Getting Things Done
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Getting Things Done (GTD) is a personal productivity system developed by David Allen and published in a book of the same name. Described as a time management system, the author states in the book that if a task is on one's mind, it will fill one's mind completely, which guarantees that one will be incapable of handling yet another task; therefore one will fail to complete any of them.:22
Published in English
|ISBN||978-0-14-312656-0 (2015 Reprint Edition)|
The GTD method rests on the idea of moving all items of interest, relevant information, issues, tasks and projects out of one's mind by recording them externally and then breaking them into actionable work items with known time limits. This allows one's attention to focus on taking action on each task listed in an external record, instead of recalling them intuitively.
First published in 2001, a revised edition of the book was released in 2015 to reflect the changes in information technology during the preceding decade.
Allen first demonstrates stress reduction from the method with the following exercise, centered on a task that has an unclear outcome or whose next action is not defined. Allen calls these sources of stress "open loops", "incompletes", or "stuff".:13
- The most annoying, distracting, or interesting task is chosen, and defined as an "incomplete".
- A description of the successful outcome of the "incomplete" is written down in one sentence, along with the criteria by which the task will be considered completed.
- The next step required to approach completion of the task is written down.
- A self-assessment is made of the emotions experienced after completing the steps of this process.
He claims stress can be reduced and productivity increased by putting reminders about everything one is not working on into a trusted system external to one's mind. In this way, one can work on the task at hand without distraction from the "incompletes".:14 The system in GTD requires one to have the following tools within easy reach:
- An inbox
- A trash can
- A filing system for reference material
- Several lists (detailed below)
- A calendar.
These tools can be physical or electronic as appropriate (e.g., a physical "in" tray or an email inbox).:88 Then, as "stuff" enters one's life, it is captured in these tools and processed with the following workflow.:27
The GTD workflow consists of five stages: capture, clarify, organize, reflect, and engage. (The first edition used the names collect, process, organize, plan, and do; the descriptions of the stages are similar in both editions). Once all the material ("stuff") is captured (or collected) in the inbox,:106 each item is clarified:122 and organized:141 by asking and answering questions about each item in turn as shown in the black boxes in the logic tree diagram. As a result, items end up in one of the eight oval end points in the diagram:
- in the trash
- on the someday/maybe list
- in a neat reference filing system
- on a list of tasks, with the outcome and next action defined if the "incomplete" is a "project" (i.e., if it will require two or more steps to complete it)
- immediately completed and checked off if it can be completed in under two minutes
- delegated to someone else and, if one wants a reminder to follow up, added to a "waiting for" list
- on a context-based "next action" list if there is only one step to complete it
- on one's calendar:27
Empty one's inbox or inboxes daily or at least weekly ("in" to empty).:122 Don't use one's inbox as a "to do" list. Don't put clarified items back into the inbox.:27 Emptying one's inbox doesn't mean finishing everything. It just means applying the "capture, clarify, organize" steps to all one's "stuff".:27
Next, reflection (termed planning in the first edition) occurs. Multi-step projects identified above are assigned a desired outcome and a single "next action".:191 Finally, a task from one's task list is worked on ("engage" in the 2nd edition, "do" in the 1st edition) unless the calendar dictates otherwise. One selects which task to work on next by considering where one is (i.e., the "context", such as at home, at work, out shopping, by the phone, at one's computer, with a particular person), time available, energy available, and priority.:204
Because hardware and software is changing so rapidly, GTD is deliberately technologically-neutral. (In fact, Allen advises people to start with a paper-based system.) Many task management tools claim to implement GTD methodology and Allen maintains a list of some technology that has been adopted in or designed for GTD. Some are designated "GTD Enabled", meaning Allen was involved in the design.
Allen emphasizes two key elements of GTD — control and perspective. The workflow is the center of the control aspect. The goal of the control processes in GTD is to get everything except the current task out of one's head and into this trusted system external to one's mind. He borrows a simile used in martial arts termed "mind like water". When a small object is thrown into a pool of water, the water responds appropriately with a small splash followed by quiescence. When a large object is thrown in the water again responds appropriately with a large splash followed by quiescence. The opposite of "mind like water" is a mind that never returns to quiescence but remains continually stressed by every input.:12 With a trusted system and "mind like water" one can have a better perspective on one's life. Allen recommends reflection from six levels, called "Horizons of Focus"::215–219
- Horizon 5: Life
- Horizon 4: Long-term visions
- Horizon 3: 1-2 year goals
- Horizon 2: Areas of focus and accountability
- Horizon 1: Current projects
- Ground: Current actions
Unlike some theories, which focus on top-down goal-setting, GTD works in the opposite direction. Allen argues that it is often difficult for individuals to focus on big picture goals if they cannot sufficiently control the day-to-day tasks that they frequently must face.:54 By developing and using the trusted system that deals with day-to-day inputs, an individual can free up mental space to begin moving up to the next level.:13
Allen recommends scheduling a weekly review, reflecting on the different levels. The perspective gained from these reviews should drive one's priorities at the project level.:50 Priorities at the project level in turn determine the priority of the individual tasks and commitments gathered during the workflow process. During a weekly review, determine the context for the tasks and put each task on its appropriate list. An example of grouping together similar tasks would be making a list of outstanding telephone calls, or the tasks/errands to perform while out shopping. Context lists can be defined by the set of tools available or by the presence of individuals or groups for whom one has items to discuss or present.:35
GTD is based on storing, tracking, and retrieving the information related to the things that need to get done. Mental blocks we encounter are caused by insufficient 'front-end' planning. This means thinking in advance, generating a series of actions which can later be undertaken without further planning. The mind's "reminder system" is inefficient and seldom reminds us of what we need to do at the time and place when we can do it. Consequently, the "next actions" stored by context in the "trusted system" act as an external support which ensures that we are presented with the right reminders at the right time. As GTD relies on external reminders, it can be seen as an application of the theories of distributed cognition or the extended mind.
In 2005, Wired called GTD a "new cult for the info age", describing the enthusiasm for this method among information technology and knowledge workers as a kind of cult following. Allen's ideas have also been popularized through The Howard Stern Show (Stern referenced it daily throughout 2012's summer) and the Internet, especially via blogs such as 43 Folders, Lifehacker, and The Simple Dollar.
In 2005, Ben Hammersley interviewed David Allen for The Guardian article titled "Meet the man who can bring order to your universe", saying: "For me, as with the hundreds of thousands around the world who press the book into their friends' hands with fire in their eyes, Allen's ideas are nothing short of life-changing".
In 2007, Wired ran another article about GTD and Allen, quoting him as saying "the workings of an automatic transmission are more complicated than a manual transmission... to simplify a complex event, you need a complex system".
A paper in the journal Long Range Planning by Francis Heylighen and Clément Vidal of the Free University of Brussels showed "recent insights in psychology and cognitive science support and extend GTD's recommendations".
- Allen, David (2015). Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (2 ed.). Penguin Books. ISBN 9780143126560.
- Newport, Cal (November 17, 2020). "The Rise and Fall of Getting Things Done". The New Yorker. Retrieved April 18, 2021.
- Allen, David (2001). Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (1st ed.). Penguin Books. ISBN 9780142000281.
- Fallows, James (November 2012). "Busy and Busier". The Atlantic. Retrieved December 28, 2018.
- David Allen (2001). "Getting Things Done: Five Simple Steps That Apply Order To Chaos". gettingthingsdone.com. Retrieved 2019-07-27.
- Forrister, Kelly (2010-08-02). "Which list manager should I use for GTD?". GTD Times. The David Allen Company. Archived from the original on 2010-08-06. Retrieved 2015-01-04.
- Forrister, Kelly (2009-05-04). "Simply GTD with Kelly: Getting Started". The David Allen Company. Archived from the original on 2010-08-29. Retrieved 2010-08-22.
If you're at all familiar with GTD you know that David Allen does not tell you which tools to use--GTD is tool agnostic--so those choices are up to you. Not saying all tools, software programs, paper planners work seamlessly with GTD, but where you organize your stuff is up to you.
- "Common Tools & Software". Getting Things Done website. David Allen Co. Retrieved 2014-05-30.
- Heylighen, Francis; Vidal, Clément (December 2008). "Getting Things Done: The Science behind Stress-Free Productivity" (PDF). Long Range Planning: International Journal of Strategic Management. 41 (6): 585–605. CiteSeerX 10.1.1.161.441. doi:10.1016/j.lrp.2008.09.004. ISSN 0024-6301.
- Andrews, Robert (2005-07-12). "A new cult for the info age". Wired.com. Condé Nast. Retrieved 2020-05-02.
- Mann, Merlin (2004-09-08). "Getting started with "Getting Things Done"". 43 Folders. Retrieved 2020-05-02.
- Robinson, Keith (2006-03-21). "Best of GTD". Lifehacker. Retrieved 2020-05-02.
- "Review: Getting Things Done". The Simple Dollar. 2020-04-09. Retrieved 2020-05-02.
- Hammersley, Ben (2005-09-28). "Meet the man who can bring order to your universe". The Guardian. London: Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 2010-03-05.
- "The Oracle of Organization". Time. 2007-03-12. Retrieved 2010-03-05.
- Wolf, Gary (2007-09-25). "Getting Things Done Guru David Allen and His Cult of Hyperefficiency". Wired.com. Retrieved 2010-03-05.
- Allen, David (2001). Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (1 ed.). Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-200028-1.
- Allen, David (2003). Ready for Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Work and Life. Viking Books. ISBN 978-0-670-03250-1.
- Allen, David (2008). Making it All Work. Viking Books. ISBN 978-0-7499-4103-1.