GTD Notes: Chapter 03 – Project Planning

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.

Notes on Brainstorming

I particularly like the explanation about brainstorming:

Give yourself permission to to capture and express any idea, and then later on figure out how it fits in and what to do with it.

The book mentions Mind Mapping, a name coined by Tony Buzan, for the process of brainstorming ideas into a graphic format. It's the one where you have a blank page, you put the main idea in the centre and then add associated ideas around it in a free-form format.

I like mind mapping, I've used it before for big complex projects, and it really helps me be free to brainstorm. It can be done on paper, in an outlining program, with post-it’s notes on a whiteboard or a mind mapping software.

David Allen also gives some brainstorming principles:

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

Notes on Organizing and Next Actions

Once we get all the ideas off of our heads, we will naturally start seeing patterns and ways to organize the information:

What are the things that must occur to create the final result? In what order must they occur? What is the most important element to ensure the success of the project? —David Allen

Then, after the plan for the project is outlined, we can ask, “What's the next action?” We have to decide on next actions for each of the current “moving parts” of the project. Or decide on the next action in the planning process, if necessary.

So if it's a big project with many components, you can ask:

“Is there something that anyone could be doing on this right now?” —David Allen

And sometimes we might need to do more planning, like drafting more ideas or asking for other people's inputs: these are also next actions of the project.

How much planning do we need?

The simplest answer to how much detailed we need to be to plan a project is:

”... as much as you need to get the project off your mind.” — David Allen

This is a great insight: we plan it until we feel comfortable that the next steps are clear. Most projects are simple, once we know the outcome we can define a next action to get it moving.

“If the project is still on your mind, there's more thinking required.” — David Allen

The natural planning model doesn't need to be formal, for 80% of the projects it's enough to go through the steps quickly in our heads, define the next actions, and get it off our minds. Around 15% of projects will need external brainstorming, and a few notes. The rest 5% of projects might need a more formal execution of all five phases, using project planning tools, for example.

My Master Project Notes

I've been using a template I call MPN (Master Project Note). I'm not sure where I got this from, but I saw it online at some point. It was back when I was using Evernote, probably around 2013 or 2014.

Nowadays, I have a folder in Standard Notes called “PROJECTS” where I keep a pinned note named “[MPN] Template”.

So whenever I have a project that I feel I need to spend some time planning, I'll create a copy and go through the natural planning model steps.

My template contains:

Project dates:

Purpose and Principles (Why?)

Define Purpose and Principles

Outcome Visioning (What do I want to achieve?)

Envision the Outcome: What success look like?

Brainstorming (How?)

Ideas / Choices to make / Things to decide


Next Actions


A space to add notes about the project after I start executing it


A space to add references, links, etc (if needed)

Post 31/100 of 100DaysToOffload challenge! #100DaysToOffload #100Days #productivity #GTD #GTDnotes

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