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Book: Getting Things Done (GTD)
0001 Jun 1
13 minutes read

Book: Getting Things Done (GTD)

There is no single, once-and-for-all solution. No software, seminar, cool personal planner, or personal mission statement will simplify your workday or make your choices for you as you move through your day, week, and life.

People have enhanced quality of life, but at the same time they are adding to their stress levels by taking on more than they have resources to handle.

Time is the quality of nature that keeps events from happening all at once. Lately it doesn't seem to be working.

If you had the freedom to decide what to do, you also had the responsibility to make good choices, given your "priorities".

Your ability to generate power isdirectly proportionalto your ability to relax.


Get things off your mind, capture them into Stuff that gets processed into:

  • Commitments
  • Projects
  • Actions

Coherence of activities, keeping track, supply information, shift focus


Signle endeavor, ideas, details, priorities, sequence of events

collect things that command our attention

process what they mean and what to do about them

organize the results, which we:

review as options for what we choose to:


You can’t organize what’s incoming - you can only collect it and process it.
Organize the actions you’ll need to take based on the decisions you’ve made about what needs to be done.


Collect and gather together placeholders for or representations of all the things you consider incomplete in your world—that is, anything personal or professional, big or little, of urgent or minor importance, that you think ought to be different than it currently is and that you have any level of internal commitment to changing.
  • Every open loop must be in your collection system and out of your head.
  • You must have as few collection buckets as you can get by with.
  • You must empty them regularly.


  • Actionable
    • What «project» or outcome have you committed to? and
    • What’s the next action required?
  • Not actionable
    • Someday
    • Reference

Next action:

  • Do it. If take less than two minutes, it should be done at the moment it is defined.
  • Delegate it. If the action will take longer than two minutes, ask yourself, Am I the right person to do this?
  • Defer it. If the action will take longer than two minutes, and you are the right person to do it, you will have to defer acting on it until later and track it on one or more “Next Actions” lists.”


Any desired result that requires more than one action step.

  • You don’t actually do a project; you can only do action steps related to it.
  • “Projects” list is merely an index.
  • Organize Support Materials and Reference Files by project. Keep it out of sign.

Next-Action list(s) and Calendar

are at the heart of daily action-management organization.

  • Calendar
    • Time specific action
    • Day specific action
    • Day specific information
  • Next list
  • Waiting for list



Store ideas in:

  • Someday list
  • Tickler file

Reference material

  • Topic specific storage
  • General reference files


Most frequently review calendar, which will remind you about the “hard landscape” for the day.
“Projects,” “Waiting For,” and “Someday/Maybe” lists need to be reviewed only as often as you think they have to be in order to stop you from wondering about them.”

The affairs of life embrace a multitude of interests, and he who reasons in any one of them, without consulting the rest, is a visionary unsuited to control the business of the world. — James Fenimore Cooper

Weekly review

  • Gather and process all your “stuff.”
  • Review your system.
  • Update your lists.
  • Get clean, clear, current, and complete.


Every decision to act is an intuitive one. The challenge is to migrate from hoping it’s the right choice to trusting it’s the right choice.

Choosing actions Four-Criteria Model

  • Context
  • Time available
  • Energy available
  • Priority

Daily work threefold

  • Doing predefined work
  • Doing work as it shows up
  • Defining your work

Six-level work reviewing

  • Life
  • Three to five year vision
  • One to two year goals
  • Areas of responsibility
  • Current projects
  • These are the relatively short-term outcomes you want to achieve
  • Runway: Current actions

Project Planning

  • clearly defined outcomes (projects)
  • next actions required to move them toward closure
  • reminders placed in a trusted system that is reviewed regularly

You’ve got to think about the big things while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction. — Alvin Toffler
The goal is to get projects and situations off your mind, but not to lose any potentially useful ideas.

The Natural Planning Model

  • Defining purpose and principles
  • Outcome visioning
  • Brainstorming
  • Organizing
  • Identifying next actions

These five phases of project planning occur naturally for everything you accomplish during the day. It’s how you create things—dinner, a relaxing evening, a new product, or a new company. You have an urge to make something happen; you image the outcome; you generate ideas that might be relevant; you sort those into a structure; and you define a physical activity that would begin to make it a reality. And you do all of that naturally, without giving it much thought.

If you’re waiting to have a good idea before you have any ideas, you won’t have many ideas.
When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. — Will Rogers

The reactive style is the reverse of the natural model. It will always come back to a top-down focus. It’s not a matter of whether the natural planning will be done—just when, and at what cost

Purpose (Why?)

Fanaticism consists of redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim. — George Santayana
  • It defines success.
  • It creates decision-making criteria.
  • It aligns resources.
  • It motivates.
  • It clarifies focus.
  • It expands options.

People love to win. If you’re not totally clear about the purpose of what you’re doing, you have no chance of winning.
Celebrate any progress. Don’t wait to get perfect. — Ann McGee Cooper
Often the only way to make a hard decision is to come back to the purpose.
If you’re waiting to have a good idea before you have any ideas, you won’t have many ideas.


Simple, clear purpose and principles give rise to complex and intelligent behavior. Complex rules and regulations give rise to simple and stupid behavior. — Dee Hock

Whereas purpose provides the juice and the direction, principles define the parameters of action and the criteria for excellence of behavior.

Vision/Outcome (What?)

Imagination is more important than knowledge. — Albert Einstein

Purpose and principles furnish the impetus and the monitoring, but vision provides the actual blueprint of the final result. The focus we hold in our minds affects what we perceive and how we perform. We notice only what matches our internal belief systems and identified contexts.

you won’t see how to do it until you see yourself doing it.
You often need to make it up in your mind before you can make it happen in your life.
I always wanted to be somebody. I should have been more specific. — Lily Tomlin
  • View the project from beyond the completion date.
  • Envision “WILD SUCCESS”! (Suspend “Yeah, but …”)
  • Capture features, aspects, qualities you imagine in place.”

The best way to get a good idea is to get lots of ideas. — Linus Pauling

Brainstorming (How?)

Give yourself permission to capture and express any idea, and then later on figure out how it fits in and what to do with it.

Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it is the only one you have. — Emile Chartier
Only he who handles his ideas lightly is master of his ideas, and only he who is master of his ideas is not enslaved by them. — Lin Yutang
  • Don’t judge, challenge, evaluate, or criticize.
  • Go for quantity, not quality.
  • Put analysis and organization in the background.


Once you get all the ideas out of your head and in front of your eyes, you’ll automatically notice natural relationships and structure.
Organizing usually happens when you identify components and subcomponents, sequences or events, and/or priorities. What are the things that must occur to create the final result? In what order must they occur? What is the most important element to ensure the success of the project?

  • Identify the significant pieces.
  • Sort by (one or more):
    • components
    • sequences
    • priorities
  • Detail to the required degree.

Next Actions

  • Decide on next actions for each of the current moving parts of the project.
  • Decide on the next action in the planning process, if necessary.

If the project is still on your mind, there’s more planning to do.
Plans get you into things but you’ve got to work your way out. — Will Rogers

You must be responsible for collecting all your open loops, applying a front-end thought process to each of them, and managing the results with organization, review, and action.

Setting Up the Time, Space, and Tools

  • Tricks
  • Setting aside the time
  • Settings up the space
  • Tools

It is easier to act yourself into a better way of feeling than to feel yourself into a better way of action. — O. H. Mowrer

You increase your productivity and creativity exponentially when you think about the right things at the right time and have the tools to capture your value-added thinking.

Implementing the full collection process can take up to six hours or more, and processing and deciding on actions for all the input you’ll want to externalize and capture into your system can easily take another eight hours.
Dedicate two days to this process, and it will be worth many times that in terms of your productivity and mental health.

You must have a focused work space—at home, at work, and if possible even in transit.

Once you know how to process your stuff and what to organize, you really just need to create and manage lists. Once you know what to put on the lists, and how to use them, the medium really doesn’t matter. Just go for simplicity, speed, and fun.

If your filing system isn’t fast, functional, and fun, you’ll resist the whole process.

  • Purge Your Files at Least Once a Year

Gather everything before you start processing it

  • it’s helpful to have a sense of the volume of stuff you have to deal with;
  • it lets you know where the “end of the tunnel” is; and
  • when you’re processing and organizing, you don’t want to be distracted psychologically by an amorphous mass of stuff that might still be “somewhere.” Once you have all the things that require your attention gathered in one place, you’ll automatically be operating from a state of enhanced focus and control.

You can feel good about what you’re not doing, only when you know what you’re not doing.
Train yourself to notice and collect anything that doesn’t belong where it is forever.

In to Empty

Identify each item and decide what it is, what it means, and what you’re going to do with it.

  • trash what you don’t need;
  • complete any less-than-two-minute actions;
  • hand off to others anything that can be delegated;
  • sort into your own organizing system reminders of actions that require more than two minutes; and
  • identify any larger commitments (projects) you now have, based on the input.

I am rather like a mosquito in a nudist camp; I know what I want to do, but I don’t know where to begin. - Stephen Bayne

One Item at a Time
Nothing Goes Back into «In»

Until you know what the next physical action is, there’s still more thinking required before anything can happen.
Determine what you need to do in order to decide.

Airtight organization is required for your focus to remain on the broader horizon.


I got it all together,
but I forgot where
I put it.

  • A “Projects” list
  • Project support material
  • Calendared actions and information
  • “Next Actions” lists
  • A “Waiting For” list
  • Reference material
  • A “Someday/Maybe” list

The categories must be kept visually, physically, and psychologically separate.

If you put reference materials in the same pile as things you still want to read, for example, you’ll go numb to the stack. If you put items on your “Next Actions” lists that really need to go on the calendar, because they have to occur on specific days, then you won’t trust your calendar and you’ll continually have to reassess your action lists. If you have a project that you’re not going to be doing anything about for some time, it must go onto your “Someday/Maybe” list so you can relate to the “Projects” list with the rigorous action-generating focus it needs. And if something you’re “Waiting For” is included on one of your action lists, you’ll continually get bogged down by nonproductive rethinking.

A list is grouping of items with some similar characteristic and could look like one of three things:

  • a folder with separate files
  • an actual list in single file
  • an list in any other software

The calendar should show only the “hard landscape” around which you do the rest of your actions.
You need to trust your calendar as sacred territory, only things in there are those that you absolutely have to get done on that day.


Best way to be reminded of an “as soon as I can” action is by the particular context required for that action.

  • how many actions you actually have to track;
  • how often you change the contexts within which to do them.

Think carefully about where and how you can and can’t do which actions, and organize your lists accordingly.

We must strive to reach that simplicity that lies beyond sophistication. - John Gardner

Standing meetings and people you deal with on an ongoing basis may need their own “Agenda” lists.

People who don’t have their “Read/Review” material organized can waste a lot of time, since life is full of weird little windows when it could be processed.

Those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its shortness. — Jean de La Bruysre

You’ll get a great feeling when you know that your “Waiting For” list is the complete inventory of everything you care about that other people are supposed to be doing.

«Out of sight, out of mind” is not really out of mind.

Distributing action triggers in a folder, on lists, and/or in an e-mail system is perfectly OK, as long as you review all of the categories to which you’ve entrusted your triggers equally, as required.


You can’t do a project, you can only do the a steps it requires.

How you list projects and subprojects is up to you; just be sure you know where to find all the moving parts.

You don’t want to use support materials as your primary reminders of what to do—that should be relegated to your action lists.

There is no need ever to lose an idea about a project, theme, or topic.

Your filing system should be a simple library of data, easily retrievable—not your reminder for actions, projects, priorities, or prospects.

  • General-reference filing: Good filing system is critical for processing and organizing your stuff.
  • Large-category filing: Any topic that requires more than fifty file folders should probably be given its own section or drawer, with its own alpha-sorted system.
  • Contact managers: Much of the information that you need to keep is directly related to people in your network.
  • Libraries and Archives

If material is purely for reference, the only issue is whether it’s worth the time and space required to keep it.

Someday/Maybe’s are not throwaway items. They may be some of the most interesting and creative things you’ll ever get involved with.

  • Things to get or build for your home
  • Hobbies to take up
  • Skills to learn
  • Creative expressions to explore
  • Clothes and accessories to buy
  • Toys (gear!) to acquire
  • Trips to take
  • Organizations to join
  • Service projects to contribute to
  • Things to see and do

What lies in our power to do, lies in our power not to do. — Aristotle

Using the Calendar for Future Options

  • Triggers for activating projects
  • Events you might want to participate in
  • Decision catalysts

The More Novel the Situation, the More Control Is Required
Checklists can be highly useful to let you know what you don’t need to be concerned about.


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