When I first heard of Getting Things Done, I was skeptical. How could it possibly live up to the fanaticism of its cult following? But once I saw the power of the “next action,” of “someday/maybes,” and of organizing tasks by “context,” I knew there was a good reason for the hype: “GTD” works.
More than fifteen years later, GTD still helps me stay productive and in control of all of the things going on in life and work. GTD has helped me write three books, build a business, and move to South America. I regularly re-read it, and I always find new ways to apply its principles and techniques.
Here’s my Getting Things Done book summary – in my own words – after many years of practice and two podcast interviews with author David Allen.
The principles that make GTD work These are not “principles” as expressed in the Getting Things Done book, but this is my summary of its most important ideas.
1. Trusted System: GTD is your “trusted system” The most important idea behind GTD is to get everything out of your head and into a “trusted system.”
What is a trusted system? A “trusted” system is a system in which you can “trust” that you will engage appropriately with everything in the system.
2. Appropriate Engagement: Your trusted system helps you “engage appropriately” GTD handles a wider breadth of things than your typical to-do list/calendar combination. Because GTD helps you “engage appropriately” with everything.
What does it mean to “engage appropriately?” That means you’re doing no more and no less than is necessary to achieve your goal.
You can trust your system will remind you to buy cat food only when you’re physically capable of buying cat food, and before you run out of cat food.
You can also trust your system to hold ideas that you may or may not act upon. If you daydream about moving abroad, you can trust your system to hold that idea and remind you periodically, so you won’t forget to do whatever you do or don’t want to do about it.
So GTD handles everything from important tasks that must get done to fleeting thoughts that you merely might want to do something about.
3. Close Open Loops: GTD keeps your mind free of “open loops” Build a trusted system that helps you engage appropriately with everything, and your mental energy will be free to handle whatever is going on in the moment.
This is because your trusted system keeps your mind free of open loops. If you can’t trust that you’ll buy cat food before you run out, you’ll be thinking about it. If you can’t trust that you’ll revisit that idea about moving abroad, you’ll be thinking about it. You’ll have open loops in your mind.
These open loops use mental energy that you could use on other things.
These open loops also make you feel like a victim of the things you have to do. It’s demoralizing to keep reminding yourself something needs to get done because you’re also reminding yourself that you haven’t followed through. If you trust it will get done, you don’t have to remind yourself.
As David Allen says, ”Your mind is for having ideas, not for holding them.”
4. Bottom-Up: GTD is a “bottom-up” approach to personal organization By getting control of the ground-level things in your life, you have more energy to think about the higher-level things. By trusting that you’ll buy cat food, you have more energy to think about how your idea to move abroad fits into your long-term goals and your life purpose.
One quick exercise to get a taste of GTD One quick way to get a taste of GTD: Write down every single thing that’s on your mind that either needs to get done, or that may need to get done. Don’t worry about doing those things, just get them out of your head.
You may feel a little overwhelmed from writing all of those things down, but you probably also feel a l