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Getting Things Done Summary

Here’s the Getting Things Done summary. Learn how to be more productive while also avoiding stress. This time management method will help you get more things done.


Getting Things Done author David Allen explains how to be more productive by using a system. His system is about getting all the tasks out of your head.

“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” That’s the key to becoming productive and stress-free at the same time. We should always have a clear outcome and define the next action.

About the Author

David Allen is a productivity consultant with decades of experience. He has already helped tens of thousands of people do more and avoid overwhelm.

He has worked with corporate managers and CEOs from established corporations. He writes articles about achieving life-work balance and meaningful focus.

Main takeaways: Getting Things Done Summary

Let’s discuss the key takeaways from his book:

  1. Define your desired outcome.
  2. Write the next action step.
  3. Have a someday/maybe list.

Define your desired outcome

Our mind is always full of info and work thoughts. Someone gives us a task and we do it. If the outcome is not clear, the task will fill our mind. That continues to happen even if we’re on to the other tasks.

Why? Our mind always say “It’s still incomplete.” The thought lingers even if we’re now doing other things. It will take away some of our mental power.

It’s hard to focus because we have these little thoughts. We can’t fully devote our attention to the task at hand because of the “incomplete tasks.”

The solution is to define the desired outcome. Imagine it being “done” already. Once you got it done, your mind stops thinking about it. And you also feel a sense of accomplishment.

For example you have to write an article. Define the outcome. How long should it be? What are the topics you should cover? How many times should you rewrite or edit the article?

You’ll know what it’s like to have your finished article. Once it’s done, you’ll stop and move on to other tasks. You’ll also finish your article much faster because you have the focus.

Write the next action step

Why should you do this? The reason again is to avoid lingering thoughts. You’re sure what to do next. It gives you clarity. You’ve set your mind that you will do something about that task.

Some things that we do are projects in nature. We need to do a set of actions before we can finish the project. It’s not just a one-time event. But it could also be overwhelming.

If we don’t write down the next action step, we feel overwhelmed. We will think there’s so much to do. We don’t know what to do next.

The next action step will guide us. It will give us focus and clarity on our projects. We’ll realize that we just need to complete that next action. Then we’ll feel some relief and move on to the next activity.

For example you want to write a book. You define the outcome. Then you write down the next action step. Should you read the bestselling books related to your topic? Should you first determine your target readers?

After you’ve written down the next action, do it now or set a schedule for it. Then repeat until you’ve completed several action steps. You will then complete your book within a reasonable time.

Have a someday/maybe list

Again this is about emptying your mind of the lingering thoughts. You want to take a vacation? Put it on a someday/maybe list if you know you’re going to be busy for months.

Your someday/maybe list will clear your mind. You’ll have added mental space for the tasks at hand. Remember that the key to productivity is focusing on the present tasks.

When you’re done with the important tasks, you can always review your someday/maybe list. Then you can do them if you have the time and energy.

Notice that it’s all about putting all the things out of your mind. You need to build a system that lets you focus on each present task. That will help you bring your full skills and knowledge at work.

Aside from defining your desired outcome, writing the next action step, and keeping a someday/maybe list, you will also learn the following from Getting Things Done:

  • How to use paper or electronic tools to use the GTD system
  • Why you should regularly review all your lists
  • How your employees will benefit from the GTD
  • Why knowledge work is stressful
  • General insights on work and productivity

My personal takeaways

I realized it’s not useful to keep it all in my head. All those tasks and thoughts should be on paper. This way I can always focus on the task at hand.

Getting Things Done is also about the psychology of work. Some principles are obvious. I think one of the reasons is that we’re already applying GTD on manual work.

If I want to build a cabinet, the outcome is already clear. The cabinet should be functional. The next action is also clear. I have to draw the design and buy the materials.

Contrast that to knowledge work. We write an article. We keep on editing and improving it. Or we need to send an email. The back and forth of sending goes endless.

If we want to get things done without the stress, we should do the tasks as if we’re doing manual work.

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