Getting Things Done

A time management book with techniques to deal with overload and workflow

See Live Project

keeping the book functional as a continuing and “evergreen” manual, one that would be useful globally and remain relevant and applicable for the twenty-first century and even beyond.

Note: [[Evergreen]] is a great principal for material; timeless

Anyone with the need to be accountable to deal with more than what he or she can complete in the moment has the opportunity to do so more easily and elegantly than in the mind.

Note: Almost a ‘duty of care’ to anyone with lots of inputs

Everything in life worth achieving requires practice. In fact, life itself is nothing more than one long practice session, an endless effort of refining our motions. When the proper mechanics of practicing are understood, the task of learning something new becomes a stress-free experience of joy and calmness, a process which settles all areas in your life and promotes proper perspective on all of life’s difficulties. —Thomas Sterner

Note: It’s all about the journey

An excellent resource in this area is [[Charles Duhigg]]’s [[The Power of Habit]]. #Books

Note: Book to read

It is possible to be effectively doing while you are delightfully being, in your ordinary workaday world.

As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble. —[[Ralph Waldo Emerson]] #Quotes [[Principals]]

Healthy skepticism is often the best way to glean the value of what’s being presented—challenge it; prove it wrong, if you can. that creates engagement, which is the key to understanding.

There is one thing we can do, and the happiest people are those who can do it to the limit of their ability. We can be completely present. We can be all here. We can give . . . our attention to the opportunity before us. —[[Mark Van Doren]] #Quotes #Productivity #Mindfullness

(1) capturing all the things that might need to get done or have usefulness for you—now, later, someday, big, little, or in between—in a logical and trusted system outside your head and off your mind; (2) directing yourself to make front-end decisions about all of the “inputs” you let into your life so that you will always have a workable inventory of “next actions” that you can implement or renegotiate in the moment; and (3) curating and coordinating all of that content, utilizing the recognition of the multiple levels of commitments with yourself and others you will have at play, at any point in time.

Many people make a distinction between “work” and “personal life,” but I don’t: To me, weeding the garden or updating my will is just as much “work” as writing this book or coaching a client.

Note: Interesting to note the universal sense of the word ‘work’. Not confiningnit to a job. May speak to current generation to flippantly change jobs.

A paradox has emerged in this new millennium: people have enhanced quality of life, but at the same time they are adding to their stress levels by taking on more than they have resources to handle.

Work No Longer Has Clear Boundaries

In just the last half of the twentieth century, what constituted “work” in the industrialized world was transformed from assembly line, make-it-and-move-it kinds of activity to what the late Peter Drucker so aptly termed “knowledge” work.

How much available data could be relevant to doing those projects “better”? The answer is: an infinite amount, easily accessible, or at least potentially so, through the Internet.

We’re allowing in huge amounts of information and communication from the outer world and generating an equally large volume of ideas and agreements with others and ourselves from the inner world.

Note: [[The Four Agreements]]

The Big Picture vs. the Nitty-Gritty The winds and waves are always on the side of the ablest navigators. —[[Edward Gibbon]] #Quotes #Planning #[[Morning Routine]] #Productivity

We are already having a serious negative reaction to the overwhelming number of things we have to do. And what created much of the work that’s on those lists in the first place? Our values!

Note: Similar to [[Kieth Cunningham]]’s, changing values to get results paradigm

Upping the quality of our thinking and commitments does not diminish the quantity of potentially relevant and important stuff to manage.

Mind Over Water ([[Houghton Mifflin]], 1998):

Rowers have a word for this frictionless state: swing. . . . Recall the pure joy of riding on a backyard swing: an easy cycle of motion, the momentum coming from the swing itself. The swing carries us; we do not force it. We pump our legs to drive our arc higher, but gravity does most of the work. We are not so much swinging as being swung. The boat swings you. The shell wants to move fast: Speed sings in its lines and nature. Our job is simply to work with the shell, to stop holding it back with our thrashing struggles to go faster. Trying too hard sabotages boat speed. Trying becomes striving and striving undoes itself. Social climbers strive to be aristocrats but their efforts prove them no such thing. Aristocrats do not strive; they have already arrived. Swing is a state of arrival. #Quotes

Note: Great quote about the stream vs catching waves thought I’ve been dealing with

Anything that does not belong where it is, the way it is, is an “open loop,” which will be pulling on your attention if it’s not appropriately managed.

The Basic Requirements for Managing Commitments

Managing commitments well requires the implementation of some basic activities and behaviors: First of all, if it’s on your mind, your mind isn’t clear. Anything you consider unfinished in any way must be captured in a trusted system outside your mind, or what I call a collection tool, that you know you’ll come back to regularly and sort through. Second, you must clarify exactly what your commitment is and decide what you have to do, if anything, to make progress toward fulfilling it. Third, once you’ve decided on all the actions you need to take, you must keep reminders of them organized in a system you review regularly. You must use your mind to get things off your mind.

Now, describe, in a single written sentence, your intended successful outcome for this problem or situation. In other words, what would need to happen for you to check this project off as “done”?

It could be as simple as “Take the Hawaii vacation,”

Now write down the very next physical action required to move the situation forward.

Updated Apr 22, 2020:

But what created that? Not “getting organized” or “setting priorities.” The answer is, thinking.

Note: [[Kieth Cunningham]] [[Thinking Time]] to get clarity

People think a lot, but most of that thinking is of a problem, project, or situation—not about it.

The ancestor of every action is a thought. —Ralph Waldo Emerson

This consistent, unproductive preoccupation with all the things we have to do is the single largest consumer of time and energy. —Kerry Gleeson

When does your mind tend to remind you that you need more batteries? When you notice the dead ones!

Note: Triggers from [[Contagious]]

We need to transform all the “stuff” we’ve attracted and accumulated into a clear inventory of meaningful actions, projects, and usable information.

Note: To stop the monkey mind put the information somewhere it can be dealt with quickly

“Boy, that was an amorphous blob of undoability!”

Note: Fun #Quotes

Thought is useful when it motivates action and a hindrance when it substitutes for action. — #Quotes [[Bill Raeder]] #[[Thinking Time]] #Productivity

The beginning is half of every action. —[[Greek Proverbs]] #Quotes

Managing Action Is the Prime Challenge What you do with your time, what you do with information, and what you do with your body and your focus relative to your priorities—those are the real options to which you must allocate your limited resources.

Many actions require only a minute or two, in the appropriate context, to move a project forward.

Getting things done requires two basic components: defining (1) what “done” means (outcome) and (2) what “doing” looks like (action).

Note: lack of clarity is the cause of procrastination

The Value of a Bottom-Up Approach

Note: Tasks usually get in the way of top down. Manage tasks

Vision is not enough; it must be combined with venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps; we must step up the stairs. —[[Václav Havel]] #Quotes

Horizontal and Vertical Action Management

Note: Across various topics or into them

The Major Change: Getting It All Out of Your Head

The big difference between what I do and what others do is that I capture and organize 100 percent of my stuff in and with objective tools at hand, not in my mind.

And that applies to everything—little or big, personal or professional, urgent or not. Everything.*

There is usually an inverse relationship between how much something is on your mind and how much it’s getting done.

There is no reason to ever have the same thought twice, unless you like having that thought.

Note: External brain #BASB

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.* * An excellent book that covers this topic (and many others) is [[Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength]], by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney (Penguin, 2011) #Books

Everything you’ve told yourself you ought to do, it thinks you should be doing right now. Frankly, as soon as you have two things to do stored only in your mind, you’ve generated personal failure, because you can’t do them both at the same time.

Note: The mind has no concept of time #Neuroscience

Getting Control of Your Life: The Five Steps of Mastering Workflow

We (1) capture what has our attention; (2) clarify what each item means and what to do about it; (3) organize the results, which presents the options we (4) reflect on, which we then choose to (5) engage with. This constitutes the management of the horizontal aspect of our lives, incorporating everything that we need to consider at any time, as we move forward moment to moment.

Ask yourself, “When do I need to see what, in what form, to get it off my mind?” You build a system for function, not just to have a system.

Most decisions for action and focus are driven by the latest and loudest inputs, and are based on hope instead of trust.

Note: Daniels comment on loudest voice wins

Capture It’s important to know what needs to be captured and how to do that most effectively so you can process it appropriately.

As soon as you attach a “should,” “need to,” or “ought to” to an item, it becomes an incomplete.

Note: Intangable ideas and i shoulds

A task left undone remains undone in two places—at the actual location of the task, and inside your head. Incomplete tasks in your head consume the energy of your attention as they gnaw at your conscience. —Brahma Kumaris

The Success Factors for Capturing

Get It All Out of Your Head

These collection tools should become part of your lifestyle. Keep them close by so no matter where you are you can collect a potentially valuable thought—think

Minimize the Number of Capture Locations

Funnel all potentially meaningful inputs through minimal channels, directed to you for easily accessed review and assessment about their nature.

Empty the Capture Tools Regularly


What do you need to ask yourself (and answer) about each e-mail, text, voice mail, memo, page of meeting notes, or self-generated idea that comes your way?

What Is It?

Is It Actionable? There are two possible answers for this: yes and no.

If It’s About a Project . . . You need to capture that outcome on a “Projects” list.

A Weekly Review of the list (see page 50) will bring this item back to you as something that’s still outstanding.

What’s the Next Action? This is the critical question for anything you’ve captured; if you answer it appropriately, you’ll have the key substantive thing to organize.

Do It, Delegate It, or Defer It

1. Do it. If an action will take less than two minutes, it should be done at the moment it is defined. 2. Delegate it. If the action will take longer than two minutes, ask yourself, Am I the right person to do this? If the answer is no, delegate it to the appropriate entity. 3. Defer it, If the action will take longer than two minutes, and you are the right person to do it, you will have to defer acting on it until later and track it on one or more “Next Actions” lists. Organize

Being organized means simply that where something is matches what it means to you.


I define a project as any desired result that can be accomplished within a year that requires more than one action step.

You don’t actually do a project; you can only do action steps related to it. When enough of the right action steps have been taken, some situation will have been created that matches your initial picture of the outcome closely enough that you can call it “done.”

Project Support Material

For many of your projects, you will accumulate relevant information that you will want to organize by theme or topic or project name. Your Projects list will be merely an index.

What does need to be tracked is every action that has to happen at a specific time or on a specific day (enter those on your calendar); those that need to be done as soon as they can (add these to your Next Actions lists); and all those that you are waiting for others to do (put these on a Waiting For list).

Three things go on your calendar: time-specific actions; day-specific actions; and day-specific information

Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape. —[[Michael McGriffy]], M.D. #Quotes #Productivity

The way I look at it, the calendar should be sacred territory. If you write something there, it must get done that day or not at all.

The “Next Actions” List(s)

Any longer-than-two-minute, non-delegatable action you have identified needs to be tracked somewhere.

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler. —Albert Einstein

Someday/Maybe It can be useful and inspiring to maintain an ongoing list of things you might want to do at some point but not now.

I suggest you include a scan of the contents in your Weekly Review (see page 50).

Tickler System A second type of things to incubate are those you don’t want or need to be reminded of until some designated time in the future.

Note: Linking pages to future dates

Reference Material Many things that come your way require no action but have intrinsic value as information.

If your reference material doesn’t have nice clean edges to it, the line between actionable and nonactionable items will blur, visually and psychologically, and your mind will go numb to the whole business.

Reflect It’s one thing to write down that you need milk; it’s another to be at the store and remember it.

For most people the magic of workflow management is realized in the consistent use of the reflection step.

Critical Success Factor: The Weekly Review

Updated Apr 26, 2020:

Review whatever lists, overviews, and orientation maps you need to, as often as you need to, to get their contents off your mind.

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.

The affairs of life embrace a multitude of interest, and he who reasons in any one of them, without consulting the rest, is a visionary unsuited to control the business of the world. —James Fenimore Cooper

Note: Reminds me of warrens skewing things towards sex addiction

All of your Projects, active project plans, and Next Actions, Agendas, Waiting For, and even Someday/Maybe lists should be reviewed once a week.

The Weekly Review is the time to: Gather and process all your stuff. Review your system. Update your lists. Get clean, clear, current, and complete.

Engage The basic purpose of this workflow-management process is to facilitate good choices about what you’re doing at any point in time.

Three Models for Making Action Choices

1. The Four‑Criteria Model for Choosing Actions in the Moment

At that moment there are four criteria you can apply, in this order: context, time available, energy available, and priority.

There is always more to do than you can do, and you can do only one thing at a time. The key is to feel as good about what you’re not doing as about what you are doing at that moment.

2. The Threefold Model for Identifying Daily Work

Doing predefined work, Doing work as it shows up, Defining your work

Doing Predefined Work When you’re doing predefined work, you’re working from your Next Actions lists and calendar—completing

Doing Work as It Shows Up

When you follow these leads, you’re deciding by default that these things are more important than anything else you have to do at those times.

Defining Your Work

clearing up your in-tray, your digital messages, and your meeting notes, and breaking down new projects into actionable steps.

A good portion of this activity will consist of identifying things that need to get done sometime, but not right away.

3. The Six‑Level Model for Reviewing Your Own Work

Horizon 5: Purpose and principles; Horizon 4: Vision; Horizon 3: Goals; Horizon 2: Areas of focus and accountabilities; Horizon 1: Current projects; Ground: Current actions

Ground: Current Actions

This is the accumulated list of all the actions you need to take—all

the thirty to one hundred projects on your plate.

Horizon 2: Areas of Focus and Accountabilities

These are the key areas of your life and work within which you want to achieve results and maintain standards.

These are not things to finish but rather to use as criteria for assessing our experiences and our engagements, to maintain balance and sustainability, as we operate in our work and our world.

Complete the projects you begin, fulfill the commitments you have made, live up to your promises—then both your subconscious and conscious selves can have success, which leads to a feeling of fulfillment, worthiness and oneness. —[[John Roger]] #Quotes #Productivity

Horizon 3: Goals

What you want to be experiencing in various areas of your life and work one to two years from now will add another dimension to defining your work.

Horizon 4: Vision

Projecting three to five years into the future generates thinking about bigger categories: organization strategies, environmental trends, career and lifestyle transition circumstances.

Note: Board meetings should focus on vision. Crazy to focus on ground floor when meeting four times a year #[[Project: Board Induction Pack]]

Horizon 5: Purpose and Principles

This is the big-picture view. Why does your company exist? Why do you exist?

does not provide a practical framework for a vast majority of the decisions and tasks you must engage in day to day.

Minute-to-minute and day-to-day you don’t have time to think. you need to have already thought.

Note: Benefit of thinking fast #[[Thinking Fast and Slow]]

You’ve got to think about the big things while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction. —[[Alvin Toffler]] #Quotes #[[Thinking Time]] #Productivity

Getting Projects Creatively Under Way: The Five Phases of Project Planning #Planning

The Natural Planning Model

Your mind goes through five steps to accomplish virtually any task:

1 | Defining purpose and principles 2 | Outcome visioning 3 | Brainstorming 4 | Organizing 5 | Identifying next actions

Choose one project that is new or stuck or that could simply use some improvement. Think of your purpose. Think of what a successful outcome would look like: where would you be physically, financially, in terms of reputation, or whatever? Brainstorm potential steps. Organize your ideas. Decide on the next actions. Are you any clearer about where you want to go and how to get there?

When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. —[[Will Rogers]] #[[Thinking Time]]

Purpose It never hurts to ask the why question. Almost anything you’re currently doing can be enhanced and even galvanised by more scrutiny at this top level of focus.

Fanaticism consists of redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim. —[[George Santayana]] #[[Thinking Time]] #Goals #Productivity

The Value of Thinking About Why #Purpose

Here are just some of the benefits of asking why: It defines success. It creates decision-making criteria. It aligns resources. It motivates. It clarifies focus. It expands options.

Purpose defines success.

It Creates Decision-Making Criteria

It Aligns Resources

It Motivates

The question, “How will I know when this is off purpose?” must have a clear answer.

Principles Of equal value as prime criteria for driving and directing a project are the standards and values you hold.

Simple, clear purpose and principles give rise to complex and intelligent behavior. Complex rules and regulations give rise to simple and stupid behavior. —Dee Hock

Note: allow critical thinking

A great way to think about what your principles are is to complete this sentence: “I would give others totally free rein to do this as long as they . . .”


This is the what instead of the why.

What will this project or situation really be like when it successfully appears in the world?

The Power of Focus

Note: #Visualisation

Imagination is more important than knowledge. —[[Albert Einstein]] #Imagination

The Reticular Activating System The May 1957 issue of Scientific American

It seems to be programmed by what we focus on and, more primarily, what we identify with. It’s the seat of what many people have referred to as the paradigms we maintain. We notice only what matches our internal belief systems and identified contexts.

Note: Learn about something and suddenly see it everywhere

One of the most powerful life skills, and one of the most important to hone and develop for both professional and personal success, is creating clear outcomes.

I always wanted to be somebody. I should have been more specific. —[[Lily Tomlin]] #Goals #[[Thinking Time]]

Note: Clarity


Brainstorming The best way to get a good idea is to get lots of ideas. —[[Linus Pauling]] #Brainstorming #[[Thinking Time]]

The most popular of these concepts and techniques is called mind mapping, a name coined by Tony Buzan, a British researcher in brain functioning, to label this process of brainstorming ideas into a graphic format.

[[Distributed Cognition]] The great thing about external brainstorming is that in addition to capturing your original ideas, it can help generate many new ones that might not have occurred to you if you didn’t have a mechanism to hold your thoughts and continually reflect them back to you. #BASB

Note: Great term for [[Roam]]

building an “extended mind.”

Don’t judge, challenge, evaluate, or criticize. Go for quantity, not quality. Put analysis and organization in the background.

Determining what might go most wrong in a situation is at times the best way to generate the best ideas about how to make it successful.

Note: #[[Disaster Mapping]]. #Stoicism


If you’ve done a thorough job of emptying your head of all the things that came up in the brainstorming phase, you’ll notice that a natural organization is emerging.

Organizing usually happens when you identify components and subcomponents, sequences of events, and/or priorities.

What are the things that must occur to create the final result? In what order must they occur? What is the most important element to ensure the success of the project?

The Basics of Organizing The key steps here are: Identify the significant pieces Sort by (one or more): components sequences priorities Detail to the required degree

Next Actions

The final stage of planning comes down to decisions about the allocation and reallocation of physical resources to actually get the project moving.

The question to ask here is, “What’s the next action?”

Answering the question about what, specifically, you would do about something physically if you had nothing else to do will test the maturity of your thinking about the project.

* You can also plan nonactionable projects and not need a next action—for example, designing your dream house. The lack of a next action by default makes it a “someday/ maybe” project . . . and that’s fine for anything of that nature.

The Basics

Decide on next actions for each of the current “moving parts” of the project. Decide on the next action in the planning process, if necessary.

Activating the Moving Parts 

A project is sufficiently planned for implementation when every next-action step has been decided on every front that can actually be moved on without some other component’s having to be completed first.

How Much Planning Do You Really Need to Do?

The simple answer is, as much as you need to get the project off your mind.

If the project is still on your mind, there’s more thinking required.

The smart part of us sets up things for us to do that the not-so-smart part responds to almost automatically,

Note: Thinking fast and slow

It is easier to act yourself into a better way of feeling than to feel yourself into a better way of action. —[[O. H. Mowrer]] #Quotes #[[Morning Routine]] #[[Atomic Habits]]

The big secret to efficient creative and productive thinking and action is to put the right things in your focus at the right time.

Don’t be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated. You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps. —[[David L. George]] #Quotes #Productivity #Risk

Note: Risk

Don’t Share Space! It is imperative that you have your own workspace—or at least your own in-tray and a place in which to process paper and physical material.

Moment-to-moment collecting, thinking, processing, and organizing are challenging enough; always ensure that you have the tools to make them as easy as possible.

As I noted earlier, the calendar should be used not to hold action lists but to track the “hard landscape” of things that have to get done on a specific day or at a specific time.

When considering whether to get and use any organizing tool, and if so, which one, keep in mind that all you really need to do is manage lists. You’ve got to be able to create a list on the run and review it easily and as regularly as you need to. Once you know what to put on the lists and how to use them, the medium really doesn’t matter. Just go for simplicity, speed, and fun.

Note: Gtd tools

Things you name, you own. collected but unnamed stuff owns you.

Note: Funny how everything at work is deigned to put in boxes for efficient fast thinking. Everything socially doesn't want to be labeled

In the fire zone of real work, if it takes longer than sixty seconds to file something where it belongs, you won’t file, you’ll “stack.”

Filing as a Success Factor Itself

Until you’ve captured everything that has your attention, some part of you will still not totally trust that you’re working with the whole picture of your world.

Physical Gathering

Note: Office document folder

Many people (even those who are high-tech oriented), once they experience the value of writing a single thought on a single piece of paper, have made it part of their ongoing self-management practice. It’s great to give your potentially meaningful thoughts their due!

Note: A roam page per thought instead of a list

Clarifying: Getting “In” to Empty

Getting “in” to empty doesn’t mean actually doing all the actions and projects that you’ve captured.

Processing Guidelines

The best way to learn this model is by doing. But there are a few basic rules to follow: Process the top item first. Process one item at a time. Never put anything back into “in.”

The Key Processing Question: “What’s the Next Action?”

Too much information creates the same result as too little: you don’t have what you need, when and in the way you need it.

The Action Step Needs to Be the Absolute Next Physical Thing to Do

next action really is: Do it (if the action takes less than two minutes). Delegate it (if you’re not the most appropriate person to do the action). Defer it into your organization system as an option for work to do later.

Even if the item is not a high-priority one, do it now if you’re ever going to do it at all.

The world can only be grasped by action, not by contemplation. The hand is more important than the eye. . . . The hand is the cutting edge of the mind. —J. Bronowski #Quotes #Productivity

Tracking the Handoff

If you do delegate an action to someone else, and if you care at all whether something happens as a result, you’ll need to track it.

Defer It It’s likely that most of the next actions you determine for things in “in” will be yours to do and will take longer than two minutes to complete.

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