Like most knowledge workers in the world today, I handle a large number of issues, projects, deadlines, and action items. Some are small and some are large. Often, many will be “in-flight” at once.

Several months ago, I began doing some research into the best productivity and organizational methodologies. One that kept popping up was Getting Things Done by David Allen. Within the software development community, it is especially popular. After reading the book, I can see why. The whole process is very logical, straight forward, and lends itself to be diagrammed using a flowchart. The author includes one in his book. Unfortunately, it left many important pieces of information out. Therefore, I am including a much better flowchart here.

The blue squares represent decisions have to be made about action items as they flow through the system. Green represents containers that information is placed within. Sometimes, items are placed within a container permanently and sometimes it is only temporary (e.g. incoming collection container). Yellow represents a direct process step and adds additional information. Purple represents the project planning portions of the workflow. Red represents exit points from the workflow (e.g. trash).


A container is simply a place to store items. An old-school container system might be a set of plastic inbox trays and manilla folders. In an email system is folders or tags (e.g. in Gmail). The only requirements are that you trust it and it cannot be in your memory only.

Project Management

All project related information should be tracked in a completely separate system. There is an entire industry devoted to project management. However, I will say that every project will ultimately produce many small action items that can be fed into this system. Big projects will often generate hundreds of action items that get assigned to various people. Those action items that are assigned to you can be fed into the input of this system. Some action items are big enough to be considered mini-projects. Once they are broken down into smaller action items, then they too can be fed into the system. This can continue until each action item or next-action can be completed in no more than 2 minutes, give or take.

The section in pink and surrounded by the dashed line can be swapped out a more roust project management and/or project management solution or methodology. The most important key is understanding if an incoming item is a project or not. Generally, this is determined if a next-action requires multiple steps to complete or will require a long time.

Some projects can be managed by a simple list of action items and others will require Microsoft Project, Gantt charts, etc.