David Allen in his book Getting Things Done: The art of stress-free productivity has devised a method to help managers and anyone else who feels overwhelmed by an ever-increasing workload to stay afloat at work. The aim of this method is to free time for you to concentrate on things that really matter and to achieve greater work.
Getting Things Done is ideal for workers in the new economy not only because it enables them to increase their productivity, but also because it allows them to do so with minimal stress.
The book is divided into three main parts:
Part 1: The Art of Getting Things Done
In this section, Allen describes the problems of the modern working world and the solutions that are usually applied to them, before outlining his method and explaining how it differs from other approaches.
He then briefly describes the various processes that make up his project planning system. The real question is how to choose what to do at any point in time. The real question is how we manage actions.
The methods presented in this book are all based on two key objectives:
1) Capturing everything you need to do
2) Disciplining yourself to make front-end choices about all my “inputs” you’re letting into your life
The Basic Requirements for Managing Commitments
Managing commitments requires the implementation of some basic activities and behaviors:
1. If it’s on your mind, your mind isn’t clear. Everything you find incomplete in any way must be captured outside of your mind in a trustworthy framework, or what I call a collection bucket which you know you will come back periodically to sort through.
“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything.” Sbunryu Suzuki
2. You have to clarify exactly what your commitment is and determine what to do, if anything, to make progress in achieving that commitment.
3. Once you have agreed on all of the steps you need to take, you need to keep systematic reminders of them in a framework that you frequently check.
Why Things Are on Your Mind
Most often, the reason something is “on your mind” is because you want it to be different from what it is at the moment, and yet:
– You have not quite clarified what the intended result is;
– You have not decided what the very next physical action move would be; and/or
– You have not put in a framework that you trust reminders of the result and the action required.
Horizontal and Vertical Action Management
During these fertile and turbulent times, the desire to be productive, confident and in charge requires new ways of thinking and working. Obligations, programs, and acts need to be regulated in two ways — horizontally and vertically.
– “Horizontal” control maintains coherence across all the activities in which you are involved.
– “Vertical” control, in contrast, manages thinking up and down the track of individual topics and projects.
Horizontal GTD Method
Getting Control of Your Life: The Five Stages of Mastering Workflow
The key process presented to master the art of calm and guided knowledge work is a five-stage method for an effective flow management. This constitutes the “horizontal” aspect of our lives — incorporating whatever has our concern at any moment.
1) COLLECT stuff demanding our attention
2) PROCESS their meaning and how to deal with them
3) ORGANIZE the outcomes
4) REVIEW all actions and choices you have
It’s important to understand what needs to be collected and how to better collect it so you can process it properly. You cannot arrange what’s coming in — you can just collect it and process it.
Instead, you plan the steps that you’ll need to take based on the choices you’ve made about what to do.
The entire deal — both the processing and organizing phases — is described in the decision-tree model’s center “trunk” as shown above.
You must be able to review the entire picture of your life and work at reasonable times and at proper levels.
“Review your lists as often as you need to, to get them off your mind.” David Allen
The fundamental goal of this workflow-management process is to enable good choices about everything you do at any particular time.
“Most people feel best about their work when they’ve cleaned up, closed up, clarified, and renegotiated all their agreements with themselves and others. Do this weekly instead of yearly.” David Allen
If you have collected, processed, organized and reviewed all of your current obligations, with some insightful and rational thought about your work and principles, you will incite your rational judgement.
David Allen had developed three models that will be helpful for you to incorporate in your decision-making about what to do.
The Four-Criteria Model for Choosing Actions in the Moment
2. Time available
3. Energy available
The Threefold Model for Evaluating Daily Work
1. Doing predefined work
2. Doing work as it shows up
3. Defining your work
The Six-Level Model for Reviewing Your Own Work
1. • 50,000+ feet: Life
2. • 40,000 feet: Three- to five-year vision
3. • 30,000 feet: One- to two-year goals
4. • 20,000 feet: Areas of responsibility
5. • 10,000 feet: Current projects
6. • Runway: Current actions
What the author calls horizontal focus and considered the key factors of a comfortable control are:
– clearly defined results (projects) and the next steps needed to move them towards completion
– reminders put in a trustworthy system which is periodically checked
“You’ve got to think about the big things while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction.” Alvin Toffler
Vertical GTD Method
The Natural Planning Model
Unlike the horizontal approach, which includes the analysis of all the elements of your daily world, the vertical approach seeks to take a closer look at each project. This part of the method is less restrictive and more creative so it allows you more freedom to follow your intuition and opens up a broader range of options and outcomes.
It goes through five steps to accomplish virtually any task:
1. Defining purpose and principles
“People love to win. If you’re not totally clear about the purpose of what you’re doing, you have no chance of winning.” David Allen
2. Outcome visioning
“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Albert Einstein
“The best way to get a good idea is to get lots of ideas.” Linus Pauling
“Organizing usually happens when you identify components and subcomponents, sequences or events, and/or priorities.” David Allen
5. Identifying next actions
“If the project is still on your mind, there’s more planning to do.” David Allen
Part 2: Practicing Stress-Free Productivity.
This is the longest section of the book, and is focused on the GTD method, which Allen describes as horizontal because it allows users to see all the elements that make up their immediate horizon. The method is complemented by a system that he refers to as vertical because it allows users to go into their project in depth.
In this part the author takes us from a conceptual framework and restricted workflow knowledge method to full-scale implementation and best practices. Working through this method also gives people a degree of comfortable control they may never have achieved before, but the trigger of step-by-step procedures is usually required to get there. To that end, Allen provides a logical order of things to do so that you can get on board as easily as possible and derive the most benefit from these tactics.
Part 3: The Power of the Key Principles.
The third, shortest section outlines the effects that the approaches and principles set out in the previous sections can have on the user’s personal and professional life.
The Power of the Collection Habit
When people with whom you interact notice that without fail you receive, process, and organize in an airtight manner the exchanges and agreements they have with you, they begin to trust you in a unique way. Such is the power of capturing placeholders for anything that is incomplete or unprocessed in your life. It noticeably enhances your mental well-being and improves the quality of your communications and relationships, both personally and professionally.
The Power of the Next-Action Decision
We are all responsible for determining what, if anything, we’re committed to doing as we communicate with ourselves and others. And at some point, we must make the decision about the next physical action needed for any result that we have an internal obligation to achieve.
“Without a next action, there remains a potentially infinite gap between current reality and what you need to do.” David Allen
“What’s the next action?” as an operational norm of any organizations could be transformative in terms of practical performance outcomes. It changes their culture permanently and significantly for the better. The question forces:
“When you start to make things happen, you really begin to believe that you can make things happen. And that makes things happen.” David Allen
The Power of Outcome Focusing
Just the same results happen when you stick to the discipline of defining the actual results that you want and, more precisely, the tasks that you need to determine to achieve them.
Everything is related. You can’t really determine the right action until you know what the outcome is, and if you’re not clear on what you need to do physically to make it happen, the outcome is disconnected from reality.
Your life and your work is composed of results and acts. Once your organizational behavior is grooved to manage everything that comes your way, a deep alignment emerges at all levels, based on those dynamics, and marvelous things happen. You become highly productive. You make up stuff and you make it happen.
“People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, – make them.” George Bernard Shaw
You’ll agree that Allen’s Getting Things Done system will allow you to work out your worries and uncertainty, and turn them to your benefit to help you work and face challenges day after day.