The Ultimate Guide to “Getting Things Done”

For those of you who haven’t read the book, “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” or GTD by international best-selling author David Allen, you should try to grab a copy fast and read it. In the meantime, this post is a brief summary and review of the book. But don’t worry. This article is not a spoiler. I’ll only be giving you a taste of what the book has to say.

Minimum Essentials

Of all the things that David Allen talks about in this book, his main point is for you to learn a new way. It’s called the ‘de-stressing yourself of “stuff” so that you’ll focus more on important things’ way. (Okay I made that phrase up). But that’s basically what he’s encouraging us to do.

What does he mean by “stuff”? Good question. Let’s ask David Allen to explain it himself. On page 17 of the book he states:

‘Here’s how I define “stuff:” anything you have allowed into your psychological or physical world that doesn’t belong where it is, but for which you haven’t yet determined the desired outcome and the next action step.’

Still lost? It’s like this. Stuff is scattered in your brain and it’s giving you anxiety and stress: the grass in the backyard need to be mowed, broken plumbing, pay bills, enrol your son in school, the upcoming alumni homecoming, weekly dates with your spouse, time with your children, the boxing tournament on TV, and the like, are all in your head. All this “stuff” competes for attention in your poor and worn-out brain. Because “stuff” has no place to stay, it just keeps spinning around endlessly. Soon enough, other areas of your life will be affected – unless you do something.

Now here comes the good part.

How to Get Things Done

Once you’ve identified the Stuff in your life, follow the steps below:

1. Set Up the Time, Space, and Tools
Basically, you need to arrange all of the physical things around you (things in your room or office cubicle) and use everything that you can to transfer all the Stuff from your head to things that you can see and feel: anything from sticky notes and paper clips, to your own PDA can be used (and Clutterpad).

2. Collection: Corralling Your “Stuff”
Take all your stuff and place it all in your “in” basket. Don’t leave anything out. If you want this to work, don’t try to do anything unless you’ve taken all of the stuff out of your head and gathered it in your baskets.

3. Processing: Getting “In” to Empty
After you’ve placed your stuff in the basket, you have to ask yourself, “What do I need to do about this?” You should ask this question so that you can empty the basket you just filled with stuff. You have to be able to empty the basket and transfer everything in it so that you can try to do something (—or nothing) about the stuff. You do this by taking the next course of action for each of the stuff. After the first question ask, “What should I do next?” and then act accordingly.

4. Organizing: Setting Up the Right Buckets
Allen provides 7 basic categories of things you have processed and will want to keep track of:

1. A “Projects” list.
2. Project support material.
3. Calendared actions and information
4. “Next actions” list and could be categorized by type of action: “Calls”, “Email”, “Errands”, “At Home”, “At Work”, “Agenda”, or “Read and Review”.
5. The “Waiting For” list
6. Reference materials.
7. “Someday / Maybe” list for ideas or things that are not ready for action.

5. Reviewing: Keeping Your System Functional
Trust the system. And one way of trusting the system is to regularly review the things that you’ve already done and check if there are new things to place in your “in” basket. Depending on the job / business that you have, choose a specific day and a specific time to block off, then you can review everything you have at this particular time. It’s not a one-time thing. So be patient and consistent.

6. Doing: Making the Best Action Choices
In this section, Allen gives three models for deciding what to do at a point in time, and a Four-Criteria Model for Choosing Actions in the Moment: in terms of context, time available, energy available, and priority to make decisions. These models will not work unless you actually do what you’ve set up above. So, it really boils down to your decision to act.

7. Getting Projects Under Control
Allen suggests to prioritize as first, projects that may need more planning, and to place in second those projects for which ideas just show up. Allen says that the moment you start to write down ideas, your brain creates a constructive thinking process unlike any other. So always have your pen and paper handy.


The book shows you how to identify the stuff in your life and make it all tangible through writing, organizing, reviewing, and acting. Some things are really important stuff, while others can be discarded easily. Because his idea may seem strange to most of us, it might take some time to take in. But if you just try, you’ll reap in good results. If one person has done it and succeeded, you can too.

The models and diagrams presented in the book may be overwhelming at times but, if examined closely, they actually reinforce the main idea of the book.

Overall the book delivered what was expected of it. The message gives a powerful insight on managing the many things that cause stress in your life. Once this stuff is managed, you’ll go forward in making bigger leaps to improve the kind of life that you now have.



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Your Thoughts

What do you think? Have you read the book? Which ideas in the book made sense to you? Do you have any suggestions on how to get things done? Share some of your experiences in getting things done in your own business/job. Do you have any more resources that we’ve missed out? Let us know so we can add it in. And keep checking back. I’d love to keep updating this page with more resources.

Let us all know in the comments!

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About the Author

MKMohammed is a project manager and business consultant. He's an avid reader and loves to write.View all posts by MK →

  1. Stephen NellasStephen Nellas05-18-2010

    This post is awesome. I’d like to share an anecdote of the great Albert Einstein. I don’t know if I got all the details, but it went like this:

    One day, while Albert E. was relaxing in his chair, a student came to him and asked him, “Professor, have you memorized the table of elements?” the student asked, eyes wide anticipation for the answer.
    “No,” replied Albert E.
    “No? But you’re Professor Einstein, THE Professor Einstein. How could you not memorize the table of elements?”
    “My dear boy, I don’t need to memorize the table of elements. All I have to do is get my copy and look at it when i need to.”
    The boy went away more amazed of Albert E. than ever before.

    No wonder he’s a genius!

  2. artwrter2010artwrter201006-02-2010

    Wow. Nice review. I’m planning to get a hold of the book asap!

  3. radicalwill2010radicalwill201006-02-2010

    Thanks for the post! I need this one.