Getting Things Done by David Allen

MAY 27, 2019

9/10. Decades of learning distilled in one simple, complete package. I also appreciate the Zen / Landmark-ian aspects.

There is one caveat, common to all productivity / personal development techniques, namely: the devil is in the implementation, i.e. the self-discipline and practice to apply the techniques. No matter how great the ideas and processes are you need to put them into practice and that is usually the hardest part – “ideas are cheap, implementation is costly”.

For example, and just speaking personally, I’ve heard about “getting things done” many times in the last 15+ years, and come across bits and pieces, but it has taken me until now for me to knuckle down and really read the book. And that’s just the start: I need to do the initial sweep (nearly there!). Then, and even more importantly, I need put in place a daily and weekly habit of for daily inbox clearing and weekly reviewing. Here goes!

UPDATE: Nov 2019 I have written a follow up post detailing how I myself implemented the Getting Things Done system.

Table of contents


Boiled down to its essence, there are only two key aspects:

  1. Get in control – the workflow. This
  2. Planning Projects: the Natural Planning Model. Projects are a broad term in GTD and cover anything involving multiple steps. b,n8t

In addition, we cover booting this up – getting setup with GTD

There is also an essential pre-requisite: motivation. Whilst the payoff is great, getting started with GTD will take some effort so it is crucial to have a clear, strong motivation. I won’t cover this here in the summary – there is a full explanation in the book and some short excerpts from chapter one below.

1. Get in control: the GTD workflow

  1. Capture
  2. Clarify
  3. Organize
  4. Reflect
  5. Engage

1. Capture into inboxes

  1. “Get It All Out of Your Head” into physical or virtual inbox(es)
  2. Minimize the Number of Capture Locations - “You should have as many in-trays as you need and as few as you can get by with.”
  3. Empty the Capture Tools Regularly (daily if possible)

2. Clarify: do the clarify workflow to empty the inboxes

  1. What Is It?
  2. Is it actionable?
    • No action required =>

      • Trash
      • Reference
      • Someday / Maybe
      • Incubating / Ticker / Reminder
    • Actionable => Is it a project (multi-step)?

      • Yes => Projects list - “A complete and current Projects list is the major operational tool for moving from tree-hugging to forest management.”
      • No =>
    • What is the next action? “The “next action” is the next physical, visible activity that needs to be engaged in, in order to move the current reality of this thing toward completion.” – “This is perhaps the most fundamental practice of this methodology."

      • Do it - if < 2m
      • Delegate it
      • Defer it => on next actions list

3. Organize

Here are the main buckets:

  • Projects
  • Calendar
  • Next actions
    • Agenda list (for each person you have meetings with)
    • Waiting for
  • Someday maybe
  • Tickler

Plus you have:

  • Reference
  • Project support materials (including project plans)

Here are the context categories he suggest for next actions (useful if you have more than 25 next actions so you can’t just quickly scan them but need to filter):

  • Calls [I prefer @phone]
  • At Computer
  • Errands [I prefer @shopping]
  • At Office (miscellaneous)
  • At Home
  • Anywhere
  • Agendas (for people and meetings)
  • Read/Review
  • Online
  • Offline

4. Reflect: regular reviews

  • Daily review - go through the workflow for inbox
  • Weekly review critical
    • Gather and process all your stuff.
    • Review your system.
    • Update your lists.
    • Get clean, clear, current, and complete.

In the weekly review you MUST review your projects list.

the Weekly Review is the critical success factor for marrying your larger commitments to your day-to-day activities. And a complete Projects list remains the linchpin for that orientation.

5. Engage: next action list prioritised via context, time, energy and priority

First there is your calendar: any scheduled meetings, events etc you have. Beyond that you to to your next actions list:

  • The four-criteria model for choosing actions in the moment. In order:

    • Context
    • Time available
    • Energy available
    • Priority
  • The threefold model for evaluating daily work

    • Doing predefined work
    • Doing work as it shows up
    • Defining your work
  • The six-level model for reviewing your own work

    • Horizon 5: Life
    • Horizon 4: Long-term visions
    • Horizon 3: One-to two-year goals
    • Horizon 2: Areas of focus and accountability
    • Horizon 1: Current projects
    • Ground: Current actions

2. Planning Projects - the Natural Planning Model

A project as any desired result that can be accomplished within a year that requires more than one action step.

  1. Defining purpose and principles
  2. Outcome visioning
  3. Brainstorming
  4. Organizing
  5. Identifying next actions

3. Getting Setup with GTD

The “lists” you must have:

  • Inbox list(s): where you capture incoming. You want at least one that is ready to hand
  • Next list: * a list of reminders of next actions
  • Projects list: list of projects
  • Calendar: a calendar for meetings and items for action on a given day
  • Waiting for: a list of reminders of things you’re waiting for.
  • Someday/Maybe list:
  • Tickler file … (specific reminder at some point)

Storage you should have:

  • Project support material: storage or files for project plans and materials
  • Reference material

Get setup

  • Get your primary inbox tool (inbox, app etc)
  • Get your calendar
  • Identify all other existing inboxes
  • Set up your system for reference / project support material

Get started

  • Capture: Get everything into your primary inbox – see below
  • Clarify (and Organize): process everything in the inbox from top down (and nothing goes back into in) – this usually takes 1-6h

Part 1: The Art of Getting Things Done

Chapter 1

A motivational intro on why we need this in an ever busier world plus the Zen stuff: “Mind like Water” or “The Promise: The “Ready State” of the Martial Artist”

Personally, I found Part 3 more useful in setting out the the benefits.

The “Mind Like Water” Simile

In karate there is an image that’s used to define the position of perfect readiness: “mind like water.” Imagine throwing a pebble into a still pond. How does the water respond? The answer is, totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input; then it returns to calm. It doesn’t overreact or underreact.

The Value of a Bottom-Up Approach

I have discovered over the years the practical value of working on personal productivity improvement from the bottom up, starting with the most mundane, ground-floor level of current activity and commitments. Intellectually, the most appropriate way ought to be to work from the top down, first uncovering personal and organizational purpose and vision, then defining critical objectives, and finally focusing on the details of implementation. The trouble is, however, that most people are so embroiled in commitments on a day-to-day level that their ability to focus successfully on the larger horizon is seriously impaired. Consequently, a bottom-up approach is usually more effective.

The Major Change: Getting It All Out of Your Head

There is no real way to achieve the kind of relaxed control I’m promising if you keep things only in your head. As you’ll discover, the individual behaviors described in this book are things you’re already doing. The big difference between what I do and what others do is that I capture and organize 100 percent of my stuff in and with objective tools at hand, not in my mind. And that applies to everything—little or big, personal or professional, urgent or not. Everything.

Chapter 2: Getting Control of Your Life

We (1) capture what has our attention; (2) clarify what each item means and what to do about it; (3) organize the results, which presents the options we (4) reflect on, which we then choose to (5) engage with. This constitutes the management of the horizontal aspect of our lives, incorporating everything that we need to consider at any time, as we move forward moment to moment.

  1. Capture
  2. Clarify
  3. Organize
  4. Reflect
  5. Engage

These go together and reinforce each other

Most people have major weaknesses in their (1) capture process. Most of their commitments to do something are still in their head. The number of coulds, shoulds, might-want-tos, and ought-tos they generate in their minds are way out beyond what they have recorded anywhere else.

Many have collected lots of things but haven’t (2) clarified exactly what they represent or decided what action, if any, to take about them. Random lists strewn everywhere, meeting notes, vague to-dos on Post-its on their refrigerator or computer screens or in their Tasks function in a digital tool—all lie not acted on and numbing to the psyche in their effect. Those lists alone often create more stress than they relieve.

Others make good decisions about stuff in the moment but lose the value of that thinking because they don’t efficiently (3) organize the results. They determined they should talk to their boss about something, but a reminder of that lies only in the dark recesses of their mind, unavailable in the appropriate context, in a trusted format, when they could use it.

Still others have good systems but don’t (4) reflect on the contents consistently enough to keep them functional. They may have lists, plans, and various checklists available to them (created by capturing, clarifying, and organizing), but they don’t keep them current or access them to their advantage. Many people don’t look ahead at their own calendars consistently enough to stay current about upcoming events and deadlines, and they consequently become victims of last-minute craziness.

Finally, if any one of these previous links is weak, what someone is likely to choose to (5) engage in at any point in time may not be the best option. Most decisions for action and focus are driven by the latest and loudest inputs, and are based on hope instead of trust. People have a constant nagging sense that they’re not working on what they should be, that they “don’t have time” for potentially critical activities, and that they’re missing out on the timeless sense of meaningful doing that is the essence of stress-free productivity.

1. Capture what needs attention

  1. Get It All Out of Your Head
  2. Minimize the Number of Capture Locations
  3. Empty the Capture Tools Regularly

2. Clarify

!GTD Clarify Flow

Most important part

Teaching them the item-by-item thinking required to get their collection containers empty is perhaps the most critical improvement I have made for virtually all the people I’ve worked with. When the head of a major department in a global corporation had finished processing all her open items with me, she sat back in awe and told me that though she had been able to relax about what meetings to go to thanks to her trust in her calendar, she had never felt that same relief about all the many other aspects of her job, which we had just clarified together. The actions and information she needed to be reminded of were now identified and entrusted to a concrete system.

What do you need to ask yourself (and answer) about each e-mail, text, voice mail, memo, page of meeting notes, or self-generated idea that comes your way? This is the component of input management that forms the basis for your personal organization. Many people try to get organized but make the mistake of doing it with incomplete batches of stuff. You can’t organize what’s incoming—you can only capture it and process it. Instead, you organize the actions you’ll need to take based on the decisions you’ve made about what needs to be done. The whole deal—both the capturing and organizing phases—is represented in the center “trunk” of the decision-tree model shown here.

Next Action

What’s the Next Action? This is the critical question for anything you’ve captured; if you answer it appropriately, you’ll have the key substantive thing to organize. The “next action” is the next physical, visible activity that needs to be engaged in, in order to move the current reality of this thing toward completion. Some examples of next actions might be:

  • Call Fred re: name and number of the repair shop he mentioned.
  • Draft thoughts for the budget-meeting agenda.
  • Talk to Angela about the filing system we need to set up.
  • Research Internet for local watercolor classes.

These are all real physical activities that need to happen. Reminders of these will become the primary grist for the mill of your personal productivity-management system.

3. Organize

The outer ring of the workflow diagram shows the eight discrete categories of reminders and materials that will result from your processing all your stuff. Together they make up a total system for organizing just about everything that’s on your plate, or could be added to it, on a daily and weekly basis.

For nonactionable items, the possible categories are trash, incubation, and reference. If no action is needed on something, you toss it, “tickle” it for later reassessment, or file it so you can find the material if you need to refer to it at another time. To manage actionable things, you will need a list of projects, storage or files for project plans and materials, a calendar, a list of reminders of next actions, and a list of reminders of things you’re waiting for.


a project as any desired result that can be accomplished within a year that requires more than one action step. This means that some rather small things you might not normally call projects are going to be on your Projects list, as well as some big ones. The reasoning behind my definition is that if one step won’t complete something, some kind of goalpost needs to be set up to remind you that there’s something still left to do. If you don’t have a placeholder to remind you about it, it will slip back into your head. The reason for the one-year time frame is that anything you are committed to finish within that scope needs to be reviewed weekly to feel comfortable about its status. Another way to think of this is as a list of open loops, no matter what the size.

Calendar items

Three things go on your calendar: [and nothing else, esp not daily todo lists]

time-specific actions; day-specific actions; and day-specific information

Next Actions

If you have only twenty or thirty of these, it may be fine to keep them all on one list labeled “Next Actions,” which you’ll review whenever you have any free time. For most of us, however, the number is more likely to be fifty to 150. In that case it makes sense to subdivide your Next Actions list into categories, such as Calls to make when you have a window of time and your phone, or Computer action items to see as options when you’re at that device.

Someday / Maybe

Someday/Maybe It can be useful and inspiring to maintain an ongoing list of things you might want to do at some point but not now. This is the “parking lot” for projects that would be impossible to move on at present but that you don’t want to forget about entirely. You’d like to be reminded of the possibility at regular intervals.


Tickler System A second type of things to incubate are those you don’t want or need to be reminded of until some designated time in the future. A most elegant version of holding for review of this nature is the tickler file, sometimes also referred to as a “suspense,” “follow-on,” or “perpetual” file. This is a system that allows you to almost literally mail something to yourself, for receipt on some designated date in the future.

4. Reflect

  • Daily review
  • Weekly review <– critical

The Weekly Review is the time to:

  • Gather and process all your stuff.
  • Review your system.
  • Update your lists.
  • Get clean, clear, current, and complete.

5. Engage

Discusses various models for prioritising and engaging in the model or in the day.

  • The four-criteria model for choosing actions in the moment. In order:
    • Context
    • Time available
    • Energy available
    • Priority
  • The threefold model for evaluating daily work
    • Doing predefined work
    • Doing work as it shows up
    • Defining your work
  • The six-level model for reviewing your own work
    • Horizon 5: Life
    • Horizon 4: Long-term visions
    • Horizon 3: One-to two-year goals
    • Horizon 2: Areas of focus and accountability
    • Horizon 1: Current projects
    • Ground: Current actions

On doing work as it shows up …

You may be doing things on your action lists, doing things as they come up, or processing incoming inputs to determine what work needs to be done with them, then or later, from your lists.

This is common sense. But many people let themselves get sucked into the second activity—dealing with unplanned and unexpected things that show up—much too easily, and let the other two slide, to their detriment.

It is often easier to get wrapped up in the urgent demands of the moment than to deal with your in-tray, e-mail, and the rest of your open loops.

I’ve noticed that people are actually more comfortable dealing with surprises and crises than they are taking control of processing, organizing, reviewing, and assessing that part of their work that is not as self-evident. It’s easy to get seduced into “busy” and “urgent” mode, especially when you have a lot of unprocessed and relatively out-of-control work on your desk, in your e-mail, and on your mind.

Chapter 3: Getting Projects Creatively Under Way: The Five Phases of Project Planning

This can be used for projects big or small but most valuable for that 80%+ of projects that are not “big horsepower” efforts (for those you may have more formal methods).

  1. Defining purpose and principles
  2. Outcome visioning
  3. Brainstorming
  4. Organizing
  5. Identifying next actions

He then gives example of “Planning a Dinner Out”:

The last time you went out to dinner, what initially caused you to think about doing it? It could have been any number of things—the desire to satisfy hunger, socialize with friends, celebrate a special occasion, sign a business deal, or develop a romance. As soon as any of these turned into a real inclination that you wanted to move on, you started planning. Your intention was your purpose, and it automatically triggered your internal planning process. Your principles created the boundaries of your plan. You probably didn’t consciously think about your principles regarding going out to dinner, but you thought within them: standards of food and service, affordability, convenience, and comfort all may have played a part. In any case, your purpose and principles were the defining impetus and boundaries of your planning.

Once you decided to fulfill your purpose, what were your first substantive thoughts? Probably not “Point II.A.3.b. in plan.” Your first ideas were more likely things like “Italian food at Giovanni’s,” or “Sitting at a sidewalk table at the Bistro Café.” You probably also imagined some positive picture of what you might experience or how the evening would turn out—maybe the people involved, the atmosphere, and/or the outcome. That was your outcome visioning. Whereas your purpose was the why of your going out to dinner, your vision was an image of the what—of the physical world’s looking, sounding, and feeling the ways that best fulfilled your purpose.

Once you’d identified with your vision, what did your mind naturally begin doing? What did it start to think about? “What time should we go?” “Is it open tonight?” “Will it be crowded?” “What’s the weather like?” “Should we change clothes?” “Is there gas in the car?” “How hungry are we?” That was brainstorming. …

Once you had generated a sufficient number of ideas and details, you couldn’t help but start to organize them. You may have thought or said, “First we need to find out if the restaurant is open,” or “Let’s call the Andersons and see if they’d like to go out with us.” Once you’ve generated various thoughts relevant to the outcome, your mind will automatically begin to sort them by components (subprojects), priorities, and/or sequences of events.

Finally (assuming that you’re really committed to the project—in this case, going out to dinner), you focus on the next action that you need to take to make the first component actually happen. “Call Café Rouge to see if it’s open, and make the reservation.”

Part 2: Practising Stress-Free Productivity

This is a mix of getting set up and actually practising. I’ve

Chapter 4: Getting Started: Setting Up the Time, Space, and Tools

  • He recommends setting aside ~2d to get setup.
  • Set up the space: whether physical or digital
  • Build the default inbox and other containers e.g. trays on desk, or folder in an app
  • Create a reference filing system
    • Immediately to hand
    • A-Z by default

Chapter 5: Capturing: Corralling Your “Stuff”

On first run this will likely take 1-6h

As you engage in the capturing step, you may run into one or more of the following:

  • you’ve got a lot more than will fit into one in-tray; [=> just keep going and represent things with an item in the in-tray]
  • you’re likely to get derailed into purging and organizing; [don’t do it - just add to inbox]
  • you may have some form of stuff already collected and organized; and/or [put them in inbox like everything else]
  • you’re likely to run across some critical things that you want to keep in front of you. [does it have to be handled right now. Probably not => put in inbox]

What things to go through (this is my version as his is a bit out of date):

  • Email inboxes
  • Issue trackers
  • Desks and filing cabinets
  • Mental gathering: the mind sweep – suggest doing this on a separate piece of paper
  • Triggers list - he has a massive list to inspire some of headings of which are
    • Professional Projects started, not completed: “look into”, existing commitments, colleagues (boss, partners, subordinates), vendors, clients, tools etc
    • Personal Projects started, not completed: spiritual, partner, parents, family, friends, investments, sport, backups, filing, dwelling, stuff to look at etc

Chapter 6: Clarifying: Getting “In” to Empty

  • Process the top item first.
  • Process one item at a time.
  • Never put anything back into “in.”

Process it, don’t emergency scan …

Most people get to their in-tray or their e-mail and look for the most urgent, most fun, easiest, or most interesting stuff to deal with first. “Emergency scanning” is fine and necessary sometimes (I do it regularly, too). Maybe you’ve just come back from an off-site meeting and have to be on a long conference call in fifteen minutes. So you check to make sure there are no land mines about to explode and to see if your client has e-mailed back to you OK’ing the big proposal.

But that’s not processing your in-tray; it’s emergency scanning. When you’re in processing mode, you must get into the habit of starting at one end and just cranking through items one at a time, in order. As soon as you break that rule and process only what you feel like processing, in whatever order, you’ll invariably begin to leave things unprocessed. Then you will no longer have a functioning funnel, and it will back up all over your desk and office and e-mail “in” repositories.

The Key Processing Question: “What’s the Next Action?”

  • This is perhaps the most fundamental practice of this methodology.
  • The Action Step Needs to Be the Absolute Next Physical Thing to Do
  • There may be no next action => trash or incubating or file

Much of the time the action will not be self-evident; it will need to be determined.

On that first item, for example, do you need to call someone? Fill something out? Get information from the Web? Buy something at the store? Talk to your assistant? E-mail your boss? What? If there’s an action, its specific nature will determine the next set of options.

If there’s no next action you know what to do (look at the diagram) => trash, incubate, file …

This is perhaps the most fundamental practice of this methodology. If there’s something that needs to be done about the item in “in,” then you need to decide what, exactly, that next action is. “Next action,” again, means the next physical, visible activity that would be required to move the situation toward closure.

Example: the Garage and Taxes

Clean the garage

. . . Well, I just have to get in there and start. No, wait a minute, there’s a big refrigerator in there that I need to get rid of first. I should find out if John Patrick wants it for his camp. I should . . .

Call John re: refrigerator in garage.

Do my taxes

but I actually can’t start on them until I have my last investment income documents back. Can’t do anything until then. So I’m . . .

Waiting for documents from Acme Trust

Once you have the action => do it (2m rule), delegate it (waiting for), defer it (next actions list)

Anything not completed in one action is a project => add to projects list

If something is not completed in one action => it is a project => add to projects list as well having next action

File stuff (now)

Anything that is reference (i.e. not actionable and worth keeping) => file it …

Let me remind you here that a less-than- sixty-second, fun-to-use general-reference filing system within reach of where you sit is a mission-critical component of full implementation of this methodology. In the fast lane of real life, if it’s not easy, quick, and fun to file something away, you’ll stack or simply accumulate it in “in” instead of organizing. And then it will become much more difficult to keep things processed.

Chapter 7: Organizing: Setting Up the Right Buckets

Basic Categories

There are seven primary types of things that you’ll want to keep track of and manage from an organizational and operational perspective:

  • A Projects list
  • Project support material
  • Calendar actions and information
  • Next Actions lists
  • A Waiting For list
  • Reference material
  • A Someday/Maybe list

The Importance of Hard Edges

It’s critical that all of these categories be kept pristinely distinct from one another. They each represent a discrete type of agreement we make with ourselves, to be reminded of at a specific time and in a specific way, and if they lose their edges and begin to blend, much of the value of organizing will be lost.

The Actions That Go on Your Calendar

What many want to do, however, based on perhaps old habits of writing daily to-do lists, is put actions on the calendar that they think they’d really like to get done next Monday, say, but that actually might not, and that might then have to be moved to following days. Resist this impulse. You need to trust your calendar as sacred territory, reflecting the exact hard edges of your day’s commitments, which should be noticeable at a glance while you’re on the run. That’ll be much easier if the only things in there are those that you absolutely have to get done, or know about, on that day. When the calendar is relegated to its proper role in organizing, the majority of the actions that you need to do are left in the category of “as soon as possible, against all the other things I have to do.”

Organizing As-Soon-As-Possible Actions by Context

Over many years I have discovered that the best way to be reminded of an “as soon as I can” action is by the particular context required for that action—that is, either the tool or the location or the situation needed to complete it. For instance, if the action requires a computer, it should go on an At Computer list. If your action demands that you be out and moving around in the world (such as stopping by the bank or going to the hardware store), the Errands list would be the appropriate place to track it. If the next step is to talk about something face-to-face with your partner, Emily, putting it into an “Emily” folder or list makes the most sense.

You’ll probably find that at least a few of the following common list headings for next actions will make sense for you:

  • Calls
  • At Computer
  • Errands
  • At Office (miscellaneous)
  • At Home
  • Anywhere
  • Agendas (for people and meetings)
  • Read/Review

Agendas for meetings (get their own lists)

Invariably you’ll find that many of your next actions need to either occur in a real-time interaction with someone or be brought up in a committee, team, or staff meeting

These next actions should be put on separate Agenda lists for each of those people and for that meeting (assuming you attend it regularly).

Read/Review be strict on next vs someday

For many people, the Read/Review stack can get quite large. That’s why it’s critical that the pile be reserved only for those longer-than-two-minute things that you actually want to read when you have time. That can be daunting enough in itself, but things get seriously out of control and psychologically numbing when the edges of this category are not clearly defined. A pristine delineation will at least make you conscious of the inventory, and if you’re like most people, having some type of self-regulating mechanism will help you become more aware of what you want to keep and what you should just get rid of.

Managing E-mail-Based Workflow

Allows that you can have a second “next” actions and “waiting for” in your email if you spend a lot of time in email. But cautions that you must be very disciplined and then review both places.

Many people have found it helpful to set up two or three unique folders on their e-mail navigator bars. True, most folders in e-mail should be used for reference or archived materials, but it’s also possible to set up a workable system that will keep your actionable messages discretely organized outside the “in” area itself (which is where most people tend to keep them).

Email aka Inbox Zero

It takes much less energy to maintain e-mail backlog at zero than at a thousand.

Getting E-mail “In” to Empty The method detailed above will enable you to actually get everything out of your e-mail in-tray, which will be a huge boon to your clarity about, and control of, your day-to-day work. You’ll reclaim “in” as “in,” so anything residing there will be like a new message in your voice mail or an unread text on your mobile device—clues that you need to process something. Most people use their e-mail “in” for staging still-undecided actionable things, reference, and even trash, a practice that rapidly numbs the mind: they know they’ve got to reassess everything every time they glance at the screen.

Again, getting “in” empty doesn’t mean you’ve handled everything. It means that you’ve deleted what you could, filed what you wanted to keep but don’t need to act on, done the less-than-two-minute responses, and moved into your reminder folders all the things you’re waiting for and all your actionable e-mails. Now you can open the @ACTION file and review the e-mails that you’ve determined you need to spend time on. Isn’t that process easier to relate to than fumbling through multiple screens, fearing all the while that you may miss something that’ll blow up on you?

Projects List and Project Support Materials

Crucial part of this system:

A complete and current Projects list is the major operational tool for moving from tree-hugging to forest management.

Can Group Projects by Areas e.g. Professional, Personal

Many people feel more comfortable seeing their lists divided up between personal and professional projects. If you’re among them, be advised that your Personal list will need to be reviewed as judiciously as your Professional one, and not just saved for weekends.

Project List and Project Support Materials should be kept separate.

  • Keep them separate!
  • Don’t Use Support Material for Reminding
  • Don’t use support material for prioritising

The Projects list is not meant to hold plans or details about your projects themselves, nor should you try to keep it arranged by priority or size or urgency—it’s just a comprehensive index of your open loops. You actually won’t be working off of the Projects list during your moment-to-moment activities; for the most part, your calendar, action lists, and any unexpected tasks that come up will constitute your tactical and immediate focus. Remember, you can’t do a project; you can only do the action steps it requires. Being aware of the horizon represented by your projects, however, is critical for extending your comfort with your control and focus into longer reaches of time.

Project Support Materials

Project support materials are not project actions, and they’re not project reminders. They’re resources to support your actions and thinking about your projects.

To reiterate, you don’t want to use support materials as your primary reminders of what to do—that should be relegated to your action lists. If, however, the materials contain project plans and overviews in addition to ad hoc archival and reference information, you may want to keep them a little more visibly accessible than you do the pure reference materials in your filing cabinet or on your computer. These are fine to store support stuff, too, as long as you have the discipline to pull out the file drawer or open the computer to the proper directory and files and take a look at the plans every time you do your Weekly Review. If not, you’re better off storing those kinds of project support files (perhaps with printouts from computer files) in a standing file holder or a separate Pending stack tray on your desk or other visually available surface.

Organizing Ad Hoc Project Thinking

When you have ad-hoc ideas about a project put in project support material in e.g. NOTES doc.

you will often have ideas that you’ll want to keep about projects but that are not necessarily next actions. Those ideas fall into the broad category of “project support materials,” and may be anything from a notion about something you might want to do on your next vacation to a clarification of some major components in a project plan. These thoughts could come as you’re driving down the freeway listening to a news story on the radio, or reading a relevant article. What do you do with that kind of material?

This stuff arrives (esp in digital world) via lots of routes:

The inherent danger in the digital world is how much data can be spread into how many different places so easily, without coordinating links.

Make sure you consolidate it in one place …

The bad news about the good news of the huge assortment of options for digital project support is the ease with which we are seduced into spreading potentially meaningful information into such a multiplicity of locations and mechanisms that it can take us almost back to square one [so make sure you put in one place]

Setting up a Reference System

Your reference and filing system should be a simple library of data, easily retrievable—not your reminder for actions, projects, priorities, or prospects.

Basically recommend:

  • One big reference system
  • Contact management (if different)
  • Library (for books etc)

Someday Maybe

Activating and maintaining your Someday/Maybe category unleashes the flow of your creative thinking—you have permission to imagine cool things to do without having to commit to doing anything about them yet.

Kind of things that can inspire:

  • Things to get or build for your home
  • Hobbies to take up
  • Skills to learn
  • Creative expressions to explore
  • Clothes and accessories to buy
  • Toys (hi-tech and otherwise!) to acquire
  • Trips to take
  • Organizations to join
  • Service projects to contribute to
  • Things to see and do

Special categories you may want:

  • Food—recipes, menus, restaurants, wines
  • Children—things to do with them
  • Books to read
  • Music to download
  • Movies to see
  • Gift ideas
  • Web sites to explore
  • Weekend trips to take
  • Ideas—Misc. (meaning you don’t know where else to put them!)

Setting Up a Tickler File

For things to get reminded of you can use a calendar or create an explicit “tickler” file [Ed: Nowadays we can just reminders in calendar or digital tool with a convention of placing stuff on the 1st day of the month.]

If you are doing this in a physical system, you need forty-three folders—thirty-one labeled “1” through “31,” and twelve more labeled with the names of the months of the year. The daily files are kept in front, beginning with the file for tomorrow’s date (if today is October 5, then the first file would be “6”). The succeeding daily files represent the days of the rest of the month (“6” through “31”). Behind the “31” file is the monthly file for the next month (“November”), and behind that are the daily files “1” through “5.” Following that are the rest of the monthly files (“December” through “October”). The next daily file is emptied into your in-tray every day, and then the folder is refiled at the back of the dailies (at which point, instead of October 6, it represents November 6). In the same way, when the next monthly file reaches the front (on October 31 after you empty the daily file, the “November” file will be the next one, with the daily files “1” through “31” behind it), it’s emptied into the in-tray and refiled at the back of the monthlies to represent November a year from now. This is a perpetual file, meaning that at any given time it contains files for the next thirty-one days and the next twelve months.

[Ed: aside this is the origin of 43folders]

Chapter 8: Reflecting: Keeping It All Fresh and Functional

The Weekly Review

The weekly review is essential

The many years I’ve spent researching and implementing this methodology with countless people have proved to me that the magic key to the sustainability of the process is the Weekly Review.


  1. Get Clear
    1. Collect Loose Papers and Materials
    2. Get “In” to Empty
    3. Empty Your Head
  2. Get Current
    1. Review “Next Actions” Lists
    2. Review Previous Calendar Data
    3. Review Upcoming Calendar
  3. Get Creative

Very simply, the Weekly Review is whatever you need to do to get your head empty again and get oriented for the next couple of weeks. It’s going through the steps of workflow management—capturing, clarifying, organizing, and reviewing all your outstanding commitments, intentions, and inclinations—until you can honestly say, “I absolutely know right now everything I’m not doing but could be doing if I decided to.”

From a practical standpoint, here is the three-part drill that can get you there: get clear, get current, and get creative. Getting clear will ensure that all your collected stuff is processed. Getting current will ensure that all your orienting “maps” or lists are reviewed and up-to-date. The creative part happens to some degree automatically, as you get clear and current—you will naturally be generating ideas and perspectives that will be adding value to your thinking about work and life.

Get Clear

This is the initial stage of gathering up all the loose ends that have been generated in the course of your busy week. Notes taken in meetings, receipts and business cards you’ve collected, notices from your kids’ schools, and all the miscellaneous inputs that, in spite of yourself, have accumulated in all the weird little pockets and places in your purse, briefcase, smartphone texts, jacket, and on your dressing-room counter, in addition to what’s shown up in your standard input channels like your e-mail in-tray and social media.

Collect Loose Papers and Materials Pull out all miscellaneous pieces of paper, business cards, receipts, and so on that have crept into the crevices of your desk, clothing, and accessories. Put it all in your in-tray for processing.

Get “In” to Empty Review any meeting notes and miscellaneous scribbles on notepaper or in your mobile devices. Decide and list any action items, projects, waiting-fors, calendar events, and someday/maybes, as appropriate. File any reference notes and materials. Get the “in” areas of e-mails, texts, and voice mails to zero. Be ruthless with yourself, processing all notes and thoughts relative to interactions, projects, new initiatives, and input that have come your way since your last download, and purging those not needed.

Empty Your Head Put into writing or text (in appropriate categories) any new projects, action items, waiting-fors, someday/maybes, and so forth that you haven’t yet captured and clarified.

Get Current

You need to “pull up the rear guard” now and eliminate outdated reminders in your system and get your active lists up-to-date and complete. Here are the steps:

Review “Next Actions” Lists Mark off completed actions. Review for reminders of further action steps to record. Many times I’ve been moving so fast I haven’t had a chance to mark off many completed items on my list, much less figure out what to do next. This is the time to do that.

Review Previous Calendar Data Review the past two to three weeks of calendar entries in detail for remaining or emergent action items, reference information, and so on, and transfer that data into the active system. Grab every “Oh! That reminds me . . . !” with its associated actions. You will likely notice meetings and events that you attended, which trigger thoughts of what to do next about the content. Be able to archive your past calendar with nothing left uncaptured.

Review Upcoming Calendar Look at further calendar entries (long-and short-term). Capture actions about projects and preparations required for upcoming events. Your calendar is one of the best checklists to review regularly, to prevent last-minute stress and trigger creative front-end thinking. Upcoming travel, conferences, meetings, holidays, etc. should be assessed for projects to add to your “Projects” and “Next Actions” lists for any of those situations that are already on your radar but not yet on cruise control.

Review “Waiting For” List Any needed follow-up? Need to send an e-mail to get a status on it? Need to add an item to someone’s Agenda list to update when you’ll talk with him or her? Record any next actions. Check off any already received.

Review “Projects” (and “Larger Outcome”) Lists Evaluate the status of projects, goals, and outcomes, one by one, ensuring that at least one current kick-start action for each is in your system. Browse through any active and relevant project plans, support materials, and any other work-in-progress material to trigger new actions, completions, waiting-fors, etc.

Review Any Relevant Checklists Is there anything else that you haven’t done, that you need or want to do, given your various engagements, interests, and responsibilities?

Get Creative

This methodology is not simply about cleaning up and getting closure. Those are critical factors, to be sure, to utilize for clarity and focus. Ultimately, though, the prime driver for my own exploration in this field has been creating the space to catalyze and access new, creative, and valuable thinking and direction. To a great extent, that’s actually not something you need to exert a lot of energy to achieve, if you have gotten this far in implementing this methodology. We are naturally creative beings, invested in our existence to live, grow, express, and expand. The challenge is not to be creative—it’s to eliminate the barriers to the natural flow of our creative energies. Practically speaking, it’s about getting your act together, letting spontaneous ideas emerge, capturing them, and utilizing their value. If you, in the process of reading and applying any of these techniques, have had any kind of “Aha! That reminds me . . .” or “Hmmm, I think I might want to . . . ,” because you externalized your thinking and reflected on it, then you’re already demonstrating the naturalness of this process.

As I said, there may not be anything you need to focus on at this point, since probably most of your creative thinking will have already shown up and been integrated in this process. However, there are a couple of additional triggers that you might find valuable to finish off this process.

Review “Someday/Maybe” List Check for any projects that may have become more interesting or valuable to activate, and transfer them to Projects. Delete any that have simply stayed around much longer than they should, as the world and your interest have changed enough to take them off even this informal radar. Add any emerging possibilities that you’ve just started thinking about.

Be Creative and Courageous Are there any new, wonderful, harebrained, creative, thought-provoking, risk-taking ideas you can capture and add into your system, or “external brain”?

This review process is common sense, but few of us do it as well or consistently as we could, which means as regularly as we should to keep a clear mind and a sense of relaxed control. Granted, its scope is daunting, especially if you haven’t yet structured and populated your personal system to have reasonably current and complete data. And even if you have a decent center of control, given the pressures and demands of your day-to-day world, seldom is it obvious or easy to make this kind of reflection and recalibration event happen.

Chapter 9: Engaging: Making the Best Action Choices

The Four-Criteria Model for Choosing Actions in the Moment

  • Context
  • Time available
  • Energy available
  • Priority

The Threefold Model for Evaluating Daily Work

  • Doing predefined work
  • Doing work as it shows up
  • Defining your work

Chapter 10: Getting Projects Under Control

How Do I Apply All This in My World?

Just as your Next Actions lists need to be up-to-date, so, too, does your Projects list. That done, give yourself a block of time, ideally between one and three hours, to handle as much of the vertical thinking about each project as you can.

Part 3: The Power of the Key Principles

The Power of the Capturing Habit


[Ed: this is basically Integrity and that integrity can only be based on knowing what your agreements are]

The sense of anxiety and guilt doesn’t come from having too much to do; it’s the automatic result of breaking agreements with yourself.

If the negative feelings come from broken agreements, you have three options for dealing with them and eliminating the negative consequences:

Don’t make the agreement. Complete the agreement. Renegotiate the agreement.

All of these can work to get rid of the unpleasant feelings.

Intro section

THERE’S MUCH MORE to these simple techniques and models than may appear at first glance. Indeed, they offer a systematic method to keep your mind distraction-free, ensuring a high level of efficiency and effectiveness in your work. That in itself would be sufficient reason to implement these practices.

But there are even greater implications for the fundamental principles at work here. What follows in the next three chapters is an accounting of my experience, over the past thirty years, of the subtler and often more profound effects that can transpire from the implementation of these basic principles. The longer-term results can have a significant impact on you as an individual, and they can positively affect larger organizational cultures as well.

When people with whom you interact notice that without fail you receive, process, and organize in an airtight manner the exchanges and agreements they have with you, they begin to trust you in a unique way. More significantly, you incorporate a level of self-confidence in your engagement with your world that money cannot buy. Such is the power of capturing placeholders for anything that is incomplete or unprocessed in your life. It noticeably enhances your mental well-being and improves the quality of your communications and relationships, both personally and professionally.

And when organizations expect and reinforce this best practice of allowing nothing to fall through a communication crack, with everyone accountable for resulting actions, and commitments clarified and tracked by the appropriate persons, it can significantly increase a culture’s productivity and reduce its stress.

Integrity in an org is a beautiful thing

What happens when everyone involved on a team—in a marriage, in a department, on a staff, in a family, in a company—can be trusted not to let anything slip through the cracks? Frankly, once you’ve achieved that, you’ll hardly think about whether people are dropping the ball anymore—there will be much bigger and better things to occupy your attention. Having to bail water in a leaky boat undermines your ability to direct it and move it forward.

But if communication gaps are still an issue, there’s likely some layer of frustration and a general nervousness in the relationship or the culture. Most people feel that without constant babysitting and hand-holding, things could disappear in the system and then blow up at any time. They don’t realize that they’re feeling this because they’ve been in this situation so consistently that they relate to it as if it were a permanent law, like gravity. It doesn’t have to be that way.

I have noticed this for years. Good people who haven’t incorporated these behaviors come into my environment, and they stick out like a sore thumb. I’ve lived with the standards of a clear head and hard, clean edges on in-trays for more than three decades now. When a note sits idle in someone’s in-tray unprocessed, or when he or she nods, “Yes, I will,” in a conversation but doesn’t otherwise capture that in some way, my “uh-oh” bell rings. This is unacceptable behavior in my world. There are much bigger fish to fry than worrying about leaks in the system.

I need to trust that any request or relevant information I put in an e-mail, on a voice mail, in a conversation, or in a written note will get into the other person’s system and that it will be processed and organized soon, and available for his or her review as an option for action. If the recipient is managing voice mails but not e-mail and paper, I have now been hamstrung to use only his or her trusted medium. That should be unacceptable behavior in any organization that cares about whether things happen with the least amount of effort.

When change is required, there must be trust that the initiatives for that change will be dealt with appropriately. Any intact system will ultimately be only as good as its weakest link, and often that Achilles’ heel is a key person’s dulled responsiveness to communications in the system.

I especially notice this when I walk around organizations where in-trays are either nonexistent or overflowing and obviously long unprocessed. These cultures usually suffer from serious “interrupt-itis” because they can’t trust putting communications into the system. I come across executives whose calendars are insanely overbooked but who, when they begin to give timely responses to their e-mails, experience a dramatic relief from that pressure. When their staff and others are getting what they need in terms of appropriate feedback and decisions through that virtual medium, they no longer need the kind of face-to-face time they previously tried to get with meetings.

Where cultures do have solid systems, down through the low-tech level of paper communications, the clarity is palpable. It’s hardly even a conscious concern, and everyone’s attention is more focused. The same is true in families that have installed in-trays—the parents, the children, the nanny, the housekeeper, or anyone else with whom family members frequently interact. People often grimace when I tell them that my wife and I put things in each other’s in-trays, even when we’re sitting within a few feet of each other; to them it seems cold and mechanical. Aside from being an act of politeness intended to avoid interrupting the other’s work in progress, the practice actually fosters more warmth and freedom between us, because mechanical things are being handled in the system instead of tying up our attention on the relationship.

[Ed: I would note this is less about systems but rather the commitment and discipline to use those systems and to support each other in doing that]

Chapter 12: The Power of the Next Decision

The Value of a Next-Action Decision-Making Standard

I have had several sophisticated senior executives tell me that installing “What’s the next action?” as an operational standard in their organization was transformative in terms of measurable performance output. It changed their culture permanently and significantly for the better.

Why? Because the question forces clarity, accountability, productivity, and empowerment.

I am frequently asked to facilitate meetings. I’ve learned the hard way that no matter where we are in the conversation, twenty minutes before the agreed end time of the discussion I must force the question: “So what’s the next action here?” In my experience, there is usually twenty minutes’ worth of clarifying (and sometimes tough decisions) still required to come up with an answer.

Chapter 15: The Path to GTD Mastery

GTD is the art of dealing with the stream of life’s work and engagements, which itself is constantly evolving for all of us, at any age or station. It’s about identifying and navigating your commitments and interests from a state of confidence and flow. Your work and focus will change, often dramatically, over time. But engaging with all of it masterfully is a defined practice that can be learned and refined over a lifetime.

Mastery does not refer to some final end state of a Zen-like peacefulness and enlightenment on a mountaintop (though that could be an optional nice expression of it). Rather, it’s the demonstrated ability to consistently engage in productive behaviors as a means to achieve clarity, stability, and focus when it’s desired or required—no matter what the challenge.

The Three Tiers of Mastery

Over the many years of engaging with people who have adopted the GTD methodology, I have noticed generally three stages of maturity they have demonstrated in using the model:

  1. Employing the fundamentals of managing workflow;
  2. Implementing a more elevated and integrated total life management system; and
  3. Leveraging skills to create clear space and get things done for an ever-expansive expression and manifestation.

A good analogy here is the experience of learning to drive a car. The first stage is getting the basics under control, so that you can handle the machine without hurting yourself or anyone else. The moves feel awkward and often counterintuitive. But once you’re good enough to get your license, your world changes dramatically for the better, because now you can go places and do things that you couldn’t previously. Then there comes a time when you are able to drive down a road without actually thinking about the act of driving—it’s become an almost automatic part of your life. And finally, you decide to graduate to a really high-performance vehicle, in which the prime challenge and opportunity is how well you can focus ahead, making yourself essentially one with your vehicle, experiencing elevated levels of satisfaction and fulfillment with driving.

Mastering the Basics

Other basic practices, which, even if implemented initially, easily regress into incomplete, out-of-date, and therefore dysfunctional usage, include:

  • Avoiding next-action decision making on “stuff to do”
  • Fully utilizing the “Waiting For” category, such that every expected deliverable from others is inventoried and reviewed for follow-up in adequate timing
  • Using Agenda lists to capture and manage communications with others
  • Keeping a simple, easily accessible filing and reference system
  • Keeping the calendar as pure “hard landscape” without undermining its trustworthiness with extraneous inputs
  • Doing Weekly Reviews to keep one’s system functional and current

Graduate Level—Integrated Life Management

The hallmarks of this next level of maturity with Getting Things Done are:

  • a complete, current, and clear inventory of projects;
  • a working map of one’s roles, accountabilities, and interests—personally and professionally;
  • an integrated total life management system, custom tailored to one’s current needs and direction and utilized to dynamically steer out beyond the day-to-day; and
  • challenges and surprises trigger your utilization of this methodology instead of throwing you out of it.

Why GTD - What are the Benefits esp for Organisations

Integrity, Clarify and Freedom - Chapter 11

Next Step Decision Making - Chapter 12

I have had several sophisticated senior executives tell me that installing “What’s the next action?” as an operational standard in their organization was transformative in terms of measurable performance output. It changed their culture permanently and significantly for the better.

Why? Because the question forces clarity, accountability, productivity, and empowerment.

Chapter 13

What’s unique about the practical focus of GTD is the combination of effectiveness and efficiency that these methods can bring to every level of your reality. There are lots of inspirational sources for the high-level “purpose, values, vision” kind of thinking, and many more mundane tools for getting hold of smaller details such as phone numbers and appointments and grocery lists. The world has been rather barren, however, of practices that relate equally to both levels and tie them together.

“What does this mean to me?” “What do I want to be true about it?” “What’s the next step required to make that happen?” These are the cornerstone questions we must answer, at some point, about everything. This thinking, and the tools that support it, will serve you in ways you may not yet imagine.


My intent is not to add more to the plethora of modern theories and models about how to be successful. I have tried, on the contrary, to define the core methods that don’t change with particular fashions, and that, when applied, always work. As with gravity, when you understand the basic principle, you can operate a lot more effectively, no matter what you’re doing. Perhaps this is the leading edge of back to basics!

Here are some final tips for moving forward:

  • Get your personal physical organization hardware set up.
  • Get your workstation organized.
  • Get in-trays.
  • Create a workable and easily accessed personal reference system—for work and home.
  • Get a good list-management organizer that you are inspired to play with.
  • Give yourself permission to make any changes that you have been contemplating for enhancing your work environments. Hang pictures, buy pens, toss stuff, and rearrange your workspace. Support your fresh start.
  • Set aside time when you can tackle one whole area of your office, and then each part of your house. Gather everything into your system, and work through the Getting Things Done process.
  • Share anything of value you’ve gleaned from this with someone else. (It’s the fastest way to learn.)
  • Review Getting Things Done again in three to six months. You’ll notice things you might have missed the first time through, and I guarantee it will seem like a whole new book.
  • Stay in touch with people who are broadcasting and reflecting these behaviors and standards.


I’ve fully excerpted this because terms are key …

actionable—Describes something on which one intends to take action

action support—A category of physical or digital materials that relate to next actions. To be used as reference when taking those actions rather than as reminders for action.

appropriate engagement—The state of being sufficiently OK with something’s status to eliminate its pull on one’s attention

backlog—The inventory of still-unprocessed stuff that has accumulated in one’s mind and physical environment

capture—To gather (and at times generate) items and ideas identified as potentially meaningful, about which one has any attention or interest in possibly deciding or doing something. See also collect.

categories—Groupings of similar content items, usually on a list, in a folder or file, or in a discrete physical location

checklist—Any list used to remind one of or to evaluate optional steps, procedures to follow, and/or ingredients of an activity (e.g., Travel Checklist; Computer Backup Process; Ready-for-School Tasks for kids)

clarify—To determine exactly the meaning of something that has emerged or landed in one’s environment from the capture phase (e.g., “Is there something I now need to do about this, and if so, what? Or is it reference? Or is it trash? Or is it on hold for later review?”). See also process.

collect—To group together items and ideas about which some assessment, decision, or action is required. See also capture.

context—The physical or psychological environment within which reminders and information are most effectively sorted for access (e.g., when one is at home, in a staff meeting, out for errands, at the computer, feeling creative, near a phone, having a conversation with a partner, etc.)

control—One of the two key elements of self-and organizational management (along with perspective). Used to refer to having something stable and “under control,” rather than attempted manipulation (e.g., having a car, a meeting, or the kitchen under control).

Getting Things Done—Usually referring to the methodology described in this book, as in, “Maria was just a beginner at implementing Getting Things Done”

GTD—The acronym for Getting Things Done; the shorthand for referring to this methodology

Horizons of Focus—The discrete levels of commitments we make and thoughts we have, personally and/or organizationally

Ground: Next actions—The things we deal with at the physical, visible level of activity, such as e-mails, phone calls, conversations, errands, and meetings

Horizon 1: Projects—Anything we’re committed to finish within the next year that requires more than one discrete action step. Includes short-term outcomes such as “Repair brake light” and larger-scope projects such as “Reorganize Western Region.” The critical inventory of the Weekly Review. See also project.

Horizon 2: Areas of focus and accountability—The segments of our life and work that we need to maintain, to ensure stability and health of ourselves and our enterprises (e.g., health, finances, customer service, strategic planning, family, career)

Horizon 3: Goals and objectives—The mid-to longer-term outcomes to accomplish (usually within three to twenty-four months); e.g., “Finalize acquisition of Acme Consulting,” “Establish profitable online version of our leadership training course,” “Get Maria’s college plans finalized”

Horizon 4: Vision—Long-term desired outcomes; ideal scenarios of wild success (e.g., “Publish my memoir,” “Take the company public,” “Have a vacation home in Provence”)

Horizon 5: Purpose, principles—Ultimate intention, raison d’être, and core values of a person or enterprise (e.g., “To serve the growth of our community in ways that sustainably provide the greatest good for the greatest number of our citizens”)

horizontal thinking—Assessing and managing content across a particular equal level (e.g., overviewing all the projects one has, personally and professionally)

incubate—To allow something to remain within a system without a commitment to take action yet, but to be reassessed at a later time. Reminders are usually held within Someday/Maybe lists, tickler files, or triggered-for-later calendar items.

integrated life-management system—The combination of tools, structures, content, and practices used to maintain appropriate engagement with one’s world. A workflow, organization, and review process that incorporates every aspect of one’s work and life, ensuring a seamless and current inventory of commitments, reminders, and information for optimal control and focus anywhere, at any time.

in-tray—A holding bin, either physical or digital, for incoming items still to be processed

map—Any tool for orienting appropriate focus and direction (e.g., a calendar, lists of actions and projects, agendas for meetings, strategic plans, job descriptions, travel checklist, Weekly Review checklist). See also review.

natural planning model—The instinctual five-stage thought process our minds follow when executing any desired outcome

next action—The next physical, visible activity that progresses something toward completion. It is specific enough so that you know where it happens, and with what tools (if any). What “doing” looks like.

open loop—Anything considered unfinished, which, if inappropriately managed, consistently engages one’s mind inefficiently

organize—To physically, visually, or digitally sort items of similar meaning into discrete categories and locations (e.g., a list of phone calls to make, a shelf for books to read, a list of projects to complete)

organized—Where something is matches what it means to you

orientation maps—Custom lists or reference documents that support appropriate engagement with one’s circumstances (e.g., meeting agendas, calendars, checklists, action and project lists)

outcome—A final result, at any level. Usually refers to “desired outcome”—i.e. the specifics of a successful conclusion.

path of GTD mastery—The lifelong learning, refining, and adaptation of managing one’s life and work. The development and utilization of a completely integrated life-management system, dynamically steered, providing optimal orientation for any circumstance for the rest of one’s life.

perspective—One of the two key elements of self-and organizational management (along with control). Refers to point of view, focus, altitude of horizon.

predefined work—One’s predetermined actions and projects, reflected in a set of lists and reminders, accessible for review and evaluation against unplanned and unexpected options

process—To decide what, exactly, a captured or collected item means, the nature of any of its derivatives, and what you intend to do with the results. See also clarify.

productive experience—The condition of being in control, relaxed, focused, meaningfully engaged, and fully present. Optimal state for performance and experience.

productivity ecosystem—All potentially meaningful information, relationships, and inputs that may trigger one’s attention and direction of focus

project—Any multistep outcome that can be completed within one year. Any commitment within that time frame needs to be reviewed at least weekly. See also Horizons of Focus: Horizon 1.

project support—Any collateral materials and information connected to a specific project. Can include project plans and any potentially relevant reference content. Best organized by project, theme, or topic.

reflect—To assess contents of any horizon or category of items from a broader perspective. See also review.

review—To analyze appropriate maps on a consistent basis or as needed for clarity and focus. See also reflect; map.

someday/maybe—A common category used to organize projects and actions one is committed to review only for potential action at a later date

stuff—Anything that has appeared in one’s physical or psychological environment about which some decision or action is required but which is yet undetermined or unorganized

threefold nature of work—The categories of what we do as we go through our day: (1) work we’ve previously defined (actions predetermined); (2) unplanned activity; and (3) defining our work (processing inputs)

tickler file—A physical or digital organizational tool that provides a date-related reminder to be assessed only at or beyond a specific future date (also referred to as a “perpetual file,” “bring-forward file,” “follow-up file,” or “suspense file”)

total life ecosystem—The contents within the boundary of one’s sensing self. The world as one perceives it, one’s situational awareness and correlative behavior that may be more or less effective on the scale from physical survival to full spiritual presence.

vertical thinking—Examining and creating multiple levels of content within a particular sphere (e.g., planning a project from intended purpose through next actions)

waiting for—Category of expected items pending receipt from other sources

Weekly Review—The best practice recommended of regrouping at an operational level once a week, “bringing up the rear guard,” by getting clean, clear, current, and creative to sustain week-to-week control and focus

weird time—The random and usually small open-time windows that show up spontaneously throughout the day, during which one can often still be productive by utilizing reminders and material appropriate within that framework

work—Anything one is committed to accomplish that is unfinished

workflow—The sequence of activities that takes inputs and commitments from initiation to completion


Knowing and Doing are Two Different Things - Plus Culture is Hard

I am often asked, “How can this methodology improve an organization?” In fact, all the principles I’ve put forward are as applicable to an enterprise as they are to an individual. Capturing what has a group’s attention, getting clarity about the inherent outcomes desired and actions required, regularly reviewing status and incorporating new realities, and consistently recalibrating and reallocating resources—all are core best practices for any team or company. But just like you can’t teach an organization to read, you can’t expect to “improve an organization,” per se, with Getting Things Done. To function at all in a knowledge economy, most organizations need people who read; the culture can provide training and support to ensure that occurs. They will also need people who have mastered the art of effectively getting things done, to operate at the new levels being demanded in this century. When that is manifest in a company through its expectations, training, and modeling, from the top down, the results in organizational output can be profound.

The Path of Mastery

GTD is the art of dealing with the stream of life’s work and engagements, which itself is constantly evolving for all of us, at any age or station. It’s about identifying and navigating your commitments and interests from a state of confidence and flow. Your work and focus will change, often dramatically, over time. But engaging with all of it masterfully is a defined practice that can be learned and refined over a lifetime.

Mastery does not refer to some final end state of a Zen-like peacefulness and enlightenment on a mountaintop (though that could be an optional nice expression of it). Rather, it’s the demonstrated ability to consistently engage in productive behaviors as a means to achieve clarity, stability, and focus when it’s desired or required—no matter what the challenge.


  • Francis Heylighen and Clément Vidal, “Getting Things Done: The Science Behind Stress-Free Productivity,” Long Range Planning 41, no. 6 (2008): 585–605.


  • What are the five steps in the main GTD workflow [Capture, Clarify, Organize, Reflect, Engage]
  • What are the 3 principles for capturing info [Get it out of your head, Minimize number of capture locations, Empty capture tools regularly]
  • What is the clarification flow (draw a diagram)