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Getting Things Done Book Summary

May 19, 2021    •   minute read

This is a summary of the bestselling book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen.

GTD is one of the most well-known productivity methods today.

Without further ado, let’s dive in.

Getting Things Done: One-Paragraph Summary of the Book

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity teaches a comprehensive productivity system that lets you organize your work and life. The GTD workflow consists of the following 5 steps:

  1. Capture everything in your inbox
  2. Clarify items in your inbox so it makes sense to you
  3. Organize your items. If it’s actionable, task it. Something that is not actionable but could be needed later on should go into the reference tray. Delete the rest.
  4. Review your lists regularly. Daily review keeps you in control of your day and lets you plan the next day. A weekly review lets you stay on track of your goals.
  5. Engage. Work on tasks based on four criteria: context, time available, energy available, and priority.
GTD book quote

The reason to collect everything is not that everything is equally important; it’s that it’s not. Incompletions, uncaptured, take on a dull sameness in the sense of the pressure they create and the attention they tie up.

—Allen, David. Getting Things Done (p. 249). Penguin Publishing Group.

Key Takeaways

There are four key takeaways you can get from Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity .

Stress-free productivity does not require learning new skills but improving natural behaviors.

There are five steps to every planning process.

  1. Defining the purpose and principles
  2. Visioning the outcome
  3. Brainstorming
  4. Organizing
  5. Identifying the next action

Whether you plan a dinner or a startup, you naturally go through the same steps, and David Allen’s GTD system is built based on these systematic behaviors.

You need no new skills to increase your productivity and reduce your stress—just an enhanced set of systematic behaviors with which to apply them.

—Allen, David. Getting Things Done (p. 81). Penguin Publishing Group.

For optimal productivity, it is important to capture everything that gets your attention and process them daily.

Your mind is for having ideas, not for holding them.

—Allen, David. Getting Things Done (p. 277). Penguin Publishing Group.

In other words, our brain does not function effectively as an organizing system, so you need to capture everything externally, getting it off the brain and saving your energy for focus and completing the task at hand.

David also advises processing your stuff regularly by clarifying what needs to get acted on and what can be left out after proper consideration. A task list that you does not get processed regularly does not give you a state of flow or as David put it, mind like water.

Weekly review gets your head clear, up to date and creative.

Similarly to the daily processing, when you review your to-do lists, you will be sure that the stuff that you collected gets processed. Also, a weekly review allows you to stay up to date about what to do and gives you a sense of control. Your mind then has space for creative ideas and thinking.

The weekly review is so critical that the author advises making it a habit.1 He recommends blocking two hours on the afternoon of the last workday for the weekly review.

There are four criteria for making the best action choice.

These four criteria for making the best action choice is another important takeway from the Getting Things Done book summary. They are: (1) context, (2) time available, (3) energy available, and (4) priority.

Examples of using context to choose an action choice includes Calls, At Home, At Computer, and Errands. And iIf you have to prepare for a meeting or trip, that could be another context. Others are “Brain Gone” for easy tasks that do not require much thinking, and “Less Than 5 Minutes” for tasks that takes little time to complete. Finally, family and Financial may be two other crucial contexts to have.

Further, you can choose your action based on the time available. For example, if you have only 30 minutes available before a meeting, you can call a client or two to follow up on the proposal you sent about your new service.

Another criterion is to choose an action based on your energy available. If your concentration is great, you should do a task that requires deep thinking. In an afternoon slump? A good option could be following up with a colleague about the work you asked them to help you with.

The last criterion is priority. It should align with your goals, values, directions of your company and significant people in your life. In my experience, you cannot be stress free if you do not have clear personal values and purpose.

Recommended reading: “Getting Things Done” Resources for Stress-Free Productivity

Actionable Advice

The book provides a comprehensive guide to personal productivity. At the end, the author acknowledges that GTD is ”actually a lifelong practice with multiple levels of mastery”. Like playing an instrument, learning math, or parenting, the more you practice it, the better you get.

Here are two pieces of actionable advice that you can start implementing after reading this summary of the book.

Use a list

Throughout the book, the author stresses the importance of using an inbox to capture everything that gets our attention.

Your mind is for having ideas, not for holding them. —Allen, David. Getting Things Done (p. 277). Penguin Publishing Group.

So, a piece of actionable advice would be, if not already, to start using a task list. You could just use paper. Or if you prefer, I recommend using an app. Most task management apps are created based on the GTD method, making it easy to sort tasks by context, time available, energy available and priority, and much more.

Do daily and weekly review

A daily review could give a proper closure to our work day. It lets us not only reflect on what we have completed but also plan the next day. You can go home, rested.

A weekly review allows you to reflect on the big picture. You know if you’re on the right track and adjust to stay aligned with your purpose, goals and values. It is also a time to plan the following weeks.

Over to You

What insight did you get from the summary of the book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity?

Happy reading.

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