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Book Summary – Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

Our productivity is directly related to the clarity of our headspace. We achieve results and our creative potential only when our minds are clear and our thoughts are organized. In Getting Things Done (GTD), David Allen outlines a detailed workflow that allows you to have our cake and eat it – to be more relaxed, energized, yet accomplish more with less effort. In this free Getting Things Done summary, you’ll get a synopsis of how you can get in the zone, operate with clarity and handle an overwhelming number of tasks with relaxed control.

The Art of Getting Things Done

The Getting Things Done or GTD workflow is based on a few key principles:

Managing action with a bottom-up approach

Most people waste time and energy rearranging incomplete lists of unclear “stuff”, which they make no progress on. We need to start by gather everything that requires thinking about, and think about our work before we do it. The challenge is not about managing time, information or priorities. It is about getting clarity and definition about the project and its associated next steps, so real action can be taken.

Horizontal and vertical action management

Horizontal control cuts across all the activities you are involved in, so you can shift your focus from one thing to another easily and quickly. Vertical control helps you think up and down a specific topic or project path.

Getting it all out of your head

Our short-term memory works like RAM on a computer. Incomplete items take up mind-space or RAM; and slow you down in your key tasks.

There are 5 stages to mastering workflow and gaining control of your life.
1) Collect stuff that command your attention
2) Process what they mean and what to do about them
3) Organize the results
4) Review options on what you can do
5) Decide on the best action choices and do it

People usually flounder when they try to do all 5 phases at the same time; the key is to take it step by step and build it into your lifestyle.  We’ll now take a brie look at what each of these 5 phases entail but you can get more details from our complete 12-page summary.

The Getting Things Done or GTD Workflow

Step 0: Setting up your System

The GTD concept is one big workflow, spread into 5 steps. It’ a strategy that needs to be part of your lifestyle, and Allen explains how to set it up before moving into the 5 steps.

Getting Things Done summary_5 steps-process

Step 1: Collect

The first step is to collect everything into a single collection bucket. It can be a physical basket, or an electronic one (e.g. using apps like Things or Trello). The idea is to get things out of your head, so your head is clear.

Steps 2-3 : Process & Organize

During Processing, the goal is to decide “what’s the next action”, which Organization is about setting up clear buckets with different actions – it is critical to keep the categories distinct, because they represent different levels of commitment / agreements with ourselves.

Step 4: Review

Reviews help us to improve our thinking in key areas of our life and work. If we have done steps 1-3 properly, the daily reviews should only take a few seconds each.  The weekly reviews involve going through all 5 stages of the workflow management to clear our head-space again, while the occasional big-picture reviews (see step 5) give us clarity on the larger outcomes and long-term goals, visions and purpose that drive our decisions and actions.

Step 5: Do

When we have clarity of mind, we can make good decisions intuitively and confidently. It is equally important to decide what to do as it is what not to do. Allen provides 3 decision frameworks to help us in moment-to-moment, day-to-day and strategic decisions.

More from Getting Things Done

Ready to start getting things  done?  Get the detailed steps and tips of the GTD system from our full book summary bundle. This includes a one-page infographic summary in pdf, a 12-page text summary in pdf, and a 22-min audio summary in mp3, for more details and tips to help you implement the GTD system!

getting things done summary - book summary bundle

GTD comprises of simple and common-sensical steps that are combined into a system that, in its entirety, helps you to take the clutter out of your head, reduce stress, improve focus and yet track and complete more tasks and activities.  The concept and approach is highly relevant to the unstructured and fast-paced work of today. For more information and resources, visit or purchase the book here.

Want to improve your productivity and effectiveness?  Do check out our summaries of:
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People;
The One Thing; and
The Way We’re Working  Isn’t Working.

About the Author of Getting Things Done

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity is written by David Allen–an author and management consultant known for his productivity methods. He grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana, and now resides in Amsterdam, Netherlands. According to Allen, he has had 35 professions before the age of 35. His range of jobs include being a magician, karate teacher, waiter, landscaper, vitamin distributor, gas station manager, restaurant cook, personal growth trainer, manager of a lawn service company and a travel agency. He is also an ordained minister with the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness.

Allen began applying his perspective on productivity with businesses in the 1980s. He has authored three books, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, Ready for Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Work and Life, and Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and Business of Life. He is the founder of the David Allen Company, which is focused on productivity, action management and executive coaching.

Getting Things Done Quotes

“There is usually an inverse proportion between how much something is on your mind and how much it’s getting done.”

“Things rarely get stuck because of lack of time. They get stuck because the doing of them has not been defined.” 

“There is no reason ever to have the same thought twice, unless you like having that thought.”

“Airtight organization is required for your focus to remain on the broader horizon.”

“Your personal system and behaviours need to be established in such a way that you can see all the action options you need to see, when you need to see them.”

“If you’re not totally sure what your job is, it will always feel overwhelming.”

Click here to download the Getting Things Done infographic & summary

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