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Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity – David Allen

5th September 2020
getting things done book cover


Getting Things Done shares the strategies to get a lot more accomplished with much less effort, essentially to be maximally efficient and relaxed, whenever we need or want to be. I am interested in learning the system that the author claims to be so effective in organizing our lives.


David Allen is the founder of David Allen Company, an executive coaching firm promoting his Getting Things Done methodology. Before being a consultant and productivity adviser, he has been a schoolboy actor, a debating champion, a karate practitioner and teacher, a waiter and a taxi driver and a manager of a lawn-service agency. He has written 3 books on productivity.


Getting Things Done has 15 chapters and is divided into 3 parts. It also has a foreword by James Fallows, two introductions (as this is a revised edition), and a conclusion.

Part 1 is The Art of Getting Things Done and it contains 3 chapters. This part consists of the theories of this system. The chapters are A New Practice for a New Reality, Getting Control of Your Life: The Five Steps of Mastering Workflow, and Getting Projects Creatively Under Way: The Five Phases of Project Planning.

Part 2 is Practicing Stress-Free Productivity. There are 7 chapters. This part is about the implementation of the system. These chapters are Getting Started: Setting Up he Time, Space, and Tools, Capturing: Corralling Your “Stuff”, Clarifying: Getting “In” to Empty, Organizing: Setting Up the Right Buckets, Reflecting: Keeping It All Fresh and Functional, Engaging: Making the Best Action Choices, and Getting Projects Under Control.

Part 3 is The Power of the Key Principles and contains 5 chapters. It provides motivation to implement the system. The chapters are The Power of the Capturing Habit, The Power of the Next Action Decision, The Power of Outcome Focusing, GTD and Cognitive Science, and The Path of GTD Mastery.

There is an appendix which is the glossary.


Getting Things Done (GTD) is the personal experience of the author. It is about being appropriately engaged with work and life. It aims to guide us to make the best choice of what to do in each moment, and to eliminate distraction and stress about what we are not doing.

This system has 3 key objectives which are capturing, deciding, and coordinating. The 5 steps are capture, clarify, organize, reflect, and engage. The author comments that the quality of workflow management is only as good as the weakest link in this five-phase chain, so all links must be integrated and supported with consistent standards.

During capturing process, we can employ KonMari method. You do not throw something that is uncomfortable for you. If you want to keep some materials as references, make sure they are worth the time and space.

Being organized means where something is matches what it means to us. This eliminates the need to constantly be thinking. Incompletions, uncaptured, cause pressure and tie up attention. Sense of anxiety and guilt actually comes from breaking agreements with oneself.

The author recommends a natural planning model. There are also 5 steps. These steps are: 1) defining purpose and principles, 2) outcome visioning, 3) brainstorming, 4) organizing, and 5) identifying next actions. Our values make it easier to make choices, but they will not necessarily make things any simpler. Without a value compass, we will never know when enough is enough.

Things get stuck because what “doing” would look like, and where it happens, has not been decided. It is rarely because of lack of time. We should think in a concentrated manner to define desired outcomes and requisite next actions as managing actions is the key to managing all stuffs. Remember this: we don’t actually do a project; we can only do action steps related to it.

The core practice of stress-free productivity involves providing right cues about the right things which would be noticed at the right time. The essence of GTD is to capture to do lists and remove from the mind, and be sure that we will check them later. There is always more to do than we can do but we can only do one thing at a time. The key is to feel good about what you’re not doing as about what you are doing at the moment.

How do we choose what to do in a moment? The author gives us a four criteria model for choosing actions in the moment. First, we depend on the context, then time available, then energy available, and the last is priorities. The author also wants us to have a Read/Review material to go through during weird little windows of time.

One suggestion that I find interesting is the tickler file system. It is a simple file-folder system where it automatically shows whatever we want to see on a particular date in the in-tray.

In conclusion, the GTD system recommends clarifying actions on the front end instead of the back as avoiding action decisions till the last minute is the cause of huge inefficiencies and stress. The ultimate goal of the system is focusing on only one thing at a time, without distraction, so that we will be in the “zone”.

There is a map for the GTD process which we can always refer. For me, this map summarizes everything in the book. There are also some final tips before the end. However, there is no such thing as a perfect system. Using the knowledge we have learned from this book, we would have to devise an individualized system that works for ourselves. Nonetheless, the system must have consistent standards as consistency makes things easy.


  1. Everything in life worth achieving requires practice.
  2. Things you name, you own. Collected but unnamed stuff owns you.
  3. The right amount of complexity is whatever creates optimal simplicity.
  4. People think a lot, but most of that thinking is of a problem, project, or situation – not about it.
  5. The power to produce produces powerful possibilities.


3 out of 3 stars

Interested in Getting Things Done?

You may get the book from through the link below*.

Print from Kinokuniya Malaysia

*Disclosure: The above link are affiliate links. Thus, I may earn a small commission when you purchase the book through the links.

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