Getting Things Done

Your Mind Is For Having Ideas, Not Holding Them

A process for increasing your own productivity and for bringing order and action to your chaotic and random personal world



Introduction to Getting Things Done

“Getting Things Done” is a personal productivity methodology based on storing, tracking, and retrieving the information related to the things that you need to get done.

The getting things done system of processes was created by productivity consultant David Allen who wrote and marketed a book of the same name in 2001.

If you don't use some of personal system of dealing with the mass of things that you need to deal with you will soon accumulate a mass of unresolved "things to do" and all of the attendant stress and hassle that goes with that.







Why Aren't You Getting Things Done?


[1] You have no process in place for getting things done

The human brain likes shortcuts [heuristics] which are predefined processes for how to handle situations as they arise.

You use these shortcuts all the time. Every action that you take is a predefined process that you have either been taught or that you have worked out for yourself. Making a cup of coffee, using your laptop or smartphone, opening a door, greeting someone, the list is endless and encompasses every area of life.

You do all these things automatically. But in each case it starts with a structured learning process,  often referred to as the conscious competence learning model, where having recognised that you have a problem and lack a particular skill you seek training or instruction, practise it and master it until it becomes something that you do automatically -  an unconscious competence - it becomes a habit.

If you don't have a process for dealing with stuff as it occurs and lands on your desk, in-box, "to do list", it accumulates and consciously or unconsciously you worry about. It occupies space in your brain and burns mental energy and can cause mental blocks.

OK I know that for many people this is a very real problem, but if you take a step back and think about this - can you imagine NOT having processes in place for doing and dealing with all the everyday things that you do?

Can you imagine walking over to the coffee machine and having to figure out how to make yourself a coffee every single time?

Can you imagine NOT knowing how to greet people and say hello or engage in social conversation?

Can you imagine having to try and figure this out every single time you meet someone?

Obviously life would be extremely difficult and unpleasant and you would feel overwhelmed and experience all sorts of mental blocks and eventually experience mental and emotional health problems.

Well this is precisely what happens to you every single day that you do not have a process in place for getting things done.

By the way, and just to be clear, I have no personal axe to grind on the "Getting Things Done" process. It is one of a large number of time management and personal productivity tools and I am featuring it here because it is popular and features heavily in online searches.

The key thing is that you have some process in place for getting things done.






[2] You waste so much time and energy thinking about and worrying about not getting things done.

The stress on not dealing with stuff as it arises can cause a form of brain fog, and mental blocks can arise which in turn lead to procrastination, which in turn causes you to waste more mental energy worrying about the brain fog, mental blocks and procrastination...

The stress and hassle of not getting things done vastly outweighs the effort of putting some form of system and process for dealing with "stuff" as it arises.

And yet, despite knowing this, so many people continue to muddle along in a cloud of miasmic, mind numbing, mental fog. Why? Short answer: resistance to personal change.

As always with situations of personal change, until the desire to want to change - and learn and implement a process for getting things done - heavily outweighs your resistance to change, the dominant inertia will continue to prevail.






[3] Without a reminder system external to your brain you will forget and stress it further

A key part of any effective system for getting things done is to get all it out of your head and keep it that way.

In addition to the front end process of sorting, categorising, and processing stuff, it is equally important to have a reliable external reminder system.

This way your mind can be present and entirely engaged with the task in hand, and it will not be continually stressed by every input.


"Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them."[David Allen]







Getting Things Done - The Fundamentals

Five clear steps that apply order to chaos:


1. CAPTURE - Collect what has your attention - write, record, or gather any and everything that has your attention into a collection tool.

It’s hard to prioritise until you have taken stock of everything you have to do. So, in this first step, you’ll brain-dump all of your current obligations onto paper, a Google Doc or whatever platform you feel comfortable using.

The absolute rule is get everything out of your head, as David Allen says: “your head is a crappy office.”


2. CLARIFY - Process what it means . Is it actionable? If so, decide the next action and project (if more than one action is required). If not, decide if it is trash, reference, or something to put on hold. 

Clarify everything you have to do.

What is the outcome? Is there a next actionable step?

If there isn't one then you need to do one of three things:

  • Trash it.
  • Store it in a someday/maybe list.
  • File it for reference when needed.

If there’s an action to take, then what is it?

If the action will take less than two minutes, do it.

If it will take more than two minutes then add it to your “Waiting On” list.

Or you can defer it, scheduling it on your calendar to do at a specific time with specific next action steps to make getting the work started easier.


3. ORGANIZE - Put it where it belongs. Park reminders of your categorized content in appropriate places.

“Being organized means simply that where something is matches what it means to you.”


Organize your actionable items, and park them based on their category and priority.

Don’t actually get started doing anything on your list. Just organize in this stage.


4. REFLECT - Review frequently

Next, reflect your to do list, and decide what your next action should be.

In step two, you clarified what your next actions on each item should be; therefore, you should easily be able to pick an action you have the time and energy to do.


5. REVIEW - Update and review all pertinent system contents to regain control and focus.

Finally, your "to-do" items are organized by priority and stored in categories, and you’ve decided which next action you have the time and energy for right now.

This means you are now at the stage for getting things done!








Getting Things Done - Resources







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