What is Getting Things Done?

In the last couple of months, I’ve made a real go at implementing the methodologies from the book, Getting Things Done, by David Allen. As Ross Hill said so well in his recent post, the key to Getting Things Done is not actually getting a lot of things done, it is about clearing your head and having all of your commitments in a trusted system so that you can focus and be mindful with whatever is happening right now. From the book…

As Peter Drucker has written, “In knowledge work…the task is not given; it has to be determined. ‘What are the expected results from this work?’ is…the key question in making knowledge workers more productive”

I like this analogy. In the industrial era, ‘things’ spewed down the factory line and all we had to do was sort stuff, or carry out one simple task to get our part ‘done.’ Today, knowledge work is vastly different but we still hold the same ideas about productivity as we did in those days when shuffling more ‘things’ down the line meant we had done a better job. There are different rules about what makes someone productive and what makes something ‘done.’ The book helps you work in that productive way. So what are the key ideas of the book? I’ve put down three areas I’ve found most enlightening.


Get things out of your head..

The main focus of GTD is to get ideas, tasks and projects out of you head and into a trusted system. Just like you trust your calender to tell you were you need to be, you need a system which you can trust to tell you what to do. This is the key, and can’t be stressed enough.

If you are currently at work, or doing your own project and you have that sinking feeling in the back of your head that you’ve ‘forgotten something’ then you need are probably operating with a mixture of 3-4 systems for tracking your stuff. Imagine keeping 4 calenders…how confusing would that be! You would end up keeping track of your days by remembering when things were on. Your to-do list is no different. If you don’t have one trusted system for keeping track, you won’t trust anything, and end up walking around with every project you need to complete circling in your head. Get it out of your head. Instead…

Use a trusted system..

David Allan talks about creating a trusted system for your actions, tasks and projects. He uses a great analogy about how you feel most organised a week before a vacation from work.

“Most people feel best about their work the week before their vacation, but it’s not because of the vacation itself. What do you do the last week before you leave on a big trip? You clean up, close up, clarify and renegotiate all your agreements with yourself and others. I suggest you do this weekly instead of yearly.”

You need a system which you can trust, just like you trust when you walk out the door for your vacation that everything is taken care of.

Manage that system consistently

Once you have a system in place you need to constantly review it (once weekly) to get a fuller view of all the ‘things’ you have agreed to do. Get a feel for whether they still all fit, and whether you still need to do many of them. This is a huge tip – many times, it’s easy to find yourself beholden to some idea you needed to do *something*…if only you could remember what that *something* was. The GTD system gives you trust that you have everything you need to do, sorted.

And that’s really it. I highly recommend you buy the book. Most of all, start talking to people about how they manage their work and see if you can find anyone else using the GTD methodology. Chat to them about how they use it, and begin learning.