Noisy Deadlines


This is a series of posts with reading notes of the book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen.

Chapter 09 – Engaging: Making the Best Action Choices

This chapter is all about deciding what to do at any given moment. It examines on what was presented in Chapter 02 in terms of the 3 primary frameworks for decision-making:

  1. The Four-Criteria Model for Choosing Actions in the Moment

  2. The Threefold Model for Identifying Daily Work

  3. The Six-Level Model for Reviewing Your Own Work

1. The Four-Criteria Model for Choosing Actions in the Moment

This is about what we have available at the moment and what can we do about it.


I think context is what mostly differentiates GTD from other productivity systems in terms of how to organize our tasks. The principle here is that it’s easier to have lists already sorted out to act on: “what could you possibly do, where you are, with the tools you have?”.

I find this works pretty well to organize the next actions list and avoid looking at a super long list. This is the first criteria to decide what to do next: what do you have available right now?

I mainly use the basic contexts suggested by the book (at home, computer, errands, anywhere, etc.) but we can also be more creative and have lists tailored to how we work. It could be a “quick win” list with actions that are easy to complete, or “surfing the web” or “before trip”.

Another important note is that the contexts can change over time, and it’s okay to create new ones and delete old ones. They are very flexible, contexts can be anything that suits the way we want to look at our lists. But it’s also important to keep it simple. If we need to think too much to input something in our systems, we end up not doing it at all.


This is a series of posts with reading notes of the book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen.

My notes on Chapter 08: Reflecting: Keeping It All Fresh and Functional

The GTD methodology aims to have information organized in a such a way that we see all the actions we NEED to see, WHEN we need to see them.

Recommendations on What to Look at Daily:

  1. Look at the Calendar first: check all the day and time specific commitments

  2. Look at the Action Lists: review the lists so that we feel confident we are not missing anything critical

But these lists can become a nuisance if they are not kept up to date. So this chapter dives deep into the famous “Weekly Review”.

Very simply, the Weekly Review is whatever you need to do to get your head empty again and get oriented for the next couple of weeks. — David Allen

The Weekly Review has 3 parts:

  • Get clear: process all collected stuff
    • Collect loose papers and materials (add all to the Inbox)
    • Get “In” to empty: process all inboxes
    • Empty your head: capture anything that pops up
  • Get Current: review calendars and check if all lists are up-to-date
    • Review Next Actions Lists: mark off any completed tasks, add next actions if needed
    • Review Previous Calendar: look at the past 2 weeks to see if there's anything you still need to act on
    • Review Upcoming Calendar: check for any upcoming travel, meetings, events, reminders, etc. to prepare for them
    • Review the Waiting-For list: check if follow-ups are needed, check off completed items
    • Review Projects List: check status of projects, goals, outcomes.
    • Review any Relevant Checklists
  • Get Creative: add any new ideas
    • Review Someday/Maybe lists: is there anything to activate? is there anything that can be deleted?
    • Be Creative and Courageous: after doing this full review it might be easier to capture any new, crazy, thought-provoking idea into the system.

For reference there is a checklist available here.

When and where to do a Weekly Review

For a typical 5-day work week, David Allen recommends blocking off 2 hours on the last workday for the review.

This is something I realized I have not been doing well in my work routine. Because I have my personal weekly review on the weekend, I kinda neglect the review at work, thinking “Oh, I will do it with my personal one at home”. And that never happens. When I'm doing my personal review I'm in another mode, a different mood, and I don't really want to look into work related stuff.

That being said, I now blocked off my Calendar on Fridays, from 3:30pm to 5pm to dedicate exclusively on my work weekly review. My personal review will continue to be on Sunday mornings.

Until then, do whatever you need to, once a week, to trick yourself into backing away from the daily grind for a couple of hours—not to zone out, but to rise up at least to the horizon of all your projects and their statuses, and to catch up with everything else that relates to what’s pulling on your attention. — David Allen

For people with non-typical 9 to 5 jobs or different lifestyles, the review can be done on long plane or train trips, in a favourite coffee shop, during their children's weekend activity (like choir practice), etc.

At the end of this chapter David Allen mentions that it probably takes 2 years of implementing the GTD methodology to get to a point where we are confident about all our horizons (including visions, values and objectives). This might seem daunting, but it really is a long term practice because GTD has the potential to touch all levels of our lives, if we want to.

The next chapter is about “Engaging” and I'm curious to know what have I missed about it when I read it before. I can say that deciding what to do every day is one of my biggest challenges nowadays.

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

This is a series of posts with reading notes of the book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen.

Chapter 07 – Organizing: Setting up the Right Buckets

Being organized means that we have the things where we need them to be. We have to clarify what that “thing” means to us, so we can easily put it into the right bucket.

This chapter describes seven primary types of things we will want to keep track of:

  • Projects List
  • Project Support Material
  • Calendar actions and information: for things that are time-specific or day specific. It's a hard landscape for things that MUST get done that time. It's not a place for things we “think we'd like to get done”.
  • Next Action lists: groups all “as soon as possible” type actions. A good way to organize this list is by grouping actions by context (more on this below).
  • Waiting For list
  • Reference Material
  • Someday/Maybe list

The categories must be kept visually, physically, and psychologically separate, to promote clarity. — David Allen

And these categories can be kept in lists and folders, be it on paper or digitally.


One of the main characteristics of the GTD system are the contexts list, which basically organized next actions into more manageable buckets according to a particular context required to perform the action. A context can be the tool, the location or the situation needed to complete it. It is very useful for longer next actions lists with more than 25 items. I have all my lists in a digital tool (Nirvana) and I use tags for contexts.

The most common contexts are:

  • Calls: list of phone calls to make
  • At computer: to be done when the computer is up and running
  • Errands: for outside trips, when we are out and about
  • Anywhere: for thinking, making decisions
  • At Office: for things that can only be done when we are physically at the office (if you have one)
  • At Home: for things to be done at home
  • Agendas (for people and meetings)
  • Read/Review: for things you want to read when you have time (articles, magazines, documents...)

Contexts are personal and dynamic. We can add or delete them depending on our needs. I also have these contexts:

  • iPhone: for things I can only do on my phone
  • Outdoors: for hikes/walks I want to try
  • Watch/Listen: for videos, podcast episodes
  • Writing: for grouping writing tasks (usually includes blog writing)
  • Yoga-mat: for any Yoga classes I want to try

Chapter 06 – Clarifying: Getting “In” to Empty

This is a series of posts with reading notes of the book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen.

The clarifying step (also known as “processing” in the old version of the book) is all about understanding what each captured item is and making a decision:

“Getting “in” to empty doesn't mean actually doing all the actions and projects that you've captured. It just means identifying each item and deciding what it is, what it means, and what you're going to do with it.” — David Allen

So David Allen actually recommends that we read Chapters 6 and 7 before clarifying things because we will need our “buckets” ready to go right after we decide to do with each item.

This chapter presents some useful processing guidelines :

  • Process the top item first: don't start fumbling and picking and choosing which item you will process first, just go top to bottom.
  • Process one item at a time: focus on one item and finish your thinking before moving on to the next.
  • Never put anything back to “in”: handle things only once by deciding what to do with it and move on.

The important question: “Is it actionable?”

This chapter has a diagram showing the decision-making matrix.

We have 2 options for the question: “Is it actionable” => It's either Yes or No.

Sometimes there is NO next action for an item:

  • If there is NO action required, the item will be either: - Trash: no longer needed - Just trash/recycle it - Incubate: no action needed now, but might need to be done later - Someday/Maybe list - Reminder on a calendar or tickler file - Reference: potential useful information for later - Physical file storage - Digital file storage

David mentions the dilemma of whether to keep something for future reference, and his recommendation is to trust our intuition:

When in doubt, throw it out. When in doubt, keep it. — David Allen

And if it is actionable?

If there is something to be done with the item, then we decide what is the Next Action.

“The action step needs to be the absolute next physical thing to do.” — David Allen

Sometimes I don't complete my thinking on an item, and it ends up being not a true next physical action. David gives an example, if we need to set a meeting with someone, we should ask: How do we set a meeting? With an email or a phone call? So “set a meeting” might be too generic, a more clear next action would be: “Call Susan to check her availability and schedule the meeting”.

The idea is to have all the thinking completed so when we see our next action lists, we are ready to engage on those actions. There is no further decision to be made. Having clear next actions avoids procrastination.

Even when we have to decide on something, we should think of what is the next physical action to help with us get to a decision. It could be that, in order to decide, we need to more information on a subject, so the next action does not start with “decide if...” it could be “Search for available options online to help me decide which laptop to purchase” or “Call Susan to get her input on the best laptop to buy”.

If we don't pay attention, we don't stop to really think through what we need to do next. I notice that I usually rush through the clarifying step, and then I end up with a bunch of unclear next actions, which in turn repels me from doing anything. I've only recently started paying more attention to this, and I have to remember to slow down while processing.

After deciding what the next action is...

... we have 3 options:

  • Do it: If it takes less than 2 minute, DO IT NOW!
  • Delegate it: Am I the right person to do this? If not, delegate it. - Options: Send the person an email, write a note to the person, send a text, leave a voice mail or talk to the person. - Tip: always record the date on the items that we hand off to others.
  • Defer it: If it will take more than 2 minutes, and you are the right person to do it, defer it to the “Next Actions' list.

But we might identify that only one next actions will not complete the item objective. In this case, it is a Project:

  • Is it a Project (require multiple steps?) => add it to the Projects List

I didn't process my physical inboxes yet, because I will finish reading the next chapter before moving on. Chapter 07 deals with all the buckets we set up in order to organize everything after we decide what to do with them.

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

This is a series of posts with reading notes of the book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen.

My notes on Chapter 5 – Capturing: Corralling your “Stuff”

This chapter is all about capturing stuff, either physical or mental.

The book suggests as the first activity to go through our physical environments and put in our in-trays anything that doesn't belong where they are or that we think might have some potential action tied to them.

“You'll be gathering things that are incomplete, things that have some decision about potential action tied to them. They all go into “in”, so they'll be available for later processing. “ – David Allen

Let's say you identify that your printer has been malfunctioning for quite some time, and you want to do something about it. Instead of trying putting your printer in your in-tray (which will probably won't fit anyway) you just write on a piece of paper “Fix printer” and add that note to the in-tray.

This chapter describes a very detailed step by step method to go through all of our physical spaces:

  • things on our desktops;
  • things in our desk drawers;
  • things in countertops;
  • things in cabinets;
  • floors, walls, shelves;
  • equipment, furniture, fixtures, etc.

The idea is to look at each of those spaces and ask: “Any actionable items there? Anything that's out of place? Any broken things that need to fixed or trashed?”

It can be a daunting task depending on how much scattered stuff you have. For me, this exercise triggered a reflection many years ago: “Do I need to keep all this stuff?”. I'd say it was the first seed that got me into minimalism and then getting rid of 95% of my stuff and move to another country with only a carry-on and a suitcase.

David Allen mentions that it's not about “throwing things away that you might want”:

“You like having and keeping your twelve boxes of old journals and notes from college? You like keeping all kinds of nutty toys and artwork and gadgets around your office to spur creative thinking? No problem, as long as they are where you want them to be, in the form they're in, and you have anything you want or need to do about that captured and processed in your system.” – David Allen

Mental Gathering / Mind Sweep

After dealing with the physical realm, we move to what is inside our heads. This is also called brain dumping or mind sweep, and it's a valuable life lesson from GTD for me.

If this is your first time doing it, David suggests setting aside 20 min to 1 hour to grab pen and paper and start clearing your head.

We should go for quantity: use one sheet of paper for each item and add them to the in-tray, one by one. They will be individually processed in the next step.

The book provides a useful “incompletion trigger list” to help the brain dumping. The list is quite extensive, it covers every topic I can think of in terms of professional and personal aspects of our lives. The list is also available publicly in this link.

The results of my capturing

I did some physical collecting this weekend after reading this chapter and added a few things to my inbox. One of them was an empty box I got a few weeks back that I wanted to repurpose as a cables and accessories container for my home office. It was forgotten in the living room all this time, and it's in my in-tray ready to be put to use.

I used my small capturing notepad that I keep at my desk and did a 20-minute brain dump. I will confess: I have been neglecting this practice for a while. I'm thinking of incorporating a quick daily brain dump in my routine.

I usually collect things as I go, throughout the day, and it is often done digitally, adding to my Nirvana Inbox with my computer or phone. But there is something about stopping everything else to do a mind sweep session that gives immediate relief from stress. It feels that if it's done on paper, it's even better: I force myself to slow down to capture.

I did the same thing at work this morning, and now I have 2 in-trays to practice the Clarifying (Processing) step, which is covered in the next chapter.

My two full in-trays: Work (left) and Personal (right)

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

This is a series of posts with reading notes of the book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen.

My notes on Chapter 4 – Getting Started: Setting Up the Time, Space, and Tools

This chapter gives some tips and tricks to get started with the capturing process.

The first thing is to acknowledge that we need time for this. David recommends a weekend or holiday to avoid external disturbances. It will be intense if you're doing it for the first time!

Dedicate two days to this process, and it will be worth many times that in terms of your productivity and mental health. — David Allen

Setting up the space

The second thing to do is to set up a space, in your home and at the office (if you work in one). Have a central space to serve as your “central cockpit of control”, it might be your work office, your home office, any space with the basics:

  • a writing surface
  • an in-tray
  • space for digital tools/computer/laptop if you use one

Also, if we go to an office during work hours, we will still need a space at home. I have a work office (I don't work from home) and a home office, so I have in-trays in both locations.

A side note: I remember when the pandemic started, and I had to work from home during the lockdowns, it was an easy transition. I already had a desk with space for a computer and an office chair at home, while some people really struggled those first months to try to find a space at their homes and set up something. So, thanks, GTD! 👍

Another point is that the space at home doesn't need to be a separate room, it can be a corner where you can fit a desk and a chair to work from. For some years, when I was living in a tiny 1-bedroom apartment, I had my desk on a corner inside the bedroom (right beside my bed!). It worked!


David Allen then lists what we need to complete the setup: in-trays, stack of plain letter-sized paper, pen/pencil, post-its, paper clips, stapler, scotch tape, rubber bands, an automatic labeller, file folders, a Calendar, wastebasket, devices and notebooks.

From all those items, I think the only one I don't have at all are rubber bands. Oh, I also don't keep a stack of plain paper (I don't have a printer). I use a small spiral notebook as my paper capturing tool. I've only recently acquired a labeller, and it is very satisfying to have things labelled in a nice font. Though I still have to replace my handwritten reference archive labels using my new labeller.

There is a discussion about where to keep the lists. We can do it the “low-tech” way: pieces of paper kept in a folder, or we could go “mid-tech” with loose-leaf notebooks or paper planners, or we can be “high-tech” with our lists in a to-do app. I'm mostly high-tech for my lists: I use a digital calendar and an app (Nirvana).

“Keep in mind, though, that the tool you use will not give you stress-free productivity. That is something you create by implementing the GTD method.” — David Allen

Filing System

Non-actionable but potentially relevant material should be organized in a general-reference file system. These files are: articles, brochures, notes, printouts, manuals, documents, membership cards, etc. Having a dedicated space to store those items avoids the uncertainty and anxiety of figuring out where to store them. If they don't have a home, they will start accumulating in horizontal surfaces, creating clutter and “psychological noise”.

The filing system has to be easy, fast and fun to use. It's also good to make sure we are not storing unnecessary duplicates (a hard copy of something we only access though the Web, for example).

“In the fire zone of real work, if it takes longer than sixty seconds to file something where it belongs, you won't file, you'll “stack.” — David Allen

David recommends using one A to Z alphabetical physical filing system. For the digital systems, he also recommends the A-Z approach.

My physical references are sorted alphabetically, as recommended. But my digital files have always been organized in major “life topics”. I don't know why or how, but I came up with these folders way before I knew what GTD was. I still have them more or less unchanged for 12+ years:

  • 1 Education
  • 2 Finances
  • 3 Fun and Interests
  • 4 Personal
  • 5 Work
  • 6 Home
  • 7 Reference
  • 8 Photos Archive

The last good practice is to purge our files (digital and physical) at least one a year. I usually take a look at my physical files and recycle some things that are longer current or useful. I have a very small file storage drawer, and I like to keep most of my paperwork in digital form anyway.

Now, I never really purge my digital files because I don't have the issue of lack of storage. I focus on keeping things organized in their folders, and that's enough for me.

My Space at Home

Here is my setup at home:

I'm happy with my space, it has everything I need close at hand. For some years (in the tiny apartment) I didn't have the storage space on the left, so my in-tray was on top the file drawer cabinet on the right.

The next chapter is about capturing stuff. So after we have a space set up, we can start with Step 1: Capture.

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

This is a series of posts with reading notes of the book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen.

My notes on Chapter 03: “Getting Projects Creatively Under Way: The Five Phases of Project Planning”

This chapter presents the Natural Planning Model, which is a powerful tool to be used as needed. It is not supposed to be complicated or formal, it describes what our brains naturally do all the time when trying to get a project under control.

Natural Planning Model – 5 Steps:

  1. Defining purpose and principles: why you want to do this? what is your intention?

  2. Outcome visioning: what a successful outcome would look like? => this defines the project name

  3. Brainstorming: ideas on how to accomplish it

  4. Organizing: what is the sequence/priorities of events? What are the components?

  5. Identifying next actions: what is the first next action?

“You have an urge to make something happen; you image the outcome; you generate ideas that might be relevant; you sort those into a structure; and you define a physical activity that would begin to make it a reality. And you do all of that naturally, without giving it much thought.” — David Allen

Another nice insight is the “unnatural planning model”. It's common to see situations where someone leading a meeting will ask, “Now, who has some good ideas?”. That's not ideal because it will make people critique ideas before they are even externalized. It's better to go with brainstorming, with absolute no judgment of ideas.


This is a series of posts with reading notes of the book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen.

My notes about Chapter 02 – Getting Control of Your Life: The Five Steps of Mastering Workflow

This chapter presents the Five Steps and explains the main elements of each one.

In summary, the five steps represents the following workflow:

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.

It’s very logical, and it cognitively resonates with my mind. I notice that if I skip some steps or try to do it all at once, I don’t have a clear understanding of what I need to do. And that leads to unclear next actions, a lack of clarity to determine what is the best use of my time, and complete overwhelm.

“I have discovered that one of the major reasons many people haven't had a lot of success with getting organized is simply that they have tried to do all five steps at one time.” — David Allen

Some major takeaways from this chapter

For each of the steps, there is a clear explanation of what they mean and what are the success factors for each one.


This is a series of posts with reading notes of the book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen.

My notes about the first chapter: “A New Practice for a New Reality”

The first chapter of the book discusses the problems we have today as knowledge workers. We are living in a reality with constant new demands and no clear boundaries. Work tasks can be often ambiguous, and we have to figure out for ourselves how to execute them, while being bombarded with information.

One of the key aspects of the method is to manage all of our open loops. Everything, mental or physical, that has come to our attention and that we have not yet determined their meaning, is considered to be “Stuff”. Stuff comes through life's random inputs: emails, calls, invites, demands, ideas, conversations, bills, etc, etc.

So, mismanaged open loops will pull at our attention if not managed appropriately. I find that to be painfully true. This was my first “a-ha” moment when I read the book 11 years ago. I was keeping everything in my head, and I couldn't understand why I was feeling so overwhelmed and stressed.

David Allen explains why keeping things in our heads is NOT ideal:

A big problem is that your mind keeps reminding you of things when you can’t do anything about them. It has no sense of past or future. That means as soon as you tell yourself that you might need to do something, and store it only in your head, there’s a part of you that thinks you should be doing that something all the time. Everything you’ve told yourself you ought to do, it thinks you should be doing right now. — David Allen

I have that feeling every time I don't write things down. And, as David Allen points out, the reason why things are on my mind can be:

  1. I haven't clarified exactly what the intended outcome is

  2. I haven't decided what the next physical action step is

  3. I haven't put reminders of the outcome and the action required in a system I trust

The starting point to reduce overwhelm is to capture and organize all the “Stuff”. That way, we can start building an inventory of next actions that can be implemented or renegotiated. It requires us to define what “done” means and what “doing” looks like.

What I really like about this book is that it really goes into the nitty-gritty on HOW to capture and organize all that “stuff” (to be covered in the next chapters). And the method includes (and integrates) both personal and professional areas: it is really a full life management system.

In the end, the promise is to have “Mind Like Water” or be in the “Zone”, in a state of perfect readiness. The image behind this analogy is imagining 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. Water is what it is, and does what it does. It can overwhelm, but it’s not overwhelmed. It can be still, but it is not impatient. It can be forced to change course, but it is not frustrated. — David Allen

I can say from experience that I had mornings and afternoons in which I was in the “Zone”. It's when I have a clear image of what needs to be done, I have well written next actions and my mind feels free to prioritize things and focus.

But this was just the introduction. The next chapter will go into the famous Five Steps.

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

I have this project in mind: to re-read the “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” book by David Allen this year.

I’ve read the book twice already (first time in 2012 and a second time in 2019). I’ve probably skimmed it a couple of times to search for specific information throughout the years as well.

But I want to do a full re-read taking lots of notes. My plan is to publish some of those notes in this blog, such as:

  • My current thoughts on the methodology
  • Comment on concepts that I might have a new understanding
  • Comment on things I haven't noticed before on my previous reads
  • Note things that worked out well in my system
  • Note things that didn't work out that well in my system

This is one of those books that we always get something new out of it every time. It covers a lot of universal concepts that are meant to be almost timeless.

I hope to revisit the main concepts and do a diagnostics of my current system, identifying opportunities to make it simpler and better adapted to my current reality. I want to focus more on the process, not the tools. I also want to go deeper into the Higher Horizons of Focus (Goals, Vision, Purpose and Principles).

I will be reading the updated edition published in 2015, in the digital format.

This is one of the books that changed my life: it gave me valuable insights that I applied in both my personal and professional lives. Everything I've accomplished for the past 11 years has been on my Someday/Maybe list at some point.

I'll be using the hashtag #GTDnotes for this series of posts. Stay tuned!

Getting Things Done is not simply about getting things done. It’s about being appropriately engaged with your work and life. — David Allen

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.