Getting Things Done - by David Allen
Getting Things Done - by David Allen
This book helped me organize my life using many to-do lists. Those lists have items that start with action words and the time I need to finish them. I started using Apple Reminders for this purpose.
Here are some text that I highlighted in the book:
dressed-up common sense.
The methods I present here are all based on three key objectives: (1) capturing all the things that might need to get done or have usefulness for you— now, later, someday, big, little, or in between—in a logical and trusted system outside your head and off your mind; (2) directing yourself to make front-end decisions about all of the “inputs” you let into your life so that you will always have a workable inventory of “next actions” that you can implement or renegotiate in the moment; and (3) curating and coordinating all of that content, utilizing the recognition of the multiple levels of commitments with yourself and others you will have at play, at any point in time.
most stress they experience comes from inappropriately managed commitments they make or accept.
First of all, if it’s on your mind, your mind isn’t clear. Anything you consider unfinished in any way must be captured in a trusted system outside your mind, or what I call a collection tool, that you know you’ll come back to regularly and sort through. Second, you must clarify exactly what your commitment is and decide what you have to do, if anything, to make progress toward fulfilling it. Third, once you’ve decided on all the actions you need to take, you must keep reminders of them organized in a system you review regularly. You must use your mind to get things off your mind.
As Peter Drucker wrote: “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 productive. And it is a question that demands risky decisions. There is usually no right answer; there are choices instead. And results have to be clearly specified, if productivity is to be achieved.”
It will keep pressuring you about that untaken next step, usually when you can’t do anything about it, which will just add to your stress.
At least a portion of your mind is really kind of stupid, in an interesting way. If it had any innate intelligence and logic, it would remind you of the things you needed to do only when you could do something about them.
It’s a waste of time and energy to keep thinking about something that you make no progress on. And it only adds to your anxiety about what you should be doing and aren’t.
the key to managing all of your stuff is managing your actions.
Things rarely get stuck because of lack of time. They get stuck because what “doing” would look like, and where it happens, hasn’t been decided.
lack of time is not the major issue for them (though they may think it is); the real problem is a lack of clarity and definition about what a project really is, and what associated next-action steps are required. Clarifying things on the front end, when they first appear on the radar, rather than on the back end, after trouble has developed, allows people to reap the benefits of managing action.
Getting things done requires two basic components: defining (1) what “done” means (outcome) and (2) what “doing” looks like (action).
Vision is not enough; it must be combined with venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps; we must step up the stairs. —Václav Havel
Many executives I have worked with during the day to clear the decks of their mundane stuff have spent the evening having a stream of ideas and visions about their company and their future lifestyle. This happens as an automatic consequence of unsticking their workflow.
Horizontal control maintains coherence across all the activities in which you are involved.
Vertical control, in contrast, manages thinking, development, and coordination of individual topics and projects.
The goal for managing horizontally and vertically is the same: to get things off your mind and get them done.
There is usually an inverse relationship between how much something is on your mind and how much it’s getting done.
There is no reason to ever have the same thought twice, unless you like having that thought.
I don’t want to waste time thinking about things more than once. That’s an inefficient use of creative energy and a source of frustration and stress.
Unless you wrote it down and put it in a trusted collection tool that you know you’ll review appropriately sometime soon, more than likely you worried, or at least reinforced some unresolved tension, about it. Not the most effective behavior: no progress was made, and stress increased.
A big problem is that your mind keeps reminding you of things when you can’t do anything about them. It has no sense of past or future. That means as soon as you tell yourself that you might need to do something, and store it only in your head, there’s a part of you that thinks you should be doing that something all the time. Everything you’ve told yourself you ought to do, it thinks you should be doing right now. Frankly, as soon as you have two things to do stored only in your mind, you’ve generated personal failure, because you can’t do them both at the same time. This produces a pervasive stress factor whose source can’t be pinpointed.
We (1) capture what has our attention; (2) clarify what each item means and what to do about it; (3) organize the results, which presents the options we (4) reflect on, which we then choose to (5) engage with.
It’s like trying to play pinball on a machine that has big holes in the table, so the balls keep falling out: there’s little motivation to keep playing the game.
Not emptying your in-tray is like having garbage cans and mailboxes that no one ever dumps or deals with—you just have to keep buying new ones to hold an eternally accumulating volume.
It is better to be wrong than to be vague. —Freeman Dyson
The way I look at it, the calendar should be sacred territory. If you write something there, it must get done that day or not at all. The only rewriting should be for changed appointments.
Someday/Maybe It can be useful and inspiring to maintain an ongoing list of things you might want to do at some point but not now. This is the “parking lot”
Tickler System A second type of things to incubate are those you don’t want or need to be reminded of until some designated time in the future.
If you set up a personal organization system structured as I recommend, with a Projects list, a calendar, Next Actions lists, and a Waiting For list, not much will be required to maintain that system.
Critical Success Factor: The Weekly Review
All of your Projects, active project plans, and Next Actions, Agendas, Waiting For, and even Someday/Maybe lists should be reviewed once a week.
The Weekly Review is the time to:
- Gather and process all your stuff.
- Review your system.
- Update your lists.
- Get clean, clear, current, and complete.
You have to use your mind to get things off your mind. Most people don’t have a really complete system, and they get no real payoff from reviewing things for just that reason: their overview isn’t total.
If you have captured, clarified, organized, and reflected on all your current commitments, you can galvanize your intuitive judgment with some intelligent and practical thinking about your work and values.
how do you choose what to do? At that moment there are four criteria you can apply, in this order: context, time available, energy available, and priority.
Your mind goes through five steps to accomplish virtually any task:
1 Defining purpose and principles 2 Outcome visioning 3 Brainstorming 4 Organizing 5 Identifying next actions
Here are just some of the benefits of asking why:
- It defines success.
- It creates decision-making criteria.
- It aligns resources.
- It motivates.
- It clarifies focus.
- It expands options.
People love to win. If you’re not totally clear about the purpose of what you’re doing, you have no game to win.
In order to most productively access the conscious and unconscious resources available to you, you must have a clear picture in your mind of what success would look, sound, and feel like. Purpose and principles furnish the impetus and the monitoring, but vision provides the actual blueprint of the final result. This is the what instead of the why. What will this project or situation really be like when it successfully appears in the world?
We notice only what matches our internal belief systems and identified contexts.
The implications of how this filtering works—how we are unconsciously made conscious of information
There is a simple but profound principle that emerges from understanding the way your perceptive filters work: you won’t see how to do it until you see yourself doing it. You often need to make it up in your mind before you can make it happen in your life.
I always wanted to be somebody. I should have been more specific. —Lily Tomlin
The best way to get a good idea is to get lots of ideas. —Linus Pauling
Only he who handles his ideas lightly is master of his ideas, and only he who is master of his ideas is not enslaved by them. —Lin Yutang
Many techniques can be used to facilitate brainstorming and out-of-the-box thinking. The basic principles, however, can be summed up as follows: Don’t judge, challenge, evaluate, or criticize. Go for quantity, not quality.
Most projects, given my definition of a project as an outcome requiring more than one action, need no more than a listing of their outcome and next action for you to get them off your mind.
It is easier to act yourself into a better way of feeling than to feel yourself into a better way of action. —O. H. Mowrer
It’s a trick I call Put It in Front of the Door. For our purposes the “door” is going to be the door of your mind, not your house. But it’s the same idea.
Purge Your Files at Least Once a Year Cleaning house in your files regularly keeps them from going stale and seeming like a black hole, and it also gives you the freedom to keep anything on a whim “in case you might need it.”
My counsel is how to assess and organize whatever you keep in your ecosystem so that it doesn’t pull on your focus unnecessarily.
Then we clean up (print out and erase, usually) everything they have previously tried to organize in their task lists and put it all into “in.” Then we establish some working categories such as “Calls,” “Errands,” “Agendas,”
The cognitive scientists have now proven the reality of “decision fatigue”— that every decision you make, little or big, diminishes a limited amount of your brain power. Deciding to “not decide” about an e-mail or anything else is another one of those decisions, which drains your psychological fuel tank.
The Key Processing Question: “What’s the Next Action?”
I am rather like a mosquito in a nudist camp; I know what I want to do, but I don’t know where to begin. —Stephen Bayne
Too much information creates the same result as too little: you don’t have what you need, when and in the way you need it.
You need to trust your calendar as sacred territory, reflecting the exact hard edges of your day’s commitments, which should be noticeable at a glance while you’re on the run.
Over many years I have discovered that the best way to be reminded of an “as soon as I can” action is by the particular context required for that action—that is, either the tool or the location or the situation needed to complete it.
Those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its shortness. —Jean de La Bruyère
Next you can create a folder titled “@WAITING FOR,” which will show up in the same place as the @ACTION folder.
If you acknowledge the power of the imagination to foster changes in perception and performance, it’s easy to see how having a Someday/Maybe list out in front of your conscious mind could potentially add many wonderful adventures to your life and work.
What lies in our power to do, lies in our power not to do. —Aristotle
Checklists can be highly useful to let you know what you don’t need to be concerned about.
THE PURPOSE OF this whole method of workflow management is not to let your brain become lax, but rather to enable it to be free to experience more elegant, productive, and creative activity. In order to earn that freedom, however, your brain must engage on some consistent basis with all your commitments and activities. You must be assured that you’re doing what you need to be doing, and that it’s OK to be not doing what you’re not doing. That facilitates the condition of being present, which is always the optimal state from which to operate.
Reviewing your system on a regular basis, reflecting on the contents, and keeping it current and functional are prerequisites for that kind of clarity and stability.
The maintenance of life and the pursuit of happiness are not two separate issues. —Ayn Rand
You won’t be able to fool yourself about this: if your system is out of date, your brain will be forced to fully engage again at the lower level of remembering.
That whirlwind of activity is precisely what makes the Weekly Review so valuable. It builds in some capturing, reevaluation, and reprocessing time to keep you in balance.
Weekly Review is whatever you need to do to get your head empty again and get oriented for the next couple of weeks.
know the value of sacrificing the seemingly urgent for the truly important
If you can’t do the action because you’re not in the appropriate location or don’t have the appropriate tools, don’t worry about it. As I’ve said, it’s often helpful to organize your action reminders by context —Calls, At Home, At Computer, Errands, Agenda for Joe, Agenda for Staff Meeting, and so on.
If you have a bunch of things to do on one to-do list, but you actually can’t do many of them in the same context, you force yourself to continually keep reconsidering all of them.
[ideas for tags in reminder todo list] Over the years I have seen people effectively use categories such as “Brain Gone” (for simple actions requiring no mental horsepower) and “Less Than 5-Minute” (for getting quick “wins”). At times people feel more comfortable sorting their reminders by the areas of focus in their life and work—“Financial,” “Family,” “Administrative,” etc.
The second factor in choosing an action is how much time you have before you have to do something else.
One of the best ways to increase your energy is to close some of your loops. So always be sure to have some easy loops to close, right at hand.
These first three criteria for choosing action (context, time, and energy) bespeak the need for a complete next-action reminder system.
At the end of the day, in order to feel good about what you didn’t get done, you must have made some conscious decisions about your accountabilities, goals, and values.
It is often easier to get wrapped up in the urgent demands of the moment than to deal with your in-tray, e-mail, and the rest of your open loops.
I’ve noticed that people are actually more comfortable dealing with surprises and crises than they are taking control of processing, organizing, reviewing, and assessing that part of their work that is not as self-evident. It’s easy to get seduced into “busy” and “urgent” mode, especially when you have a lot of unprocessed and relatively out-of-control work on your desk, in your e-mail, and on your mind.
The constant sacrifices of not doing the work you have defined on your lists can be tolerated only if you know what you’re not doing. That requires regular processing of your in-tray (defining your work) and consistent review of complete lists of all your predetermined work. There are no interruptions—there are only mismanaged inputs.
If you let yourself get caught up in the urgency of the moment, without feeling comfortable about what you’re not dealing with, the result is frustration and anxiety.
People often complain about the interruptions that prevent them from doing their work. But interruptions are unavoidable in life. When you become elegant at dispatching what’s coming in and are organized enough to take advantage of “weird time” windows that show up, you can switch between one task and the other rapidly.
TKThe six levels of work as we saw in chapter 2 (pages 54–56) may be thought of in terms of altitude, as in the floors of a building: Horizon 5: Life Horizon 4: Long-term visions Horizon 3: One- to two-year goals Horizon 2: Areas of focus and accountability Horizon 1: Current projects Ground: Current actions
From a practical perspective, I suggest going from the bottom up instead.
Pick battles big enough to matter, small enough to win. —Jonathan Kozol
If I don’t have something to write with or text or type into, I know I’m not as comfortable letting myself think progressively about projects and situations.
Some companies have designed whole internal walls as erasable writing surfaces, fostering brainstorming and ad hoc visual communications. If you have children, I recommend that you install one in their bedrooms (I wish I had grown up with the encouragement to have as many ideas as I could!). Be sure to keep plenty of fresh markers on hand—nothing stifles creative thinking faster than dry and useless writing tools.
We tend to think differently when we express with different equipment, and many people find that writing and drawing by hand unwraps a broader palette of ideas.
Let our advance worrying become our advance thinking and planning. —Winston Churchill
The sense of anxiety and guilt doesn’t come from having too much to do; it’s the automatic result of breaking agreements with yourself.
How have you felt when someone broke an agreement with you, told you they would meet you Thursday at four p.m. and never showed or called? How did that feel? Frustrating, I imagine.
If the negative feelings come from broken agreements, you have three options for dealing with them and eliminating the negative consequences: Don’t make the agreement. Complete the agreement. Renegotiate the agreement.
I suggest that you use your mind to think about things, rather than think of them. You want to be adding value as you think about projects and situations, not creating stress by simply reminding yourself they exist and you need to do something about them.
When a culture adopts “What’s the next action?” as a standard operating query, there’s an automatic increase in energy, productivity, clarity, and focus.
It’s really the smartest and most sensitive people who have the highest number of undecided things in their lives and on their lists. Why is that? Think of how our bodies respond to the images we hold in our minds. It appears that the nervous system can’t tell the difference between a well-imagined thought and reality.
who would procrastinate the most? Of course, it would be the most creative, sensitive, and intelligent people—because their sensitivity and creativity give them the capability to produce in their minds lurid nightmare scenarios about what might be involved in doing the project, and all the negative consequences that might occur if it isn’t done perfectly! They just freak out in an instant and quit!
I am an old man, and I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened. —Mark Twain
There is another solution: intelligently dumbing down your brain by figuring out the next action. You’ll invariably feel a relieving of pressure about anything you have a commitment to change or do, when you decide on the very next physical action required to move it forward. Nothing, essentially, will change in the world. But shifting your focus to something that your mind perceives as a doable task will create a real increase in positive energy, direction, and motivation.
There are risks and costs to a program of action, but they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction. —John F. Kennedy
Complaining is a sign that someone isn’t willing to risk moving on a changeable situation, or won’t consider the immutable circumstance in his or her plans. This is a temporary and hollow form of self-validation.
When you start to make things happen, you begin to believe that you can make things happen. And that makes things happen.
As Steven Snyder, an expert in whole-brain learning and a friend of mine, put it, “There are only two problems in life: (1) you know what you want, and you don’t know how to get it; and/or (2) you don’t know what you want.”
Your mind is for having ideas, not for holding them.
work—Anything one is committed to accomplish that is unfinished