Getting Things Done

Getting Things Done by David Allen: Actionable Book Summary (2023)

By Alex • Updated July 7, 2023

In our busy world, our minds can become overloaded with tasks and ideas. David Allen, author of "Getting Things Done," suggests that we should use our minds to generate ideas, not hold them. The GTD system provides a practical solution by using external tools like calendars and lists. By consistently following three habits (capturing, processing, and reviewing), GTD can enhance productivity, mental clarity, and our ability to be present and engaged.

The GTD system involves efficiently capturing thoughts and tasks, using a digital or physical inbox to store them, and processing them daily to maintain control and organization. Weekly reviews help prioritize and align actions and projects with long-term goals, building trust in the system and promoting stress-free productivity.

Key Takeaways

  • Implementing the GTD system promotes more present and engaged living through effective mental decluttering.
  • Harnessing the three vital habits of capturing, processing, and reviewing enhances one's ability to manage tasks.
  • Aligning prioritized actions and projects with long-term goals ensures stress-free productivity and overall well-being.

The GTD System

The GTD (Getting Things Done) System by David Allen helps individuals achieve stress-free productivity by relying on external lists and calendars. It involves three vital habits: capturing, processing, and reviewing. To capture, users must immediately record ideas or actions that come to mind. Processing helps users stay in control of their tasks and priorities. Reviewing ensures that actions and projects align with long-term goals. The GTD System thrives on consistently practicing these habits. By following this structure, users can maintain mental agility, be fully present in their lives, and achieve meaningful goals with minimal effort.

Three Vital Habits

To maintain a trusted GTD (Getting Things Done) system, practice three vital habits: capturing, processing, and reviewing.

First, with capturing, immediately put any idea or action that comes to mind into a digital or physical inbox. This helps release stress from the mind and stay present in the current moment.

Next, process everything captured by setting aside a specific time each day. Decide whether it is actionable, useful, or can be deleted. Categorize clear next actions and ultimate outcomes in appropriate folders or lists.

Finally, reviewing the GTD system each week helps declutter and ensure all projects and actions align with long-term goals. Prioritize actions accordingly and prepare for the upcoming week.

By consistently practicing these three habits, create mental space and get meaningful things done with minimal effort. Ultimately, following David Allen's GTD system leads to a more efficient and fulfilling life.


Capturing is a vital habit in the GTD system that helps release mental stress and allows you to remain fully present and focused. By regularly capturing information, ideas, and tasks that come your way, you make room for new thoughts and can concentrate more effectively on the task at hand.

Capture Techniques

To successfully capture tasks and ideas, it's crucial to choose methods that best suit your needs and lifestyle. Some effective capture techniques include:

  • Waterproof notepad in the shower: Jot down ideas and actions that surface while showering on a waterproof notepad to ensure they don't slip away with the water.
  • Loose sheets of paper during meetings: Scribble down ideas and actions from meetings on a loose sheet of paper, which you can later process and organize.
  • Using voice-activated assistants while driving: Use a voice-activated assistant like Siri to capture ideas and actions while driving, enabling you to keep your eyes on the road and stay safe.

By using these capture techniques, you're allowing your mind to let go of information, knowing it's safely stored elsewhere. It's vital not to overly perfect an idea or action while capturing; the objective is simply to record it for later processing. Remember, even if an idea initially seems poor, capturing it makes room in your mind for new, potentially better ideas.


Deletion and Reference Folders

During the daily processing routine, begin by examining the items captured since the last session. For each item, ask if it is actionable or useful. If neither, delete it. If it is not actionable but still useful, place it in a reference folder for future use.

Actionable Items

For actionable items, decide whether to act on them immediately or later. If it can be done in two minutes or less, do it right away. Otherwise, assign it to a "someday/maybe" folder and check that folder on the first of every month to reassess its priority.

Next Actions and Ultimate Outcomes

All remaining actionable items must be converted into a specific next action along with an intended outcome. Begin each next action with a verb and ensure the instructions are clear for future completion. Separate next actions from their ultimate outcomes and add the latter to a project list, helping the brain to stop reminding about additional tasks in that area.

Calendar, List, Follow-Up

Organize these next actions by placing time-specific ones on a calendar, actions to be done as soon as possible on a next action list, and delegated items or those waiting for further information on a follow-up list. If the next action list exceeds 30 items, divide it into context-specific lists (e.g., at home, at work, at the grocery store) to easily manage tasks in different environments.


Weekly Review

Every Friday at 3 pm, allocate 30 minutes to conduct a top-down review of the GTD system. The objective is to declutter the system by eliminating non-essential items and ensuring that all actions and projects align with long-term goals. Begin the review session by adopting a 10,000-foot perspective, visualizing the desired activities you want to engage in on a typical day within three to five years.

Next, lower the viewpoint to 1,000 feet and imagine standing on the rooftop of a tall building, contemplating the goals that need to be achieved within the next year to realize the envisioned three to five-year plan. Afterward, return to ground level and examine the current list of next actions and projects to determine whether they align with the 1,000-foot goals and 10,000-foot vision and prioritize them accordingly.

Aligning with Long-Term Goals

Once the next actions and projects have been prioritized and non-essential items have been removed, schedule critical actions for the upcoming week on the calendar. With this updated system, trust is renewed, providing the motivation to adopt GTD habits and create mental space for being fully present with loved ones while accomplishing meaningful things with minimal effort.

Maintaining the weekly review ritual in the same location every week and rewarding oneself with a treat, such as an indulgent chocolate bar, can create a sense of consistency and anticipation for the review process. By consistently practicing the GTD habits of capturing, processing, and reviewing, it becomes easier to create and maintain a trusted GTD system that promotes mental clarity and enhances productivity in both personal and professional domains.