Three Initial Takeaways from Getting Things Done

I’m reading Getting Things Done by David Allen so that I can establish a framework for managing my tasks. Up until now my system has consisted of keeping email unread to remind me I have to do…something and then also just randomly adding items to a todo list (it was usually Todoist) and neglecting to actually address them.

The book is sort of like a workbook. I find I retain the methodologies better by implementing them as I learn about them. There are three pieces of the GTD methodology that I find most useful so far:

  • Collection
  • Next actions
  • The “waiting on” list


The collection phase is where you record everything you are keeping trapped inside your head to get it into a physical form so that later you can actually do something with it. These items range from big things like travel to Europe to work items like finish the monthly report to small personal items like buy dog food.

This is where David Allen’s famous quote comes into play: “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.”

I chose to record everything on paper for two reasons. I did not want to get distracted by the Internet or by trying to tag certain items if I was adding them to my todo list app. Also, I wanted to be able to easily visualize how much I was actually holding in my head. When I was done I had listed out close to one hundred items and instantly felt a bit of relief. Sure I had a huge list to comb through now but it was out of my head. I had eliminated the nagging feeling that I was forgetting something and that was a big load off.

Next Actions

One of the key ways of accomplishing tasks on your todo list is to make them actionable. If you have an item that says “come up with new client strategy” it’s likely you won’t ever take action on that item. There’s no direction in that item. It’s so vague that it’s daunting. This is not the way humans work. You don’t sit down and just poof, come up with a strategy. First you draft your ideas, then you organize them, thenĀ  your review with the team, and so forth. There are smaller actions that lead to the final goal and motivate you to actually get started because they are attainable rather than a list full of vague items.

This part of the methodology is something I am sold on but need to be better at implementing.

The “Waiting On” List

David Allen suggests creating a list where you can move items if your next action requires an action from another party or an event that hasn’t taken place yet. I find this super helpful when I’m waiting on a client’s feedback or for another team member to finish their portion of the project. It gets it off my immediate todo list but doesn’t bury it so deep that I lose sight of it.

Part of the GTD method is setting up contexts for your todo items. These are labels that describe the circumstances in which the task can actually be completed. An example of a context might be “phone” if you have a bunch of todo items that require making phone calls. You might want to save these items until you have access to a phone.

For my “waiting on” list I created a context for “waiting on” instead of a separate todo list. I find I can work faster by doing this and can quickly see what prioirity items I have where I’m waiting on someone else before moving forward.

I’m about halfway through Getting Things Done and am finding it very useful. Previosuly I was always trying out new productivity and todo list tools hoping the next one would make me more efficient and accountable, but it’s not about the tool, it’s about your process and the GTD method is built to keep you organized and accountable.

Author: Scott Taft

Scott Taft is a digital marketer, a writer and husband. He lives in Philly with his wife and dog. They love to hike, check out new restaurants and watch scary movies.

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