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Getting Things Done: David Allen's Radical Approach To Organization


You ever have one of those moments where your to-do list is so long you just stare at it for an eternity?

You have no clue where to start, so you just sit there. Staring. Too overwhelmed and stressed out to even pick up your pencil.

I’ve been there. At least one day a week. And it drives me crazy.

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I’ve always prided myself on my organization skills. I make a to-do list every morning, go through my client portals every week, and take notes in every meeting. Not saying I’m a tad OCD, but let’s just say I like to color-coordinate my socks. Organization matters to me.

So when things slip through the cracks, it makes me frustrated. After all, I’ve worked hard to manage all my tasks. The thought of drowning in them is not something I’m OK with.

But what if I told you I discovered a fool-proof method of organization that eliminates that fear entirely? A strategy that helps you keep your deadlines, prioritize your to-dos, and get stuff done – no panic attacks required?

With David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done,” that’s exactly what I found. And it only involves one step: rewiring your brain.

One Small Step For Organization, One Giant Leap For Goal Achievement

As our lives become more face-paced, our brains become more overworked. We’re struggling to keep up with everything we need to accomplish – in and out of the office. Meet that deadline. Clean the house. Take the dog to the vet. The to-dos never stop, and, consequently, neither do our brains.

The phrase “rewiring your brain” sounds like something straight out of science fiction. To be honest, it is a radical thought. But David Allen has a theory about organization: If we create a reliable system that helps us thoroughly organize our lives, our brains can finally get some peace.

“If it’s on your mind, your mind isn’t clear,” Allen says (2001). “It will keep pressuring you about that untaken next step, usually when you can’t do anything about it, which will just add to your stress..”


And how exactly do we do that? By following Allen’s five-step planning process.

How It Works

If there’s even the slightest chance you’ll forget your to dos, your brain will hold onto them. Then, it’ll throw them back at you at a later date, distracting you from whatever task you’re trying to get through. So, if you want that brain cleanse, you have to utilize a trustworthy system. Which is a lot harder than it sounds.

Take the traditional to-do list, for example. Chances are, you fill it out at the start of the day and work through it as the day progresses. If something comes up, you add it to the bottom. If you miss a to do, it gets added to the next day’s list. Sounds like an effective system, right?

But what about your long-term goals? What about the things that take more than a day to complete? What about those tasks you don’t even know how to start?


That’s where Allen’s 5-step system comes in. Instead of managing your life on a day-by-day basis, you sort everything for the long haul. The five steps include:

  • Capture
  • Clarify
  • Organize
  • Reflect
  • Engage

There’s a lot more involved in each of these steps than you might think, but the summarization is this: Write down all the commitments you’ve created for yourself (as big as “find a new job” to as small as “dust the bookshelf.”) Place these in a designated place where you can regularly sort through them. Determine the tangible outcome that would set this task as done. Determine the next physical step you need to take to meet that outcome. And finally, set reminders to refer back to the task.

Because your tasks will all be taken care of, your brain won’t need to store these commitments internally. You can work through your tasks stress-fee, become more efficient, and produce better work.

Is Allen’s System Right For You?

Before you jump aboard the “Getting Things Done” train, there’s something you should know about David Allen. He’s an all-in guy, especially when it comes to organization. So if you decide to test out his method, you have to go all in, too. And that means dedicating time to the process. Lots of time.

Allen recommends dedicating two straight days to implementing the process. You’ll need it, considering the fact that you have to empty just about every wandering thought in your brain. Every task. Every goal. Every commitment. More than that, you have to get into the habit of emptying your brain on a regular basis. Anytime a thought comes up, you need to file it into the system. And remembering to do that is the hard part.

Another thing to consider is that, although long-term planning may be extremely beneficial for most people, others may find it discouraging. Being reminded of all the things you have yet to achieve on a weekly basis could become overwhelming, exhausting, and even flat-out depressing. And that’s what makes me hesitant to try this radical program out myself.

If you decide Allen’s approach is a little too radical for you, too, there’s still something you can take away from his book: If a task in need of completion will take less than two minutes to complete, do it now. It’s a simple concept, but often we procrastinate little things because we aren’t in the mood. Then, they get forgotten or distract us from our bigger priorities. By following this one rule, you can help cut down on your commitments and move more stuff to the to done pile.

And for all of those out there ready to go all in, you can get practical steps to achieve stress-free productivity from Allen’s book, Getting Things Done. I picked my copy up from Amazon.

Buy Getting Things Done

P.S. I don’t get compensated if you purchase this book, but your brain will thank you!

Allen, D. (2015). Getting Things Done. Penguin Publishing Group. 14, 17.

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