The book Getting Things Done by David Allen is a book that should be read multiple times. Not because it is so complicated, but because it is a great reminder to put you back on track and to help you see how much you have learned and incorporated into your daily life.

The premise of the book is to go from having a thought pop into your head about something that needs to be done and moving through a process to accomplish the task. This is done by Collecting, Processing, Organizing, Reviewing and Doing. These are the five steps of Getting Things Done. You should read the article about Collecting and Processing. It will give you a good background for the remaining three items: Organizing, Reviewing and Doing.

GTD Workflow – Step 3: Organizing

Organizing is something that is done in conjunction with the Processing step since this is where all the bits of information will be filed as it is processed. When you get more organized and accustomed to using the GTD system, then you will have much of the organization in place for future processing sessions.

There are several places that each item from the Processing step can end up. Many are filed in various places. David Allen gives seven specific places each item may end up if it is not completed or trashed during the Processing step. These are: "Project" list, "Next Actions" list, "Waiting For" list, "Someday/Maybe" list, project support material, calendar and reference material.

  • Project List: Each project has its own list of the steps that need to be done. A project is anything that has more than one task to accomplish it. A task is an individual to-do item.
  • Next Actions List: These are the next things that can be done on a project or task to move them forward.
  • Waiting For List: When something is either delegated, or waiting for a reply from someone else, the item goes on this list for reminders of who is responsible for getting the next stage of a project done.
  • Someday/Maybe List: Items that would be nice to get done, but are not in the immediate plans.
  • Project Support Material: All information pertaining to a project go in this file. Even web content should be printed and stored.
  • Calendar: Actions or events that have a specific time or due date.
  • Reference Material: Material that is helpful to keep close at hand for multiple projects.

There is also a Read and Review stack that can be created. These would be items that just need to be looked over for current information. These may be medical journals or today's newspaper. If there is a specific item in the newspaper that needs to be read for a project, it should go in the project's folder.

GTD Workflow – Step 4: Reviewing

Reviewing should be done daily for the items that are date specific. Project lists and Next Action lists can be reviewed any time there is time in the schedule. This allows you to knock out individual tasks as you have time and energy. This is explained in more detail in Step 5: Doing.

On top of the daily and "when there is time" reviews, there is the critical Weekly Review. Some information gets stuck at the Collecting step and would never move to the Processing step without the weekly review. But during the weekly review is the time to get to the bottom of the inbox and have it cleaned out and processed. For some this is best done first thing Monday morning. Others should do it at the end of the day Friday in preparation for the new week. Sunday evening may work better for others. Whatever time you choose, it should be a time that is scheduled into your calendar so that you won't be distracted.

The Weekly Review is critical to being able to trust the system. This is your safety net where you know everything will be caught up and nothing can sneak up and surprise you.

GTD Workflow – Step 5: Doing

Some items will already be done by this stage of the system. Shorter tasks (those which take less than 2 minutes to do) get taken care of as soon as they come onto the radar screen. Other items are filed in their permanent location and there is no need to touch it again until the project calls for the material. However, there are plenty of tasks and projects that have to be handled and completed. This is the done in Getting Things Done.

There four criteria that are used to indicate what should be done next. This is where a prioritized to-do list falls apart. Priorities are just one of the criteria, but sometimes what is on top of the prioritized list is not what can, and should, be done at the moment. The four criteria are: Context, Time available, Energy available and Priority.

  • Context: Your lists should be broken down into settings. The grocery store list is where your shopping list goes. Your telephone list is the one you pull out when you are at your desk with your phone numbers available. An Internet list is where you jot down all the research items you need to work through. You have to figure out what your individual contexts are.
  • Time Available: If you don't have time to do a task or work on the next action of a project then obviously you can't do anything about it. But by reviewing what needs to be done you can make decisions on what you can't do at the moment as long as you know what is not being done.
  • Energy Available: There are times that the energy you have is sufficient to sharpen pencils but not deal with an angry customer. You can't put off all the tasks that you don't ever want to do, but there are times that are better when dealing with certain situations.
  • Priority: Each of the above items will be evaluated to see which one needs to be done at that time. While walking through the grocery store, you can't do the research you need for the big project coming up next week. Priorities and common sense tell you to work on something else.

GTD Workflow – Collecting, Processing, Organizing, Reviewing, Doing

These are the five steps of Getting Things Done by David Allen. What has been summarized in this article is a small portion of the whole book. Pick up a copy of Getting Things Done. David Allen has several other books that are available.