This page is my reading notes that I took while reading the book. It is in a chapter-by-chapter reading notes format that attempts to capture the information outlined in the book in a concise format. However, since I write the reviews out of memory, there will be discrepancies with the book.


Getting Things Done: Chapter-by-Chapter Reading Notes

1. Why Do It

Organizing 'stuff that needs to get done' in a trusted system reduces stress. If the 'stuff' is not in a trusted system, it will keep popping up in your head, reducing efficiency.

2. Five Stages of Mastering Workflow

2.1 Collect

Remember to empty the collecting 'buckets' regularly. The collecting buckets are not a 'todo list'. Allows to never forget a good idea. Put everything that pops up in the head somewhere that you trust you will come back to later.

Also avoids getting interrupted with new stuff. Something pops-up, commit it to a bucket, then move on. Avoids wasting time on 'emotional on the spot ideas' ... after the right amount of time has passed and the excitement wears off maybe they won't seem like such good idea to spend time on anymore.

2.2 Process

Simple rule: if takes less than two minutes to do, do it now. Sort the item in a category (next section).

2.3 Organize

Put every item in a category: {project, trash, someday_maybe, reference, waiting, calendar, next_actions}.

Reference Material

Everything that is non-actionable but that might be useful as reference in the future. The organization method is left to the user, although it is required to be indexable (alphabetical index, topic index, ...). Searchable is better. It must be fast to file an item, and fast to find an item. It must be physically close to where the user works (if possible accessible from where the user is sitting).


Tentative in the future, no concrete plans yet. Books to read, movies to watch, vacation to take, ...

2.4 Review

The Weekly Review

The human 'cron job': make sure the categories are up to date. Do not neglect even if busy, otherwise it becomes easy to lose track of what is important.

2.5 Do

Do the items considering time, priorities and energy available.

3. The Five Phases of Project Planning

  1. Defining purpose and principles
  2. Outcome visioning
  3. Brainstorming
  4. Organizing
  5. Identify next actions

4. Getting Started: Setting Up the Time, Space and Tools

Office Space

Need a personal (don't share) office space: one at work, one at home and one in transit, if necessary.

Filing System

5. Collection: Corralling Your "Stuff"

Transform all the items into discrete items of work. Transform then in a physical form that can be put in an 'in basket' or a 'work stack'.

6. Processing: Getting "In" to Empty

Once all items that require attention are in a pile, process it. Here are the rules of processing:

For every item, one of the following must be done:

Some items will belong to projects; they are part of a set of chronological steps that need to be done in order to accomplish a parent item. For those items, put them in a project list. Keep track of all the currently 'ongoing' projects (that have open loops / items left to do in).

The Reference System

Having a good reference system is crucial


Put into a calendar that will remind to do the item when appropriate. Can also use a 'someday/maybe' list if there is no specific time to start the task; it just needs to be started at some point in the future but not now.

Misc Tips

7. Organizing: Setting Up the Right Buckets

There are 7 types of buckets:

The obvious danger in setting a lot of separate buckets is not review them often enough (which obviously needs to be done in order for the system to work).

Next Actions List

Organized by context (e.g. at home, at work, errands, in person meeting, with boss)

Keep a 'read/review' list, need to have useful things to read at hand whenever there is a little bit of free time

Waiting For

Next actions that are waiting for a trigger (ex: waiting for someone else to complete something). If there is a known date put in calendar instead.

Project List

List of the ongoing projects. Unlike other lists, it may be OK to review only once a week. When concrete steps need to be taken in order to progress, the steps should be copied to the 'next actions list'. The projects can be organized in different sections (ex: personal, professional).

Project Support Materials

Resources to support project's actions. Do not use as reminders (use 'next actions', calendar or 'waiting for' instead).

Reference Material

Items that have no action required (if an action is required, it belongs in an 'action' list that will be reviewed frequently) but contain important information.


Things to be reminded of in the future such as events, deadlines and periodic reminders. Putting an item in the calendar does not mean it has to be done; just that attention must be brought on the item at a specific time.


Items that do not need to be done now, that do not have a specific deadline in the future (if they do, they belong on the Calendar) but would be nice to get around to do at some point.

8. Reviewing: Keeping Your System Functional

Order of Buckets Review

From first to last: * Calendar * Action Lists

Updating the System (The Weekly Review)

The weekly review is key to maintaining a system that one can come to trust and that truly reduces stress.

After doing the weekly review, your head should be 'clear'. Since all that must be done and all relevant information is in the system, there is very little risk of failure.

9. Doing: Making the Best Action Choices

Choose What to Work on Now

Base decision on 4 factors:

Energy available

In order to be very productive even when one's energy level is low, it make sense to use a system that keeps track of little tasks that do not require much thinking but must be done. Avoid at all cost doing them in your most productive time and make the best use out of low-energy time.

The Threefold Model for Evaluating Daily Work

Feel like you are always in 'putting fires out' mode? You are doing it wrong.

Tasks can be done because either:

The author argues that it is better to stay in mode '1' or '2' as much as possible. It is unavoidable that 3s will happen, and it is all right that they take first priority over predefined, planned work. But it should never happen that most of the time is spent on urgent tasks. That situation happens when time is not properly managed, effort is wasted on tasks that should not be done, while things that should be done but are put on hold or not tracked evolve from being 'doable on time without stress' to an emergency that has to be done now.

The Six-Level Model

The author uses the metaphor of a plane for describing the multiple levels of responsibilities.

Although it might be counter-intuitive, do a bottom-up approach. It is hard to focus on the higher levels if there is stress about the current tasks. One all the tasks and next steps are collected in lists, then move-on the project. Move up the levels in that fashion until reaching the 'life' level.

The tasks should 'trickle-down' from the above layers. Example:

Thinking and writing about the different level might reveal discordances. It is a good time to re-evaluate current projects. Drop (if possible) what does not fit in your model, and add new projects that do. It is worth nothing that only the bottom two levels (current tasks, current projects) are actually related to actions and things that can be done. The above levels are reflections on what one wants to accomplish.

10. Getting Projects Under Control

(This chapter is a review of already covered material.)

Projects need a dedicated space in which planning can be done. Professional large-scale projects will have defined tools like GANTT charts, but what about smaller or more informal projects? In order to lower your mental load, write down ideas as they occur. Make sure everything can be put in a project or next action list. Always keep something you can jot down ideas on, being a pad, loose sheets of paper, computer software, etc. This will prevent good ideas from being lost, and free up your mind from the stress of forgetting something. Writing can be inspiring, do it as much as possible.

11. The Power of the Collection Habit

This chapter lists the benefits from having a system to manage events and projects that was proposed in the book.

Benefits of The Method

Since the method explicits what has to be done and define a next action for every current project, it becomes clear what agreements have been negotiated with oneself and others. By moving these agreements from subconscious to a trusted system, it becomes easier to decide what to do and especially what not to do. When an agreement has to be renegotiated (maybe there is no time to do it after all), at least the implications will be clear, and the guilt that comes from breaking an agreement will be diminished if it can be shown that it really does not matter much not to do it. In a way, it allows not to do things and be OK with it, because the system can be trusted.

Also, since the work to be done is more tangible and evaluated, it becomes easier to refuse work. This will result in lesser broken agreements with others, which will also reduce stress. If it is clear that there is already too much to do, at least it is easily demonstrable to others (you have a written list of things to do).

12. The Power of the Next-Action Decision

Defining a next action for every ongoing project or commitment makes it possible to get things done even when there are just a few idle minutes available. If it is not clear what needs to be done in order to advance a project, one might be reticent to work because what is undefined can often be imagined as overwhelming, and procrastination becomes very tempting. If there is a discrete action defined, then the fear to start doing the work is just what it needs to be -- the fear proportional to the task at hand; which is usually exaggerated when not well defined.

It also help to define the next action when working with others. It forces accountability, and make it easy to plan. When quitting a meeting, always state what concrete actions you will take about the problems that were discussed and how you are going to report that they are done.

13. The Power of Outcome Focusing

Apply the same process that was defined for projects (keep track of projects in a written form, keep track of ideas, define the next actions) for goals. Write down what you would like. Then define steps that would lead there. Define next actions. Start doing.

My Thoughts on Topic and Personal Tweaks on GTD

GTD as A Standardization of Work

In some ways, GTD is a standardization of work. The usually fuzzy work world is reduced to a set of discrete work items. This allows reducing the uncertaincy of the work world, clearly defining the next steps to do in order to get things done and unloading the stress caused by the uncertainty of the ability of one individual to face the challenges of the current tasks at hand. By defining the individual steps that are required in order to accomplish the tasks, working is transformed from a scary, not well defined series of challenge into something as easy as going from point A to point B (just keep putting a feet ahead of the other ==> just keep defining and processing work items).

Allow Guilt-Free Time Off

When one has a lot to do, it becomes hard to take the time to relax without constantly thinking 'I should really be working'. But it has been proved that reducing stress by taking some time off actually increases productivity [reference needed]. It is then counter-productive to stop taking any time off in 'work crunch mode'. GTD allows having an idea of what is left to do, when to do it. It then becomes easier to schedule Friday night as 'completely off' and enjoy the night, knowing that work is under control.

The 'Never-Do' List

I found out that I was reluctant to throw away 'todo-items', even after they have been cluttering my 'Someday/Maybe' list for a long time. In order to get over my natural psychological reluctance to throw away items I want to do but will probably not have available time for anytime soon, I created the Never-Do List. The difference with the Someday/Maybe list is that I do not force myself to review it periodically. It turns out I almost never end-up doing the Never-Do items (hence the name), but at least I know I could do.

I Use a Pomodoro Timer

Have a goal (e.g. a good day of work is 10 pomodoros!, a good after work session is 4 pomodoros, ...). It helps me focus (focus on ignoring distractions) and it allows me to set an amount of work, after which I can relax and do what I like. This works marvel for motivation. Online pomodoro implementation here..


Turns out this is a must for me. I get unfocused, stressed and nervous if I do not exercise. I need to do it every-day. 45 minutes jog before lunch is ideal.

Quotes I Like From the Book

I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened. -- Mark Twain

The most senior and savvy executives know the value of sacrificing the seemingly urgent for the truly important.

The secret if getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one. -- Mark Twain

Other Source of Information on the Topic