Getting Things Done – the book – part 2

… starting from the point where the story stopped.

The workflow (i.e. the five steps)

Ask yourself, “When do I need to see what, in what form, to get it off my mind?” You build a system for function, not just to have a system.David Allen


As soon as you attach a “should,” “need to,” or “ought to” to an item, it becomes an incomplete.

The first step is to capture everythingbig or little, of urgent or minor importance – absolutely everything (including those gadgets in your desk drawers that need to be fixed or thrown away). Everything that requires some kind of resolution—a loop to be closed, something to be done. EVERYTHING you consider incomplete!

This includes all of your I’m-going-tos, in which you’ve decided to do something but haven’t started moving on it yet. And it certainly includes all pending and in-progress items, as well as those things on which you’ve done everything you’re ever going to do except acknowledge that you’re finished with them.David Allen

Needless to say, everything needs to be captured somewhere other than in your head. You can choose the tools of your choice to collect your so-called incompletes; what matters is to use and empty your in-trays with integrity. In other words, you should not compromise by keeping some items in your head. Every single one of them should go into your in-tray.

Importantly, you should be able to use your in-tray in every context, since things you’ll want to capture may show up almost anywhere. For this reason, you can have as many in-trays as you need, but as few as you can get by with.

Last, but not least, you should empty the Capture Tools Regularly using an integrated life-management system of course (i.e. the next two steps).


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.David Allen

This is the first question 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 will help you answer the next big question: Is It Actionable?

If the answer is “No”, you have three possibilities:

  • Trash
  • Someday/maybe
  • Reference

If the answer is “Yes”, you need to determine what’s the Next Action. Once you’ve decided on the next action, you have three options (depending on the duration to complete the action):

  • Do it (immediately; if it would take less than two minutes).
  • Delegate it
  • Defer it
It does not take much strength to do things, but it requires a great deal of strength to decide what to do.Elbert Hubbard

I do not know whether this is true or not. What I do know, however, is that it takes me a lot of time to decide what to do next!


Once you have gone through the “Clarify” workflow, you should end up with eight categories (listed below in bold). Each should be physically contained in some formphysically or electronically. They belong to the following groups (based on the previous step).


You don’t actually do a project; you can only do action steps related to it. When enough of the right action steps have been taken, some situation will have been created that matches your initial picture of the outcome closely enough that you can call it “done.”David Allen
Any desired result that can be accomplished within a year that requires more than one action step.

As acknowledged by the author, 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. Accordingly, most of, if not all, my “incompletes” are actually “projects” and should be added to my Project list. I thought of sorting my projects into different subcategories, if only professional vs. personal, but the author recommends creating a single list of all of them without any particular order. On the other hand, you should organize your Project Support Material by theme or topic or project name.

Next Action

Any less-than-two-minute actions that you perform, and all other actions that have already been completed, do not, of course, need to be tracked; they’re done.David Allen

The “defer it” option (see the Clarify section above) will indeed produce two categories. The things that have to be done on a specific day or time belong to the Calendar category and those that need to get done as soon as possible in the Next Actions lists1. The third category – Waiting For list – is for the items that were delegated.

Importantly, the calendar should be sacred territory. If you write something there, it must get done that day or not at all. It is only for appointments (i.e. time-specific actions), day-specific actions, and day-specific information. In other words – those of David Allen, again:

No More “Daily To-Do” Lists on the Calendar.

Instead, those (or the action reminders to be specific) go to the Next Action lists, even the most time-sensitive ones. They will hold the inventory of predefined actions that you can take if you have any discretionary time during the day.

Nonactionable items

You need well-organized, discrete systems to handle things that require no action as well as those that do.David Allen

The first – Reference – as suggested by its name, is for things that have intrinsic value as information. Needless to say, you should be able to retrieve these as needed. The author suggests using two different Reference systems:

  • topic- and area-specific storage
  • general-reference files

He also states The lack of a good general-reference file can be one of the biggest bottlenecks in implementing an efficient personal management system. For more info, I encourage you to read the book; there are many examples that I would have not even considered as “Stuff”.

The second – Someday/Maybe – is for things you might want to do at some point but not now and, of course, that you don’t want to forget. In there, you can have complex projects listed – including those from your bucket list – or just basic thematic lists, such as Books to read.

Last, anything that has no potential future action or reference value belongs to the Trash.


Everything that might require action must be reviewed on a frequent enough basis to keep your mind from taking back the job of remembering and reminding.David Allen

Now that everything is well organized, it is important to review these categories – starting with the calendar. Needless to say, you should check your calendar quite often. As for the other categories, David Allen recommends reviewing them once a week. Importantly, the Weekly Review is a master key to the GTD methodology during which you should:

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

That being said, the Projects, Waiting For, and Someday/Maybe lists don’t have to be reviewed weekly, but only as often as you think they have to be in order to stop you from wondering about them.


Now that you have captured, clarified, organized, and reflected on all your current commitments, it is time to decide what to do and, equally important, what not to do. To help you in the decision-making process, there are three models:

  • The Four-Criteria Model for Choosing Actions in the Moment
  • The Threefold Model for Identifying Daily Work
  • The Six-Level Model for Reviewing Your Own Work

The first model is perfectly suited for your Next Action lists. To decide what to do next, the four criteria you can apply are – in this order – context, time available, energy available, and priority. This is self-explanatory; still, there is a description in the book for each one of them.

The second model defines three different kinds of activities you can be engaged in: “Doing predefined work” (i.e. what you have listed on your calendar), “Doing work as it shows up” (i.e. unsuspected, unforeseen things), and “Defining your work” (i.e. applying the first steps of the GTP method).

The last model has to do with prioritization. Instead of going into details about this part, let me just finish this post on this quote:

Priorities should drive your choices, but most models for determining them are not reliable tools for much of our real work activity.David Allen

To be continued…

1 Here, it is suitable to have multiple lists, that is 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. ^
2 In fact, the author mentioned a fourth one – Tickler System – that can be considered as reminders of upcoming events. From my point of view, this belongs to the Next Action group, i.e. as a reminder in your calendar; not in the Nonactionable items group. I will see in Chapter 7 if I am right or wrong. ^

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