Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity

By David Allen

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Open loops can include everything from really big to-do items like “End world hunger” to the more modest “Hire new assistant” to the tiniest task such as “Replace porch lightbulb.”

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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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. 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: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Getting things done requires two basic components: defining (1) what “done” means (outcome) and (2) what “doing” looks like (action). And

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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easily. Vertical control, in contrast, manages thinking, development, and coordination of individual topics and projects.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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There is usually an inverse relationship between how much something is on your mind and how much it’s getting done.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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I don’t want to waste time thinking about things more than once. That’s an inefficient use of creative energy and a source of frustration and stress.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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We (1) capture what has our attention; (2) clarify what each item means and what to do about it; (3) organize the results, which presents the options we (4) reflect on, which we then choose to (5) engage with.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Most people have major weaknesses in their (1) capture process.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Strategy ideas loitering in a notebook, “dead” gadgets in your desk drawers that need to be fixed or thrown away, and out-of-date magazines on your coffee table all fall into this category of stuff. As soon as you attach a “should,” “need to,” or “ought to” to an item, it becomes an incomplete.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Decisions you still need to make about whether or not you are going to do something, for example, are already incompletes.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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But we’re talking here about making sure everything you need is collected somewhere other than in your head.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Do It, Delegate It, or Defer It Once you’ve decided on the next action, you have three options: 1. Do it. If an action will take less than two minutes, it should be done at the moment it is defined. 2. Delegate it. If the action will take longer than two minutes, ask yourself, Am I the right person to do this? If the answer is no, delegate it to the appropriate entity. 3. Defer it, If the action will take longer than two minutes, and you are the right person to do it, you will have to defer acting on it until later and track it on one or more “Next Actions” lists.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Support Materials and Reference Files Once you have organized your project support material by theme or topic, you will probably find that it is almost identical to your reference material and could be kept in the same reference file system (a Wedding file could be kept in the general-reference files, for instance).

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Any less-than-two-minute actions that you perform, and all other actions that have already been completed, do not, of course, need to be tracked; they’re done. What does need to be tracked is every action that has to happen at a specific time or on a specific day (enter those on your calendar); those that need to be done as soon as they can (add these to your Next Actions lists); and all those that you are waiting for others to do (put these on a Waiting For list).

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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In that case it makes sense to subdivide your Next Actions list into categories, such as Calls to make when you have a window of time and your phone, or Computer action items to see as options when you’re at that device.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Incubation

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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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.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Most people don’t have a really complete system, and they get no real payoff from reviewing things for just that reason: their overview isn’t total. They still have a vague sense that something may be missing.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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the more complete the system is, the more you’ll trust it. And the more you trust it, the more complete you’ll be motivated to keep it. The Weekly Review is a master key to maintaining that standard.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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At 3:22 on Wednesday, how do you choose what to do? At that moment there are four criteria you can apply, in this order: context, time available, energy available, and priority. The first three

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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There is always more to do than you can do, and you can do only one thing at a time. The key is to feel as good about what you’re not doing as about what you are doing at that moment.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Horizon 5: Purpose and principles Horizon 4: Vision Horizon 3: Goals Horizon 2: Areas of focus and accountabilities Horizon 1: Current projects Ground: Current actions

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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These are not things to finish but rather to use as criteria for assessing our experiences and our engagements, to maintain balance and sustainability, as we operate in our work and our world.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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one to two years

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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three to five years

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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thinking about bigger categories: organization strategies, environmental trends, career and lifestyle transition circumstances.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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The primary purpose for anything provides the core definition of what the work really is. It is the ultimate job description.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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“Setting priorities” in the traditional sense of focusing on your long-term goals and values, though obviously a necessary core focus, does not provide a practical framework for a vast majority of the decisions and tasks you must engage in day to day.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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relaxed control are (1) clearly defined outcomes (projects) and the next actions required to move them toward closure, and (2) reminders placed in a trusted system that is reviewed regularly.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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when people do more planning, informally and naturally, they relieve a great deal of stress and obtain better results.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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| Defining purpose and principles 2 | Outcome visioning 3 | Brainstorming 4 | Organizing 5 | Identifying next actions

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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The unnatural model is what most people still consciously think of as “planning,” and because it’s so often artificial and irrelevant to real work, people just don’t plan.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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What’s the first level of focus when the stuff hits the fan? Action! Work harder! Overtime! More people! Get busier! And a lot of stressed-out people are thrown at the situation.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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It never hurts to ask the why question.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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It defines success. It creates decision-making criteria. It aligns resources. It motivates. It clarifies focus. It expands options.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Although people seldom think about these consciously, they are always there. And if they are violated, the result will inevitably be unproductive distraction and stress.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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This is the what instead of the why.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Write all your notes and quotes on separate three-by-five-inch cards. Then, when you get ready to organize your thinking, just spread them all out on the floor, see the natural structure that emerges, and figure out what’s missing.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Don’t judge, challenge, evaluate, or criticize. Go for quantity, not quality. Put analysis and organization in the background.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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A project plan identifies the smaller outcomes, which can then be naturally planned.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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creating a list of what your real projects are and consistently managing your next action for each one will constitute 90 percent of what is generally thought of as project planning.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Decide on next actions for each of the current “moving parts” of the project. Decide on the next action in the planning process, if necessary.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Often all that’s required is to allocate responsibility for parts of the project to the appropriate persons and leave it up to them to identify next actions on their particular pieces.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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In general, the reason things are on your mind is that the outcome and action step(s) have not been appropriately defined,

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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percent of projects might need the deliberate application of one or more of the five phases of the natural planning model.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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If greater clarity is what you need, shift your thinking up the natural planning scale.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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If more action is what’s needed, you need to move down the model.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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The big secret to efficient creative and productive thinking and action is to put the right things in your focus at the right time.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Random non-actionable but potentially relevant material, unprocessed and unorganized, produces a debilitating psychological noise.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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One simple alpha system files everything by topic, person, project, or company,

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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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, versus a black hole of data easily dumped in there with a couple of keystrokes. “I don’t need to organize my stuff, because the search feature can find it sufficiently” is, from what I’ve experienced, quite suboptimal as an approach. We need to have a way to overview our mass of collected information with some form of effective categorization.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Always try to keep your physical file drawers less than three-quarters full. If they’re stuffed, you’ll unconsciously resist putting things in there, and reference materials will tend to stack up instead.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Material such as finished project notes and “dead” client files may still need to be kept, but they can be stored off-site, on storage drives, in the cloud, or at least out of your workspace.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Purge Your Files at Least Once a Year Cleaning house in your files regularly keeps them from going stale and seeming like a black hole, and it also gives you the freedom to keep anything on a whim “in case you might need it.”

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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It’s the little piece of techno-gear in the bottom desk drawer that you’re missing a part for,

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Here are the four categories of things that can remain where they are, the way they are, with no action tied to them: Supplies Reference Material Decoration Equipment

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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drawer! If you’re not sure what something is or whether it’s worth keeping, go ahead and put it into “in.” You’ll be able to decide about it later, when you process the in-tray. What you don’t want to do is to let yourself get wrapped up in things piece-by-piece, trying to decide this or that.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Clarifying requires a very different mind-set than capturing; it’s best to do them separately.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Many people (even those who are high-tech oriented), once they experience the value of writing a single thought on a single piece of paper, have made it part of their ongoing self-management practice. It’s great to give your potentially meaningful thoughts their due!

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Clarifying: Getting “In” to Empty

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Process the top item first. Process one item at a time. Never put anything back into “in.”

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Theoretically you should flip your in-tray upside down and process first the first thing that came in. As long as you go from one end clear through to the other within a reasonable period of time, though, it won’t make much difference.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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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.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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This may sound easy—and it is—but it requires you to do some fast, hard thinking.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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a less-than-sixty-second, fun-to-use general-reference filing system within reach of where you sit is a mission-critical component of full implementation of this methodology.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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there’s still a next action to be determined in order to move the project forward.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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The rationale for the two-minute rule is that it’s more or less the point where it starts taking longer to store and track an item than to deal with it the first time it’s in your hands—in

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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much of what people are trying to organize has not been clarified,

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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A Projects list Project support material Calendar actions and information Next Actions lists A Waiting For list Reference material A Someday/Maybe list

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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you put items on your Next Actions lists that really need to go on the calendar, because they have to occur on specific days, then you won’t trust your calendar and you’ll continually have to reassess your action lists.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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the best way to be reminded of an “as soon as I can” action is by the particular context required for that action—that is, either the tool or the location or the situation needed to complete it. For instance,

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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If you happened to be on a short break at a conference, during which you might be able to make some calls, you’d have to identify the calls among a big batch of unrelated items.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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For many people, especially those in managerial or supervisory positions, getting this inventory of unfulfilled commitments that we care about from others captured, current, complete, and reviewed creates tremendous relief and improved focus going forward.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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You’ll get a great feeling when you know that your Waiting For list is the complete inventory of everything you care about that other people are supposed to be doing.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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is impossible to be truly relaxed and in your productive state when things you’ve told yourself you need to handle continue to pull at your mind—whether

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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You thought the invoice you sent was complete and accurate, but now the client says he didn’t agree to something you billed him for. Getting these kinds of situations identified and into your system with desired outcomes for appropriate engagement creates a wealth of fresh energy with unexpected positive results.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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problem most people have psychologically with all their stuff is that it’s still stuff—that

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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From a practical standpoint, here is the three-part drill that can get you there: get clear, get current, and get creative.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Review Previous Calendar Data Review the past two to three weeks of calendar entries in detail for remaining or emergent action items, reference

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Review “Waiting For” List Any needed follow-up? Need to send an e-mail to get a status on

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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The most senior and savvy of them, however, know the value of sacrificing the seemingly urgent for the truly important,

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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you make your action choices based on the following four criteria, in order: Context Time available Energy available Priority

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Before I go on a long trip, I will create “Before Trip” as a temporary category into which I will move everything from any of my action lists that must be handled before I leave.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Over the years I have seen people effectively use categories such as “Brain Gone” (for simple actions requiring no mental horse-power) and “Less Than 5-Minute” (for getting quick “wins”).

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Recently someone shared with me the value she found in categorizing actions based upon the immediate emotional reward for doing them—service to others, life stability, abundance building, etc.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Are your systems set up to maximally support dealing with this reality, at 10:26 on Monday morning? If you’re still keeping things in your head, and if you’re still trying to capture only the “critical” stuff in your lists, I suggest that the answer is no.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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the angst begins to mount when the other actions on your lists are not reviewed and renegotiated by you or between you and everyone else.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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If you let yourself get caught up in the urgency of the moment, without feeling comfortable about what you’re not dealing with, the result is frustration and anxiety.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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People often complain about the interruptions that prevent them from doing their work. But interruptions are unavoidable in life.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Horizon 5: Life Horizon 4: Long-term visions Horizon 3: One- to two-year goals Horizon 2: Areas of focus and accountability Horizon 1: Current projects Ground: Current actions

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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“Buy cat food” may certainly not rank high on some theoretical prioritizing inventory, but if that’s what’s pulling on you the most, in the moment, then handling it in some way would be Job One.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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handle what has your attention,

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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If you get this professional “job description” checklist in play and keep it current, you’ll probably be more relaxed and in control than most people in our culture.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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“My career is going to stagnate unless I assert my own goals more specifically to my boss [or my boss’s boss].” Or “What new things are my children going to be doing in the next couple of years, and what do I need to do differently because of that?” Or “What preparation do I need to ensure that I can deal with this health

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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There are two types of projects, however, that deserve at least some sort of planning activity: (1) those that still have your attention even after you’ve determined their next actions, and (2) those about which potentially useful ideas and supportive detail just show up ad hoc.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Don’t make the agreement. Complete the agreement. Renegotiate the agreement.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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envision a world in which no meeting or discussion will end, and no interaction cease, without a clear indication of whether or not some action is needed—and

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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when he happens to have fifteen minutes before a meeting, at his computer, and his energy is about 4.2 out of 10, he can look at the list of things to do and be delighted to see “Research new tires” on it. “That’s something I can do and complete successfully!”

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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It’s really the smartest and most sensitive people who have the highest number of undecided things in their lives and on their

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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following up with people who have begun to implement this methodology, I’ve discovered that one of the subtler ways many of them fall off the wagon is in letting their action lists grow back into lists of tasks or subprojects instead of discrete next actions.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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In other words, things have morphed back into “stuff” instead of starting at the action level.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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I’ve learned the hard way that no matter where we are in the conversation, twenty minutes before the agreed end time of the discussion I must force the question: “So what’s the next action here?” In my experience, there is usually twenty minutes’ worth of clarifying (and sometimes tough decisions) still required to come up with an answer.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Having the vague, gnawing sense that you “should” do something about your relationship with your daughter, and not actually doing anything, can be a killer.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Self-efficacy is the confidence to take on and devote the necessary effort to succeed at challenging tasks. Optimism involves making positive attributions about succeeding now and in the future. Hope means persevering toward goals and, when necessary, redirecting paths to those goals. Resilience involves bouncing back to an original—or even better—state of being after facing adversity and problems.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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Avoiding next-action decision making on “stuff to do” Fully utilizing the “Waiting For” category, such that every expected deliverable from others is inventoried and reviewed for follow-up in adequate timing Using Agenda lists to capture and manage communications with others Keeping a simple, easily accessible filing and reference system Keeping the calendar as pure “hard landscape” without undermining its trustworthiness with extraneous inputs Doing Weekly Reviews to keep one’s system functional and current

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen

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a complete, current, and clear inventory of projects; a working map of one’s roles, accountabilities, and interests—personally and professionally; an integrated total life management system, custom tailored to one’s current needs and direction and utilized to dynamically steer out beyond the day-to-day; and challenges and surprises trigger your utilization of this methodology instead of throwing you out of it.

~ Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen