Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

By David Allen

Synopsis

Is your workflow overwhelming? Do you want to increase your productivity and achieve your goals? We all struggle with being productive, but Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity presents the reader with a simple yet detailed system for increasing productivity. Written by the world’s leading expert in personal and professional organization, the methods in this book are used by millions of people across the world, as well as by companies like Microsoft and Lockheed. This system can help you reduce stress and become better at organizing all your work, both personal and professional, because it provides detailed instructions on how to simplify your life, master workflow, organize tasks and maintain perspective in your life. So if you’re tired of being overwhelmed, this integrated system for heightened stress-free productivity can provide you with peace of mind, while enabling you to efficiently complete your tasks.

 

Summary

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity presents the reader with a simple yet detailed system for increasing productivity. The system, which is often referred to as GTD, drives productivity through one simple question – “What is the next concrete step which will bring me closer to my goal?”. GTD is a brilliant system because it keeps tasks simple enough so that postponing and procrastinating is lowered to a minimum. By pushing an individual to constantly find and do the next immediate action, GTD provides clarity and focus, which in turn boost productivity in a very concrete and visible manner.

 

Processing, Not Storage

In today’s world, work environments and tasks have become increasingly complex. With the large amount of things to be done, it is easy for a person to simply get lost. To avoid drowning in this complexity, various tasks need to be kept in mind at all times. But that, in turn, causes the brain to become cluttered with data. So instead of the brain being used as a processor, it tends to be used as a storage device. Since our brains are inherently bad at multitasking, trying to keep it stuffed with pending tasks wastes precious resources and prevents it from focusing on actions – it keeps it from actually getting things done. In order to achieve maximum efficiency, the brain has to be able to focus 100% on the task at hand, without dwelling on pending projects or other unrelated things.

 

Mastering Workflow

To increase the focus of the brain, it has to become uncluttered. The way to do that is by recording everything so that the brain can focus on actions. The challenge here is knowing how to transfer this idea into a concrete act. Ambiguous tasks and projects are especially problematic. The simple way to deal with setting boundaries and defining tasks is by collecting the data you need, clarifying the next actionable task and reviewing everything. There are 5 simple steps which help in mastering workflow:

  1. Collecting — Collecting means using baskets, notes, electronic methods, etc. to set down everything. 100% of all tasks, projects and various data should be collected and written down.
  2. Processing – After writing down the data, process it. This means asking questions like “What is it?”, “Is it ac—tionable?”, “Is it vital?”, etc.
  3. Organizing — The processed data should then be written down on a next-action list, trashed, saved for later or otherwise organized.
  4. Reviewing — The goal of reviewing is making sure the system is clean, current and complete.
  5. Doing — When all the above steps are completed, it is time to begin doing the various actions and steps.

 

Buckets

As we previously mentioned, preventing clutter in the brain is vital, and GTD offers a concrete solution – buckets. Buckets are used to store any information or ideas that are important enough to be a potential distraction. These buckets don’t have to be physical boxes – they can be located in a notebook, app or laptop. The most important thing is that they are close enough so that they can be easily accessed. For example, if a bill needs to be paid, instead of keeping it in mind, it should be put down in a bucket. There are 7 main types of buckets which help keep the system clean and clear. They are:

  • Next actions
  • Projects
  • Projects support
  • Waiting-for
  • Someday/maybes
  • Calendar
  • Reference materials

But, how should these buckets be used? Here are explanations for each category:

 

Next actions — This bucket is for concrete, actionable items. The advantage of having a next-actions list instead of a to-do list is that to-do lists are not optimal when it comes to tasks which can take up an unforeseeable amount of time. Next actions should be organized by context (home, work, meetings, etc.). If a task is bound to a certain date or hour, it should go into the calendar, not the next-actions bucket. If the task is complex, turn it into a project and transfer it into the projects bucket.

Projects — This bucket is for ongoing projects – complex tasks that require more than one step to accomplish. Examples of projects are planning an event or organizing a trip. To be effective in planning projects, it is important to be clear about the desired outcome of a project. For example “when this project is done, we will be able to go on the trip.” What this kind of outcome-centered thinking does is make formulating concrete tasks easier, which makes the project more achievable.

There are 5 steps to successfully handle a project:

  1. Defining the purpose – what is the project about
  2. Envisioning an outcome – what is the desired outcome of the project
  3. Brainstorming – what steps need to be taken in order to achieve that outcome
  4. Organizing – categorizing and organizing the steps
  5. Identifying next actions – selecting concrete actionable items and transferring them into the next-actions bucket

With this natural project management, every project becomes a simple list of concrete steps to take.

Projects support — The projects support bucket is for various resources which are used to support a project’s actions.

Waiting-for — The waiting-for bucket is for actions that are waiting for a trigger. The trigger can be anything from someone’s input, a rate from a company, a payment, etc. If there is a known date for getting the trigger, use the calendar instead, but if there is no known date, the waiting-for list comes in handy.

Someday/maybes — The someday/maybes bucket is for items which do not have to be done right away, i.e. they don’t have a specific deadline, but they should be done at some point. If there is a deadline, use the calendar bucket. This is also a bucket for things that haven’t been condensed into a concrete idea or task yet.

Calendar — The calendar is useful for things that have a specific time and/or date tied to them. These can be events, meetings, deadlines, etc. Calendars are also used for items that aren’t actions – they can be things that will need attention at a specific time.

Reference materials — This list is not for actions, but for various important information.

With items organized neatly into their respective buckets, every task becomes easier to complete. But there is one more step to efficiently use the GTD system.

 

Taking Out The Trash

The GTD bucket system is extremely efficient, but only while it contains useful, up-to-date information. This means that the buckets need to be cleaned on a regular basis – a minimum of once per week. The content of the buckets needs to be reviewed, reordered by priority, and any irrelevant or outdated items need to be discharged.

 

Structure In The Workplace

The final important thing to note is that structure in the workplace is extremely important for productivity. Other than regularly organizing buckets, the workspace itself needs to be organized. This means that all relevant materials are on hand and that the person working there is comfortable.

When this GTD system is followed, efficiency and productivity are maximized. If ideas are organized, finding concrete steps and accomplishing them becomes easier, which brings you closer to achieving your goal.