Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

By David Allen | Reviewed by Michael Wilson, PT, DPT, OCS

In the current professional landscape, whether clinical or otherwise, the measure of success is often closely tied to an individual’s productivity. This obsession in our culture not only adds heightened stress but can also reduce our sense of well-being and satisfaction. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, by David Allen, is an excellent framework for managing this phenomenon while making space to enjoy life and family along the way. Although a brief summary cannot do this book justice, it may pique your interest to explore a new organizational strategy. Here is a highlight of the five main points:

1. Dumping. The Getting Things Done (GTD) system starts with the notion of removing information from our heads and strategically relocating it to a place where it can be trusted to resurface, precisely when and where we need it. There are two benefits of this technique. One benefit is we can better capture fleeting ideas without wasting time and energy trying to remember them. The other benefit is that, instead of putting our energy into recall, we can use it to develop strategic and innovative solutions.

2. Task Completion. The next area worth highlighting is how GTD looks at moving projects from conception to completion and, conversely, some of the barriers to this achievement. We often think about projects as a single step without realizing all the pieces that need to come together for it to take shape. David Allen notes that projects often stall because the “next action” cannot be completed at the time or in the location we are working on it. Throughout the book, he offers many suggestions on how to organize these next actions by date, location, time required, etc., so that we can keep moving projects forward wherever and whenever we find the time or energy to do so.


3. Goals. No profession knows goals like physical therapy. Short- and long-term goals are constantly being created and analyzed to justify care and assure that our patients are efficiently progressing toward their maximum rehab potential. Oftentimes, the same cannot be said when applying goals to our own lives and careers. David Allen lays out a multilevel structure for goal writing that covers everything from what we want to do next week to where we will be in 50 years, all in one neat little package nested within our to do lists.

4. Storage. This book also provides a few solutions when deciding what to do with the things you just do not know what to do with. Here are the categories of information highlighted:

a. Reference materials – a collection of materials you will need to review periodically, but do not serve as an action item in any current projects. For this storage collection to be effective, only essential reference materials should be included.
b. Someday/maybe – an inbox that serves as the location for ideas you want to try out, but are not sure where or when they will fit into your life.
c. Trash/recycling – a receptacle that should be used when there is no longer a purpose for something. Removing piles, aka productivity barriers, is a fundamental premise in the GTD framework.

5. Review. Finally, conducting a weekly review of projects and lists is crucial to the success of the system. This process allows the user to stay abreast of all projects, goals, and barriers, yet reduces stress by ensuring nothing has been lost or forgotten.

The GTD system was designed in a way that complements our brain’s natural thought process. It is intuitive and straightforward to apply. The book itself is an appropriate length, to the point, and actionable throughout. On a personal note, I have been practicing GTD for over 10 years and can attest to the effectiveness of the system. At the very least, if you are interested in the self-improvement book genre, Getting Things Done is well worth the read.

Michael Wilson

Michael Wilson, PT, DPT, OCS, is a physical therapist in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and can be reached at

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