Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

Getting Things Done: How To Achieve Stress-free Productivity
Author: David Allen
Publisher: Viking
Published: 1/8/2001
In today's world, yesterday's methods just don't work. Veteran coach and management consultant David Allen recognizes that time management is useless the minute your schedule is interrupted; setting priorities isn't relevant when your e-mail is down; procrastination solutions won't help if your goals aren't clear. Instead, Allen shares with readers the proven methods he has already introduced in seminars and at top organizations across the country.

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

Key Insights

Originally published in 2001, Getting Things Done by David Allen is a guide to being more productive and organized in life and business. Throughout the book, Allen offers his own tips and tricks to be more productive on a personal and professional level.

With the author’s help, readers get not only systems that they can utilize to get organized, but also guidance to get unfinished tasks completed in a more effective way.

Among the methods that the author offers readers, there is utilizing physical inboxes, making lists, and using actual folders for work. There is also a model that allows you to effectively evaluate the things that need to be accomplished in any given day.

The goal is to have fewer projects that remain unfinished at the end of the day. And whether you choose to use all of the methods being taught, or pick and choose what works best for you, Getting Things Done will help you to find what works for you in terms of being more productive.

Key Points

The modern work environment is more hectic than it has ever been before, which can make it hard for you to remember things

In our work life, our job description can be even more encompassing than ever before, and at the same time, it also becomes less defined.

Every day, workers find themselves juggling more and more tasks and projects. And even with more work coming our way, it feels like we are facing an onslaught of tasks that need to be accomplished on a day to day basis.

The more we try to do and remember, the harder it becomes to handle everything required of us, as we lose the capacity to retain the information we need to get things done. It becomes hard to concentrate on what needs to be done.

This is where Getting Things Done comes in, as it gives us the tools we need to not get overwhelmed. Thanks to the author, we get a workflow guide that offers five easy to follow steps.

This workflow includes writing down everything you need to do, and any thoughts you have about the work that needs to be accomplished. Everything needs to then be clarified to make it easier to organize. Creating a more structured list will allow for more organization. Figure out what is most important and review what is on the list. And finally, it is about picking a task that needs to be done and getting started on it.

Ultimately, the entire goal of Getting Things Done is to give you control of what is happening in your life and your work to make it easier to be productive.

Having the right tools can make all the difference in your productivity levels

To avoid anxiety when things need to be done, utilizing lists can be an effective tool in staying on track. Lists can also prevent a sense of anxiety that will have a negative impact on productivity.

Whether you use a physical piece of paper and a pen to create a list, or use a program on a computer or phone, creating lists and using inboxes is a way to keep track of the important things that need to be done. From scheduling to keeping track of ideas and thoughts, lists are the way to push forward.

Another vital tool for productivity is having a dedicated workplace when you can create those lists and work on projects that need to be completed.

Whether you are using a digital system or not, you are creating a filing system of sorts that will keep you on track with every project.

Keep track of all of the tasks that you need to accomplish

Using the external tools at your disposal, capture all of the tasks that you need to get finished. No matter what it is, write it down. From ideas to dates and times, write everything down so that it won’t be forgotten.

It is important to think of this as your personal in-box.

Don’t worry about if something is important or not, it’s not about what’s important, it is about keeping track of everything that comes up so that it can be reviewed in the future.

Make sure that you have whatever tool or tools you are using to collect your thoughts at hand at all times. And whether it is an app on your phone or different notebooks, make sure you have enough to keep track of what you need, without going too far and having excess clutter.

Once it has been written down, organize your thoughts 

Now that the tasks you need to get done have been written down, along with any thoughts and ideas you may have, it is important to get rid of excess clutter and organize those thoughts.

At least once a week, it is important to go through your notes and clarify what needs to be done. From there, you will then properly organize everything so that the things you need are easily accessible within your notes.

By getting organized, you will eliminate undue stress and anxiety, while also making it easier to plan for your next steps in getting tasks completed.

When you are writing things down, you don’t need to really think about what you are writing. The important thing is capturing all the details as they pop up. But in the organization and clarifying stage, it is about going over what you have written and determined whether it is something actionable.

Even if an idea is not actionable, it might still be important, either as something that needs to be acted upon in the future or as information that may be needed later on. However, even actionable notes need to be properly organized and make sure you know what the outcome you want is.

By keeping track of everything you write down, it can help promote productivity without the added stress of either not remembering something or being overwhelmed by too much information.

How do you get your thoughts and notes organized?

Getting things written down is only as effective as your ability to pull up the information you need at a given time. And the best way to have this information at your disposal when you need it is to be organized.

The question is, how do you get everything organized once you have gone through it all to keep things clear and concise.

While items that are not actionable can be removed from our to-do lists, actionable items that can be done quickly are typically taken care of right away. This still leaves other things that need to be done but may require more thought and attention. It is these items on the list that need to be properly organized for best results when it comes to being productive.

For physical documents, you will want to file them in a relevant folder. And even in virtual storage, you will want to use proper labels and email folders to make searching and finding things you need as easy as possible.

Whether utilizing physical documents or virtual documents, make sure that things have relevant labels and can be easily searched for when you need it.

Good project management is the key to being successfully productive

For Getting Things Done, a project is being defined as a course of action that requires multiple steps to complete.

It is important to realize that writing notes or emails are not a project, however, a big meeting or trip being planned is a project.

The best way to stay organized when it comes to projects is to have a master list that keeps track of projects that need to be completed. It is important to make a note on this list about when projects are due, so that way you can stay on top of the important things, focusing on things in the order in which they need to be done.

Every week, you should be reviewing your list of projects and making sure that every project has a clear set of actions next to it in order to make it easier to get it completed. This is also what you need to push your projects forward.

Once you know what actions need to be taken, you will want to make sure it is added to a calendar so you can keep track of what needs to be done and when.

Utilizing this tool of keeping track of what actions you must complete next can be a useful habit even outside of project management. Even during a meeting, knowing what needs to be done next and who needs to do it can be such a useful tool that can increase productivity across the board.

Project planning can be a crucial step towards project completion

Complex projects can require a lot of steps before you can get things done. In order to complete your project, you may be looking for planning tips that can make things easier.

Use a planning method that we already utilize in everyday life, which is typically known as the natural planning method, and consists of five key steps.

  • Identify the purpose of your project. Make sure you know why you are undertaking this endeavor. And you should also make sure you are identifying the principles you want to achieve. This establishes boundaries right from the planning stage.
  • Envision the outcome. Think about what you want the project to look like when it is completed. By having a clear goal in mind, it can give your project a focus.
  • Brainstorming can help you come up with ideas for what will make your project easier to complete. Don’t judge the ideas, just write them down and keep coming up with potential ideas, as this will give you the best chance to find things that will work.
  • Organizing the ideas you put together while brainstorming is the next step to planning anything. This allows you to identify the best ideas from before and also group ideas that work together.
  • Identify what comes next. In order to move forward with any project or plan, you must define your next action.

The more you utilize this planning method, the easier it becomes, and the easier it is to work on a project with confidence.

Keep a calendar and actionable list

Instead of having daily lists of things to do, keep a calendar and/or a list of actions that need to be done.

To-do lists can lead to planning that is unrealistic and wasted time. It can be frustrating working off of a to-do list because you can’t always know in advance what you can get done at any given time.

Calendars keep track of appointments and help provide structure for any planning that needs to be done. However, a calendar should really only have specific information listed on them.

Calendars should have time-specific appointments, Day-specific events and things that need to be done, and day-specific information, like things that may need to be had when going to an appointment.

Anything else is added to a calendar just causes confusion and can take away from the importance of other activities that must be accomplished.

All tasks that need to be completed, which are actionable but do not fall into the calendar specific tasks, should be added to a master list of actionable tasks.

This list is the heart of managing what needs to be achieved for a project and allows you to put things that will require more than a few minutes to get finished.

Even on this list, it can be important to organize tasks by their context. This means putting like tasks together, particularly tasks related to a single project.

Keep a list of things you are waiting for

Projects typically require other people to get things completed. And this means relying on others for things you need.

In order to keep track of all aspects of a project, you will likely need a list of things you are waiting for. This list acts as a guide of things that other people must do or provide you with in order for you to complete whatever you are working on.

This list will include deadlines and projected dates for when other people will be doing their part in a project.

Every week, you should be reviewing your list of waiting for tasks and make sure that people are staying on top of what they need to do. This will make it easier to keep track of what others are doing and if they are getting things to you in a timely manner. This will also give you an idea if you need to remind people about their deadlines.

Create a list of someday ideas

When you were brainstorming ideas, you may have come with ones that are not necessarily relevant right now. These ideas should be put on a someday list.

This list is a collection of ideas that may be relevant at a later date. This is a list of ideas that may not be fully formed or actionable just yet.

And while this may seem like a list of unimportant things, they actually can become important down the line. The thing is that if you don’t have them written down when they do become important you won’t be able to act on those ideas if you don’t remember what they are. This is why even the ideas that seem unimportant should be cataloged for future use.

As with any list, make sure you are reviewing your someday list regularly. This is the only way to effectively utilize your lists and the ideas that you come up with. In general using lists like this can help you remember ideas that make sense and will, in fact, help you at some point in time.

Constantly reflect on the system you have created to get things done

It is important to always reflect on your project planning. Reflecting can also prove to you that you are on the right track when it comes to getting things accomplished.

This step also allows you to see that you are moving forward with your project, rather than getting stuck and stagnant.

Reflecting on things also includes constantly checking your calendar for any appointments and tasks you need to complete. It also means checking your action list and making sure you are getting things done as you are able to.

Checking your schedule and lists on a daily basis is important to move forward with a project. It is also important to do a more comprehensive weekly review, which lets you clean up all of your lists and add anything new that you think up as well.

With every list, check to make sure things are progressing the way you want them to and that your project is moving in the right direction.

The final step to getting things done is the actual engagement

The final step of project planning is the actual engagement which is actually getting things done.

This step is determining what you can do right now. These are the tasks that are feasible at the moment.

You also determine what you have time to do at a given moment. So, if you only have a limited amount of time to do work before a meeting or something, you probably won’t be starting a task that will require hours of your time.

It is also important to know what you can get done. This means knowing where to put your energy. If you have been putting all your energy into a grueling task, then you likely want to do a task that won’t require too much work.

Finally, it is important to determine what is the highest priority task on your list. These are the tasks you will need to start off with. Know your goals and find a way to stay productive.

Know your priorities

Know what is important within your project and as part of both work and life.

Work from the bottom up and make sure you are dealing with the nitty-gritty details. Handle the day to day activities that you need to manage your project. This allows you to put your energy into more creative endeavors.

The Main Take-away

The Getting Things Done system is all about finding a way to tackle all of the tasks required to complete a project. This system allows you to tackle things with less stress and more control.

One of the primary keys to this system is keeping track of every single idea and task. Writing things down allows you to free up your creative thinking, so you can better solve problems.

Once you have written things down, it is important to make sure you are staying organized, clarifying your ideas, and constantly reviewing your lists and calendar.

The more you adopt from this method, the more likely you are to be productive and get things done in terms of projects that need to be completed.

About the Author

David Allen is a productivity consultant and creator of the time management method known as “Getting Things Done.”

He grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana, where the won the state championship in debate. He went to college in New College of Florida. He then went on to graduate from the University of California, Berkeley. He started using heroin and was briefly put into a hospital. He worked many trades, including as magician. He is also an ordained minister with the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness.

He is the founder of David Allen Company, an executive coaching firm using his “Getting Things Done” system. His subordinates provide one-day public seminars on the methodology. Allen is also a speaker and gives lectures about his methodology. He is one of the founders of Actioneer, a company that makes productivity tools for the Palm Pilot.

He lives in Amsterdam with his fourth wife, Kathryn.


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