Getting things done – David Allen

Main idea

  • Your mind is for having ideas. Not for holding them

Problem: Unresolved stuff

  • We have an endless amount of incoming tasks, and many end up as unresolved stuff:
    • “Open loops”
    • Unfinished things
    • Committed to finish
    • Things you want different
  • Your mind thinks it needs to do all unresolved stuff at once! (so it gets stressed)
  • Our to-do lists are often just lists of unresolved stuff
  • We think about all the unresolved stuff at times where we can’t take action on it
    • E.g. thinking about buying new batteries for a light torch, but you are not near a store
    • We can’t focus properly on the things we are doing, when other things fill our limited short term memory
      • We need to handle this, before we can manage to think about the big picture of our lives

Requirements for productivity system

  • Manage actions: What we do with our time & ressources
  • Horizontal action management: Scan across projects
  • Vertical action management: Project planning

6-level hierarchy

  • Purpose & principles (why you do stuff)
  • Vision
  • Goals
  • Areas of focus & responsibility
  • Projects
  • Actions

Horizontal action management


  • 3 success criteria:
    1. Capture 100% of everything
      • Big & small
      • Personal & professional
      • Urgent & nonurgent
    2. As few capturing locations, while still having enough
    3. Empty regularly
  • Mind sweep with a trigger list


  • Process
    • Start at the top and take one at a time (don’t skip any!)
    • For each, determine:
      • Desired outcome
      • Next physical action
        • Seem less daunting
        • Being able to bundle tasks that are similar in context


  • Actionable
    • Calendar: Time-specific actions
      • Don’t make your calendar into a To-do list!
        • We always get new input & changes in priorities
        • Having to move around things that didn’t get done
        • Dilutes the focus on what ACTUALLY has to be done that day!
    • Next-actions list
      • Make separate lists for different contexts
        • E.g. at computer, in the city, on the phone, etc.
    • Waiting for list (delegations)
    • Project list
  • Non-actionable
    • Trash
    • Incubation
      • Someday/maybe projects you review regularly
    • Reference material


  • Have weekly review, so your mind don’t have to hold the information
    • Look through project list that contains all moving parts of your life (also the subprojects, if they are moving)
      • Works the best when you capture everything


  • Choosing what to work on:
    • Four-criteria model
      • Context: What do you have available in your environment?
      • Time available
      • Energy available
      • Priority: Given the other 3, which tasks have the highest payoff?
    • 3 operating principles
      • Plan work
      • Do the planned work
      • Do things that come up

Vertical action management

The natural planning model

  • Define purpose (Why)
    • What are your motives/intentions?
      • Can be used as decision-making criteria
      • Helps find new ways of achieving the same thing
  • Envision outcome (What)
    • The reticular activating system: You envision the outcomes you’re after, and your brain will show the way!
  • Brainstorm (How)
    • Mind mapping
      • Don’t judge
      • Quantity over quality
      • Don’t analyze or organize
  • Organize (According to component structure, priority & sequence of events)
  • Identify next actions
    • One for each part of a project that be moved

Lack clarity? Go back to the previous step in the natural planning model

  • Define purpose, envision outcome, brainstorm, organize, identify next actions

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