Getting Things Done

Getting Things Done


A productivity system designed to handle every single thing that comes into your life and needs doing


The core of the system is as follows: You have an inbox which handles all of your inputs. You convert these into 'action steps' such that they can be done in the correct context. 'clean garage' becomes 'pick up everything on the floor and move it onto a table' You put these action steps into the calender, action lists, or if it requires more than one step, turn it into a project and break it into steps.

It is very good for low level tasks, but doesn't do so well for higher abstractions like goals.

The major parts of the system in an image

Breakdown of information

(I'm just going to copy down my various notes and leave them here. These were as condensed as I could make them at the time, but I probably missed some important information if you haven't actually read the book. There are also probably some major errors and the formatting really could be improved. Feel free to read the book, use the system and improve this page!)

Crux of the book
  • Close open loops by compiling all projects, task, and other "stuff" into the inbox
  • use the inbox sorting algorithm to move inbox items into trash, calender, tickler, action lists, project steps
  • do the next most effective action forever
  • review as is useful


  • The brain has limited psychic bandwidth
  • constant rethinking is a waste of time and energy
  • collect your thoughts all in one place
  • mind like water- react appropreately
  • resolve open loops by identifying the next physical action required to check it off
  • think just enough to clarify and define commitment, outcome, and resources
  • how comitted are you? How far are you willing to go and how much will you spend?
  • If it isn't worth doing, don't.
  • What are tehe required results of the work?
  • Clear specifications enable results
  • the choices: How to spend time & energy using your priorities by allocating resources
  • If we do detailed thinking upfront we can make good choices by virtue of having free mental bandwidth

dealing with "stuff"

  • collect anything that has your attention
  • process what to do about it
  • organize results
  • review options
  • do

Think like a man of action
Act like a man of thought

Tools of management

  • List of: projects, someday/maybe, aligning reminders, next actions, calender
  • a calender
  • tickler file system
  • storage of plans and materials
  • weekly review
  • do methods
  • vertical/horizontal
  • principals
  • mindmapping
  • bulleted lists
  • ganttchart
  • goals & milestones

Weekly review

  • ensures clarity
  • keeps system clean
  • allows "stuff" to process
  • keeps lists synchronized
  • get clean, current, and complete


  • The standards and values you have
  • how will I know when I am off principal
  • what behaviors undermine my vision and how can I prevent them?
  • Define unacceptable actions, and criteria for behavioral excellence

What does this mean to me?
Why is it here?
What do I want to make true about this? (What is a successful outcome?)
What is the next step in making it happen?
Why am I doing this?
What are all the things I have to do to get where I want to go?

Everything needs a reference point for completion
How can you add value? That is the purpose of additional thinking.

The two problems in life

  • You don't know what you want
  • You don't know how to get it

Feelings of guilt and apathy do not stem from having too much to do, but from breaking promises to yourself. Your choices:

  • Complete the agreement
  • renegotiate the agreement
  • don't make bad agreements
Project planning

Getting projects under control

  • With your head free of "stuff" you are free to move vertically
  • Planning reduces necessary psychic power for the next action

One step at a time
"Get care inspected" versus "look up inspector phone number"

Project steps

  • Purpose/princibles
  • vision/outcome
  • brainstorming
  • organization

Ideas+support material

  • put all spontaneous ideas together
  • detailed notes should be with them


  • Structure
  • Literal back of the enelope planning
  • flesh out the how
  • remember the why
  • validate and support thinking
  • brainstorming
  • efficient value
  • define purpose and principal
  • identification of action
  • purpose bonds plan

purpose: why
outcome: what
brainstorming: how
organize: structure


  • clearly defined outcomes (projects)
  • next action required for closure
  • reminders placed in a trusted system that is regularly reviewed
  • dealing with "stuff"


  • dream outcomes
  • collect dreams
  • determine final product
  • break project into actions
  • complete actions until done

Brain storming - filling the gap between the is and should be

  • capture ideas: Collect cognitive artifacts
  • expand/fill each
  • generate more ideas by connecting them
  • keys
    • don't judges, challenge, evaluate, criticize
    • quantity, not quality
    • put analysis and organization away
    • avoid censorship of the creative process by allowing ideas to flourish and maximize expressions

Typical planning steps

  • brainstorming
    • next action "draft ideas re:x"
    • decide where when and how and what action list to put each
  • organization
    • collect support materials and notes
    • sort them for structure
    • decide to gather more information or not
    • decide what about this do I need to know, collect, and remember
  • mindmapping
    • start at any idea
      • circle it
      • think of related idea
      • write it nearby, circle it
      • connect the two circles with a line
      • on the line write a single word that connects the two
      • alternatively only use branches and a single main point
    • choose another idea until satisfied

Project guidelines

  • List out all possible actions and relevant information for each project
  • what is on your mind is what classifies as relevant - don't go writing up every single project up in the most explicit detail unless your brain throws details at you.


  • defines success
  • create decision making criteria
  • aligns resources
  • motivates
  • clarifies focus
  • expands options
  • if there is no good reason to do something, then it is not worth doing

Vision/outcome: The what

  • What will it look/sound/feel like when it is done?
  • blueprint of the final result
  • clearly imprint the desired reality in your mind so your subconscious can correct reality
  • creating clear outcomes is imperative to hone and develop
  • define and redefine what you're trying to accomplish then allocate resources appropreately
  • what do you want it to feel like?
  • how would you do this ideally?
  • imagine project as finished
  • refine vision
  • capture idealized qualities
  • determine method of actualization


  • Have you envisioned success?
  • Gotten all possible ideas on the table?
  • Noted all major influencing factors?

defined all actionable project parts and their action steps?
Identified all mission critical components milestones and deliverables?


Work is anything you have a commitment to make happen


*Context specific action lists
* prevents reevaluation to find appropriate tasks
* forces the next physical action determination

  • Time
    • how long do you have?
  • Energy
    • recognize your emotional and cognitive fatigue
    • match task to vitality level
    • keep low horsepower tasks ready
  • priority
    • Out of my available options, which is most important for me to do?
    • This depends on conscious choices of responsibilities, goals, and values
    • Given where I am, how long until the next event, and my current mental and physical competence?
    • What action will give me the highest payoff?
    • What can I possibly do with the tasks I have available?

Threefold method

  • Next Actions list - Doing predefined work
  • Unplanned surprises - Doing work as it shows up
  • Defining your work: Break projects into steps
    • Utilize weird time windows
    • shift focus to appropreately timed work
    • because you have a buffer surprise work should have no negative effect over other work you already have under control
  • Everything that isn't actionable is pending or a reference. The only systematic decisions are the size of your library, and what your next action will be

Six level method for reviewing your work

  • Getting things done, and feeling good about it means being able to recognize, acknowledge, and appropriately manage all of the things that you have consciously engaged.
  • Runway - Current actions: where you have work from
    • Complete action lists
  • 10000 feet - Current Projects: How to manage your work
    • ensure all commitments are completed
    • complete projects list
  • 20000 feet - areas of responsibility: why it is your work
    • what hats do you wear?
    • areas of focus
    • contracts & agreements
    • which goals or values are applicable?
  • 30000-50000 - life: Your visions and intentions
    • What is true about where I've decided I'm going, and how am I going to get there?
    • What do you think of when you imagine a year from now?
    • What needs to be developed? Skills and systems
    • who do I need to let go of?
    • What do I need to do differently?
    • What are my longer term goals? 5+ years
    • which projects are necessary to achieve by then?
    • Which are not?
    • Which significant things are happening that may affect my options?
    • Why do you exist?
    • What is the core that drives my choices?
    • Struggle against "Why"
    • 3-5 year vision
    • 1-2 year goals



  • Identify the natural organization of the information
  • what are the things that much occur to create the final result?
  • what is the necessary order of events?
  • which elements are most important?
  • Create project plans for smaller outcomes


  • Idetify the simplist pieces
  • sort by
    • components
    • sequences
    • priorities
  • detail to the required degree

Move up the model to regain clarity of direction
move down the model for more action

System method

  • Write thing down
  • clarify outcomes
  • decide next actions
  • categorize things
  • review regularly
  • make intuitive choices
  • focus on successful results
  • brainstorm
  • organize your thinking
  • get moving

*Master the move so that the game is over before its begun
practice each separately so you can see the whole gestalt


  • Projects: Evaluate status, goals, next actions, outcomes one by one
  • tasks: clean completed actions, review incomplete ones
  • waiting: determine if actions are required, clean received
  • someday: check for soon-to-be-active projects and delete unwanted items

Tickler file

  • get 43 folders: 12 months, 31 days.
  • whenever you get file to be referenced on a specific day, put it in the correct month folder.
    • If it is happening this month, put it in that day folder
  • each day open the current folder, deal with the contents, and move it back to the back of the days
  • Each month, open the current month folder and move it to the back of the months

Calender uses

  • Project activation triggers
  • event reminders
  • decision catalysts

Setting aside the time

  • determine task
  • create block of time
  • commit to that block
  • eliminate distractions


  • Vision
  • brainstorm
  • organize
  • action


  • answer questions
  • Are you really serious about this?
  • Who's responsible?
  • Have you thought this through sufficiently?
  • What is the next physical action to be taken for each moving part of the project?
  • If you can't answer there then the project is not fleshed out enough.
  • to be fleshed out you need a next action for every non-waiting front.
  • "waiting for" list covers other people's actions.
  • How much planning do you need to do and in what detail? As much as is necessary to get it off your mind.
  • To achieve this you need all of the solutions, blueprints, outlines, outcomes & details on paper in a trusted way.
  • Most projects only need a single action step because you figure them out as you go
  • others might need a single mindmap and list of outcomes - very few need a full blown plan

Project support material
reference information
What is the action?

  • Analyze and plan beforehand to close loops ahead of time then the focus can be on the task at hand
  • judging planning and doing is inefficient to do all at once


Issues handled

  • When do you look at what?
  • How often does it need to be looked at to maintain the system?

The weekly review ensures the above despite the whirlwind of life.
It is a grounding force that keeps the system in check

The process

  • Collecting
  • organizing
  • reviewing

Be able to say "I know absolutely everything that I'm not doing, but could be if I wanted to."


  • loose paper/documents -> inbox
  • process notes
  • calender upcoming actions
  • empty your head of "stuff"
  • review and do

To engage with the task you must disengage with what you're not doing.

You have

  • collected all open loops
  • processed each in terms of action steps required
  • organized the results into a complete overview of present and "someday" projects


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