About David Allen

David Allen (born 1945) is a productivity consultant who is best known as the creator of the time management method known as “Getting Things Done”. Wikipedia

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Quotes by David Allen

David Allen (quotes)

David Allen provides a system for managing tasks…

  • The methods I present here are all based on three key objectives: (1) capturing all the things that might need to get done or have usefulness for you—now, later, someday, big, little, or in between—in a logical and trusted system outside your head and off your mind; (2) directing yourself to make front-end decisions about all of the inputs you let into your life so that you will always have a workable inventory of next actions that you can implement or renegotiate in the moment; and (3) curating and coordinating all of that content, utilizing the recognition of the multiple levels of commitments with yourself and others you will have at play, at any point in time.
  • There has been a missing piece in our culture of knowledge work: a system with a coherent set of behaviors and tools that functions effectively at the level at which work really happens. It must incorporate the results of big-picture thinking as well as the smallest of open details. It must manage multiple tiers of priorities. It must maintain control over hundreds of new inputs daily. It must save a lot more time and effort than are needed to maintain it. It must make it easier to get things done.
  • We need to transform all the stuff we’ve attracted and accumulated into a clear inventory of meaningful actions, projects, and usable information.
  • The key to managing all of your stuff is managing your actions. Being organized means nothing more or less than where something is matches what it means to you.
  • Getting things done requires two basic components: defining (1) what done means (outcome) and (2) what doing looks like (action).
  • Funnel all potentially meaningful inputs through minimal channels, directed to you for easily accessed review and assessment about their nature.

… and getting things done

  • Getting Things Done is not simply about getting things done. It’s about being appropriately engaged with your work and life.
  • Getting Things Done is not some new technology or invention—it simply makes explicit the principles at work within what we all do implicitly. But with that awareness, you can then leverage those principles consciously to create more elegant results.
  • Getting things done, and feeling good about it, means being willing to recognize, acknowledge, and appropriately manage all the things that have your consciousness engaged. Mastering the art of stress-free productivity requires it.
  • One missed e-mail, untracked commitment, or decision avoided can have hugely magnified consequences.
  • The substantive issue is how to make appropriate choices about what to do at any point in time. The real work is to manage our actions.

Getting things done is a process that includes collection, processing and reviewing

  • Collect things that command our attention; (2) process what they mean and what to do about them; and (3) organize the results, which we (4) review as options for what we choose to (5) do.
  • Most people have major leaks in their collection process. Many have collected things but haven’t processed or decided what action to take about them. Others make good decisions about “stuff” in the moment but lose the value of that thinking because they don’t efficiently organize the results. Still others have good systems but don’t review them consistently enough to keep them functional. Finally, if any one of these links is weak, what someone is likely to choose to do at any point in time may not be the best option.
  • First of all, if it’s on your mind, your mind isn’t clear. Anything you consider unfinished in any way must be captured in a trusted system outside your mind, or what I call a collection tool, that you know you’ll come back to regularly and sort through. Second, you must clarify exactly what your commitment is and decide what you have to do, if anything, to make progress toward fulfilling it. You must use your mind to get things off your mind. Third, once you’ve decided on all the actions you need to take, you must keep reminders of them organized in a system you review regularly.

Getting things done is more than simply a calendar and to do list

  • What you’ve probably discovered, at least at some level, is that a calendar, though important, can really effectively manage only a small portion of what you need to organize. And daily to-do lists and simplified priority coding have proven inadequate to deal with the volume and variable nature of the average professional’s workload.

Capture all that needs to be done

  • The three requirements to make the capturing phase work: 1 Every open loop must be in your capture system and out of your head. 2 You must have as few capturing buckets as you can get by with. 3 You must empty them regularly.
  • Here’s how I define stuff”: anything you have allowed into your psychological or physical world that doesn’t belong where it is, but for which you haven’t yet determined what, exactly, it means to you, with the desired outcome and the next action step.
  • The reason most organizing systems haven’t worked for most people is that they haven’t yet transformed all the stuff they’re trying to organize. As long as it’s still stuff, it’s not controllable.

Capture your ideas too

  • Paradoxically, the tendency to accumulate a huge backlog of random inputs to deal with, and the number of people troubled with that, have increased dramatically, as the digital revolution has stream-line our lives. Implementing standard tools and procedures for capturing ideas and input will become more and more critical as your life and work become more sophisticated. As you proceed in your career, for instance, you’ll probably notice that your best ideas about work will not come to you at work. The ability to leverage that thinking with good collection devices that are always at hand is key to staying on top of your world.

Process your actions

  • There is no reason to ever have the same thought twice, unless you like having that thought.
  • Things rarely get stuck because of lack of time. They get stuck because the doing of them has not been defined.
  • Think like a man of action, act like a man of thought. Henry Bergson
  • It’s a waste of time and energy to keep thinking about something that you make no progress on. And it only adds to your anxiety about what you should be doing and aren’t.
  • Minute-to-minute and day-to-day you don’t have time to think. You need to have already thought.

Decide what to do

  • Things rarely get stuck because of lack of time. They get stuck because what doing would look like, and where it happens, hasn’t been decided.
  • Every decision you make, little or big, diminishes a limited amount of your brain power. Deciding to not decide about an e-mail or anything else is another one of those decisions, which drains your psychological fuel tank.
  • If you don’t pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves.
  • The cognitive scientists have now proven the reality of decision fatigue”—that every decision you make, little or big, diminishes a limited amount of your brain power.
  • It’s fine to decide not to decide about something. You just need a decide-not-to-decide system to get it off your mind.

Components of the system

  • There are seven primary types of things that you’ll want to keep track of and manage from an organizational perspective: A Projects list,  Project support material, Calendared actions and information, Next Actions lists , A Waiting For list, Reference material, A Someday/Maybelist   It’s critical that all of these categories be kept pristinely distinct from one another.

Create clear desired outcomes for each project

  • One of the most powerful skills in the world of knowledge work, and one of the most important to hone and develop, is creating clear outcomes. This is not as self-evident as it may sound. We need to constantly define (and redefine) what we’re trying to accomplish on many different levels, and consistently reallocate resources toward getting these tasks completed as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Having an effective system can save us from a lot of angst…

  • An ambient angst pervades our society—there’s a sense that somehow there’s probably something we should be doing that we’re not, which creates a tension for which there is no resolution and from which there is no rest.
  • Anxiety is caused by a lack of control, organization, preparation, and action. David Kekich
  • Doing nothing is not only a waste of energy—it often promotes decay and unnecessary complexity and stress.
  • Most of us have, in the past seventy-two hours, received more change-producing, project-creating, and priority-shifting inputs than our parents did in a month, maybe even in a year.
  • Most often, the reason something is on your mind is that you want it to be different than it currently is.
  • Most people have lived in a semi stressful experience so consistently, for so long, they don’t know that it could be quite different—that there is another and more positive place from which to engage with their world.
  • Much of the stress that people feel doesn’t come from having too much to do. It comes from not finishing what they’ve started.
  • The sense of anxiety and guilt doesn’t come from having too much to do; it’s the automatic result of breaking agreements with yourself.
  • There is usually an inverse relationship between how much something is on your mind and how much it’s getting done.

… and increase productivity, effectiveness and well-being

  • At any point in time, knowing what has to get done, and when, creates a terrain for manoeuvring.
  • Not being aware of all you have to do is much like having a credit card for which you don’t know the balance or the limit – it’s a lot easier to be irresponsible.
  • Taking the inventory of your current work at all levels will automatically produce greater focus, alignment, and sense of priorities.
  • The purpose of this whole method of workflow management is not to let your brain become lax, but rather to enable it to move toward more elegant and productive activity. In order to earn that freedom, however, your brain must engage on some consistent basis with all your commitments and activities. You must be assured that you’re doing what you need to be doing, and that it’s OK to be not doing what you’re not doing.
  • The trick is to ensure not so much that what you are doing is, for you, the right thing, all the time (how, ultimately, could you know that for sure?) but that you are firmly in the driver’s seat with a functioning process for discovering and engaging with your best choice.
  • When people know they have a process in place to handle any situation, they are more relaxed. When they’re relaxed, everything improves. More gets done, with less effort, and a host of other wonderful side effects emerge that add to the outcomes of their efforts and the quality of their life.
  • When you start to make things happen, you really begin to believe that you can make things happen. And that makes things happen.
  • When you’re not sure where you’re going or what’s really important to you, you’ll never know when enough is enough.
  • You increase your productivity and creativity exponentially when you think about the right things at the right time and have the tools to capture your value-added thinking.
  • Your life and work are made up of outcomes and actions. When your operational behavior is grooved to organize everything that comes your way, at all levels, based upon those dynamics, a deep alignment occurs, and wondrous things emerge. You become highly productive. You make things up, and you make them happen.
  • Clarifying things on the front end, when they first appear on the radar, rather than on the back end, after trouble has developed, allows people to reap the benefits of managing action.

For each project, have a desired outcome and next action

  • Most people have a resistance to initiating the burst of energy that it will take to clarify the real meaning, for them, of something they have let into their world, and to decide what they need to do about it. We’re never really taught that we have to think about our work before we can do it; much of our daily activity is already defined for us by the undone and unmoved things staring at us when we come to work, or by the family to be fed, the laundry to be done, or the children to be dressed at home. Thinking in a concentrated manner to define desired outcomes and requisite next actions is something few people feel they have to do (until they have to). But in truth, it is the most effective means available for making wishes a reality.
  • The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small, manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one. Mark Twain
  • Thinking in a concentrated manner to define desired outcomes and requisite next actions is something few people feel they have to do (until they have to). But in truth, it is the most effective means available for making wishes a reality.
  • When a culture adopts What’s the next action? as a standard operating query, there’s an automatic increase in energy, productivity, clarity, and focus.

Be clear on the purpose of each project

  • And if it’s just you, attempting to come up with a good idea before defining your purpose, creating a vision, and collecting lots of initial bad ideas is likely to give you a case of creative constipation.
  • Often the only way to make a hard decision is to come back to the purpose of what you’re doing.
  • People love to win. If you’re not totally clear about the purpose of what you’re doing, you have no chance of winning.
  • Suffice it to say that something automatic and extraordinary happens in your mind when you create and focus on a clear picture of what you want.
  • The Value of Thinking About Why: Here are just some of the benefits of asking why: It defines success. It creates decision-making criteria. It aligns resources. It motivates. It clarifies focus. It expands options.
  • If you’re not sure why you’re doing something, you can never do enough of it.
  • In knowledge work . . . the task is not given; it has to be determined. ‘What are the expected results from this work?’ is . . . the key question in making knowledge workers productive. And it is a question that demands risky decisions. There is usually no right answer; there are choices instead. And results have to be clearly specified, if productivity is to be achieved.
  • Purpose defines success.

Purpose creates clarity

  • Need More Clarity? If greater clarity is what you need, shift your thinking up the natural planning scale. People are often very busy (action) but nonetheless experience confusion and a lack of clear direction. They need to pull out their plan, or create one (organize). If there’s a lack of clarity at the planning level, there’s probably a need for more brainstorming to generate a sufficient inventory of ideas to create trust in the plan. If the brainstorming session gets bogged down with fuzzy thinking, the focus should shift back to the vision of the outcome, ensuring that the reticular filter in the brain will open up to deliver the best how-to thinking. If the outcome/ vision is unclear, you must return to a clean analysis of why you’re engaged in the situation in the first place (purpose).

Review the system each week

  • Most people feel best about their work the week before their vacation, but it’s not because of the vacation itself. What do you do the last week before you leave on a big trip? You clean up, close up, clarify, and renegotiate all your agreements with yourself and others. I just suggest that you do this weekly instead of yearly.
  • Projects, Waiting For, and Someday/Maybe lists need to be reviewed only as often as you think they have to be in order to stop you from wondering about them.
  • Review whatever lists, overviews, and orientation maps you need to, as often as you need to, to get their contents off your mind.
  • The biggest issue for digitally oriented people is that the ease of capturing and storing has generated a write-only syndrome: all they’re doing is capturing information—not actually accessing and using it intelligently. Some consciousness needs to be applied to keep one’s potentially huge digital library functional.
  • The Weekly Review is the time to: Gather and process all your stuff. Review your system. Update your lists. Get clean, clear, current, and complete. You have to use your mind to get things off your mind.
  • Use your mind to think about things, rather than think of them. You want to be adding value as you think about projects and people, not simply reminding yourself they exist.

The weekly review will include…

  • From a nitty-gritty, practical standpoint, here is the drill that can get you there:
  • Loose Papers: Pull out all miscellaneous scraps of paper, business cards, receipts, and so on that have crept into the crevices of your desk, clothing, and accessories. Put it all into your in-basket for processing.
  • Process Your Notes: Review any journal entries, meeting notes, or miscellaneous notes scribbled on notebook paper. List action items, projects, waiting-fors, calendar events, and someday/ maybes, as appropriate. File any reference notes and materials. Stage your Read / Review material. Be ruthless with yourself, processing all notes and thoughts relative to interactions, projects, new initiatives, and input that have come your way since your last download, and purging those not needed.
  • Previous Calendar Data: Review past calendar dates in detail for remaining action items, reference information, and so on, and transfer that data into the active system. Be able to archive your last week’s calendar with nothing left uncaptured.
  • Upcoming Calendar: Look at future calendar events (long- and short-term). Capture actions about arrangements and preparations for any upcoming events.
  • Empty Your Head: Put in writing (in appropriate categories) any new projects, action items, waiting-fors, someday/maybes, and so forth that you haven’t yet captured.
  • Review Projects (and Larger Outcome) Lists: Evaluate the status of projects, goals, and outcomes one by one, ensuring that at least one current kick-start action for each is in your system.
  • Review Next Actions Lists: Mark off completed actions. Review for reminders of further action steps to capture.
  • Review Waiting For: List Record appropriate actions for any needed follow-up. Check off received items.
  • Review Any Relevant Checklists: Is there anything you haven’t done that you need to do?
  • Review Someday/Maybe List: Check for any projects that may have become active and transfer them to Projects. Delete items no longer of interest.  
  • Review Pending and Support Files: Browse through all work-in-progress support material to trigger new actions, completions, and waiting-fors.
  • Be Creative and Courageous: Are there any new, wonderful, hare-brained, creative, thought-provoking, risk-taking ideas you can add to your system?

Managing projects

  • Choose one project that is new or stuck or that could simply use some improvement. Think of your purpose. Think of what a successful outcome would look like: where would you be physically, financially, in terms of reputation, or whatever? Brainstorm potential steps. Organize your ideas. Decide on the next actions. Are you any clearer about where you want to go and how to get there?
  • You don’t actually do a project; you can only do action steps related to it. When enough of the right action steps have been taken, some situation will have been created that matches your initial picture of the outcome closely enough that you can call it “done.

Reference material

  • Distinguishing actionable from non-actionable things is the first key success factor in this arena. Second is determining what your potential use of the information is, and therefore where and how it should be stored. Once these are addressed, you have total freedom to manage and organize as much or as little reference material as you want.
  • As a rule, it’s best to stick with one general-reference system except for a very limited number of discrete topics.
  • Interestingly, one of the biggest problems with most people’s personal management systems is that they blend a few actionable things with a large amount of data and material that has value but no action attached.

Get things off your mind…

  • Anyone with the need to be accountable to deal with more than what he or she can complete in the moment has the opportunity to do so more easily and elegantly than in the mind.
  • Ask yourself, When do I need to see what, in what form, to get it off my mind? You build a system for function, not just to have a system.
  • When do I need to see what, in what form, to get it off my mind?
  • You have to use your mind to get things off your mind.
  • Your Brain is for having ideas not storing them.
  • Even if you’ve already decided on the next step you’ll take to resolve a problem, your mind can’t let go until and unless you park a reminder in a place it knows you will, without fail, look.
  • In general, the reason things are on your mind is that the outcome and the action step(s) have not been appropriately defined, and/or reminders of them have not been put in places where you can be trusted to look for them appropriately.

…to create a mind like water

  • Mind Like Water: A mental and emotional state in which your head is clear, able to create and respond freely, unencumbered with distractions and split focus. David Allen
  • Anything that causes you to overreact or underreact can control you, and often does. Responding inappropriately to your e-mail, your thoughts about what you need to do, your children, or your boss will lead to less effective results than you’d like. Most people give either more or less attention to things than they deserve, simply because they don’t operate with a mind like water.
  • Before you can achieve any of that, though, you’ll need to get in the habit of keeping nothing on your mind.
  • If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open for everything. Shunryu Suzuki
  • Imagine throwing a pebble into a still pond. How does the water respond? The answer is, totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input; then it returns to calm. It doesn’t overreact or underreact.
  • The art of resting the mind and the power of dismissing from it all care and worry is probably one of the secrets of our great men. J. A. Hatfield
  • The focus we hold in our minds affects what we perceive and how we perform.
  • This would be a Zen-like state of productivity, in which you deal with what’s present from a perspective that is both detached and fully engaged.
  • Everything you’ve told yourself you ought to do, your mind thinks you should do right now. Frankly, as soon as you have two things to do stored in your RAM, you’ve generated personal failure, because you can’t do two things at the same time. This produces an all-pervasive stress factor whose source can’t be pin-pointed.


  • Horizontal” control maintains coherence across all the activities in which you are involved.

Create a someday / maybe list

  • Make an Inventory of Your Creative Imaginings: What are the things you really might want to do someday if you have the time, money, and inclination? Write them on your Someday/Maybe list. Typical categories include: Things to get or build for your home, Hobbies to take up, Skills to learn, Creative expressions to explore, Clothes and accessories to buy, Toys (hi-tech and otherwise!) to acquire, Trips to take, Organizations to join, Service projects to contribute to.

More thoughts

  • I’ve discovered that the greatest challenges in defining your work are (1) to think about what you’re doing and (2) to do something about what you’re thinking.
  • There is magic in being in the present in your life. I’m always amazed at the power of clear observation simply about what’s going on, what’s true. Finding out the exact details of your personal finances, clarifying the historical data about the company you’re buying, or getting the facts about who really said what to whom in an interpersonal conflict can be constructive, if not downright healing.
  • It is not enough to stare up the steps; we must step up the stairs.
  • Sometimes the biggest gain in productive energy will come from cleaning the cobwebs, dealing with old business, and clearing the desks—cutting loose debris that’s impeding forward motion.