Getting Things DONE summary

This webpage summarizes the book "Getting Things DONE" by David Allen. He runs a consulting company called "The David Allen Company" whose website is here.

Key Objectives

Main Benefits

Five Stages of Managing Workflow

  1. collect inputs
  2. process inputs
  3. organize results
  4. review options for next actions
  5. do a next action

Collecting Inputs

Inputs include:

Processing Inputs

Here are the steps to follow when processing each of the collected inputs.

  1. Determine whether some action needs to be taken?
  2. If it does require action then
    1. Determine the next action that is required.
      This must be a real activity. For example, instead of "car tires",
      an action could be "call to schedule tire change" or "investigate tire prices online".
    2. Select one of the following options.
      1. Do it if it can be completed in two minutes or less.
      2. Delegate it if you are not the right person to do it
        and it can be delegated to someone else.
        Consider adding it to your "Waiting For" list to track its completion.
      3. Defer it by documenting it as something to be done later.
        If it requires multiple actions, create a project for tracking the actions and document them.
        A project is just a task that requires more than one action to complete.
        Document the required action(s) in one of these repositories:
        1. calendar (for non-paper-based, date/time-specific reminders)
        2. 43 Folders (for paper-based, date-specific reminders)
        3. "Next Actions" list (for non-date/time-specific reminders)
  3. If it doesn't require action then
    select one of the following options.
    1. Throw it in the trash.
    2. Incubate it by adding it to your someday/maybe list.
    3. Store it in your reference filing system.

The reference filing system is typically a single, alphabetized collection of folders that hold any material you may want to refer to later. This includes support materials for specific projects. If a single topic or project requires a large number of folders, they might be stored in a separate, alphabetized collection of folders.

Organize Results

Information related to projects and tasks (actions) can be stored in the following locations.

  1. project list
  2. "next actions" list categorized by project and context
  3. calendar for date or time specific actions that must be performed and information about specific days
  4. 43 folders for paper-based reminders of date-specific actions
  5. reference files
  6. "waiting for" list list to track actions you are waiting for others to complete
  7. "someday/maybe" list
    Examples of things that might be included in this list include:
  8. email folders
    Create an email folder named "@ACTION" and use it to hold emails that describe action you must complete.
    Create an email folder named "@WAITING FOR" and use it to hold emails that describe actions for which you are waiting for others to complete.
  9. read/review stack

The lists mentioned above can be on paper or in an electronic form. An advantage of paper lists is that you view them and add to them without being at your computer. An advantages of electronic lists are that they are easily searched. Another is that the items in them can be indexed in multiple ways, for example, by project and by context.

A context describes a basic requirement that must be met in order to do an action. It can be

43 Folders

This is a name for a technique of using ordinary folders to store paper-based reminders of things to be done on a specific date or during a specific month. It requires using 43 folders, one of each of the 31 days in the longest month and one for each of the 12 months. The folders are labeled with day numbers and month names. They are stored in a particular order. For example, on the morning of April 16th, the folders would be in the following order: 16, 17, 18, ..., 31, May, 1, 2, 3, ..., 15, June, July, August, September, October, November, December, January, February, March, April.

Every morning you look in the front folder to see if it contains reminders about things you need to do today. After processing the contents of the folder it is moved to its proper position after all the numbered folders behind the folder for the next month. If it is the first day of the month then the folder for the new month is examined. Its contents can be processed immediately or moved to one of the numbered day folders behind it. After processing the contents of the month folder it is moved to back of the set of 43 folders.

When you have a paper-based reminder for something to be done in the next 28 to 31 days, it is placed in one of the numbered day folders. When it doesn't need to be addressed for longer than that, it is placed in one of the month folders.

Examples of situations where this is useful include:

Practices to Adopt


Daily Practices

Determine if anything described in the following locations needs to be addressed today.

Periodic Practices

Deciding What To Do Now

There are three techniques for deciding what task to perform at any given time.

Four-Criteria Model for Choosing Actions in the Moment

  1. Only consider actions that can be performed in your current context (defined by your location and the set of resources available).
  2. Only consider actions that can be completed in the amount of time you have available. Actions should be defined as small as possible and not require multiple steps.
  3. Only consider actions that can be addressed given your current energy level.
  4. Decide between the remaining actions based on their priority or payoff.

Threefold Model for Evaluating Daily Work

The next thing you do can be one of these.

  1. Do an action from your "Next Actions" list.
  2. Do work as it shows up if it is more important than anything on your "Next Actions" list.
  3. Define additional work (adding to your lists) based on new inputs in your in-basket, email, voic-mail and meeting notes.

Six-Level Model for Reviewing Your Own Work

There are six perspectives from which to view tasks is order to assign priorities to them. Consider how completing a given task will help to achieve the following.

  1. life goals
  2. 3-5 year goals
  3. 1-2 year goals
  4. areas of responsibility
  5. current projects
  6. current actions

Recommended Software

Task Lists