Perhaps the greatest benefit of adopting the next-action approach is that it dramatically increases your ability to make things happen, with a concomitant rise in your self-esteem and constructive outlook.

We are all already powerful, but deciding on and effectively managing the physical actions required to move things forward seems to exercise that power in ways that call forward the more positive aspects of our nature.

When you start to make things happen, you really begin to believe that you can make things happen. And that make things happen.

David Allen

Know what you’re Not doing


North America and Pelican Nebulae (narrowband)

North America and Pelican Nebulae (narrowband) (Photo credit: DJMcCrady)

At the end of the day, in order to feel good about what you didn’t get done, you must have made some conscious decisions about your responsibilities, goals, and values. That process invariably includes an often complex interplay with the goals, values, and directions of your organization and of the other significant people in your life, and with the importance of those relationships to you. 

The constant sacrifices of not doing the work you have defined on your lists can be tolerated only if you know what you’re not doing.

That require regular processing of your in-basket and consistent review of complete lists of all your predetermined work.

Many people use the inevitability of an almost infinite stream of immediately evident things to do as a way to avoid the responsibility of defining their work and managing their total inventory.

David Allen

Refresh your Psyche


Narcissus and Psyche (still image from the movie)

Narcissus and Psyche (still image from the movie) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A real review process will lead to enhanced and proactive new thinking in key areas of your life and work. Such thinking emerges from both focused concentration and serendipitous brainstorming, which will be triggered and galvanized by a consistent personal review of your inventory of actions and projects.

The real trick to ensuring the trustworthiness of the whole organization system lies in regularly refreshing your psyche and your system from a more elevated perspective.

You need to assess your life and work at the appropriate horizons, making the appropriate decisions, at the appropriate intervals, in order to really come clean.

David Allen



Illustration from 1881 US Patent 248872, for a...

Illustration from 1881 US Patent 248872, for a perpetual calendar paperweight. The upper section is rotated to reveal one of seven lists of years (splitting leap years) for which the seven calendars below apply. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What many people want to do, however, based on old habits of writing daily to-do lists, is put actions on the calendar that they think they’d really like to get done next Monday, say, but that then actually might not, and that might then have to be taken actually over the following days. Resist that impulse. You need to trust your calendar as sacred territory.

That’ll be much easier if the only things in there are those that you absolutely have to get done on that day.

David Allen

Pojects list


If the action step you’ve identified will not complete the commitment, then you’ll need some stake in the ground to keep reminding you of actions you have pending until you have closure. You need to make a list of projects. 

The purpose of the list is not to reflect your priorities but just to ensure that you’ve got placeholders for all those open loops.

Whether you draw up your “Projects” list while you’re initially processing your in-basket or after you’ve set up your action list doesn’t really matter. It just need to be done at some point, and it must be maintained, as it’s the key driver for reviewing where you are and where you want to be.

David Allen

The 2 Minute Rule


If the next action can be done in two minutes or less, do it when you first pick up the item.

Even if the item is not a “high priority” one, do it now if you’re ever going to do it at all. The rationale for the two-minute rule is that that’s more or less the point where it starts taking longer to store and track an item than do deal with it the first time it’s in your hands – in other words, it’s the efficiency cutoff.

Many people find that getting into the habit of following the two-minute rule creates a dramatic improvement in their productivity.

David Allen

Cleaning house


In the real world, you won’t probably be able to keep your stuff 100 percent collected all of the time. But it should become an ideal standard that keeps you motivated to consistently “clean house” of all the things about your work and life that have your attention.

Because you think there still could be something important in there, that “stuff” is controlling you and taking up more psychic energy that is deserves. 

Keep in mind, you can feel good about what you’re not doing, only when you know what you’re not doing.

David Allen



You need to be able to review the whole picture of your life and work at appropriate intervals and appropriate levels.

This is where you take a look at all your outstanding projects and open loop, at what I call the 10.000-foot level, on a weekly basis.

Everything that might potentially require action must be reviewed on a frequent enough basis to keep your mind from taking back the job of remembering and reminding. In order to trust the rapid and intuitive judgment calls that you make about actions from moment to moment, you must consistently retrench at some more elevated level. In my experience that translate into a behavior critical for success: the Weekly Review.

David Allen



The key to managing all of your “stuff” is managing your actions.

The real issue is how to make appropriate choices about what to do at any point in time. The real issue is how we manage actions.

It’s extremely difficult to manage actions you haven’t identified or decided on. Most people have dozens of things they need to do to make progress on many fronts, but they don’t know yet what they are.

David Allen

Mind Like Water


In Karate there is an image that’s used to define the position of perfect readiness: “mind like water“. Imagine throwing a pebble into a still pond. How does the water respond? The answer is, totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input; then it returns to calm. It doesn’t overreact or underreact.

Clearing the mind and being flexible are key.

Anything that causes you to overreact or underreact can control you, and often does.

David Allen