GTD Notes: Chapter 02 – Five Steps

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 basically: write it down! Capture ideas, actions, reminders, wishes. Don’t try to solve any of these things, just acknowledge they’re out there, and know you’ll spend some time later clarifying what they are.


This step is where we look at each item we captured and try to make sense of it. After we clarify what they are, then we organize them.


This is where we organize things into their buckets. It’s my favourite step: putting everything in their pre-defined places.

For all actionable items, they will be in one of the following places:

All non-actionable items will go into one of the following:

Notes about the Calendar:

This chapter also explains how the Calendar should be considered a “hard landscape”: if it’s in there, it must get done that day or not at all. I took some time to realize the importance of the Calendar in my system.

There are only 3 things that go on the Calendar:

  1. time-specific actions: appointments/meetings;

  2. day-specific actions: to be done on a certain day, but not necessarily at a specific time;

  3. day-specific information: directions for appointments, activities that other people will be involved in, events of interest, reminder to call somebody, reminder of due dates, reminder of start dates.

So the Calendar should not be used as a “wish list” of tasks to complete. Also, this approach is different from other productivity systems, in which you’d have daily to-do lists on the Calendar. In GTD, the Calendar is sacred territory. And the idea is to avoid having to rewrite to-do’s from one day to the next, if things don’t get completed that day.

I think that makes sense. I once used Todoist as my To-Do list app and because it is so focused on due dates, I started putting dates on all my tasks. The end result was a bunch of incomplete tasks at the end of the day that I would have to reschedule, making me feel frustrated.


This is the step where the famous Weekly Review is included. But we also do more frequent reviews, like:

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.— David Allen

The Weekly Review binds everything together, and it is considered a critical success factor. It’s when we:


But how do we decide what we will do next? I usually have a hard time prioritizing things. And GTD provides 3 useful models to help making action choices.

First, it presents the Four-Criteria model for choosing actions in the moment:

Second, it describes the Threefold Model for Identifying Daily Work:

And third, this chapter introduces the horizons of focus, or The Six-Level Model for Reviewing Your Own Work:


📝 That was a lot to digest! This chapter presents an overview of the whole system. I didn’t remember the book had that much information right from the start.

In summary, the building blocks of the system are:

The next chapter will dive deeper into Projects, and ends Part 01 of the book. Part 2 is all about practical implementation (the fun part!).

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