Pedro Arantesrose

Getting Things Done

With first-chapter allusions to martial arts, 'flow,' 'mind like water,' and other concepts borrowed from the East (and usually mangled), you'd almost think this self-helper from David Allen should have been called Zen and the Art of Schedule Maintenance. Not quite. Yes, Getting Things Done offers a complete system for downloading all those free-floating gotta-do's clogging your brain into a sophisticated framework of files and action lists--all purportedly to free your mind to focus on whatever you're working on.
Reading time: 10 minutes
By David Allen. ISBN: 978-0-698-16186-3. Read more about the book here.

By David Allen. ISBN: 978-0-698-16186-3. Read more about the book here.


  • Getting Thigs Done (GTD) method helps you control all your work.
  • Your brain has a limited working memory. Trying to remember everything leads to an inability to concentrate fully on the work at hand because your brain will still try to remember problems and tasks that you've stored in it.
  • These unfinished problems and tasks are called open loops. Your brain will constantly remind you about them because they're open, unfinished. They steal your energy and focus.
  • GTD helps you elimited those open loops and gives you a sense of control over your work, which gives to you a relaxed control and flexibility to handle changing circumstances. It consists in a specific and powerful five-stage workflow: capture, clarify, organize, reflect, and engage.
  • To implement the GTD system, you need the right workplace, tools, and filling system where you always feel comfortable working.


Chapter 1 - A New Practice for a New Reality

You can access an infinite amount of data through the Internet and receive many inputs from the world. This scenario's transformed your work and life boundaries because every new information increases the limits of your commitments and your lives.

The amount of new information creates open loops, or "incomplete tasks" in your mind. An open loop is an action that you decided to execute, but you didn't define the actions and outputs desired. If you have a huge amount of open loops, they'll appear from time to time and steal your energy (because your short-term memory is very limited). Putting these incomplete tasks in a management tool, like a "to-do" list, won't help because they're unplanned and will be pulling on our attention.

To manage the open loops, you must follow 3 steps:

  1. Be aware of the open loops and capture them in a trusted system outside your mind.

  2. You must clarify what your commitment is, the outcomes, and decide what you have to do to make progress towards fulfilling it.

  3. You must keep reminders of them organized in a system you review regularly.

You must use your mind to get things off your mind.

The difference between following these steps and just putting a task on a "to-do" list is that you thought about the task. Once you've planned the next physical steps, the outcomes, and put a reminder about them, you've clarified the task in your mind and the resulting data has been stored in a system that you know you'll access and think about when you need to. Your brain can give up the job of reminding you, you removed an open loop.

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

David presents a method for mastering the art of relaxed and controlled engagement. It's a five-step method for managing your workflow. The main goal is taking back the job of your mind to remember your tasks. The steps are:

1. Capture

Every open loop or task you decided to do must be captured in the systems you trust. This covers a huge range of items like business idea you had in your lunch break, buying a friend a birthday present, and a desire to travel to Spain.

Don't worry about about how important or sensible the items are, your goal is to remove the open loops from your head.

2. Clarify

You need to organize the actions you need to take based on the items you've captured. The author provides a diagram that helps you decide the actions. You have to answer some questions: Is it Actionable?:

  • No.

    1. Trash. It's trash, no longer needed.
    2. Incubation. No action now, but something need to be done later.
    3. Reference. The item might be used later for reference.
  • Yes, the item is actionable. Two things need to be determined about these items.

    • What project or outcome have you committed to? If it is a project, you need to capture the outcomes and put on a Projects List list and Project Plans list. It'll stay fresh and alive in your management system until it is completed.

    • What's the next action required?

      1. Do it at the moment the action is defined if if will take less than two minutes.
      2. Delegate it if the task will take longer than two minutes and if you're not the right person to do it.
      3. Defer it if the task will take longer than two minutes and if you're the right person to do it.

Clarify also means periodically emptying your items. If you don't do this, they'll just end up bloated dump of unorganized items, and your brain will rapidly begin to distrust them.

3. Organize

For each output of the step above, you'll need some tools to help you organize them. Actions that requires less than two minutes or that have already been completed don't need to be tracked.

  • Trash, Incubation, or Reference: these outputs you just toss them, "tickle" them fo later reassessment, or file them for futures references.

  • Projects List and Project Plans: a list, storage or files. A project is any desired result that can be accomplished within a year that requires multiples action steps. If a step won't complete something, some kind of goalpost must be created to reminder you that there is something left. Projects List is a index for your projects. Project Plans is a reference of the details of each project.

  • Do it doesn't need a organization system because they're done at the moment they're defined.

  • Delegate it and Defer it: you can use calendars to time specific actions, and "Next Actions Lists" to keep the tasks you need to execute during the day.

4. Reflect

5. Engage

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

The Natural Planning Model of your mind follows this way:

  1. Defining purpose and principles
  2. Outcome visioning
  3. Brainstorming
  4. Organizing
  5. Identifying next actions

Planning dinner out example:

  1. Why do you want to dinner out? Desire to satisfy hunger, socialize with friends, celebrate special occasion or develop a romance. These are your purpose. Your principles creates the boundaries of your plan: standards of food and service, affordability, convenience and comfort.
  2. What do you imagine about the dinner about the physical place, sounding, and feelings? It could be like, "Italian food at Giovanni's," or "Sitting at a sidewalk table at the Bistro Café." That is your outcome visioning.
  3. You'll think about how you achieve your vision. "What time should we go?" "Is it open tonight?" "Will it be crowded?" "Is there gas in the car?" That is the brainstorming.
  4. Once you have a lot of ideas, you start to organize them. You begin to sort them by components, priorities, and/or sequence of events.
  5. Finally, you focus in the next action that you need to take to make the first component happen. "Call Café Rouge to see if it's open, and make the reservation."

The Reactive Planning Model is the opposite:

  1. Identifying next actions
  2. Organizing
  3. Brainstorming
  4. Outcome visioning
  5. Defining purpose and principles
An example of this case.

Let's examine the five phases.


It helps you to answer the why question. "Why do you need more developers in your team?" A clear purpose gives you prime directives for appropriate focus, creative development, and cooperation. But this practice isn't commonly practiced.

Some of the benefits of asking why.

  • It defines success, so you have a reference point for any investment of time and energy. You go toward success. You can't feel good about something if you don't know what is its purpose.

  • It creates decision-making criteria. You can choose among options effectively when you have the purpose well defined.

  • It aligns resources. "How should we spend your staffing allocation in the corporate budget?"

  • It motivates. If you don't have the purpose clear in your mind, then there's no good reason to be doing something, you don't have motivation do to that.

  • It clarifies focus. It makes things clearer. Sometimes, things grow clearer just by asking, "What are we really trying yo accomplish here?"

  • It expands options. It's a paradox. Defining a clear purpose gives you focus, but at the same time, it expands your thinking about how to make a desired result happen. If the purpose is well defined, you can think in options because you know which one of them is viable or not.


Principles are the standards and values you hold. Principles completes this sentence, "I would give others totally free rein to do this as long as they...?".

  • "As long as they stayed on budget?"
  • "As long as they keep the client satisfaction?"
  • "As long as they promoted a positive image?"

Other question you may want to ask is, "What behavior might undermine what I'm doing, and how can I prevent it?". Purpose provides direction, principles define the parameters of action and the criteria for excellence of conduct.

Outcome Visioning

Vision is a clear picture in your mind of what success would look like, sounds, and feel like. Purpose and principles give to you impetus and monitoring, but vision provides the actual blueprint of the final result. Vision is the what.

Focus has a great power in your brain. Your physiology will respond to an image in your head as if it were reality. The unconscious mind automatically works toward your goals when you create and focus on a clear picture of what you want. Such automatic guidance system helps you better than "you" ever could by conscious thought.

Focus brings unconscious support.


Brainstorming notes. It helps defining the how.


Once finished the brainstorming phase, you'll notice that a natural organization is emerging. You identify components and subcomponents, sequences of events, and/or priorities.

Creative thinking doesn't stop here, it just takes another form. Your mind will start to think in how you can fill the blanks.

The Basics of Organizing
  • Identify the significant pieces.
  • Sort by (one or more):
    • Components (subprojects): "We need to handle logistics, people, and location."
    • Sequences: "First we need to check whether the restaurant is open, then call Andersons, then get dressed."
    • Priorities: "It's critical to find out if the client really would like to go to dinner."
  • Detail to the required degree.

Next Actions

The question to ask here is, "What's the next action?" If you're not ready to anwser this question, you have more to flesh out at some prior level in the natural planning sequence.

The final stage of the planning model that decides about the allocation and reallocation of physical resources to get the project moving.

The Basics
  • Activating the Moving Parts: a project is sufficiently planned for implementation when every next action step can be moved on.

  • More to Plan?: the habit of clarifying the next actions on projects is fundamental to you staying in relaxed control.

  • When the Next Action is Someone Else's...: if the next acion is not yours, you must clarify whose it is. This is a use of the Waiting For action list.

Final Questions

How Much Planning Do You Really Need to Do? As much as you need to get the project off your mind.

Need More Clarity? If greater clarity is what you need, shift your thinking up the natural planning scale.

Need More to Be Happening? If more action is what's needed, you need to move down the natural planning model.

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

You need to set up tricks so that your not-so-smart, not-so-conscious part behaves as your smart part want. For instance, if you put something that you need to take to work, you may put it in front of the door, so the next day you'll see and remember, "Oh, I need to take this." Your purpose is that the "door" is going to be the door of your mind, not your house.

The big secret of efficient creative and productive thinking and action is to put the right things in your focus at the right time. You need to pay attention to the details because the whole will be greater than the sum of the parts.


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