Book Review: Getting Things Done – Planning

This is the fifith article in a series providing a summary “book club” reading of Mr. David Allen’s  “Getting Things Done”. I’m reading from the 2001  Penguin Books edition.

Allen is using an approach to the project planning that he is calling the horizontal focus which key ingredients are:

  • clearly defined outcomes and next actions
  • reminders reviewed regularly

Allen expects that the two ingredients are sufficient most of the time to gain control and perspective on the majority of tasks and projects. However, there are some cases in which more involved planning and thinking are necessary. This leads to the natural planning method which has a “vertical” focus on planning projects and thinking through topics. The planning model consists of 5 stages:

1. Defining the purpose and principles. –> Why?

2. Envisioning the outcome –> What?

3. Brainstorming –> Define the details of the project

4. Organizing –> How? Which actions?

5. Identifying next actions –> put the identified actions in sequence, according to priorities


The very first stage is an underestimated one but in reality a very important one. You need to find out the purpose of the project, to answer why you really want to do it, from planning a dinner out to create a new product.
Benefits of asking “why?” are that it defines success, it creates decision-making criteria, it motivates, it clarifies focus, it aligns resources and options.
In short, your purpose needs to be clear and specific, you need to know when it’s met or when you’re off track. At best, it’s well defined if it is according to the SMART criteria.


This is tight related to the first phase, as the outcomes are a consequences of the purpose need, in addition Allen suggests to use the known step of visualizing the positive outcome before starting (a trick used by many athletes before a competition, for example)


The scope here is capturing all the ideas related to the project, maybe with a mind-map and the principles should be: go for quantity instead of quality, don’t evaluate and put analysis and organization in the background. So, just collect all the open threads and possible actions.


Now that all the things collected in the brainstorming phase are on the table, you can start to put a structure and relations among them, which should come naturally. Keys are: identify the priorities and the significant actions, sort and detail to the requred degree.

Next Action

Now, you just need to make the next action and iterate it.

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