Book Review – Getting Things Done

The modern world is very busy.  With the rise of email and the Internet in general, it’s becoming increasingly possible to have as many things to do when you’re at home as you do at work.  (And that’s even before you start a home business or do something like create a blog.)  With so many things to do, how do you make sure you get things done?

Getting Things Done seeks to answer just that question.  Written by David Allen, a ‘Personal Productivity Guru’, it attempts to provide a method of making you more productive and less stressed when it comes to those things you need to do.  Based on his experiences, it lays out a procedure to follow to empty your inbox and accomplish the tasks within.  Do his techniques have merit, or should you find your own methods?  Let’s read!

Summary of Getting Things Done

Getting Things DoneGetting Things Done opens with a Prologue that shares David Allen’s experiences with organization and productivity, and notes his decades of helping others to achieve those same goals.  It also shares a brief preview of what is coming in the rest of the book, before getting to:

Part 1: The Art of Getting Things Done

Chapter 1 – A New Practice for a New Reality

The first chapter starts by noting the increasing complexity of the modern workplace, and how technology makes the boundaries of the workplace harder to determine.  It shares some of the basic tactics of the book and the overall goal, to organize all the “stuff” that is on your mind and achieve a state where you can devote all of your attention to your current task, by getting everything you want to do out of your head.

Chapter 2 – Getting Control of Your Life: The Five Stages of Mastering Workflow

The second chapter provides an overview of the technique that makes up most of the book.  It is a five-step process, including collecting the tasks to be done, processing them, organizing them, reviewing them, and finally, doing them.  The chapter covers some of the basics of each step, and provides examples of how they could be put to use.

Chapter 3 – Getting Projects Creatively Under Way: The Five Stages of Project Planning

This part closes out with a chapter looking at how to plan major projects. It discusses Allen’s recommended five steps, which are determining the purpose of the project, envisioning the outcome, brainstorming possible actions, organizing those possibilities, and determining the next actions.

Part 2: Practicing Stress-Free Productivity

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

Before getting into the main procedure set out in the rest of the book, chapter four covers how to create a workplace for carrying it out.  It provides a list of equipment to own for an ideally functional office space, focusing primarily on desk space, an inbox, and a filing system, and making your home office (if you have one) match your work office.

Chapter 5 – Collection: Corralling Your “Stuff”

Chapter five looks at how to collect all the things that are on your mind so they can be organized.  Physical items are gathered from desktops, drawers, or any other locations and placed in the inbox.  Mental items that need to be reviewed are considered and reminders are written on pieces of paper to be placed in the inbox as well.

Chapter 6 – Processing: Getting the “In” to Empty

With all of these things now in your inbox, chapter six then focuses on how to get it empty.  It covers a basic procedure for getting through everything in the inbox: identifying it, determining if it is actionable, and if so, figuring out the next action to take.  It stresses ‘do it, delegate it, defer it’ as the major options; that is, finish the short (under 2 minute) tasks, delegate them to someone else, or organize them into another bucket, which are covered in:

Chapter 7 – Organizing: Setting Up the Right Buckets

This is the largest chapter, covering many different aspects of organizing the items and information that you’ve collected and processed.  It suggests dividing the material into seven different types, from ‘Next Actions’ (things that you should do as soon as possible) to scheduled events that are put on your Calendar to ‘Someday/Maybe’ (those goals that you maybe want to accomplish, someday).  Each type of item is discussed in more detail, with individual techniques (like creating a ‘tickler file’) covered.

Chapter 8 – Reviewing: Keeping Your System Functional

With the organization complete, chapter eight discusses how to keep up with this system, ensuring that it stays up-to-date with your needs and priorities.  It recommends covering your Next Actions and Calendar daily to see what should be done as soon as possible and doing a Weekly Review to make sure that nothing has been missed and everything new has been incorporated.

Chapter 9 – Doing: Making the Best Action Choices

After these chapters on organizing your thoughts, this chapter covers doing the Next Action.  It discusses several frameworks to decide the priority of your actions, and thus, which ones to do at any given time.  It looks at figuring out the best possible actions for any given moment, determining your overall tasks for the day, and how to make sure your actions line up with your overall goals.

Chapter 10 – Getting Projects Under Control

This section closes out by looking at how to organize your thoughts and increase your creativity when working on major projects.  It focuses on the different types of projects, the materials that support creative thoughts, and how to apply the creative thinking to your projects.

Part 3: The Power of the Key Principles

Chapter 11 – The Power of the Collection Habit

The final chapters look at the advantages each of the habits stressed in the book provide.  This chapter focuses on the habit of collecting , processing and organizing all the data that comes your way.  It stresses how doing so helps to get everything out in the open, allowing you to get it off your mind, and making it easier to determine the next step.

Chapter 12 – The Power of the Next-Action Decision

Chapter twelve takes a similar look at the Next Action process that the book constantly stresses.  It notes that by breaking down the goals to the Next Action level makes it easier to act towards completing the goals and helps to make them clearer, thus making it more likely that people will engage in the actions.

Chapter 13 – The Power of Outcome Focusing

The final chapter looks at how to focus on the overall goals you are trying to achieve as you work through the procedures set out in the book.  It stresses the advantages of focusing on the outcome for both individuals and organizations, emphasizing how doing so can help to boost the performance for either.

The book rounds out with a short Conclusion, emphasizing the importance of applying them regularly, and giving a short list of some of the major steps to take while making that application.


  • Very Useful Information: Getting Things Done has lot of useful information throughout it, providing advice on organization and productivity that are highly intriguing.
  • Easy to Follow System: Everything is laid out (fairly) clearly, with each step broken down into individual steps or actions for completion and movement to the next procedure.
  • Highly Encouraging: Throughout the book, Allen maintains a positive and supportive tone toward the reader, stressing the ability to accomplish these same goals.


  • Sometimes Tough to Read: While the system itself is very useful and not that hard to put into practice, the writing style of the book can make it hard to follow at times.
  • Aimed Primary at White Collar Managers: Much of the book, from the terminology used to the references to Allen’s personal training, defines the book primary towards white collar management types.
  • Much Self-Promotion: Throughout the book, there are numerous references towards Allen’s personal training of executives and his seminars, making it highly self-promotional.


Getting Things Done provides some very useful information for, well, getting things done.  It will be particularly useful if you are in a white-collar position (especially if you have great control over your work environment), but in a world where most of us are doing things increasingly with online ‘offices’, I feel there’s a lot of useful information for just about everyone to found throughout.  I’d definitely recommend it.  (Actually, I’ve been applying some of the techniques myself recently, to a fair amount of success.)

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