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Reference » GTD Outline

This is a general outline of David Allen’s Getting Things Done as originally collected by MVance.

Notes from Getting Things Done by David Allen

  1. Capture all the things that need to get done into a logical and trusted system outside of your head and off your mind
  2. Disciplining yourself to make decisions about all the inputs you let into your life, so that you will always have a plan for next actions that you can implement or renegotiate at any moment

Outcomes & Actions

  1. Describe in a single sentence the intended successful outcome for the problem or situation
  2. Write down the very next physical action required to move the situation forward

Horizontal & Vertical Control — Get Things Off Your Mind and Get Them Done

  1. Horizontal maintains coherence across all activities in which you are involved
  2. vertical manages thinking up and down the track of individual topics and projects

Five Stages of Workflow (Horizontal)

  1. Collect things that command our attention

    • Anything personal or professional, big or little, that you think should be different than it currently is and that you have any level of internal commitment to changing
    1. Get it all out of your head
    2. Minimize your collection buckets
      • Physical in-basket
      • Writing paper and pads
      • Electronic note taking
      • Auditory capture (answering machines, voicemail, dictating equipment)
      • Email
    3. Empty the buckets regularly
  2. Process what they mean and what to do about them

    1. What is it?
    2. Is it actionable? YES or NO


    1. Trash
    2. Incubate
      1. Someday/maybe list
      2. Tickler file (suspended or follow-on file; a 3D calendar)
      • 43 folders:
        • 31 Daily Files
        • 12 Monthly Files
        • Tomorrow’s Date at the front


    1. What is the next action?
      • Do it
      • Delegate it
      • Defer it
      • Project (anything requiring more than one step to accomplish the desired outcome)
    2. Actionable Tracking
      1. List of Projects
      2. Storage or files for project plans and materials
      3. Calendar
        • Time specific actions [appointments], day specific actions, day specific information
      4. List of reminders of next actions
      5. A list of reminders of things you’re waiting for
        • Only review as often as they have to be in order to stop wondering about them
    3. Reference
      • Reference should be information that can be easily referred to when needed
  3. Organize the results

  4. Review the options
  5. Do
    1. Choosing actions in the moment
    2. Context
    3. Time available
    4. Energy available
    5. Priority

Weekly Review

  1. Loose Papers
    • Business cards, receipts, etc. - put in in basket for processing
  2. Process Your Notes
  3. Previous Calendar Data
    • Review for remaining action items, reference information, etc.
  4. Upcoming Calendar
  5. Empty Your Head
    • Write down any new projects, action items, etc.
  6. Review “Projects” (and Larger Outcome) Lists
    • Ensure that at least one kick-start action is in your system for each
  7. Review “Next Actions” Lists
    • Mark off completed actions & review for reminders of further action steps to capture
  8. Review “Waiting For” List
    • Records appropriate actions for any needed follow-up & check off received items
  9. Review Any Relevant Checklists
  10. Review “Someday/Maybe” List
    • Check for any projects that may have become active and transfer them to “Projects” & delete items no longer of interest
  11. Review “Pending” and Support Files
    • Browse through all work-in-progress support material to trigger new actions, completions, and waiting-fors

Models for Making Action Choices

  1. Predefined
  2. Work as it shows up
  3. Defining work

Six Level Model for Reviewing Your Own Work

  1. Current actions
  2. Current projects
  3. Areas of responsibility
  4. 1-2 year goals
  5. 3-5 year vision
  6. Big picture view

Projects: clearly defined outcomes and the next actions to move them towards closure
Horizontal Focus: reminders placed in a trusted system that is reviewed regularly
Vertical Focus: informal back of the envelope planning

Five Steps to Accomplish Any Task (Project Planning)

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

Five Phases of Natural Planning Techniques

  1. Purpose / Guiding principles (Why are we doing this?)
  2. Mission / Vision / Goals / Successful outcome (What would wild success look, sound, or feel like?)
  3. Brainstorming (How would we accomplish it?)
    1. View the project from beyond the completion date
    2. Envision wild success (suspend “Yeah, but…”)
    3. Capture features, aspects, and qualities you imagine in place
    4. Organizing (identify components, subcomponents, sequences, events, and/or priorities; what must occur and in what order? When do we do these things?)
    5. Next actions (Where do we start?)

“If the project is off your mind, your planning is sufficient. If it’s still on your mind, keep applying the model until it’s clear.”

Critical Factor of Filing System

Filing has to be instantaneous and easy:

Dealing with un-met agreements:

  1. Lower standards
  2. Do it
  3. Renegotiate agreement

“What is the next action?”
“The better you get, the better you’d better get.”


  1. Keep everything out of your head
  2. Decide actions and outcomes when things first emerge on your radar, instead of later
  3. Regularly review and update the complete inventory of open loops of your life and work

Wondering what to do with something? Apply a simple set of formulae to it: