Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

According to Fast Company, David Allen’s Getting Things Done is “A completely revised and updated edition of the blockbuster bestseller from ‘the personal productivity guru.” The new edition of this life-changing productivity book is available on Amazon. Readers can also purchase the audiobook version, and excerpts from the book have been featured in various publications like the New York Times. Here is a brief summary of what you can expect from reading the book.

A Brief Introduction to Getting Things Done

Getting things done is classified into three sections, all of which contain comprehensive life hack tips. At the end of the book, readers will have a big-picture of improving their organization and time management skills. Section one of this book gives you a summary for assuming control of your life by adopting the five stages of workflow mastery. 

Section two of this self-help book repeats the contents of section one while expounding on the application of David Allen’s methodology. In section three, readers will learn the importance of Allen’s strategies and why the approach is practical. 

Flowchart Summary

A summary of the whole process is provided in the form of a flowchart in the book. Allen says, thinking clearly plays a critical role in enhancing your productivity. You should have transferred all open loops (unaccomplished engagements you may have) from your RAM or short-term memory to promote clear thoughts. Doing so frees your brain to execute its natural processes; ponder about things instead of thinking of things. 

Allen offers tips that readers can leverage to boost their critical thinking skills and strategies for determining the actions they should take. After offloading everything from your brain and writing it on paper, you can decide your next action. Once you have decided, you should either track or complete the action in a trusted system such as a personal organization digital assistant.

The Two-Minute Rule


This book will introduce you to Allen’s two-minute rule where he says; “as you explore your in-box for your next action, consider completing any action that you can complete in two minutes time or less immediately.” Doing so helps you clear some things from the psychic RAM forever.

Allen lays out a method for clearing your RAM and maintaining that clearness daily as new stuff enters your “in” box. You should determine the next action at the front-end when reviewing stuff from the “in” box.

The Strategy is Applicable in Various Aspects of Life

Implementing Allen’s system is a great strategy that gives the modern-day worker an advantage over competitors. The system is applicable in projects, the home environment, and around the workplace. Allen says it can help you eliminate procrastination.

Getting Things Done is a combination of techniques, tools, and psychology. Allen mentions that you will learn how to get rid of amorphous to-do lists by being proficient with your time and living here and now. Here is a detailed breakdown of the Getting Things Done sections.  

Section 1: The Art of Getting Things Done 

·        Chapter 1: A New Practice for a New Reality

Achieving the optimal condition of mind for performance and quiet is described as “Mind Like Water.” However, this state of mind is scarce, seeing that different things often cause humans distraction and stress, interrupting their concentration and dispersing their efforts.

Stress emanates from the numerous unfulfilled tasks at hand. For example, your brain could be saying: “I must call my friend George,” “I must complete the research,” “I want to have more time with my loved ones,” or “I wish to travel to Canada.”

Nearly always, you could have more commitments than you notice and numerous unanswered questions, both essential and less important. Often, such baggage flows through your mind constantly and causes you guilt and frustration.

Here is an illustration to provide more clarity. On a piece of paper, write down the task or project that won’t leave your mind at the moment. Define in one sentence how you wish to complete the project. Go ahead and outline the key physical action you need to push the situation.

·        Complete Your Actions Immediately

In simple terms, do it immediately. For example, assuming one of your unfinished businesses is to visit Canada, start by searching for the cheapest flights to your destination. If you are scheduled to take your car to the mechanic, call them and book an appointment.

Completing your first action will give you a feeling of relaxation, confidence, and focus. You will also be more committed to focus on other stuff that you can hardly think about at the moment. Ask yourself; has this little exercise triggered in me a positive reaction? What has changed to trigger that positive outlook?

By looking at the situation critically, you will notice an improvement. Further, you will have described the most convenient reaction for the condition and outlined the first crucial action to getting there from a two minutes’ thought. Defining your commitments is adequate, the origin, and procedure of Getting Things Done to free your mind and boost your effectiveness. 

Often, your mind is distracted by things you would like to change despite their current situation if:

  • You have not defined your preferred result
  • You have not determined your first action
  • You have not illustrated the preferred result and the necessary action with a reliable system. 

Without the proper framework, you leave room for your brain to be anxious about repeatedly attacking the issues that make you anxious, especially if you have neither discarded nor organized them. The human brain is not astute in terms of remembering what we should do. It generally reminds you about tasks when the necessity arises.

For example, you will only remember to purchase something when you need it and not when you are at the shopping mall. The brain will also remind you of your tasks when you are held up with other tasks and have no time to do anything else. The GTD approach enables you to free your brain from thinking about everything you have to do. To do this, you should: 

  • Outline all your tasks, whether you need to execute them immediately or later, and incorporating them into a reliable and easy-to-understand system. 
  • Make immediate decisions regarding new tasks as they come

Having a clear and free mind enables you to work efficiently with minimal stress. 

·        Chapter 2 – Getting Control of Your Life: The Five Stages of Mastering Workflow

In this chapter, Allen describes the five stages of mastering workflow as being: collecting, processing, organization, reviewing, and execution.  


At the collection stage, you should gather all the uncompleted tasks. Collection tools you can use include email, voice recording gadgets, the tangible in-basket, electronic, and paper-based note-recording gadgets. Here is how to succeed at the collection stage. 

  • Transfer every open loop from your brain to the collection system
  • Do not pile up your collection buckets
  • Empty your collection system regularly 

You empty your bucket at the process stage. Allen says this is often the critical improvement for nearly everybody he has collaborated with. He describes the process extensively using flowcharts. The process stage seeks to establish: 

  • What the task is and whether it is actionable

If the task is not actionable, consider placing it in a tickler or reference file.

If it is actionable, ask yourself, what is the next action? The next action, in this case, is described as the next visible and physical tasks that you should focus on to move them towards completion.

  • Will the next action last less than two minutes?

If it will execute it immediately

If it takes more time, consider deferring or delegating it

If the task will last more than two minutes, think about it as a project and include it in your project program, which you will review later for actions. 

At the organization stage, Allen defines eight levels of materials and reminders, which are: incubation tools, trash, list of projects, reference storage, a list to remind you of the things you are waiting for, files or storage for project materials and plans, a list to remind you of your subsequent actions, and a calendar. 

According to Allen, you should review your lists every week to increase your chances of success.  

·        Chapter 3. Getting projects Creatively Underway: The Five Phases of Project Planning

This chapter focuses on vertical focus, the thought process that facilitates successful project planning. Allen says the brain navigates five stages to achieve any task. He also explains that this Natural Planning strategy is the most effective for project planning. Here are the steps:

Outline Purpose and Principles

Here, you need to ask why? Finding answers to the question describes success, develops a decision-making standard, motivates, adjusts resources, outlines success, motivates and formulates focus, and develops a standard for behavioral excellence. 

Outcome Prediction

Foresight gives you a big picture of the result. Allen defines the Reticular Activating System in the brain and illustrates how it operates as a search engine. When outlining the preferred outcome, this brain filter allows you to focus on similar things to your vision.

Further, Allen mentions that you cannot understand how to execute a task until you envision yourself doing it. He advises readers to foresee the task or project past the finish date, foresee wild success, and seize features, qualities, and elements you envision in place. 


Brainstorming establishes how you navigate through the formation of numerous ideas. Allen advises readers to write down those ideas as doing so empties the brain and facilitates new ideas. Writing down ideas gives you an anchor to help you maintain focus on the target topic.

The concept of writing to stimulate thinking is referred to as distributed cognition. To achieve effective brainstorming, avoid judging, evaluating, challenging, or criticizing. Focus on quality instead of quantity and put aside organization and analysis. 

Be Organized

After identifying your actions and ideas, sort and prioritize them chronologically, and based on importance before developing the details. 

Figure Out Actions to Take First

Based on the getting organized rule, you won’t have to worry about accomplishing tasks. 

Section 2: Practicing Stress-Free Productivity

·        Chapter 4 – Getting Started: Setting up the Tools, Space, and Time


In this chapter, Allen recommends reserving two full days consecutively to get started. To create space, you need a writing surface and sufficient space for an in-basket. A workspace is ideal both at home and at work for students, retirees, and homemakers.

Do not be frugal about the workspace and avoid sharing it with anyone else as much as possible. Allen is against the office hoteling approach that many companies have used and still use to date. 

The standard processing tools you need include: 

  • Plain paper
  • Paper-holding trays
  • Clips
  • Post-its
  • Wastebasket or recycling bins
  • A calendar
  • A labeler
  • File folders
  • Clips
  • An organizer to facilitate external regulation of triggers. These include a PDA (personal digital assistant), planners, or papers.  

A unique overall reference filing system helps you maintain your personal organization with ease. If it takes you more than one minute to take something from your in-basket, consider filing it for future reference. To succeed in filing, consider: 

  • Keeping files within close reach
  • Have numerous fresh folders
  • Use an auto labeler to label your folders
  • Adopt the A-Z alphabetical filing system
  • Eliminate hanging files where possible
  • Ensure your drawers are not more than three-quarters full
  • Archive your files at least annually 

Chapter 5. Collection: Corralling Your Stuff 

According to Allen, you will need between one and six hours to collect everything you want to include in your in-basket. He advises readers to try and complete the collection step before processing and organizing starts.

Sometimes you may be tempted to begin processing before completing the collection process, but he strongly advises against it. Paying close attention allows you to figure out how much there is to do, and you also identify the “end of the tunnel.” Remember, you cannot process effectively knowing that you are yet to collect more stuff.  

The collection process should cover your physical space, including cabinets, countertops, and desk drawers. It also comprises a “mind Sweep” to reveal anything that could be occupying your mental space or the “psychic RAM.”

Allen says that as all this stuff becomes conscious, you may feel anxious but still recommends choosing quality. After completing the gathering phase, Allen recommends proceeding to the next step because by keeping things in your in-box for long, you risk having them crawl back to your psyche.  

·        Chapter 6. Processing: Getting “In” to Empty 

Processing is not the idea of completing all actions. It involves determining the action you should take regarding every item in the in-box. At the end of this phase, you will have eliminated the unnecessary items, finished all short-term (less than two minutes) tasks, delegated, activated reminders in your organizer for actions you should handle, and established new projects. Allen gives practical processing recommendations, which are: 

  • Start by processing the top item. Do not be tempted to work on the most exciting or urgent item first. 
  • Process an item at a time. Doing so forces you to focus on the decision-making you need to navigate your tasks. 
  • Avoid returning things to your in-basket.

As you review each item, ask yourself, “what is the next action?” If there is none, trash the item or place it in a tickler file or someday/maybe list. You can also keep it in reference material. If an action is available, specify it and execute it only if it will take less than two minutes. Delegate longer actions, include them in the waiting list, or deter them.  

·        Chapter 7. Organizing: Setting Up the Right Buckets 

After completing the processing phase, you will need a method of organizing your output. Allen mentions the seven fundamental areas to maintain output and tricks and tips to promote efficiency. They include: 

  • Project support material
  • Projects list
  • Calendared information and actions,
  • Reference material
  • Waiting for list
  • A next actions list
  • someday/maybe list 

Keep these groups away from one another. Allen says these lists are everything you need to maintain organizations. He opposes the idea of prioritizing among the lists. Instead, he advises readers to prioritize in an intuitive process that occurs during the list review process.  

Actions you should keep in the calendar are those you can complete at a particular time or day. They can also be triggers for activating events or projects you may want to engage in and decision stimulants.

Organize subsequent actions by context like “at home,” “errands,” and “calls.” Review the waiting list regularly to establish whether you should take any action. Items in your emails and the “Read and Review” section that need action are reminders.

According to Allen, you should store emails that need action in a separate folder within your filing system. The projects list gives you a single area to evaluate all projects for required actions. You can split projects based on groups like professional or personal, and you can also determine sub-projects.

Allen reiterates that there isn’t any perfect strategy for tracking projects. You only need to understand your projects and how to determine affiliated notices or reminders.

Allen illustrates Project Support Materials but warns readers against utilizing them as a notice or reminder. He shares project thinking ad hoc, organizing ideas where ideas are activated, and you need to seize them. Allen mentions that organizing non-actionable information is as crucial as managing project reminders and actions.

Reference systems comprise broad-category filing, overall-reference filing, contact managers and Rolodexes, and archives and libraries. Many people have between 200 and 400 paper-based overall reference files and between 30 and 100 email reference folders.

If you have any ideas but no defined action, consider keeping them on a Someday/Maybe list, activate them in a tickler system or your calendar. Allen advises against calling the “Hold and Review” pile a Someday/Maybe list. 

·        Chapter 8. Reviewing: Keeping Your System Functional 

To maintain practicality in your system, you must continue trusting the system. To maintain trust, you must ensure the system is up to date. Determine what to check and when to do so. Allen recommends that you review your daily tickler folder and calendar regularly before evaluating your subsequent actions.

The weekly review is the core of system maintenance. This process comprises what you require to clear your head and a review of the five workflow management phases. Allen advises users to block a few hours every Friday afternoon to boost productivity. 

·        Chapter 9. Doing: Making the Best Action Choices


Apart from encouraging readers to trust their intuition, Allen defines three models for determining what to engage in at a particular moment. The four-criterion approach for picking actions at a point in time utilizes the principle of energy available, time available, context, and priority to decide.  

The threefold principle for analyzing daily work defines Allen’s concept that during a workday, humans engage in one out of three activities which are: executing pre-outlined work, executing tasks as they appear, or outlining your work.

Allan mentions that failing to execute tasks to handle a more urgent issue is tolerable only when you do not know what you are not doing. Often, many people blame their below-par effectiveness and stress on sudden tasks when they cannot define their work in the real sense. He describes your ability to handle surprise tasks as a competitive edge.  

The six-level model of evaluating your work is defined based on altitude, as seen below. 

  • Runaway: current actions
  • 10,000 feet: Current projects
  • 20,000 feet: responsibility areas
  • 30,000 feet: between one and two-year goals
  • 40,000 feet: between three to five-year concepts
  • 50,000 feet and beyond feet: Life 

Every one of these levels should improve and coordinate with the upper levels. Priorities are pushed to the top but lacking the ability to control current actions and projects and attempting to control yourself from top to down may trigger frustration. Allen advises readers to begin from the bottom by completing all action lists and working towards the top. 

·       Chapter 10: Getting Projects Under Control

In this chapter, Allen illustrates the vertical project level once more. He mentions that proper planning techniques and tools could be exaggerated and promotes proactive and creative thinking. He recommends that projects requiring extensive planning should come first, while projects that show up abruptly should come in second.

The first projects should be revisited to the Natural Planning Model. The second projects require structures and tools to seize random ideas. These tools include a robust writing instrument, whiteboards and easels, paper, and a computer. Allen says that the concept of writing down ideas stimulates a practical thinking procedure. 

Section 3: The Power of the Key Principles 

·        Chapter 11: The Power of the Collection Habit 

Administering the GTD approach enables you to free your mind, enhances your efficiency, and has many other long-term positive repercussions that Allen has observed in the course of his experience spanning 25 years.

If your colleagues, friends, or family members notice that you honor your commitments efficiently and systematically, they will trust you more. Boosting your efficiency allows you to enhance the quality of your professional and personal relationships. Where do negative emotions, those that drain your energy and plunge you into depression or anxiety, come from?

Allen wonders whether it is because you are overworking. He mentions that many people are overly occupied, and they know that. He advises readers to evaluate everything in their drawers and in-basket.

Are they commitments from yourself? Negative feelings crop up due to your failure to respect your commitments. Remember, even when you push commitments at the end of your mind and forget about them, your subconscious will neither forget, nor allow you to relax. Such are signs of a dismantled self-esteem. To mend your self-esteem, you must decide to select one of the following solutions for each of your commitments. 

  • Respect your commitment
  • Do not accept your commitment
  • Renegotiate your commitment 

You must understand when to say no to commitments. You will gain more satisfaction from having less demanding professional or personal commitments. While you may disagree with this concept, resist the urge accept commitments you cannot manage, just like David Allen did a while ago. You do not require numerous commitments to acquire approval from other people.

Instead of accepting new commitments, think and choose what to accept and what to give up. Consider a team’s condition if the members entirely relied on other people for management and organization. GTD allows you to seal organizations in teams, facilitating better direction. 

·        Chapter 12. The Power of the Next-Action Decision


Allen opines that twenty minutes before completing a meeting, you should ask: “So what’s the next action here?” to provide clarity. While doing this may seem like common sense, many team leaders avoid it unknowingly.

Allen highlights the negative part of a collaborative culture where people hardly hold one another accountable. He mentions that allowing people to leave discussions without clarity is impolite.

Asking the previously mentioned question is crucial and allows the team to enhance their productivity via practical responsiveness. This question implies the possibility of a shift and that you can do what it takes to achieve your goals. 

·        Chapter 13. The Power of Outcome Focusing 

Allen opines that increasing your use of natural planning can make a huge difference. He praises the ability to foresee success even when you do not know how to achieve it. The ability to generate numerous ideas, whether good or bad, is a crucial part of creative intelligence. Sharpening and coordinating ideas is an essential mental specialty. Picking and taking the next actions is the basis of a productivity system.

Administering these techniques effectively is defined as the dominant element of skilled competence for the current generation. Remember, you can only describe the appropriate action when you are conversant with your expected result.

According to Allen, only two problems exist, and these are: you are privy to what you want but don’t know how to achieve it, or you do not know what you want. In such a case, there can only be two solutions which are: make it happen or make it up.

What outcome do you anticipate? Every incomplete action you experience requires a reference point for getting concluded. Avoid challenging everything you do. Instead, find comfort in foreseeing success before achieving precise methods. To achieve action-based thinking ask yourself the following questions.

  • What are your expectations from this meeting?
  • What characteristics should the suitable candidate for this task have?
  • What is the motive of this form?
  • What do we want to achieve from this software?
  • What is the purpose of doing all this? 

Unclear meetings result in irrelevant emails, triggering the need to clarify. Meetings can be time-wasting when they lack clarity, purpose, and the desired result. 

·        Chapter 14. GTD and Cognitive Science 


The original version of Getting Things Done was first published in 2001. Then, the primary evidence of the GTD methodology’s effectiveness was from David Allen’s experiences and those from his readers, based on customer reviews. However, when the new version was launched in 2015, different cognitive studies had proved the GTD approach.

For example, one distributed cognition study quotes the Getting Things Done: The Science behind Stress-Free Productivity. It confirms that the human brain is structured to think and have concepts depending on pattern disclosure. However, it is not great at remembering things. It performs well at recognition but dismally at recalling. The benefits of developing an external brain are cited in Daniel Levitin’s The Organized Mind.

The GTD approach is more than a task and time management strategy. It encourages essential work, a general sense of approval, less stress through continuous goals and result-based thinking, and a more conscious living concept. Other psychological principles and theories that support GTD practices include: 

  • A study suggests that uncompleted projects, actions, and goals, overwhelm your brain, reducing your clarity and the power to focus.  
  • Through self-leadership approaches, people can control their actions with various techniques like self-cueing.  

Chapter 15. The Path of GTD Mastery


Applying and mastering the GTD methodology is a lifelong process without an endpoint. Continuous practice will make you conversant with the GTD methodology, and you will be able to leverage it to enhance your productivity. Here are the three tiers of Getting Things Done mastery.  

  • Leveraging the fundamentals of workflow management
  • Applying a more integrated and elevated comprehensive life management system
  • Using skills to develop clear space and get things done for a broad manifestation and expression.  

Mastering the Fundamentals

Being conversant with the essential components of GTD is a lifelong process. While agreeing with its principles and concepts can be easy, implementing them is not a smooth process. Practices that, even when administered, can quickly recede into outdated, incomplete, and defective usage include:

  • Neglecting next action liability on things to do
  • Utilizing agenda lists to seize and control communications with other people 
  • Entirely using the waiting for the group, such that each anticipated output from “others” is listed and evaluated for reaction in proper timing.
  • Maintaining a simple and easy to access reference and filing system
  • Maintaining a pure calendar without weakening it with irrelevant inputs
  • Doing reviews weekly to keep your system updated and functional

If you are committed to applying Getting Things Done ISBN, starting is not difficult. However, sometimes you could be overwhelmed when reality floods you at full force. In this case, if the new habits are yet to integrate with your behavior patterns, you could easily be thrown off balance. 

Mastering the fundamentals is life-changing for many people who achieve it. Once you get to that stage, you will be getting more done efficiently and faster while operating with more confidence when handling the operational aspects of life. At the first GTD business book mastery tier, you will control and keep yourself focused on an hourly and daily basis. 

·        Graduate Level

Here, you are prepared to move to the subsequent level. You have control of your life on a weekly, monthly, and sometimes longer basis. To achieve this level, you need a more profound level of practice and awareness. Hitting a particular maturity level with the Getting Things Done approach stops you from focusing on the system or the way you are working it. Instead, you will use it in more customizable and flexible ways and as a trusted tool to gain focus and control over broader and longer spans. The indications of this tier include:

  • An up to date, clear, and complete project inventory
  • A functional map of your tasks, interests, and accountabilities, both professional and personal
  • A total integrated life management structure customized to meet your direction and needs and used to steer out past the day to day activities effectively

Surprises and challenges stimulate your use of the GTD methodology instead of throwing you off it

·        Postgraduate Level

This level is all about direction, focus, and creativity. After integrating the fundamental components of GTD and incorporating the higher elements of your work and life commitments in a customized and trustworthy systemic method, the next boundary launches, utilizing transparent internal space to enhance your experience to infinity. This level involves the following key aspects: 

  • Using your external mind to generate novel value
  • Leveraging your liberated focus to explore the advanced aspects of your values and commitments 


  • In today’s overly busy and competitive world, capturing everything is critical to keeping you on top of things. Write down stuff in easily accessible, reliable places such as an app, notebook, or in-basket. According to Allen, offloading your mind creates room for new ideas. He also mentions that the human mind functions better when it is not overwhelmed.  
  • Adopting the two-minute rule is a crucial part of preventing procrastination. After writing down your stuff and identifying what you need to do next, do it immediately to keep your brain less strained. 
  • Always beware of your next action. Doing so helps you maintain a continuous execution of tasks and promotes productivity.  

Published by Penguin Books, Getting Things done gives readers a step-by-step approach to promote productivity while avoiding procrastination. 


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