Getting Things Done (David Allen)

Do you feel stressed out when you can’t get things under control? Do you struggle to go through a large workload, not knowing how to organize it effectively? Many books discuss how to become more productive. In Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, David Allen gives an essential step by step to checking out different tasks. Allen is one of the most influential figures in the productivity industry, which helps people save time while getting more done in a shorter amount of time. 

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity

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In Allen’s book, he goes over a model known as the Getting Things Done (GTD) method. The method consists of a system of external lists to have on hand, with the next actions to accomplishing tasks. It’s a systematic approach to keeping your mind clear and stay on top of things. Also, it allows you to free up your brain while keeping projects (personal and professional) going forward. Along with organizing your workspace for maximum success, the steps listed in the GTD method include:

1.) Capturing your thoughts

2.) Clarifying each item

3.) Organizing your outcome into a structure of lists

4.) Reflecting on what’s important & reviewing the items

5.) Engaging in tasks & prioritization

Getting Things Done:

Capture your thoughts

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The first step of the GTD method involves capturing your ideas. Whenever something comes up in your mind, your immediate action should down jot it down. Whether that’s on a sticky note, notebook, or a tablet, get that thought out and write it down. These thoughts should go into what Allen calls an “in-pile” list. This list is a separate place to jot down tasks or reminders that’ll be easy to remember later.

For example, if a thought pops up while you’re writing an email, make sure to write it down quickly. After that, go back to finish your email. Another example could be while you’re doing basic chores. If an exciting concept comes up while you’re cleaning, stop what you’re doing and get that thought down on paper. It’s that simple, write it down and resume what you were doing before.

Clarify Each Item

The next step of the GTD method is to clarify each item you wrote down earlier. Each week, review and empty all external items to stay organized. When going through each piece. ask yourself the following:

   1.) Is it an actionable step? Do I need to do something about it?

          a.) If the answer is no, trash it or revisit it later.

          b.) If the answer is yes, take action.

                 i.  A quick task- do it immediately (i.e., make a brief phone call).

                 ii. A complex task: Ask, are you the right person for it?

    2.) If not an actionable step, delegate or outsource to someone else if possible.

          If it’s your responsibility, then defer it. The next steps will show you how to postpone these types of tasks.

Organize your outcomes into lists

When organizing your listed tasks, empty your collection tools and put the right things in place. Allen suggests breaking it down this way, overwriting traditional to-do lists. Writing out a regular to-do list sometimes includes vague tasks, which may lead people not to take real action on those tasks. Your duties should be listed in the following categories: 

1.) If the item is actionable:

     a.) Project: complex tasks that require more than one step; examples include writing a book or rearranging a living room.

     b.) Waiting For: functions that can be delegated to someone else; one model can be to follow-up with a contractor on new tiles for a bathroom renovation.

      c.) Next Actions: where all of your to-dos are listed out; these are the tasks you plan on doing now. 

If you can’t do the jobs at the moment, put it in your calendar to complete later that day. Examples include calling a friend, emailing a client, or purchasing an inventory order online.

2.) If an item is not actionable:

     a.) Maybe/Someday: tasks that are reserved for later, but don’t want to forget about; for example, setting time to learn a foreign language or enrolling in classes for an upcoming semester.

     b.) Reference Material: information that may become useful later, usually store it for future reference; for example, putting a take-out menu from your favorite restaurant into your filing cabinet.

Reflect: Constantly review

It is one thing to write out your tasks followed by actionable steps, but reviewing them is another crucial step. To hold yourself accountable, check your calendar each day. If you know, you’re going to be in meetings for an entire day, plan. Also, check off any other next actions you have not worked on yet. If you know you’re going to have a quiet day at the office, use that free time to work on those next action tasks. 

Along with checking your tasks daily, you want to do a comprehensive weekly review of your scheduled tasks. After going through the first steps, set aside a few hours each week to do a weekly report. It’s good to do this so you can keep track of what you accomplished. Also, reflect on your shortcomings, and what you can do to improve the next time around. Typically, the best time to do the review would around the end of the week (Friday), right before heading into the weekend.

Engage in tasks

In the final step of the GTD method, you then choose what to do at each moment, depending on your current circumstances. This part is where work gets done, and there are four types of criteria to ask yourself:

1.) What can you do in the current context?

     -Example: If you have no phone, then you can’t make any phone calls.

     -Look over the next action list you made earlier.

2.) What do you have time for?

     -Example: If you only have ten minutes before a meeting starts, not the best time to start a budget review that may take a couple of hours.

3.) What do you have the energy for?

     -Example: If you spent an entire afternoon reviewing your work budget, you might feel tired. But there is time to do shorter tasks, such as booking a flight for an upcoming business trip.

4.) Which task has the highest priority?

     -To answer this question, you need to understand your values and goals.


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Allen’s book, Getting Things Done, is one of the best books on productivity and time management. The five-step GTD method laid is a useful tool for getting more done in less time. One other thing to keep in mind is keeping written tasks with you at all times. You’ll be likely to stay productive ahead of the game, even when last-minute ideas come up unexpectedly. Whether you’re stuck during the rush-hour commute or sitting at an airport due to a delayed flight, these inconveniences can be the best times to work on those tasks. If you can stick to the GTD method, you may find yourself more productive, more relaxed, and less stressed in your daily activities. 

Will you start getting things done today?

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Check out Allen’s book below!




Eric is a time management consultant and owner of the blog, He takes great pride in helping people manage their time, personally and professionally. Eric is a firm believer in time freedom, as he believes in taking ownership of time. “Time is your most important asset. It can be your best friend or worst enemy. How you use your time can shape the future you desire to have.” In his leisure time, Eric loves to write and read whenever possible. He likes to go for long walks out in nature and been taking Zumba classes every week at his local gym. You can follow Eric via Facebook and LinkedIn.

12 thoughts on “Getting Things Done (David Allen)”

  1. Wow, I felt like this article was written for me, because I have difficulties in getting things done because of things like procrastination and thinking too much about the effort that things will take, rather than actually doing the tasks that I need to get done. I really think that the list technique helps me a lot.

    • Thank you so much. I’m glad to know you enjoyed reading this post.

      I understand it’s not easy to get things done at times. But yes, it’s all about doing the tasks rather than thinking about them all the time. The list technique can help with these small problems. It’s all about doing things rather than talking about them.

      Thanks again for sharing your generous comment- much appreciated!

  2. Thank you for this review. It is very well written and has a lot of important facts about the topic. I was struggling for a while to find the right way of being productive. I found some pattern( which I am trying to develop ore revisit time to time) and it is a lot similar to the one you described it. So I can make sure everyone reading this post, THE STRATEGY IS WORKING. 

    I loved especially the facts you mentioned like writing things down and it could be basically anything by doing anything. Or the importance of giving the focus just on the important tasks. 

    So being able to prioritize and/or delegate is very crucial here. 

    All in one–very well done! I wish you success with your online project further on!

    • Of course, Julius. I’m glad to hear the pattern you’ve tried is working out. It may not be easy when starting out, but it’s well worth it when you practice it on a regular basis.

      I appreciate you giving a shout-out to your strategy. If it works, it’s important for others to know about it. I know some people can be skeptical about some things, but your example surely works.

      Thanks so much for sharing your input! Again, it’s very much appreciated.

  3. These are great tips for how to be successful and productive, I think the greatest of these is the one of clarifying if it is an outcome that you can take action on and only doing so if it is. I think that if you organize your plan before you start then you will know what to aim for. How has these tips helped you in being more productive?

    • Jon,

      That’s a terrific question. 

      From my experiences, writing down quick reminders as a habit has made it less stressful on my part. I find that writing a next action list has helped prioritize my tasks; in other words, I work on tasks that need the most attention on a given day. It also helps me avoid the temptations of multi-tasking. I know that’s not the best way to go in working on different tasks.

      Additionally, I see that reviewing my lists as a good approach to keep myself accountable. That’s key to being successful in the long term. But overall, the GTD method has helped increase my productivity. It works, and I recommend trying it out.

      Thanks for asking, and I appreciate your input as well.

  4. The issue of maximizing time and consequently increasing productivity is a very common issue, and if I’m being honest, it affects me a great deal. I have tried so hard to cut out unnecessary activities, those that keep me further from achieving my goals especially in business. That being said, I have to admit that the GTD method does have some actionable steps that can easily be applied to every activity of importance in our lives. I think this would be an interesting read.

    Great post 

    • Thanks, Rhain. I’m glad to know you enjoyed reading this post.

      Yes, it’s amazing to see how easy or hard it can be to cut out that time. All of the unnecessary things can be a waste of time. They’re worth reconsidering the real outcomes.

      The GTD method can be a great stepping step to taking actionable steps. It’s well worth looking into this method. If you end up reading the book, I’d love to hear your feedback.

      But thank you again for your input- much appreciated!

  5. Not new at all to me. David Allen did a great job getting this book very well written. The first time I put my hands over a copy of this book was an institutional gift from my boss on Imperial Brands as the yearly recommended read.

    You gessed right: I didn’t rest it. It was several month after receiving it that I saw a decision making matrix on how to deal with previously categorized E-mails on a co-worker’s Office. After asking what was it about, “Didn’t you got a copy of Davis Allen GTD book?” Was his replay (What a shame), I immediately said, “Yes, but you don’t have to print this out to implementing it”.

    Back to my office, I grab it and read the proposed approach to get rid of anxiety at work by categorizing and flagging emails on an specific way that was simple, yet powerful way.

    It may seems to be dramatic, but it really changed the way I work for good. Thanks for putting together a great review of a marvelous book! A piece of art of administration of your personal time in this very compulsive times we’re living.

    • That’s good to know, Juan! At least you had some knowledge of what Allen’s book was about earlier.

      I love the short story you mentioned, that’s interesting. But I believe you regarding what you wrote about- how you changed your work habits for the better is inspiring. I think more people need to hear your story so that they change and try out better habits.

      Thanks for sharing your input. I greatly appreciate it!

  6. Great post you have here and I really love every bit of details here. Of a truth, the way you have reviewed this post makes me really like it. This has expatiated a lot on the concept of taking actions and really being sincere with the action being take. Thanks so much for sharing

    • Of course, Rodarrick. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed reading the post.

      It’s all about taking actionable (and reasonable) steps forward. Without meaningful action, not much won’t happen. But it’s good to know.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts- much appreciated.


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