This article summarizes David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) system and details how our task manager Dooster.net can work as a GTD aid.
However the best and most detailed is on wikisummaries which summarises Allen’s famous book chapter by chapter.
We reproduce some of these below – focusing on the “action” chapters with specific examples of how Dooster can help. (We give a link to the other “theory” chapters for your quick reference).
Allen recommends that you use an organizer such as papers, planners or a software tool eg online productivity tools. He doesn’t recommend any in particular but lays out the criteria for choosing them. Here’s a video of him talking about which tools work better than others.
Dooster was not developed as a specific GTD tool. We made it for our own needs running several business and a non-profit. It’s highly customisable and can be used in a variety of ways for example as a basic admin task organiser, as a project manager, a help desk, an email manager and so on.
Below is the summary on GTD. We’ve inserted the comments on how Dooster can help in blue italics.
Where the chapter is more theory we link direct to wikisummaries:
Chapter 1 — A New Practice for a New Reality (Read it here)
Chapter 2 — Getting Control of Your Life: The Five Stages of Mastering Workflow
Allen details five stages of mastering workflow: to collect, process,
organize, review and do.
In the Collection stage, the idea is to gather all the items that
remain to be completed. Collection tools include the physical
in-basket, paper-based and electronic note-taking devices,
voice-recording devices and email.
There are three “collection success factors”:
1. Everything must be in your collection system and out of your head.
2. You must have as few collection buckets as you can get by with.
Dooster is highly versatile and incorporates projects with granular
task lists / calendars / files and its own “dmail” system
3. You must empty them regularly.
Dooster It is very quick and easy to
forward things into Dooster using the emailing into tasks feature
In the setting up “Process” stage, the bucket is emptied. Allen
describes this as perhaps the most critical improvement for almost all
the people he’s worked with.
He outlines this process in great detail, complete with a flowchart. It asks:
What is it? Is it actionable?
If not, trash it, put it in a tickler file or put it in a reference file.
Dooster ‘s easy “emailing into tasks” feature lets you quickly set
up and forward direct into a tickler file or a reference file.
If so, what’s the next action? The next action is defined as the next
physical, visible activity that needs to be engaged in, in order to
move the current reality toward completion.
With Dooster you can set the next action immediately eg assign it to someone and
have that record in Dooster (cc or bcc an email to the assignee into
the relevant dooster project.
Or email direct to dooster and have the
resulting task auto assign to your colleague – you can even have a
preset priority and reminder date
Will next action take less than 2 minutes?
If yes, do it. If no, delegate it or defer it.
As above Dooster makes it very quick and easy for you to place the
task exactly where / how you want it.
If it will take longer than 2 minutes, consider it a project (defined
as requiring more than one action step) and put it in your project
plans which will be reviewed for actions.
Your dashboard will remind you to “review for actions”
In the Organize stage, Allen describes eight categories of reminders
and materials: trash, incubation tools, reference storage, list of
projects, storage or files for project plans and materials, a
calendar, a list of reminders of next actions, and a list of reminders
of things you’re waiting for.
Allen says a Review of all one’s lists, preferably weekly, is critical
Ditto / Your dashboard will remind you to review these
Chapter 3 — Getting Projects Creatively Under Way:
The Five Phases of Project Planning
This chapter is about “vertical” focus, the thought process behind
successful project planning.
Allen states that the brain goes through five steps to accomplish most
any task and that this Natural Planning Model is also the most
effective for project planning. These steps are:
Defining purpose and principles — In defining purpose, one asks
“why?” Answering this question provides the following benefits: it
defines success, creates decision-making criteria, aligns resources,
motivates, clarifies focus and expands options. Principles create the
boundaries of the plan and define the criteria for excellence of
Outcome visioning — A vision provides a picture of the final result.
Allen discusses the Reticular Activating System within the brain and
how it acts like a search engine. In defining the desired outcome,
this filter in the brain brings to one’s attention those things that
match the vision. In addition, Allen states that you won’t see how to
do it until you see yourself doing it, and his advice is to view the
project from beyond the completion date, envision “WILD SUCCESS”, and
capture features, aspects, qualities you imagine in place.
Brainstorming — Brainstorming identifies how one gets from here to
there through the generation of lots of ideas. Allen recommends
writing down these ideas to help generate many new ones that might not
have occurred had the brain not been emptied by writing down the
original ideas. Writing ideas down also provides an anchor to keep one
focused on the topic at hand. This idea of writing to spur thinking
has been labelled as “distributed cognition”.
Keys to effective brainstorming are: don’t judge, challenge, evaluate,
or criticise; go for quantity, not quality; and put analysis and
organization in the background.
Dooster’s mindmap tool can be useful here. It allows a visual
overview of a project. You could write the ideas straight into Dooster
– during the brainstorm or later – and see them in a classic mindmap
view as well as conventional lists
Organizing — Allen describes the key steps to include: identify the
significant pieces; sort by components, sequences and/or priorities;
and detail to the required degree.
Dooster is perfect for identifying / – easy and quick to set priorities /
cross referencing tags / due dates / quickly move tasks between
Identifying next actions — Allen states that a project is
sufficiently planned when every Next Action has been decided on every
front that can actually be moved on without some other components
having to be completed first.
Please see our Simple Gantts
Chapter 4 — Getting Started: Setting Up the Time, Space and Tools
Allen recommends setting aside two whole days, back to back, to get started.
To set up a space, one needs a minimum of a writing surface and room
for an in-basket. A work space is needed for work and home for
everyone, including students, homemakers and retirees. Don’t skimp on
the home work space and don’t share work space with someone else.
Allen is not a proponent of the “hoteling” concept that many companies
have employed in recent years.
The basic processing tools include paper-holding trays, plain paper,
post-its, clips, stapler, a labeller all to oneself, letter size file
folders (don’t bother with colour-coding), a calendar,
wastebasket/recycling bins, and possibly an organiser to “manage your
triggers externally” (such as papers, planners or a Personal Digital
Dooster is very quick to set up and start using. It literally takes minutes to become familiarized. No training required
A good general-reference filing system is key to the success of a
personal management system. If it takes one more than a minute to get
something out of the in-basket, decide it needs no action but should
be kept for future reference, and filed, one has a significant
It is very quick and easy to email tasks, notes, files and ideas into Dooster
Key filing success factors include: keep
files at hand’s reach, use one A to Z alphabetical filing system, have
lots of fresh folders, keep the drawers less than three-quarters full,
label folders with an Auto Labeller, buy high-quality file cabinets,
get rid of hanging files if you can, and purge your files at least
once a year.
Chapter 5 — Collection: Corralling Your “Stuff”
Allen says it usually takes between one and six hours to gather
everything that needs to be gathered into one’s “in” basket. It’s
important to complete all the gathering before the “processing” and
“organising” begins. Although one will be tempted to start the
processing while gathering, it’s important not to do so.
First, it gives one a sense of just how much stuff there is.
Second, the “end of the tunnel” is identified.
Third, one can’t process as effectively with the distraction of
knowing there is still more stuff to gather.
The gathering process should cover one’s physical space, such as desk
drawers, countertops, and cabinets. It also includes a “mind sweep” to
uncover anything that may be residing in one’s mental space, what
Allen calls “psychic RAM”.
Quickly enter anything that comes up in this mindsweep – at any
time of day – by emailing a note into your Dooster where you can sort
it later into the right place
Allen warns that one may feel anxious as all this stuff is made
conscious. At the same time, he recommends going for quantity.
Finally, once the collection phase is complete, he urges moving on to
the next step, since leaving items in the “in” box for too long will
cause things to creep back into one’s psyche.
Chapter 6 — Processing: Getting “In” to Empty
Processing doesn’t mean getting all actions completed; it means
deciding what to do with each of the items in the “in” box. When this
phase is complete, one will have trashed unneeded items, completed any
less-than-two-minute actions, delegated, put reminders in one’s
organizer of actions one must complete, and identified any projects.
Allen provides guidelines for effective processing. First, process the
top item first. Resist the urge to pull out the most urgent, fun or
interesting item first. Second, process one item at a time. This focus
forces the attention and decision-making needed to get through
everything. Finally, never put anything back into “in.”
As each item is reviewed, the key question is, “what’s the next
action?” If none, the item is trashed, incubated to a “Someday/Maybe”
list or “tickler” file, or put in reference material. If there is an
action, make it specific. Then do it (if it takes less than two
minutes), delegate it (and add it to the “Waiting For” list) or defer
As above Dooster is perfect for this. It will be much quicker than
writing it down and coming back to it later. Simply send it directly
into the desired place in Dooster.
Chapter 7 — Organizing: Setting Up the Right Buckets
Once processing is complete, one needs a way to organize the output.
Allen gives the seven primary places to keep output and tips and
tricks on making these places work. These areas include: a “Projects”
list, project support material, calendared actions and information,
“Next Actions” lists, a “Waiting For” list, reference material, and a
“Someday/Maybe” list. These categories should be kept distinct from
each other. Allen states these lists are all that one needs to stay
organized and advises against trying to prioritize among these lists.
Instead, setting priorities is more of an intuitive process that
occurs as lists are reviewed.
Dooster is the ultimate task manager. You can set up new projects
and invite new Team members in on the fly…. We do have urgent vs
important type priorities that you can quickly adjust without having
to open a task – but you don’t have to use them.
Actions that should go on the calendar are ones that must be done on a
specific day or time.
You can opt to have tasks with Due dates show on your calendars or not.
They may also include triggers for activating projects, events one
might want to participate in and decision catalysts.
“Next Actions” should be organized by context, such as “Calls”,
“Errands”, and “At Home.”
Tags are a great way to put things in context – regardless of which
project the item belongs to. (See Dooster’s task tags)
The “Waiting For” list should be reviewed often enough to determine if
one needs to take any action. Items in one’s “Read and Review” pile
and emails that require action are reminders themselves, and Allen
recommends pulling emails requiring action to a separate folder in
one’s email system.
Dooster can certainly do this – it has alarms and / or can email
The “Projects” list provides a single place to review all projects for
needed actions. One may subdivide projects by categories such as
Personal/Professional, and one also may identify subprojects. Allen
emphasises there is no perfect way to track projects; one just needs
to know what projects they have and how to find any associated
See overdue alerts / start and due date alarms / dashboard “what’s next
Allen discusses Project Support Materials and warns against using them
as a reminder. He also shares ideas for organizing ad hoc project
thinking, where ideas are triggered and one needs to capture the
Allen makes the point that it is as important to organize
nonactionable data — which includes reference material and
“Someday/Maybes” — as it is to manage action and project reminders.
You can name a Dooster project anything you want – and quickly edit
the name later
Reference systems include general-reference filing, large-category
filing, rolodexes and contact managers, and libraries and archives.
Most people have 200 to 400 paper-based general-reference files and 30
to 100 e-mail reference folders.
We use dooster alongside paper systems. But we also use it to
remind us to action paper – eg when to sign a contract that’s sitting
in the intray.
For ideas that are not ready for action, one can keep them on a
Someday/Maybe list, trigger them on one’s calendar or put them in a
“tickler” system. Allen states that it is important not to call the
“Hold and Review” pile one’s Someday/Maybe list.
Chapter 8 — Reviewing: Keeping Your System Functional
To keep the system working, it is key that one continues to trust the
system. Trust is maintained by keeping the system up-to-date. One
needs to decide what to look at and when. Allen suggests the most
frequent review will probably be of one’s daily calendar and daily
tickler folder. After these, the next actions lists should be
The key to sustaining the system is the Weekly Review. This process
includes whatever is needed to empty one’s head and includes going
through the five phases of workflow management. Allen recommends
blocking out a couple of hours early every Friday afternoon.
Dooster comes with various forms of reminders / email notifications
/ alarms / deadlines etc. However no system in the world can work
without a willing user who is actually using it…. so you will need to
physically review. (You can take the horse to water but it has to want to drink…)
Chapter 9 — Doing: Making the Best Action Choices
Chapter 10 — Getting Projects Under Control
Part 3 — The Power of the Key Principles
Chapter 11 — The Power of the Collection Habit
Chapter 12 — The Power of the Next-Action Decision
Allen proposes that twenty minutes before the end of a meeting, one
should ask, “So what’s the next action here?” to increase clarity.
This is radical common sense, yet it is easy to avoid this more
relevant level of thinking. He points out the dark side of a
“collaborative culture” where people are too polite to hold others
accountable, but says it is impolite to allow people to walk away from
discussions unclear. Asking this question is key for knowledge workers
to increase their productivity through “operational responsiveness.”
Finally, this question presupposes there is the possibility of change
and that one can do something to make it happen, which is empowering.
Dooster is excellent for creating “next action ” lists – assigned
and with due dates – and its easy to move these tasks around e you
can create a new list while you’re moving the task… you can re
assign all the tasks in a list to someone else or change their due
When we have a meeting we create a next action list – ONE per task – and assign it before the end of the meeting. (Believe me, if
you don’t do this it is unlikely to happen later.
The other thing I’d add personally here is that it’s very good
practice to summarise at the end of any meeting – not just
collaborative team type meetings. if i am discussing a project with a
partner it is common for misunderstandings to be cleared up by
summarising at the end of an 1 hour call…
Chapter 13 — The Power of Outcome Focusing
See David Allen’s Official GTD wesbite http://www.davidco.com/