Getting Things Done by David Allen Part 2

by Ron Haynes

In yesterday’s post on this book, I covered the first section and first three chapters of David Allen’s book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.
Today, I’ll cover section two, Practicing Stress Free Productivity, by covering chapters four through ten.

Chapter 4

This chapter primarily focuses on setting up your personal space or spaces for Getting Things Done. Allen suggests that users have two areas, one at work and one at home, that are similar in set up if at all possible. He also suggests that you set up a “mobile unit” since so many people (myself included) find themselves working out of town in a hotel room.

Your set up can consist of simply a desk or writing area, a few folders, a legal pad, and some stackable trays. Of course, the more complicated things are for you, the more items you’ll require. He also says that you shouldn’t share your space so you can customize it to your own needs without having to constantly rebuild it or look for your stuff.

For me, I have a traditional office at work and a very similar set up at home. I also have a mobile set up for use in my travels. I am having to diligently work to keep my job stuff separate from my blog stuff.

Chapter 5

This chapter is the tough one. Here is where you are supposed to “corral your stuff” and it can be a daunting task for some people. Allen wants you to go through every storage area and every nook and cranny in every location to find every slip of paper, every piece of data that you’ll need to be able to put your mind at rest. The car, the office, the sofa cushions, the boat, the RV, the lake cabin, the hunting cabin.

MY problem is that I have so much going on in my head. I keep far too much between the ears and don’t write it down as diligently as I should. I usually keep a small note pad with me in my shirt pocket (my wife says it makes me look like a geek). When an idea comes to me, I try to write it down. I need to get better.

Next, with this big pile of stuff, you’ll need to set aside a large chunk of time to go through everything. What I plan to do is spend at least one afternoon, thinking and writing down all the things that are in my head and put them into the IN box.

Chapter 6

This is the information processing chapter and the goal is to empty the IN box. After you’ve processed this giant pile of stuff, you will have:

  • Thrown out what you don’t need.
  • Completed any LTTM (less than two minute) tasks. He says to go ahead and do those right NOW.
  • Delegated anything that needed delegating.
  • Sorted into your own organizing system anything that takes longer than two minutes using reminders and dates.
  • Identified any large projects.

Your key processing question is: What is the next action I will have to take regarding this item?” The answer to that question will depend on how the item is treated and what bucket it goes into (chapter 7), but remember that action steps are the next physical action required.

I have yet to perform this task under the GTD system, but I have completed this list before. Usually, right before vacation time or when I’ll be away from the office for an extended period, I will go through this sequence. What will make a difference moving forward is that I’ll keep this system in place between vacations.

Chapter 7

Putting everything in the right bucket is highly important. Allen says there are 7 basic categories to track and manage yourself:

  • A projects list
  • Project supported material
  • Calendar of actions and information
  • A “next actions” list
  • A “waiting for” list
  • Reference material
  • A “maybe someday” list

There must be hard edges on these categories because they all represent a different agreement you make with yourself. Don’t allow them to blend or you’ll lose trust in the system.

You’re encouraged to personalize items within these categories. I will probably have a specific item for blog ideas, one for items I’d like to read, one for marketing ideas for my stores, and one for management ideas I’d like to research. I’ll also need a category for all items related to work.

Chapter 8

No system is worth its salt if it isn’t used. The way Allen recommends we use this system is called the Review process. There has to be a specific time set aside to review all items in your files or on your calendar. A Regular review will keep everything from falling apart.

A good time for me to personally review my system will be on Friday mornings or possibly Sunday afternoons. Friday mornings, I am usually busy running some reports on my store’s performances for the week and they take a while to run. Sunday afternoons will be good if I’m spending Friday morning running through an airport trying to catch a plane.

Chapter 9

Making the best and wisest choices when deciding which items to do first, second, third, etc will allow you the flexibility to customize this system to your own style. Only you really knows what should take a higher priority over another item. He recommends that you trust your own intuition.

He introduces three possibilities for organizing your best action choices. These three are broken down even further, as follows:

  • Choosing Actions in the Moment
    • Context
    • Time Available
    • Energy Available
    • Priority
  • Evaluating Your Daily Work
    • Doing predefined work. This is the work you planned to do today.
    • Doing work as it shows up. Surprise!
    • Defining your work. Processing your IN box.
  • Reviewing Your Own Work
    • 50,000 feet: Life
    • 40,000 feet: Three to five year visions
    • 30,000 feet: One to two year goals
    • 20,000 feet: Areas of responsibility
    • 10,000 feet: Current projects
    • Runway: Current actions

Each of these levels should enhance and align with the ones above it. How yo decide will be a very personal decision and only you can make it. One thing Allen said really stood out to me:

If your job structure doesn’t match up with where you need to be a year from how, you should rethink how you’ve framed your areas of focus and responsibilities, if you want to get where you’re going most efficiently.

I was intrigued when I read that you can approach your priorities from and level, at any time. Everything will be driven by the priorities of the level above it. He encourages us to work from the bottom up, because taking care of those runway items and 10,000 foot items through the GTD system will allow you to think about and consider the items on the higher levels.

Chapter 10

This was a brief chapter about being diligent with keeping your projects under control and on track. If you find yourself at an impasse, go back to brainstorming to see what pops up. Never let a project collect dust in a corner unless it truly has a low priority.

That sums up the second section of the book. Tomorrow, I will summarize the last section (chapters 11, 12, & 13) and give my BUY/DON’T BUY recommendation.

About the author

Ron Haynes has written 1000 articles on The Wisdom Journal.


The founder and editor of The Wisdom Journal in 2007, Ron has worked in banking, distribution, retail, and upper management for companies ranging in size from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations. He graduated Suma Cum Laude from a top MBA program and currently is a Human Resources and Management consultant, helping companies know how employees will behave in varying situations and what motivates them to action, assisting firms in identifying top talent, and coaching managers and employees on how to better communicate and make the workplace MUCH more enjoyable. If you'd like help in these areas, contact Ron using the contact form at the top of this page or at 870-761-7881.


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