Getting Things Done by David Allen Summary

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Getting Things Done by David Allen
The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

My Thoughts

In 2019 I listened to Getting Things Done and it helped improve my productivity so much that I read it again in 2020. David Allen says “The implicit purpose of this book is urging you to operate from a higher level. To assist you in making your total life expression more fulfilling and better aligned with the big picture.”

My notes don’t do the book justice. If this resonates with you, I encourage you to purchase a copy and read or listen for yourself. The author narrates the audible version himself and it enhances the delivery of his material.

My Favorite Quotes

  • It is possible for a person to have an overwhelming number of things to do and still function productively with a clear head and a positive sense of relaxed control
  • Thinking in more effective ways about projects and situations can make things happen sooner, better, and more successfully.
  • The most savvy executives know the value of sacrificing the seemingly urgent for the truly important.
  • Building in quality time for review and regrouping is both critical and sorely lacking in most organizations.
  • Getting ultimately grounded and in control of the mundane aspects of life produces a rich field of natural inspiration about our higher levels.
  • There are no interruptions, there are only mismanaged occurrences.
  • If you have systems and habits ready to leverage your ideas, your productivity can expand exponentially.
  • Anything held only in your head will take up more (or less) attention than it deserves. Write it down!
  • Meetings are wasteful when there is a lack of rigor relative to their purpose and desired outcomes.
  • To function in a knowledge economy, most organizations need people who read.

Key Questions

  • How do you know that what you are doing is what you ought to be doing at any point in time?
  • What are the expected results from this work?
  • What does “done” look like?
  • What would need to happen for you to check this project off as done?
  • What is the next physical action I need to take to move this project toward completion?
  • Am I the right person to do this?
  • What’s the next action?
  • What are your key goals and objectives at your work?
  • What should you have in place 1-3 years from now?
  • How is your career going?
  • Is this the lifestyle that is most fulfilling to you?
  • Are you doing what you want or need to do from a deeper and longer-term perspective?
  • What do you want to have happen in this meeting?
  • What would the ideal person for this job be able to do?
  • Why are we doing this?

Introduction

This book is not so much about getting things done as it is about championing appropriate engagement with your world.

How do you know that what you are doing is what you ought to be doing at any point in time?

Three parts of the book:

  1. Part 1: a brief overview of the entire system
  2. Part 2: how to implement the system
  3. Part 3: deeper look into implementing the system

The core methodology of GTD is relatively simple, but it can be expressed and understood at many different levels of depth and detail.

Part 1: The Art of Getting Things Done

Chapter 1: A New Practice for a New Reality

It is possible for a person to have an overwhelming number of things to do and still function productively with a clear head and a positive sense of relaxed control.

The methods presented in GTD are all based on three key objectives:

  1. Capturing all the things that need to get done in an organized system
  2. Directing yourself to make front-end decisions about all of the inputs in your life, so that you will always have a workable inventory of next actions that you can implement or renegotiate
  3. Curating and coordinating all of the content

The Problem: New Demands and Insufficient Resources

Knowledge workers today face new demands on their time and attention and we have insufficient resources and training to properly deal with them.

The Promise: The Ready State of the Martial Artist

Imagine what it might be like if your personal management were totally under control at all levels and at all times.

  • What if you had completely clear mental space with nothing pulling or pushing on you unproductively?
  • What if you could dedicate 100% of your attention to whatever was at hand, at your own choosing, and with no distraction?

Martial artists call this having a “mind like water.”

Mind like water is a condition of working, doing, and being in which the mind is clear and constructive things are happening.

When you throw a pebble into a pond, how does the water respond? Totally appropriately to the mass and force of the input, and then it returns to calm. Water doesn’t overreact or under-react. Water does not get frustrated.

Anything that causes you to overreact or under-react can control you, and often does.

The Principle: Dealing Effectively with Internal Commitments

Most stress that people experience comes from inappropriately managed commitments they make or accept.

An open loop is anything pulling at your attention that doesn’t belong where it is and the way it is.

Managing commitments well requires the implementation of some basic activities and behaviors:

  1. If it is on your mind, your mind isn’t clear. Anything you consider unfinished in any way must be captured in a trusted system outside of your mind.
  2. You must clarify exactly what your commitment is and decide what you have to do, if anything, to make progress toward fulfilling it.
  3. Once you’ve decided on all of the actions you need to take, you must keep reminders of them organized in a system you review regularly.

An important exercise to test the GTD model. Try this right now:

  1. Write down the project or situation that is most on your mind at this moment. What most bugs you, distracts you, or interests you?
  2. Describe in a single written sentence, your intended successful outcome for this problem or situation. What would need to happen for you to check this project off as done?

People think a lot, but most people think of a problem, not about it. Structure your thinking toward an outcome and an action.

Reacting is automatic, thinking is not.

The Real Work of Knowledge Work

“In knowledge work the task is not given, it has to be determined.” -Peter Drucker

What are the expected results from this work? This is the key question that makes knowledge workers productive.

Why Things are On Your Mind

Things are on your mind for one of three reasons:

  1. You haven’t captured it
  2. You haven’t decided about it
  3. You haven’t set a reminder for when you will do it

A significant part of your psyche cannot help but keep track of your open loops. This is a detractor from anything else you need or want to think about and diminishes your capacity to perform.

The Process: Managing Action

You can train yourself to be faster, more responsive, more proactive, and more focused in dealing with all of the things you need to deal with. You can think more effectively.

You will need to get in the habit of keeping nothing on your mind. The way we do that is by managing our actions.

You don’t manage priorities, you have them.

It is extremely difficult to manage actions you haven’t identified or decided on.

You cannot do a project, you can only do an action related to it. Most actions only require a minute or two to move a project forward.

Lack of time is not the major issue for most people. The real problem is a lack of clarity and definition about what a project is, and what associated next action steps are required.

Getting things done requires two basic components:

  1. Defining what done means – outcome
  2. Defining what doing looks like – action

Most people are so stuck in commitments on a day-to-day level that their ability to focus on the larger horizon is seriously impaired.

You need to control commitments, projects, and actions both horizontally and vertically. The goal of managing horizontally and vertically is the same, to get things off your mind and get them done.

The Major Change: Getting it All Out of Your Head

There is no way to achieve the kind of relaxed control David Allen is promising if you keep things only in your head.

Your mind will keep working on anything that is in an undecided state. This has been proven to reduce your capacity to think and perform.

Your conscious mind is a focusing tool, not a storage place.

Chapter 2: Getting Control of Your Life

The Five Steps of Mastering Workflow

  1. Capture what has our attention
  2. Clarify what each item means and what to do about it
  3. Organize the results
  4. Reflect
  5. Engage with

This constitutes the management of the horizontal aspect of our lives.

Most decisions for action and focus are driven by the latest and loudest inputs, and are based on hope instead of trust.

Capture

You must collect 100% of your incomplete tasks.

The Capture Tools

  • Physical in tray
  • Paper based note taking devices
  • Digital audio note taking devices
  • Email and text messaging

Three Requirements to Make the Capturing Phase Work

  1. Every open loop must be in your capture system and out of your head
  2. You must have as few capturing buckets as you can get by with
  3. You must empty them regularly

Clarify

You must learn the item-by-item thinking required to get your collection containers empty. This is perhaps the most critical improvement you can make.

What do you need to ask yourself and answer about each item in your capture system?

  • What is it?
  • Is it actionable?

You can’t organize what is incoming, you can only capture it and process it. Instead, you organize the actions you will need to take based on the decisions you’ve made about what needs to be done.

Non-Actionable Items Have Three Possibilities:

  1. Trash
  2. Incubate: no action needed now but might need to be done later
  3. Reference: the item is potentially useful info that might be needed later

Actionable Items

Two things need to be determined about each actionable item:

  1. What project or outcome have you committed to?
  2. What is the next action required?

If it is about a project, you need to capture that outcome on a projects list.

The next action is the next physical, visible activity that needs to be engaged in.

Example next actions:

  • Call Fred
  • Draft thoughts
  • Do research online

Three options for actionable items:

  1. Do it
  2. Delegate it
  3. Defer it

If an action will take less than two minutes, it should be done at the moment it is defined.

If the action will take longer than two minutes, ask yourself, “Am I the right person to do this?” If the answer is no, delegate it to the appropriate entity.

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.

Organize

Eight discrete categories of reminders and materials that will result from processing all of your stuff.

Non-actionable items:

  1. Trash
  2. Incubation
  3. Reference

Actionable items:

  1. Projects list
  2. Storage or files for project plans and support materials
  3. Calendar
  4. Next actions list of reminders
  5. List of reminders of things you are waiting for

Projects in this book are defined as: “Any desired result that can be accomplished in a year that requires more than one action step.”

Everything on your projects list should be reviewed weekly to feel comfortable about its status.

Calendar

Reminders of actions you need to take fall into two categories:

  1. Things that have to happen on a specific day or time (your calendar handles these)
  2. Things that just need to get done as soon as possible

Three things that go on your calendar:

  1. Time-specific actions
  2. Day-specific actions
  3. Day-specific information

Next Actions List

Sub-divide your next actions lists into categories. Example: calls to make, computer action items, store purchases, etc.

Non-Actionable Items

You need well-organized discreet systems to handle things that require no action.

Incubation

Things that require no immediate action but that you want to keep.

Two kinds of incubation tools:

  1. Someday-Maybe Lists
  2. A ticker system

Someday-Maybe Lists

An ongoing list of things you might want to do at some point, but not right now. This is the parking lot for projects that are impossible to move on right now, but you don’t want to forget about.

You must review this list periodically if you are going to get the most value from it. Include a scan of this list as part of your weekly review.

Your someday/maybe lists can include books to read, recipes to try, weekend trips to take, things your kids might like to do, etc.

Tickler System

Things you don’t need to be reminded of until a designated time in the future.

Reference Material

Things that require no action but have intrinsic value as information.

  1. Topic and area-specific storage
  2. General reference files

Reflect

Reflection is where you look at all of your outstanding projects and open loops, at horizon one level, on a weekly basis.

What to Review and When

  • Calendar: should be reviewed most frequently (Daily)
  • Next Action Lists: if organized by context, they come into play only when those contexts are available
  • Projects, waiting for, and someday/maybe lists: review only as often as they need to be in order to stop you from wondering about them

The Weekly Review

Everything that might require action must be reviewed on a frequent enough basis to keep your mind from taking back the job of remembering and reminding.

All of your projects, active project plans, next action lists, agendas, waiting for, and someday/maybe lists should be reviewed weekly.

The weekly review is the time to:

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

Engage

The basic purpose of this workflow management process is to facilitate good choices about what you are doing at any point in time.

The Four-Criteria Model for Choosing Actions in the Moment

When deciding what to do next, apply the following criteria in this order.

  1. Context (where you are and what is available)
  2. Time Available
  3. Energy Available
  4. Priority

The Threefold Model for Identifying Daily Work

  1. Doing predefined work
  2. Doing work as it shows up
  3. Defining your work

When doing predefined work, you’re working from your next actions lists and calendar, completing tasks that you have previously determined need to be done, or managing your workflow.

Defining your work includes clearing up your in-trays, etc, and breaking down new projects into actionable steps.

Priorities should drive your choices. There are at least six different perspectives from which to define your priorities and your work.

Looking out from a building you will notice different things from different floors.

  • Horizon 5: Purpose and Principles – the big picture view. Why does your company exist? Why do you exist? What matters to you no matter what?
  • Horizon 4: Vision – projecting 3-5 years into the future.
  • Horizon 3: Goals – what do you want to be experiencing in various areas of your life and work 1-2 years from now?
  • Horizon 2: Areas of Focus and Account-abilities – the key areas of your life and work within which you want to achieve results and maintain standards. Examples: health, finances, spirituality, etc. List and review these responsibilities.
  • Horizon 1: Current Projects – the relatively short-term outcomes you want to achieve.
  • Ground: Current Actions – the accumulated list of all the actions you need to take.

Chapter 3: Getting Projects Creatively Under Way

The Five Phases of Project Planning

The key ingredients of relaxed control:

  1. Clearly defined outcomes (projects) and the next actions required to move them toward closure
  2. Reminders placed in a trusted system that is reviewed frequently

Natural Planning Techniques: The Five Phases

Your mind goes through the following five steps to accomplish virtually any task:

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

The unnatural or reactive planning model works in the opposite direction. Reactive planning jumps directly to action, then tries to organize, then brainstorms, then tries to envision the outcome, and lastly asks about purpose and principles.

Thinking in more effective ways about projects and situations can make things happen sooner, better, and more successfully.

Defining Purpose and Principles

Some benefits of asking “Why?”

  • It defines success
  • It creates decision making criteria
  • It aligns resources
  • It motivates
  • It clarifies focus
  • It expands options

Many of us hold ourselves back from imagining a desired outcome unless someone can show us how to get there. Unfortunately, that is backward in terms of how our minds work to generate and recognize solutions and methods.

Clarifying Outcomes

One of the most powerful life skills is creating clear outcomes. We need to constantly define, and redefine, what we are trying to accomplish on many different levels.

You won’t see how to do it until you see yourself doing it.

Part 2: Practicing Stress-Free Productivity

Chapter 4: Getting Started

Create a block of time to initialize this process.

Much of the value people get from this material is “good tricks.”

Random non-actionable, but potentially relevant material, when unprocessed and unorganized produces a debilitating psychological noise. It also produces a block in the “flow” part of workflow.

Consider scheduling a full “purge day” at your office for all employees. Scheduling a personal purge day is also a good idea.

Chapter 5: Capturing

The objective of the capturing process is to get everything into your inbox as quickly as possible so that you are appropriately retrenched.

Practical reasons to gather everything before you start clarifying:

  1. It is helpful to have a sense of the volume of stuff you have to deal with
  2. It lets you know where the end of the tunnel is
  3. When you are clarifying and organizing, you don’t want to be distracted 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 will automatically be operating from a state of enhanced focus and control.

Steps to capturing:

  1. Physical gathering: search your environment for anything that doesn’t permanently belong where it is, the way it is.
  2. Mental space: what has your attention that isn’t represented by something already in the in-tray?

Physical Gathering

  1. Start with your desktop
  2. Inside cabinets
  3. Floors, walls, and shelves
  4. Bulletin boards
  5. Equipment, furniture, and fixtures

Four categories of things that can remain where they are, the way they are, with no action tied to them.

  1. Supplies
  2. Reference material
  3. Decorations
  4. Equipment

Do not try to decide during the capture phase. Clarifying requires a very different mindset from capturing, it is best to do them separately.

Mental Gathering

Write each thought, idea, or task on a separate sheet of paper.

The end of this chapter has a list of dozens of trigger ideas for the mental gathering process.

Chapter 6: Clarifying

Getting “in” to empty means identifying each item and deciding what it is, what it means, and what you’re going to do with it.

Establish some working categories in which to place next actions:

  • Calls
  • Errands
  • Agendas (for discussion with specific people)
  • At computer

Processing Guidelines

  1. Process the top item first
  2. Process one item at a time
  3. Never put anything back into “in”

They key processing question is: “What’s the next action?”

This chapter goes into more detail on the same items covered in chapter 2 for processing.

You need to make a projects list and maintain it weekly.

Chapter 7: Organizing

Seven primary types of things to keep track of and manage:

  1. Projects List
  2. Project Support Material
  3. Calendar Actions and Information
  4. Next Actions Lists
  5. A “Waiting For” List
  6. Reference Material
  7. A Someday | Maybe List

A list is just a way to keep track of the total inventory of active things to which you have made a commitment, and to have that inventory available for review.

Organizing Action Reminders

The best way to be reminded of an “as soon as I can” action is by the particular context required by that action. That means the tool, location, or situation.

Common Categories of Action Reminders

  • Calls
  • At computer
  • Errand
  • At office
  • At home
  • Anywhere
  • Agendas (for people in meetings)
  • Read and review

Getting “in” empty doesn’t mean you’ve handled everything. It means you’ve deleted what you could, filed what you wanted to keep, done the less than two minute actions, and moved into reminder folders all things you’re waiting on and all actionable emails.

The Project List(s)

The projects list is not meant to hold plans or details about your projects. Nor should you try to keep it arranged by priority, size, or urgency. It is just a comprehensive index of your open loops. You won’t be working off the project list during your moment-to-moment activities.

For the most part, your calendar, action lists, and any unexpected tasks will constitute your tactical and immediate focus.

Being aware of the horizon represented by your projects is critical for extending your comfort of your control and focus over longer reaches of time.

The real value of the projects list lies in the complete review it can provide at least once a week. Ensuring that you have action steps defined for all of your projects.

Reviewing the projects list weekly will enhance your underlying sense of control.

The Value of a Complete Projects List

  • It is critical for control and focus
  • It alleviates subtle tensions
  • It is the core of the weekly review
  • It facilitates relationship management

It is impossible to be truly relaxed and in your productive state, when things you’ve told yourself you need to handle pull at your mind.

Look into current problems, issues, and opportunities for potential projects.

Three categories of projects in this area:

  1. Problems
  2. Process improvements
  3. Creative and capacity building opportunities

When is a problem a project? Always.

When you assess something as a problem instead of something to be accepted as the way things are, you are assuming a potential resolution exists.

Someday Maybe Lists

Two sources for your someday maybe list, your creative imagination and your list of current projects.

Make an inventory of your creative imaginings. What are the things you might want to do someday if you have the time and money?

Typical Categories

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

Now is a good time to review your projects list from a more elevated perspective. Consider moving some projects to your someday-maybe list.

Special categories of someday-maybe:

  • Food (recipes, menus, restaurants, etc.)
  • Children (things to do with them)
  • Books to read
  • Music to download
  • Movies to see
  • Gift ideas
  • Websites to explore
  • Weekend trips to take
  • Ideas and miscellaneous

These lists can be a combination of reference and someday-maybe.

The value of someday-maybe disappears if you don’t review it with some level of consistency.

Checklists – Creative and Constructive Reminders

In essence, any of the lists or categories of reminders we’ve already discussed are checklists.

Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.

Alfred North Whitehead

Blueprinting Key Areas of Work and Accountability

It is a good idea to create checklists for each horizon level (see notes from the end of chapter 2 for the list of five horizon levels).

Higher Horizons

  • Career goals
  • Service
  • Family
  • Relationships
  • Community
  • Health and Energy
  • Financial Resources
  • Creative Expression

Lower Level Work Horizons

  • Staff Morale
  • Processes
  • Timelines
  • Staff Issues
  • Workload
  • Communications
  • Technology

Suggested Topics of Checklists

  • Job areas of responsibility
  • Exercise regimens
  • Travel checklist
  • Weekly review
  • Training program components
  • Key clients
  • People to stay in touch with
  • Year end activities
  • Personal development
  • Jokes

Get comfortable with checklists! Be ready to create and eliminate them as required. Have an easy place to put a new list that is attractive and fun to engage with.

When appropriately used, checklists are great at relieving mental pressure and enhancing productivity.

Chapter 8: Reflecting

Two Keys of Reflection:

  1. What do you look at in all of this, and when?
  2. What do you need to do, and how often, to ensure all of it works as a consistent system. Freeing you to think and manage at a higher level.

A real review process will lead to enhanced a proactive new thinking in key areas of your life and work.

The Weekly Review

I recommend using this free weekly review checklist available in PDF format from David Allen.

The weekly review is the magic key to the sustainability of this process.

You will have to learn to say “no” faster and to more things, in order to stay afloat and comfortable.

You must set aside dedicated time at the project level of thinking.

The weekly review is: whatever you need to do to get your head empty again and get oriented for the next couple of weeks. Going through the steps for workflow management: capturing, clarifying, organizing, and reviewing.

  1. Get Clear
  2. Get Current
  3. Get Creative

We are naturally creative beings. The challenge is to eliminate the barriers to the natural flow of our creative energies.

Try to block out two hours in the early afternoon of your last work day for the weekly review.

Executive Operational Review Time

The most savvy executives know the value of sacrificing the seemingly urgent for the truly important.

Building in quality time for review and regrouping is both critical and sorely lacking in most organizations.

The Bigger Picture Reviews

  • What are your key goals and objectives at your work?
  • What should you have in place 1-3 years from now?
  • How is your career going?
  • Is this the lifestyle that is most fulfilling to you?
  • Are you doing what you want or need to do from a deeper and longer-term perspective?

The implicit purpose of this book is urging you to operate from a higher level. To assist you in making your total life expression more fulfilling and better aligned with the big picture.

You need to assess your life and work at the appropriate horizons, making the appropriate decisions, at the appropriate intervals in order to really come clean. This is a lifelong obligation.

Getting ultimately grounded and in control of the mundane aspects of life produces a rich field of natural inspiration about our higher levels.

Chapter 9: Engaging

There are no interruptions, there are only mismanaged occurrences.

When the in-tray and action lists get ignored for too long, random things lying in them tend to surface as emergencies later.

The Six-level Model for Reviewing Your Own Work

  1. Horizon 5: Life
  2. Horizon 4: Long-term Visions
  3. Horizon 3: 1-2 Year Goals
  4. Horizon 2: Areas of Focus and Account-abilities
  5. Horizon 1: Current Projects
  6. Ground: Current Actions

This is a deeper review of the same horizon structure in chapter 2.

Here is an example review of why you should make a phone call from the bottom up.

  • Action: the phone call is about the deal (project) you are working on
  • Project: the deal will increase sales (accountability)
  • Accountability: this particular sale may earn you a promotion (job goal)
  • Goal: this deal will allow your company to penetrate a new market (organizational vision)
  • Vision: executing this vision will get you closer to where you want to be financially and professionally (life)

Here is the same review of your work in the reverse horizon order.

  • Life: you’ve decided you want to be your own boss
  • Vision: you create a business for yourself
  • Goals: you create short-term operational objectives
  • Accountabilities: the objectives give you critical roles you need to fulfill
  • Projects: the roles have some immediate outcomes to achieve
  • Actions: on each of the projects you will have things you need to do

The healthiest approach for relaxed control is to manage all of the levels in a balanced fashion.

Create productive alignment in your life by clarifying from the top down.

  • Decide why you are on the planet
  • What kind of life, work, and lifestyle would be allow you to fulfill that?
  • What kind of job and personal relationships would support that direction?
  • What key things would you put in place and make happen right now?
  • What could you do physically as soon as possible to kickstart each of those?

The most important thing to deal with is the thing that is most on your mind.

Start from the ground level when clarifying your life.

  • Ground: make sure your action lists are complete.
  • Horizon 1: finalize your projects list.
  • Horizon 2: define all of your roles and areas of accountability. Make and keep a list called “areas of focus,” you might like to separate this into professional and personal lists. You probably have 4-7 key areas each in your personal and professional roles.
  • Horizon 3: one-year goals for your job.
  • Horizon 4: three year vision for career and personal net worth.
  • Horizon 5: intuiting your life purpose and how to maximize its expression.

Important Questions

  • What new things are my children going to be doing in the next couple of years, and what do I need to do differently because of that?
  • What are the longer term goals and objectives in my organization?
  • What projects do I need to have in place related to them to fulfill my responsibilities?
  • What longer terms goals and objectives have I set for myself? What projects do I need to have in place to make them happen?
  • What other significant things are happening that could affect my options about what I am doing?

Chapter 10: Getting Projects Under Control

We need to spend more time capturing and utilizing our proactive creative thinking.

If you have systems and habits ready to leverage your ideas, your productivity can expand exponentially.

What projects should you be planning?

Typical planning steps:

  1. Brainstorming and Organizing
  2. Setting up meetings
  3. Gathering information

Don’t lose any ideas about projects that could potentially be useful.

Tools and Structures that Support Project Thinking

Thinking Tools (great tools trigger good thinking)

  • Writing instruments
  • Paper and pads
  • Easels and whiteboards
  • Digital tools: laptops, phone, tablet, software, etc.

Support Structures

  • File folders and filing system
  • Mind mapping software
  • Outlining program
  • Flow chart software

Part 3: The Power of the Key Principles

Chapter 11: The Power of the Capturing Habit

When people with whom you interact notice that, without fail, you receive, process, and organize in an airtight manner the exchanges and agreements they have with you, they begin to trust you in a unique way.

More significantly, you incorporate a level of self-confidence in your engagement with your world that money cannot buy.

This is the power of capturing placeholders for anything that is incomplete or unprocessed in your life. It noticeably enhances your mental wellbeing and improves the quality of your communications and relationships.

When organizations expect and reinforce this best practice of allowing nothing to fall through the cracks, it can significantly increase a culture’s productivity and reduce its stress.

The price people pay when they break an agreement in the world is the disintegration of trust in the relationship.

Your negative feelings about unfinish word come from breaking agreements with yourself and disintegrating trust in yourself.

Three options for preventing broken agreements with yourself.

  1. Don’t make the agreement
  2. Complete the agreement
  3. Renegotiate the agreement

A renegotiated agreement is not a broken agreement.

Options when renegotiating an agreement.

  1. Lower your standards
  2. Keep the agreement
  3. Put it on a someday maybe list

Anything held only in your head will take up more (or less) attention than it deserves. Write it down!

Use your mind to think about things, not of them.

Chapter 12: The Power of the Next-Action Decision

You will have to decide on next actions at some point. You can do it when it shows up, or when it blows up.

Which do you think is the more efficient way to move through life?

  1. Deciding next actions on your projects as soon as they appear. Grouping them into categories of actions that you get done in uniform contexts. Or…
  2. Avoid thinking about what needs to be done until it has to be done. Then sputtering through your next actions as you try to catch up and put out the fires?

The Value of a Next Action Decision Making Standard

Asking “what’s the next action” forces:

  • Clarity
  • Accountability
  • Productivity
  • Empowerment

Asking yourself “what’s the next action?” undermines the victim mentality. The next time someone complains about something, try asking “So what’s the next action?” This question forces the issue. If it can be changed, there is some action that will change it. Complaining is a sign that someone isn’t willing to risk moving on a changeable situation.

Chapter 13: The Power of Outcome Focusing

You can’t define the right action until you know the outcome you seek.

There are only two problems in life:

  1. You know what you want and you don’t know how to get it
  2. You don’t know what you want

If that is true, there are only two solutions:

  1. Make it up
  2. Make it happen

What is the desired outcome? Everything you experience as incomplete must have a reference point for being complete.

Challenging the purpose of anything you may be doing is healthy and mature.

Being comfortable making up visions of success before the methods are clear is a phenomenal trait to strengthen.

Even the slightest increase in the use of natural planning can bring significant improvement.

General questions for outcome action thinking:

  • What do you want to have happen in this meeting?
  • What is the purpose of this form?
  • What would the ideal person for this job be able to do?
  • What do we want to accomplish with this software?
  • Why are we doing this?

Unfocused meetings lead to unnecessary emails. Producing the need for clarifying meetings. Producing more email, and the cycle continues.

Meetings are wasteful when there is a lack of rigor relative to their purpose and desired outcomes.

To function in a knowledge economy, most organizations need people who read. The culture can provide training and support to ensure that occurs.

Chapter 14: GTD and Cognitive Science

This chapter cites the study Getting Things Done: The Science behind Stress-Free Productivity, this is the thesis of the paper. Your mind is designed to have ideas based upon pattern detection. It isn’t designed to remember much of anything. The mind is brilliant at recognition but terrible at recall.

References the benefits of building an external brain as referenced in The Organized Mind by Daniel Levitin. When you use your memory as your organizing system, your mind will become overwhelmed and incompetent.

Uncompleted tasks take up room in the mind, which then limits clarity and focus. Writing them down and scheduling them frees up this room in the mind.

Chapter 15: The Path of GTD Mastery

GTD is a lifelong practice with multiple levels of mastery.

The Three Tiers of Mastery

  1. Employing the fundamentals of managing workflow.
  2. Implementing a more elevated and integrated total life management system.
  3. Leveraging skills to create clear space and get things done for an ever expansive expression and manifestation.

As you improve, you shift your focus from the mechanics of the system to the results it produces.

Mastering the Basics

It can easily take as much as two years to master the basics of capturing everything and deciding on next actions.

Mastering the basics is transformative.

Graduate Level – Integrated Life Management

The hallmarks of this level of maturity with GTD are:

  • A complete, current, and clear inventory of projects
  • A working map of ones roles, accountabilities, and interest both personally and professionally
  • An integrated total life management system. Custom tailored to ones current needs and direction, and utilized to dynamically steer out beyond the day-to-day
  • Challenges and surprises trigger your utilization of this methodology instead of throwing you out of it

Assess and update your projects list based on your areas of focus.

Post Graduate – Focus Direction and Creativity

  1. Utilizing your freed up focus to explore the more elevated aspects of your commitments and values
  2. Leveraging your external mind to produce novel value

The power to produce produces powerful possibilities. The better you get, the better you’d better get. The more confidence

When freed from the remembering function, your mind functions incredibly at problem solving and creative thinking.

My Action Steps After Reading

  • Reading the book a second time with our team at work.
  • Creating the habit of asking myself “what does done look like?”
  • Focus on capturing everything and getting it out of my head. This has led to tremendously increased focus and productivity.
  • Learning to ask “what’s the next action?” more often.

Related Book Summaries

Hope you enjoyed this and got value from my notes.
This is the 59th book in my 2020 reading list and the 52nd book in my 2019 reading list.
Here is a list of my book summaries.

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