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Book: Getting Things Done

Author:  David Allen

Purchase:  Print | Audiobook

Citation: Allen, D. (2015). Getting things done : the art of stress-free productivity. New York: Penguin Books.

Three Big Takeaways:
  1. When you batch your emails you must immediately determine what to do with each email. If it is trash, throw it away. If is is simply information for your reference, place it in a "reference" folder. If it takes less than two minutes, do it right away. If it takes more than two minutes, either delegate it, add it to a "next actions" folder (to return to at a later time), or place it on your calendar. This same thing can also be done with other non-email tasks that need to be completed at work and at home. (pg. 37)

  2. If you're not sure you're committed to an all-out implementation of these methods, let me assure you that much of the value people get from this material is good tricks. Sometimes just one good trick can make it worthwhile. To a great degree, the highest-performing people I know are those who have installed the best tricks in their lives. (pg. 85)

  3. The purpose of this whole method of workflow management is not to let your brain become lax, but rather to enable it to be free to experience more productive and creative energy. In order to earn that freedom, your brain must engage on some consistent basis with all your commitments. You must be assured that you're doing what you need to be doing. That facilitates the condition of being present, which is always the optimal state from which to operate. (pg. 191)


Other Key Ideas:

Most stress that people experience comes from inappropriately managed commitments they make or accept. (pg. 13)

Any tasks or commitments you consider unfinished in any way must be captured in a trust system outside your mind - a collection tool - that you know you'll come back to and regularly sort through. (pg. 14)​

Studies have demonstrated that our mental processes are hampered by the burden put on the mind to keep track of things we're committed to finish, without a trusted plan or system in place to handle them. (pg. 25)

You need to gather placeholders for all of the things you consider incomplete in your world - anything personal or professional, big or little, that you think ought to be different than it currently is and that you have any level of commitment about changing. (pg. 30)

Every idea you have of something that needs to get done must be captured somewhere and out of your head. The sense of trust that nothing possibly useful will get lost will give you the freedom to have many more good ideas. (pg. 33)

As you proceed in your career you'll notice that your best ideas about work will not come to you at work. The ability to leverage that thinking with good collection devices that are always at hand is key to staying on top of your world. (pg. 34)

Our "Next Actions" folder along with our daily calendar are at the heart of daily action management organization, and orientation. (pg. 45)

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. This means reviewing your list once a week. This will give you an opportunity to ensure that your brain is clear and that all the loose strands of the past few days have been captured, clarified, and organized. (pg. 50)​

If you were to take out your calendar right now and look closely at every single item for the next two weeks you'd probably come up with at least one "Oh, that reminds me..." If you then captured that value-added thought into some place that would trigger you to act, you'd feel better already, have a clearer head, and get more positive things done. It's not rocket science, just a good trick. (pg. 86)

When you go through your emails everything gets processed equally. It doesn't mean "spend time on" it just means "decide what the thing is and what action is required and then dispatch it accordingly. Simply start at one end and just crank through the items one at a time, in order. As soon as you break that rule and process on what you feel like processing, in whatever order, you'll begin to leave things unprocessed. (pg. 124)

Cognitive scientists have now proven the reality of "decision fatigue" - that every decision you make, little or big, diminishes a limited amount of your brain power. (pg. 127)

If the next action can be done in two minutes or less, do it when you first pick the item up. Even if the item is not a high-priority, do it now if you're ever going to do it at all. The rationale for the two-minute rule is that it's more or less the point where it starting taking longer to store and track an item than to deal with it the first time it's in your hands - in other words, it's the efficiency cutoff. Many people find that getting into the habit of following the two-minute rule creates a dramatic improvement of their productivity. (pg. 134)

Having a seamless system of organization in place gives you tremendous power because it allows your mind to let go of lower-level thinking and graduate to intuitive focusing, undistracted by matters that haven't been dealt with appropriately. (pg. 141)

When you get everything out of your email inbox, you will gain clarity and control of your day-to-day work. Anything that appears in your inbox will be like a text that has yet to be read, a clue that you need to process something. Most people use their email inbox for staging still-undecided actionable things, reference, and even trash, a practice that rapidly numbs the mind: they know they've got to reassess everything every time they glance at the screen. This process is much easier to relate to than fumbling through multiple screens, fearing that you may miss something that'll blow up on you. (pg. 157)

In terms of your reference inbox, the more the merrier. Increasing the volume of pure reference material adds no psychological weight. (pg. 172)

If you have a project that you don't really need to think about now but that deserves a flag at some point in the future, you can pick an appropriate date and put a reminder about the project in your calendar for that day. (pg. 180)


This methodology is not simply about cleaning up and getting closure. Ultimately, the prime driver for my own exploration in this field has been creating space to catalyze and access new, creative, and valuable thinking and direction. (pg. 197)

I recommend that you complete your weekly review on Friday afternoon because the weekly events are still fresh, you'll have time to connect with people at work, and it's great to clear your mental deck so you can go into the weekend ready for refreshment and recreation with nothing pulling on you unnecessarily. (pg. 199)

Always keep an inventory of things that need to get done that require very little mental or creative horsepower. When you're in a low-energy state, do those things. (pg. 209)

People are actually more comfortable dealing with surprises and crises than they are taking control of processing, organizing, reviewing, and assessing the part of their work that is not as self-evident. It's easy to get seduced into "busy" and "urgent" mode, especially when you have a lot of unprocessed and out-of-control work on your desk, in your email, and on your mind. (pg. 211)

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. And when organizations expect and reinforce this best practice of allowing nothing to fall through a communication crack, with everyone accountable for resulting actions, and commitments clarified and tracked by appropriate person, it can significantly increase a culture's productivity and reduce it's stress. (pg. 243)

Once you've got to a place where you don't have to worry about people dropping the ball, there will be much bigger and better things to occupy your attention. But if communication gaps are an issue, there's likely some layer of frustration and a general nervousness in the relationship or the culture. I need to trust that any request or relevant information I send will get into the other person's management system and that it will be processed soon. (pg. 250)

No meeting should end with a clear indication of whether or not some action is needed - and if it is, what it will be, or at least who has accountability for it. Once you get around people who don't ask "what is our next action" you will become increasingly frustrated. By asking "what is our next action" it clarifies things so quickly that dealing with people and environments that don't use it can seem nightmarish. (pg. 253)

When you rely on your own memory as your organizing system (as most everyone on the planet still does) your mind will become overwhelmed and incompetent, because you are demanding of it intense work for which it is not well equipped. (pg. 277)

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