Getting things done

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I inspire new possibilities to deepen love, intimacy and self-expression. I mainly write articles about that, but you'll also find refrences on design, fitness and finance. More

The Getting things done method by David Allen is fantastic. It's a way of identifying "stuff" and sorting it properly in a system you can trust. This way you can empty the contents of your life and head into it. The goal is to have relaxed control and have a clear head despite having a lot to do. The steps are easy so the challenge is sticking with the complete system. Then you're on top of everything rather than buried by the stuff.


Knowledge-workers have the problem of no edges to their work. A farmer knows he has done the work when he has plowed the whole field. But the work knowledge-workers have can potential go on forever. We need new methods for these new times beyond traditional the time management tools like calendars. We need to react appropriately, not give things too little or too much attention. We need to do what we need to do and then return to calm like a pond after a rock falls in. If something is stuck in your mind you need more clarity. What is it that’s getting your attention? What needs to happen to resolve it and call it done? What’s the next physical action to get there? Asking this not only gives you calm but can even motivate you to handle it.


We don’t want to think more than we need to about things. It’s a waste of time to worry about things we can’t do anything about. We need to identify and handle everything only once, instead of forgetting and looping back.

Everything goes through your INBOX. Start by collecting everything that is not the way you want, is unfinished or undecided; everything that has your attention. If there’s an idea without a physical reminder, write a note and toss it in the in basket.

  • Emails usually have their own inbox where they can stay.
  • Everything that lands on your desk needs to go in a physical inbox.
  • You should have as few other inboxes as possible.


It’s not enough to have an inbox to have control; you need to process and empty it regularly. A key is not to allow it to become a todo list. Emptying is not to do, but to process so you’ll do the tasks when the time is right or not at all. When processing you have to start with the first thing in and work through. Never put anything back in and never jump to the fun stuff. Process one item at a time and you’ll have a functioning funnel.

If it’s not actionable:

  • Throw it in the TRASH.
  • Hold it in a SOMEDAY list.
  • Archive it as REFERENCE.

If it is actionable, what’s the next action?

  • If it takes less than 2 minutes, do it now.
  • Otherwise delegate it if you’re not the appropriate person to do it, and track it by marking it down in a WAITING list.
  • Or defer it if you are the right person to do it:
    • If it has a specific time or deadline it goes in CALENDAR.
    • If not, it goes in a NEXT actions list to do whenever.


Projects are anything that need more than two steps. So they can be small. Projects are like open loops. If you have more than one step you need the project as a reminder to do the remaining ones. The key to projects is to have :

  • Clearly defined outcomes.
  • Action steps to move the toward closure.
  • Reminders in a trusted system you review regularly.


Everyone needs at least some amount of reference or support material to manage their home and/or work life. This needs to be organized and easily retrievable. File things, don’t stack them. Stacking happens when there isn’t a system in place. Once there is it can even be fun to sort. The size of your archived reference information doesn’t matter. As long as your mind doesn’t hold it you can have as much as you want. Ease of access is all depends on logistics. You need to be able to reach it when you need it. Keep references physically close; swivel distance rather than across the room or further. In most cases the system should be alphabetical, and general rather than project-based. Allow yourself one subset of a topic, like “gardening - pots” and “gardening - ideas” under G. If one folder has more than a file drawer of stuff, make it a project-based reference instead. A mistake I’ve done is mixing notes with tasks, adding to overwhelm. Notes are a reference and if there’s an action attached, detach and process it. Checklists are also a great tool. Consider making more. For example for: values, travel packing, setup for conferences, key relationships.


It needs it be functional. If you work from home a lot it makes sense to duplicate your workstation there. Don’t share cabinets, table, etc. with your spouse. If you travel a lot, make sure you can take advantage of that time and have what you need, such as necessary references.


It’s good to have a calendar where you can add items for any time during the day and those with specific time. Day-specific information also goes on calendar like directions to places. Daily to do lists don’t go in calendars. It’s demorsalizing and a waste of time to move the items to tomorrow that you don’t finish today. What goes on calendar is only musts, not nice to haves. These are tasks that must get done that day. They are commitments. It’s fine to flag projects to consider or start with calendar items on specific days.


The bulk of you actions should go in the Next list as you should be limiting the use of your calendar. Use these questions to filter out what to do next:

  • Can you do it here?
  • Is there enough time to do it?
  • Do I have enough mental or physical energy to do it?
  • From what’s left you need to use your intuition and judgment to prioritise.

Next actions are best grouped by project or context. Context can be a certain place you do it in or a certain person or tool you do it with. A standing meeting for example could benefit from its own list. If you have fewer than 25 you can keep them in a single group. To read/review is a good folder/list to have too.

Focus on actions, not project or priorities. Actions are the only things you can do. Figuring out the next action just takes a few seconds but it’s concentrated thinking we often avoid doing. “Tune up the car” isn’t the next action unless you’re walking out with a wrench in hand. Is it rather to call someone or to find out who to call? Figure out what action you need to do. Physical behaviour that you just need to do. In detail, such as “email x, y and z about sales meeting”. Not the vaguer, “set up meeting”. It should be a specific physical behaviour that can you can perform.


Things you might want to do but can’t or don’t want to handle right now. If it’ll take more than 2 months before you’ll get to it it goes here. Some things like receipts are in-between a task and a reference. Decide yourself, the important things is capturing it somewhere.

Before asking how or when to do something you need a clear purpose. What are you trying to achieve? Be clear on what a win is. How do you know if something is worth doing? How do you answer why you did something? You compare it to the success criteria.


It’s the inventory for everything you care about that other people are supposed to be doing. Don’t have leaks in your organisation. If you tell someone to do something and they nod in agreement but don’t write it down, alarms should sound off.


Making lists isn’t enough. You need to review them. Be consistent about reviewing all your open loops to get a bird’s eye view on your life. This is when you get clear, clean, current and complete.

Weekly is a good time interval. Friday afternoon is good so that you go into the weekend for refreshment with a clear mind. At longer intervals you’ll want to get higher views on your life. Actions to projects to areas of responsibility to 1-2 year goals to 3-5 year vision to the fundamental why of your life/company. The weekly review is so essential because without it you can’t trust the system and then you won’t use it. Here are some things you might consider doing during your review:

  • Take all the misc papers that have come in during the week and put them in your inbox.
  • Check new photos taken
  • Clear email inbox
  • Clear desktop
  • Clear downloads-folder.
  • Review any notes or journal reminders.
  • File any references.
  • Process everything physical inbox.
  • Process digital inbox.
  • Review past calendar notes and transfer anything left undone.
  • Check calendar 2 weeks back and 4 weeks ahead.
  • Review the status of active projects and get clear on next action for them.
  • Review waiting list for delegated actions.
  • Review someday list and add any new ideas you’ve had.
Last updated 7 May, 2020


I inspire new possibilities to deepen love, intimacy and self-expression. I mainly write articles about that, but you'll also find refrences on design, fitness and finance. More

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