Book Summary: Getting Things Done

Consider all of the tasks you need to do today. Now consider all of the functions you need to do tomorrow. And then think about the next day. And the next day. And then next week.

Now, let me know if all of those things are written down someplace. Now is the time if you don't already belong to the overworked and under-resourced club.

And here is the thing... This group is essentially simply a club we made up to make ourselves feel better about ourselves.

Most individuals moan about having too much work to do and not enough time to accomplish it. But they are essentially complaining about a lack of control and structure in their lives.

Fortunately, it is possible to accomplish an overwhelming amount of things while feeling in control of any circumstance.

In Getting Things Done, you'll discover two key things:

  • How to keep track of all you have to accomplish (now and in the future); and
  • How to manage the quantity of "inputs" you let into your life so that you can take the right steps to get things done.

At the end of this overview, you'll have a strategy for regaining control over your life. That, my friends, is invaluable.

So strap up and prepare to discover the five-step procedure for achieving it:

  • Collect
  • Process
  • Organize  
  • Review
  • Do.


A bunch of note being stick on the wall

The first step is to gather information about the tasks at hand. The idea is to relieve your mind from the lower-level duty of figuring out what you'll have to accomplish in the future.

Consider how much time you waste attempting to keep the tasks on your to-do list in the forefront of your thoughts.

When we acquire goods, we need a place to keep them. We'll name these locations "buckets." Our goal is to gather 100 percent of the "incomplete" items.

The purpose here isn't to decide whether or not we'll act on them or when we'll act on them; rather, it's to store them somewhere so we can return to them later.

Your email inbox, for example, is an example of a "bucket" that works without your intervention. But what about the rest of your responsibilities?

Here are some other items that can serve as a "container" for you:

  • an actual mailbox
  • notepads
  • electronic gadgets for taking notes
  • voice recorder
  • email

A few elements will impact the effectiveness of your collecting efforts. First, anything that is imperfect must be out of your thoughts and placed into one of your buckets.

Second, you'll want to keep your collection containers to a minimum. Choose the ones you can't live without, and never use the word "incomplete" anyplace else.

Finally, you must clear them regularly to deal with the goods quickly. For example, my inboxes are only email and a predetermined location in my project management program. It'll be difficult at first to limit yourself to those items, but once you get the hang of it, you'll be well on your way to serenity.


A man is busy working on the current project progress by progress.

The input must then be processed as the next step in the equation.

The purpose of this phase is to reduce the number of containers to zero. We won't always complete all of the work right away, but we'll find a place for everything.

First, we'll pose a straightforward yet crucial question: What is it?

This may appear to be an easy task, but understanding the object will help you choose what you can and should do with it.

Second, we'll see whether it's anything we can do something about.

There would be three options if you replied no to this question.

  • If it's garbage and no longer serves a purpose, get rid of it.
  • No action may be required right now, but it will be necessary for the future. If this is the case, incubate it in a "tickler" system that will alert you when you need to revisit it.
  • It might possibly be important knowledge in the future, but you're not sure if you'll need it right now; if so, save it in a reference pile for later.

If you answered yes, there are a few things to consider:

First and foremost, what project or result have you committed to?

If it's connected to a project, you should have an open project list where you may put it (see the "organization" section for additional information).

For example, suppose you're preparing a retirement party and just received a call from one of the caterers you're obtaining quotes from. In that case, you'd enter that information into the project bucket.

Second, we must decide what our next course of action will be. "Show quote to Bob and receive his permission," for example, maybe the next step for the retirement celebration.

Finally, select what you want to do with that action.

We have three options once you've decided on the following step:

  • We've got this. The usual guideline is that if anything can be done in less than two minutes and we can act on it right now, we should do it right away.
  • We could assign it.
  • We may postpone it. Set anything that can't be done now or will take more than two minutes to finish into your tickler system so you'll remember about it at the right moment. This is discussed in further detail in the following section.


3 people are discussing a business.

You'll need a method of organizing to build the following steps and sort everything into the right bins.

Non-action items can be discarded, incubated in a tickler system, or filed in a reference file. Each of these should be placed in its own bucket.

Things get a little more specific when it comes to actionable items.

You'll need a project list, storage locations for project plans and supplies, a calendar, a list of reminders for the next steps, and a list of reminders for items you're waiting for to do this.

It's entirely up to you how these lists are organized.

You might use a software tool; in fact, several solutions were created with the "Getting Things Done" philosophy in mind. A paper-based approach, such as a leather-bound planner, is also an option.

The important thing is to pick something you like that works well for you.


Allen defines a project as anything that needs more than one step to finish, which may surprise you. As a result, it's possible that you now have a lot more projects than you previously anticipated.

These tasks will include everything from creating a new book to cleaning the garage and everything in between.

Allen makes a great point regarding projects: You can't "do" a project; you can only perform one action after another. As a result, we must be more clear about what will happen next.

Next Actions

As we discussed earlier, you can do a few things right now that will take less than two minutes. Anything you delegate will go into a tickler system that will remind you to follow up. If you have a next action item that isn't on that list, we'll need to find a place for it.

On your calendar is one of the areas where we may add a future activity. This is useful when the next action must be completed on a given day and time (for example, an appointment). Or even if it must be completed on a specified day (i.e., shopping for a birthday gift).

You may also wish to include information particular to each day, such as instructions for your appointments or birthday reminders.

What else should belong in your calendar? Not a single thing. This may go against what you've been taught, but only the tasks that really must be completed on a specific day should be scheduled.

All of your additional next steps should be written down on a list that you can refer to later. If you have numerous tasks and a lot of next steps to remember, break them into lists, so you don't feel overwhelmed.


2 people are reviewing their work.

Once you've set up your system, you must re-examine it regularly to be successful. So, what should you look at, and when should you do so?

Things to Review Daily

Your calendar is the item you'll want to check the most — at least once a day. It will have a detailed list of all the tasks that must be completed today, as well as a mental image of the sort of day you will have.

The next item you'll want to focus on is your to-do list(s). This is where you'll discover the list of things you need to do if and when you have free time during the day.

Finally, just examine the projects, waiting for, and other lists as often as necessary to keep you from worrying or thinking about them.

Things to Review Weekly

If you're like most people, there's a big difference between what you expected to happen and what really transpired at the end of the week.

You'll never be able to escape this truth, no matter how brilliant you are at getting things done. The only thing you need to do to cope with it is to plan a weekly review session into your weekly schedule (write it on your calendar).

All of your lists, including the ones mentioned above, should be checked at the same time at least once a week. This will allow you to double-check that your calendar is for the coming week and that you have written down all of your probable to-do items.

This can only work if you do a thorough and systematic review. If it isn't—for example, not verifying all of your lists—your review will be incomplete, and items will slip through the gaps.

It will feel a lot like the week before you go on vacation if you conduct your review session properly. You ensure that any loose ends are tied up and that any agreements that cannot be finalized by the time you leave are renegotiated.

As Allen says, instead of doing it once a year, you should make it a weekly habit.


While going through your next activities list and determining what to do next, consider the following four factors to make your decision:

  • context,
  • time available,
  • the energy available, and
  • priority.


Context is significant since some activities can only be completed in specific situations.

For example, if you're stranded somewhere and can't connect to the Internet for any reason, you'll have to work without it. By marking your next actions with situationally specific information, you'll come up with lists of things you can do in that circumstance.

Time Available

Some of the tasks on your next action lists will take 10 minutes to accomplish, while others may take more than an hour.

This becomes critical when you're let out of a meeting 20 minutes early, or your plane is delayed by 30 minutes at the airport. Knowing what chores you can finish in the time you have available will increase the likelihood of tackling one of them.

Energy Available

You'll need a lot of mental attention to finish what you need to do, and you'll only be able to do it if you have a lot of energy.

For instance, I find I have the greatest energy right after I go to the gym at lunch, so that's when I tackle issues from my lists that require my intellect to be at its sharpest. When my energy is at its lowest, such as at the end of the day, I do tasks that need less energy and focus, such as emptying my inbox.

Recognize when you have the greatest energy and prioritize tasks on your to-do list accordingly. You'll accomplish a lot more.


Priority should be considered now and only now. Of course, no one is recommending that you disregard this advice in the event of an emergency that requires you to put out a fire. This is the strategy to follow when you genuinely control what you do.


That's all there is to it. Everything you'll need to get started with your method for getting more done in less time. While decreasing your stress levels to the lowest level humanly possible. Get out there and finish it!

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