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Getting Things Done

The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

By David Allen
  • Read in 22 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 14 key ideas
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Getting Things Done by David Allen

In Getting Things Done (2001), David Allen introduces his famous system for stress-free productivity. With this system, you can face an overwhelming amount of things to do, but still be productive, creative and relaxed as you tackle them.

Why you should care: Learn to do more and stress less.

Key idea 1 of 14

Your brain is great at thinking but terrible at remembering things.

These days, work can be hectic. A typical morning might look something like this: You’re in the middle of writing a document when an email comes in telling you to update your antivirus software. Then, just as you’re about to do this, your aunt Sheila calls to say you should RSVP to her wedding, and, as you hang up, your boss marches in demanding you start working on a new document.

Now, what were you doing again?

Knowledge workers in particular spend their days juggling dozens of tasks and projects at once, while being constantly bombarded by still more. To survive this onslaught, most people cram everything into their heads, trying to keep important information, appointments and upcoming tasks “on their mind.”

Unfortunately, this approach squanders the brain’s wonderful capacity to think by cluttering it up with a jumble of information.

What’s more, trying to remember everything eventually leads to an inability to concentrate fully on the work at hand, because your brain will still try to work out all the unsolved problems and undone tasks that you’ve stored in it.

These are open loops – they haven’t been brought to closure – and your brain will constantly remind you about them, whether you want it to or not. This is distracting; you can’t possible focus properly when thoughts like “Remember to pay this month’s electricity bill” keep interrupting your flow.

So what can you do to master the modern workplace’s web of tasks, meetings and information so that you can truly focus on what you’re doing?

This is where GTD comes in.

Through a specific and powerful five-stage workflow, you can get back in control of everything on your plate:

  1. Capture your thoughts. Instead of keeping all those ideas, to-dos, decisions and so forth in your head, you need to capture them in some external platform, whether on paper or digitally.
  2. Clarify what each item is and what you can do with it.
  3. Organize the outcomes into a structure of lists.
  4. Reflect on what is important to you and review the items in your system.
  5. Engage your tasks. Pick which action you wish to undertake at this time and do it.

It’s as simple as that. GTD enables you to feel a greater sense of control over your work, which produces a sense of relaxed control, better decisions and more flexibility when faced with changing circumstances. But before diving into the details of each step in the GTD process, let’s get your workspace and tools set up.

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