July 6, 2020

David Allen’s five step workflow system

Before encountering David Allen’s workflow system for getting things done, my system was mostly ad hoc. E-mails would come in. I would adjust my work priorities on the fly. Tasks and whole projects would be stored in my head as I thought about them everywhere I went, even when I was off work.

This, as I now understand, was not the best system to use.

David talks about a system that helps to maximize your time, energy and priorities and I thought I’d share the five step workflow to help you improve your system.

1. Collect

The first thing to do is to collect everything that you have going on. Tasks, e-mails, projects and other activities are written down either on paper or electronically. The point is that when you can see everything that is going on in your life (and I mean everything), you can see exactly what your priorities are. Another benefit of writing things down is that you do not use your precious mental capacity thinking about the things that you could or should be doing, only the one item that you must do.

2. Process

Once you have all of your ‘tasks’ collected, the next step is to process each task or to-do item. What is the next step you can take on each task? Do you have to delegate, defer or action it? Write down for each task, what the next step is. If there is no action, write down if you have to wait for someone or something or archive / delete the item from your list.

3. Organize

Each of the items now has a next step. Group these items into one of four categories:

  • Projects
  • Calendar (or items that need to be done at specific dates or times)
  • Next actions (items to be done immediately)
  • Waiting for (or items that you are waiting for something, either input or someone else’s actions)

A good litmus test for this is to ask yourself, if you had 10 minutes to spare, what could you do? Test for various time limits.

4. Review

On a weekly basis, take a look at your system and update, manage and maintain the system as appropriate. What items did you complete? What other next steps must you take? What items have now been added to the system? What items can you now cross off?

5. Do

Make choices about what you can do given your time, energy, context and priorities. For example, if you have an hour in the morning to work on something important, maybe you work on that writing project. But if you have an hour in the car waiting at the drive-thru, you can make work calls.


Check out David Allen’s Ready for Anything (https://amzn.to/2ADwCM1) for more on getting things done.

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