Getting Things Done

Perhaps the most complete system of organisation has been developed by David Allen, referred to as G.T.D. or Getting things Done, the system provides a framework for organising all aspects of your life. While being impressed by the theory I cannot claim to have implemented it in whole. I do, however, use a lot of the principles in the way I organise things.

Before going any further let me state that is not affiliated with David Allen Co., and G.T.D. and Getting Things Done are official trademarks of the David Allen Company.

I would strongly recommend reading David Allen’s book Getting Things Done: How to Achieve Stress-free Productivity as a start towards developing your own systems. I will introduce some of the terms used within the Getting Things Done methodology but I still emphasise that you need to read the book to give you the complete and detailed picture and highlight those areas that you might find suit your style or requirements.

In this post I am looking at the system in general terms, not the specific tools you might use. Later I will look at some of the tools I have used, both traditional paper systems which I might refer to as analogue tools and digital tools. I have developed my own methods and systems that incorporates both analogue and digital elements to cover what I want.

First lets look at parts of the Getting Things Done method.


David Allen defines “Stuff” as

“stuff”: anything you have allowed into your psychological or physical world that doesn’t belong where it is, but for which you haven’t yet determined the desired outcome and the next action step.”

Allen, David (2011–09–22). Getting Things Done: How to achieve stress-free productivity (Kindle Locations 422–423). Hachette Littlehampton. Kindle Edition.** **

Getting Things Done is a 5 step process again defined by David Allen as

(1) collect things that command our attention;
(2) process what they mean and what to do about them; and
(3) organize the results, which we
(4) review as options for what we choose to
(5) do.

Allen, David (2011–09–22). Getting Things Done: How to achieve stress-free productivity (Kindle Locations 547–548). Hachette Littlehampton. Kindle Edition.

1) Collect

Step one involves collecting all the “stuff” you currently have into the inbox. You will probably have a least on e-mail inbox, you will need a physical inbox to collect all the paper documentation that you have and of great importance you need to dump all the “stuff” you have on your mind. It is important to understand the the brain is not good at managing things to do, you forget things, you remember things when you can’t do anything about it, I.e. buy bread but the shop is shut or you are involved in something else at the moment the thought comes to you. You need to dump all this. In it’s simplest form this can be a written list of things that you are carrying around in your mind. In the collection stage give yourself time to concentrate on collection to the exclusion of all else. Collection should encompass all parts of your life both personal and work.

2) Process

Step one involves going through the in-boxes you have collected and for each item ask the question “Is it actionable”, a simple Yes/No question.

If the answer is No you have three possible outcomes:

It is trash, bin it!
Nothings needs actioned now but it might later (incubate)
It is potentially useful information that might be needed later (reference)

If the answer is Yes you need to decide if it is a project. A project in the terms of Getting Things Done is anything that required multiple actions to complete, i.e. arrange a holiday, this can involve researching locations, identifying dates, arranging visa’s etc. Other items in the in-box will be single activities such as “buy milk”

If its a project add it to a list of projects detailing the required result. This list can be reviewed regularly to identify “next actions”.

For each item you identify as actionable you have three options.

If it will take less than 2 minutes do it now.
If it will take more that 2 minutes and you are not the best person to do it then delegate it.
If it will take more that 2 minutes and you are the best person to do it defer it, add to your next actions list.


Having collected and processed information you need to organise it. You will need

A list of projects
Project reference material
A calendar for time sensitive information
A next actions list

David Allen uses the term “Tickler File” to describe a system of filing for items that you
may not want to action now but would like reminded of at some time in the future. This
is a system of forty-three files. One for each day of the month = 31 and one for each month
= 12.

4) Review

You need to regularly review your system to identify what your next action should be.

5)Carry out your identified next actions.

This has been a very quick and superficial look at the Getting Things Done methodology, I have omitted a lot of the detail but I hope I have given you some idea of the fundamentals.


In the next post I will be looking at the array of tools that can be used as part of your system of organisation.


The mind is for having ideas not holding them – David Allen

GTD in 15 minutes

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