Getting Things Done

From Organic Design wiki

Book: Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity
Author David Allen
Publisher Penguin USA
Buy from Book Depository
ISBN 9780142000281
Keywords productivity self-management organisation

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David Allen's "Getting Things Done" (shortened in popular usage to "GTD") is a systematic approach for gaining control and attaining perspective in personal matters through self-management. The claimed benefits for people implementing the approach are increased and stress-free productivity and a state of flow, creativity and positive engagement while maintaining "mind like water". While his original book of the same title introduced the "Getting Things Done" approach, his more recent title Making It All Work and the terminology therein has been used as a basis for this review.

Allen describes three models that make up his system: Mastering Workflow, Natural Planning and Horizons of Focus. The three models are interconnected horizontally through sequence and vertically through hierarchy via eleven core underlying concepts: There are five stages of workflow for gaining control (Capturing, Clarifying, Organising, Reflecting and Engaging / Actions) and six horizons of focus for gaining perspective (Engaging / Actions, Projects, Areas of Focus, Goals, Vision and Purpose / Principles)[1].

There is a clear alignment between the GTD approach and the OrganicDesign values and methods. Conceptually, we can relate to notions of workflows and organisational hierarchies and can imagine how they might be implemented in a collaborative web-based system. These concepts map very well to ontologies representing organisations, in this case the organisation that represents a person. More importantly, it is an holistic and unified approach to self organisation: There is no distinction between "work" and "life" in the system - why not use one tool to effectively manage everything in life we care about? Allen also shows how the same system can be applied to any organisation because the concepts map across quite naturally from individuals to groups. Unification is an important objective for OrganicDesign so we prefer to use tools and methods that inherently support it by being designed from a unified perspective.

Extension of the basic concepts into a web 3.0 environment

Five stages of workflow for control

At the core of Allen's system lies a workflow which has five phases. The horizontal axis of his system is the axis of "control", encompassing the workflow phases that allow the practitioner to regain control of all the "stuff" in their life.


The first stage involves "recognising, acknowledging, accepting and externally objectifying what has the attention of yourself and others". To do this part right it is essential to develop a "capturing habit" and use notebooks, whiteboards, mindmapping, journaling and other tools to capture any ideas that may turn up.

When first capturing what has one's attention, Allen recommends taking inventory of literally all of the physical "stuff" in one's life, as well as doing regular "mindsweeps" using trigger lists and reviewing what has our attention at the various horizons of focus - see below.

Further principles are as follows:

  • Capture anything that has your attention (paper notes, emails, voice mail) in leak-proof, external buckets
  • Have as few of these buckets as possible and as many as necessary
  • Empty buckets regularly (process and organise)
  • Overcapture - there are no bad ideas, and no commitment to do anything about what has been captured


  • Make decisions about what you have collected
  • not actionable vs. actionable


  • Group the results of processing into appropriate action categories and contexts


  • Review calendar and action lists daily
  • Conduct a weekly review to maintain, tidy up and develop the system
  • Review longer term goals, visions and values as often as necessary to keep project list complete and current


Allen recommends choosing what to do based on what you can do (context), how much time you have, how much energy you have and what your priorities are - in that order of priority. There are three main types of work that need to be done: predefined work, work "as it shows up", and defining one's work. Allen's system is designed to help deal with interruptions and surprises, because one knows what is being put off. He recommends following one's intuition in deciding what work to do but recommends doing regular reviews of high level goals, making sure the various levels are aligned and build on each other.

Six horizons of focus for perspective

The vertical axis is the axis of perspective, which allows the practitioner to step back and assess whether the work being done is alignment with higher level goals and principles. Allen introduces five levels of perspective, moving from the day-to-day tasks right up to life purpose at the top. The intervals given in brackets are the recommended review cycles for the various levels.

  • 50,000 + feet: Life purpose and principles (yearly +)
  • 40,000 feet: Vision (yearly)
  • 30,000 feet: Goals (quarterly)
  • 20,000 feet: Areas of Focus (monthly)
  • 10,000 feet: Current projects (weekly)
  • Runway: Current actions (daily)

Allen recommends working from the bottom up, to ensure current action lists are complete, because working from the top down while there is pressure to get stuff done can cause frustration and anxiety.

Notes and References

  1. See also the explanation at, and the entire workflow map set is available here.

See also