the store, etc.?
  2. Time available – if you only have 10 minutes, knock out a 10-minute task that you would have to do at some point anyway.
  3. Energy available – some tasks should not be done when you are not in top form and others don’t matter.  Do simple tasks when you can do nothing else well.
  4. Priority – ask yourself, “Out of all my tasks to do, which is the most important right now?”


The Threefold Model for Evaluating Daily Work:

  1. Doing pre-defined work
  2. Doing work as it shows up
  3. Defining your work


The key is to have a good system so that if you get distracted and have to pull off of your pre-defined work to do something that just came up, you can get right back as soon as the new work is done.

 “Bailing water in a leaky boat diverts energy from rowing the boat.”

 It is important to collect everything into a system that allows you to see all your open projects.  The problem with keeping something in your head is that your subconscious can’t tell the difference between past, present and future.  Anything that needs to be done needs to be done now.  Having an item on a list allows you to know that you are not failing for not working on that right now.  Also, when we don’t do things we want to do we are breaking a contract with ourselves, which makes us feel bad.  If we have all of our to-do items on lists, we can re-negotiate things we can’t get to when we thought we would.  This is like calling to cancel an appointment – there is no shame in that like there is with a no-show.

 Always ask, “what’s the next step?”  This is how you should run any organization, and how you should run your life.   This breaks large projects down into manageable, actionable tasks.  It makes people more proactive.  It ends procrastination.  It is energizing.  It gets rid of the victim mentality.  We should understand what the next task is on everything we want to do, and when a situation arises and others are involved, we should always seek to define the next task.

 Have a someday, maybe list.  This way you don’t ignore or eliminate things you’d like to do, but you don’t keep them on your current to-do list either.  This eliminates the guilt and the mental drain from not accomplishing things you want to do.


“It never fails to greatly improve both the productivity and the peace of mind of the user to determine what the next physical action will be to move something forward.”  David Allen

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.  The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks and then starting the first one.”  Mark Twain

“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”  Mark Twain

“Complaining is a sign that someone isn’t willing to risk moving on a changeable situation, or won’t consider the immutable circumstance in his or her plans.”  David Allen

“A vision without a task is but a dream, a task without vision is drudgery, a vision and a task is the hope of the world.”  From a church in Sussex, England, 1730


There are only two problems in life:

1) You know what you want, but you don’t know how to get it

2) You don’t know what you want

There are only two solutions: make it happen, make it up.