the three biggest takeaways from “getting things done”

TheThreeBiggestTakeawaysFromGettingThingsDoneOver the past few weeks I’ve been reading Getting Things Done, a productivity and time management classic.

Though many may have already read this popular book, I thought I’d share the three biggest keys that I’ve taken away from the book for anyone who has not read the book yet, or wants to read the highlights.


Complete any task under 2 minutes immediately


This simple concept was powerful. If something on your to-do list in any area of your life takes less than two minutes to complete, do it right away.

I have started to use this line of thinking in my own life and business and found that it helps me knock out a bunch of things that may otherwise get pushed aside and overwhelm my mental capacity. (This tip also supports the idea of always having fresh ice.)

In fact, if you can come up with five things that take less than two minutes on your to-do list, you can knock out a substantial portion of “open loops” in under 10 minutes.

Mr. Allen also says that anything that takes more than 2 minutes should be delegated (given to someone else to complete), deleted (taken off your to-do list if it’s not that important), or deferred (put on a task list to do later).


Batch tasks by type


I’ll be honest, Mr. Allen’s suggestion to have to-do lists for every type of action you have (calls, projects, errands, research, computer time, etc.) seemed a bit overwhelming and unnecessary for my life and business.

However, I recently started batching my to-dos on my central task list by putting the action associated with the item at the beginning of the to-do – as you can see below.

(I use TeuxDeux on my phone and computer, but a lot of people love Evernote or paper lists, too)


Being able to see the actual action I will need to preform before the actual task helps me batch all my emails at once across multiple projects. By putting emails together for instance, I can hop between four different projects without having to switch my mindset each time.

Had I simply listed everything without the batched actions, this list would feel much more overwhelming.


Get everything down on paper


Last but not least, Mr. Allen is a huge proponent of putting everything that needs to get done down on paper. Here Mr. Allen summarizes the process:

“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 bucket, 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.” – David Allen 

By tracking any things that need to be done on paper, we free up our minds to focus on the task at hand without worrying about whether we are forgetting something.

I wasn’t too impressed with this idea of being so strict to put things on the list, but I have to say – after trying it for the past week or two I have found that putting the big and little things that need to get done on paper has helped me feel less overwhelmed and does give me peace of mind that I’m not forgetting to do something.

With that said, I still have a ways to go. I now find myself thinking, “Oh, I should put that on the list,” even when I’m not near my phone. Thus, I’m left wondering what I still need to put on the list. My hope is that by getting better about tracking things the moment I think of them, I won’t have this extra layer of processing to do in the future.


Overall, I think the book is a great read (although it now feels a bit dated, given the technology changes since it was written in 2002).

For those who struggle with productivity, I believe this book could certainly help, but the process is rather time intensive and would need to be implemented well in order to truly pay off. Perhaps these three biggest takeaways I’ve listed here can help you get started, along with the third habit of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Those who love organization and taking things to the next level may thrive on the step-by step process and thorough instructions. This book is definitely a must read for people who enjoy list making and want to improve their project planning abilities.


Getting Things Done

Must read





Did you like this review? Would you like to see more book takeaways and recommendations like this in the future? 

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  1. Taylor Ridling

    I love the way Teux Deux looks and Evernote is great for backlogging inspiration & such, but I developed a pretty great system in college and it seems to be the only way I remember things – by actually writing.

    I haven’t thought of batching although it seems so obvious! I’m going to implement that immediately and take you up on your recommendation of this book. 🙂

    1. Exactly, if writing is your method of choice that’s all that is important! Consistency is more important than the tool itself.

      Enjoy the book!

  2. Stacey Beth

    Very interested to see how my to do list would differ if I listed things by task rather than by project. I think I might make simultaneous lists. Wow!

  3. Lynn

    Jess, when you are talking about “writing” down everything are you a proponent of actual pen to paper or do you mean just the act of logging the task? I ask because I struggle back and forth with putting tasks on my list in the phone/ipad/computer (I use Todoist) but wonder if I might be more effective by actually going old school?

    1. I think it totally depends on what you enjoy using / would use the most. I don’t use paper except for my weekly Week Plan ( After I’ve written things for the week on that pad, I put them straight onto the calendar online or in the TeuxDeux.

      Day to day, as things come up, I’d like to directly put them on the TeuxDeux list on my phone to sync with my computer. I’m still working on getting better at this all the time. But it seems like the simplest, most effective method for me to use in the long run since I love having the lists sync online and on the phone more than I like the idea of having a paper list that could get lost / is something extra I need to carry around with me.

      Maybe you could try both ways for two weeks and see which one you use the most consistently?

  4. Since I have TeuxDeux on my phone and on my computer that sync, I use the app to get things on paper that come to mind. When I’m not around my phone at the moment, things can slip through the cracks. I’m hoping to get better about having the phone closer by or at least going over to the phone if I think of something. The idea of always having a pad of paper nearby seems like more work than just having the phone near (except for in the bedroom – I don’t keep the phone there).

  5. Jenn Wendus

    Jess, I know you love TeuxDeux – and I used it for years myself – but if you like the categorizing tasks, you might want to check out Wunderlist. It also has a website and app that sync across devices. I have separate lists by “category” (for me, those are currently Work, Grad School, Personal, Wedding, Christmas), but the list could also be by action. Just wanted to share another task-tracking option!

    1. Thanks, Jenn! I will keep that in mind. For now, I prefer editing my routine more than switching to another platform. But if I ever feel like TeuxDeux can’t fulfill my needs I’ll remember WL!

  6. Allison

    Hi Jess,

    Thanks for your detailed response to the book. I love book reviews. The more the merrier I say.

  7. EmSewCrazy

    Hmm, I’ll have to try the 2 minute tip. I know I’m a lot more productive if I make lists and I do do some batching but may have to try writing my lists bywhat you have just mentioned.
    I really enjoy these quick tips on being productive!

    1. That’s great to hear!! I think you’ll like the 2 min tip. It saves you from having to write something on your to-do list at all. : )

  8. alexandrainto

    This is an amazing review. I just finished reading Getting Things Done a couple of months ago and have been using Evernote for the most part but I think I might attempt to introduce Teuxdeux as well. Thank you for the inspiration to make my own GTD system better.

    1. That’s great to hear! Did you like the book overall? I found it a bit dry at times, but really liked these three thoughts the most.

      What were your faves?

      1. alexandrainto

        I also found it dry at times. I took a lot of the same take aways as you did.

        The other ones that stood out for me are:

        1. Create a next action list of things that you need to do next and create a list of someday/maybe actions. I have added a mid level list as well for near future.
        2. Have an inbox both for papers/documents and thoughts/electronic. I have an inbox on my desk for paper stuff that I go through 3 times a week and an electronic inbox on Evernote that I try to go through daily. I add all of my thoughts to a notebook called Evernote and then sort it into my other lists and batches from there.

        1. Nice! It sounds like you implemented more of the full GTD system than I have/plan to. Have you been liking it overall?

          I debated about adding the “next action” takeaway to this list, too. It’s a close tie between that and the get everything down on paper. Thanks for sharing!

          1. alexandrainto

            I have been enjoying it. I have definitely been catching a lot more things that normally I would have forgotten about. If I had to decide between next action and get everything down, I would definitely chose the latter.

    1. That’s great to hear, Joanna! I’m going to keep that in mind as I finish more books in the future. : )

  9. Agyness / Bring your own disco

    I am horrible at time management and to do lists (I really dont have any, I mean I do but I keep forgeting them), so this post was actually very very helpful and inspiring for me, and I plan to stick to your advice and recommendations, try teux deux and hopfully I will amster this!!! ALso your posts on gratefulness and making it a habit, and learning wednsdays – topc about getting things done in the morning, or the time in a day suitable for you really inspired me. thank you for that. I even made a blog post about it… Needed to share because I think you are an amazing person and so inspiring and you help people with your words and posts… Hope you don`t mind.

    1. Thank you so much, hun! I really, really appreciate your kind words. I do my best each day to share what I can, based on what I’ve learned. But sometimes it’s a bit difficult to know if it really is helping people (I know that might sound strange, but it’s true).

      So thank you for adding a little cheer to my day! I hope you have a great one. : )

  10. Erika

    I loved your review of this and the key takeaways! I’m actually saving this post to reference again and I’ll likely be taking the tips and incorporating them into my life! I’ve seen a real need to get more organized and it doesn’t come super naturally to me — so info like this is mucho appreciated! Plus, I’ve enjoyed other books you’ve recommended as well (most recently: The War of Art! Life-changing!)

    1. Very nice! I’m also happy to hear you are liking the other books I’ve mentioned, too.

      I don’t know if you’ve checked out inspiration board book list, but it’s packed with powerful books. : )

  11. I’m enjoying the app Cheddar (both iOS and Mac). I have one centralized to do list but I can hashtag everything. So say if I’ve been adding stuff to my list to blog, I just click on #blog and all those items come up. Then I can get to those tasks and scratch them off at once.

  12. Eleanor

    Great run down! I’ve read ‘Take Back Your Life With Microsoft Outlook’ (silly title for a good book). The woman who wrote it is from the GTD school of productivity. There certainly is a lot of good to be found in it, but I find I need the calendaring element; mapping tasks against time – I need to SEE it on my day, with an estimate of how long it will take to do. But to be fair, I’ve never read the actual GTD book.

    1. Very nice! I totally understand the desire to see it on the calendar for time. And thanks for the the Outlook book, too, for people who might use Outlook for their scheduling. : )

  13. Raquel Running

    I was so sad when teux deux went paid… but for how often I use it (and the fact they deserve compensation for the wonderful app!) it was worth it

    1. I felt the sam way. But agree – considering how much I use it and how great it works, it was worth paying for. : )

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